Carolyn L. Kane – Chromatic Algorithms: Synthetic Color, Computer Art, and Aesthetics after Code


University Of Chicago Press, ISBN-13: 978-0226002736, English, 328 pages, 2014, USA

Among the overlooked aspects of the “digitalisation of everything” is the perception of colours on screens, and how they are produced (or better, “performed”). In this thoroughgoing research project Carolyn L. Kane tracks the history and genealogy of synthetic colours and their algorithmic characteristics. Starting with classic color theories in philosophy, literature and science (Aristotle, Goethe, Newton), the work moves on to the dawn of electronically produced colours in early video art and the first experiments in electronically synthesised tones. Since then colours have been more and more embodied in machines, with universal coding in OS software and interfaces. The book looks at web 2.0 conventions as well as “retro web art” (as it’s defined) and there is an embracing of media determinism, seen through the lens of media archaeology, enriching the historical trajectories with theory that deeply affects the category of technical innovation. Moreover, the author defines “post-optic,” as the functional role colours have now, extending it to aesthetics (the Photoshop impact), to surveillance-related aspects (infrared, for example), to colours we can’t see in nature (ultraviolet) and to those we synthetically introduce in nature (synthetic fluorescent proteins used in bioart). Richly illustrated with plenty of valuable historical material, this book affects multiple disciplines but especially media art history, to which it contributes significantly.


Carolyn Kane, “Cool Pinks and Hot Blues: Bridging Genealogies of Warm–Cool Color”