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A Brief History of The Computer Arts Society

In 1968, the Institute of Contemporary Arts organised Cybernetic Serendipity, a ground-breaking exhibition that showcased computer-based and technologically influenced works across a variety of art forms, including music, film, graphics and interactivity. The exhibition made a strong impact on a newly emerging generation of artists and designers and raised the profile of computing in the arts.

The Computer Arts Society was established in the following months by Alan Sutcliffe, George Mallen and John Lansdown. The new Society enabled relatively isolated practitioners working with the computer across a variety of fields to meet up and exchange information on what was still a comparatively new field. It ran practical courses, such as code writing workshops and computer art programming, as well as conferences and exhibitions.

In March 1969, CAS organised an exhibition entitled Event One, which was held at the Royal College of Art. The exhibition showcased innovative work with computers across a broad range of disciplines, including sculpture, graphics, music, film, architecture, poetry, theatre and dance. CAS founder John Lansdown, for example, designed and organised a dance performance that was choreographed entirely by the computer and performed by members of the Royal Ballet School. The multi-media approach of exhibitions such as Event One greatly influenced younger artists and designers emerging at this time. Many of these artists were rebelling against the traditional fine art hierarchies of the time, and went on to work in the new fields of computer, digital, and video art as a result.

CAS established links with educational establishments, journalists and industry, ensuring greater coverage of their activities and more importantly helping to provide access to computing technology at a time when this was difficult. CAS members were remarkably ahead of their time in recognising the long term impact that the computer would have on society, and in providing services to those already working creatively with the computer. By 1970 CAS had 377 members in 17 countries. Its journal 'PAGE' was first edited by auto-destructive artist Gustav Metzger, and is still being produced today. The Computer Arts Society is a specialist group of the British Computer Society.