As a member of the Bell Labs research team from 1964 to 1982, Ken Knowlton was an instrumental figure in early computer animation. In 1964, Knowlton developed the BEFLIX programming language, one of the first designed specifically for rendering and animating images. During his tenure at Bell Labs, Knowlton created many computer images and films, usually in collaboration with other mathematicians, scientists, and visual artists. As a champion of computational art, Knowlton regularly encouraged artists to explore the medium and provided technical assistance, while they, in turn, impacted his own artistic output.
One of his earliest works, Computer Nude (1967), made in collaboration with Leon Harmon, was featured in MoMA’s 1968 exhibition The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age. As part of the exhibition, Knowlton also hosted a screening of computer films by various artists working in this nascent form. Over the next few decades, he further developed BEFLIX and other languages for scientific applications while also collaborating with a wide variety of artists to help realize their visions. His impact still reverberates 50 years later. For this Modern Mondays evening, Ken Knowlton looks back on his career and those early days of computer animation. Original 16mm films by Knowlton and other artists will be screened, after which he will be joined by writer and critic Rebekah Rutkoff and MoMA associate media conservator Peter Oleksik for a conversation.