by Lauren Sedofsky

In a catalog essay for Manfred Mohr's show at the Josef Albers Museum (Bottrop, Germany) in 1998, I had occasion to situate the inception of his work within the forces at play in the late '60s and early '70s between Minimalism and Conceptual Art. By historicizing an oeuvre that now covers some thirty years in this way, I had hoped to put to rest the notion that "computer graphics" or what we now call "the digital image" necessarily represents an epiphenomenon outside of art history proper. It permitted me as well to account for the singular way in which Mohr had seized upon Minimalism's pre-eminent simple, single, symmetrical, geometrical solid -- the cube -- precisely to recast it as a base of operations in which an open-ended, on-going detection/production of its elusive linear facets might itself constitute the work of art. This temporally indeterminate, programmatic approach participates unequivocally in the Conceptualist redefinition of art as an instrumental, often language-based, principle, but with an audacious twist. For, the Conceptualist redefinition figures in the history of art as a signal critique of an increasingly technologized culture, whereas Mohr's turn toward the computer -- or, to be more exact, its cognitive interface: the formalized language of computer programming -- at once ratifies the critique and embraces the technology. This step, both logical and defiant at the time, permitted Mohr to append a salient clause to Conceptual Art's proscription of visual effects: some systematic artistic procedures, once launched, generate vast quantities of visual images, not at all in the traditional sense, not as ends in themselves, but as documentary evidence, as "by-products" susceptible, in their own right, of engaging perceptual experience.

Recent efforts to theorize the digital image shed a good deal of light on Mohr's unique, if not to say critical, position in the development of computer-generated art. Whether of the dithyrambic or the apocalyptic variety, such speculation reposes all too frequently on the erroneous assumption that the digital image is primarily geared to photo-realism. In this regard, Mohr's highly abstract, multi-dimensional "graphic entities" serve the very salutary purpose of repositioning the issue of "binary" art within the concerns and aspirations typically associated with Constructivism. The abstraction involved -- the creation of an autonomous formalized universe whose inherent possibilities become accessible to exhaustive exploration -- connects obliquely, but pertinently with the current scientific practice of modeling and visualizing theoretical systems. Needless to say, such an approach requires an ability to conceive and progressively reconceive the software. The theoreticians of the digital, however, have yet to entertain the idea that the artist might intervene at this level. It will remain one of Mohr's major merits, therefore, to have assigned to the artist, from the outset, the role of scriptor and to have identified the digital image, unambiguously, as one that is written. And the issue of digital art, such as Mohr has posed it, lies in this new equation between language (0/1) and image, that is to say, in the unforeseen and unforeseeable results of a translation.