Rebekah Rutkoff’s article on the American artist Lillian Schwartz (b. 1927) will focus on the 16mm films Schwartz made using computers at Bell Labs—a hub of cutting-edge scientific experimentation—in the 1970s, and will zero in on one plane of her many-faceted artistic identity: Schwartz the abstract painter. Between 1968 and 1985, she created computer-mediated films, videos, optical effects, and animations as an unpaid resident visitor to Bell Labs. These early films contain stunning sequences of ever-shifting luminous color that Schwartz hand-painted and shot frame by frame. Her filmed paintings are intercut with microphotography and graphic performances—crystals grow, circles and lines dance—creating an unprecedented integration of the hard-edged and the viscous. Nobel Laureate and Bell Labs chief scientist Arno Penzias declared, “What we know as computer art began in December 1968, when Lillian Schwartz grasped a light pen and began to draw.” Rutkoff will look back at Schwartz’s ahead-of-the-curve career, which contains many such moments of retroactive recognition.
Rebekah Rutkoff has transitioned over the past decade from working primarily as a visual artist and curator to writing about art. Following graduate work in the film/video MFA program at the University of Iowa, she exhibited conceptual work in photography and video internationally and co-founded and curated the monthly Jaraf series for video art at the Culture Project in Manhattan. She completed the PhD Program in English at the CUNY Graduate Center this spring, and wrote her dissertation on the filmmaker Robert Beavers and American philosophy. Her writing on contemporary art has taken two primary forms: art criticism embedded in works of fiction (for instance, in fake interviews and short stories published in Fence, World Picture, and Animal Shelter) and more conventional critical essays on contemporary avant-garde art (published in Moving Image Source and publications of the Austria Film Museum and Pacific Film Archives).