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Read, Watch and Listen

Identifying the spectral profile of the inks

The ink Livingstone used for much of his diary he made himself using a local berry, it faded so quickly it was barely legible when the diary was returned to the UK by H. M. Stanley in late 1871. Roger Easton (centre) collects the reflectance spectra of the inks used while team members Bill Christens-Barry, Kate Simpson and Karen Carruthers from the David Livingstone Centre assist. Image courtesy of R. B. Toth Associates.


Once the PC images are produced, the scientists examine the images to identify those that show different inks and insert these images into the red, green, and blue channels (RGB) of a "pseudocolour" (false colour) image. If the handwritten ink appears as "light" in one of the PC images and "dark" in another, then the corresponding pixels may exhibit a colour tone in the pseudocolour image that allows easier differentiation between the handwritten and printed texts. Page shown DLC297b, held at the David Livingstone Centre, Blantyre, Scotland.

The 1871 field diary

Digitally manipulated image superimposing the processed spectral image on the reproduction natural light image, allowing David Livingstone’s 1871 field diary to be read for the first time in over 140 years. Image created by Adrian Wisnicki. Page shown DLC297b, held at the David Livingstone Centre, Blantyre, Scotland.

Casey Reas

Casey Reas 1972 - 

Process 18 (Software 3)


Still image of unique custom software 

Museum number: E.297:1-2011

Reas initiated the popular open source programming language, Processing, with Ben Fry in 2001. Reas is interested in the concept of emergence, where a simple set of rules leads to a complex system. The works in his ‘Process’ series all start with a written text describing the interactions between elements, forms and behaviours. The text is then translated into machine-readable code. The resulting software, such as Process 18 can be seen as an interpretation of the original written instructions.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London/ Casey Reas. Copyright: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 (Creative Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International)


Mark Wilson

Mark Wilson 1943 -



Digital inkjet print

Museum number: E.414-2010

In his earlier work, Wilson used a pen plotter to create highly complex monochrome images. He then switched to using inkjet printers, utilising his own pixel mapping software to create large prints such as this one.  The program selects the pixels and then maps them onto different geometric forms, such as circles or squares.  

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London/ Mark Wilson. Copyright: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 (Creative Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International)


Paul Brown

Paul Brown 1947-

Swimming Pool


Colour inkjet print

Museum number: E.994-2008

Brown uses tiling and ‘cellular automata’, simple systems that can evolve and propagate themselves. The artist employs relatively simple linear motifs in this print, but the relationship between each tile and its neighbours creates the visually intense patterns which he cannot always predict. 


Roman Verostko

Roman Verostko 1929- 

Pathway Series, Bird 2


Multi-pen plotter drawing with brush

Museum number: E. 943-2008

Verostko was one of the first artists to incorporate brush work in his computer-generated drawings, adapting a pen plotter to hold a Chinese brush.  This example includes a single plotter-driven brushstroke that uses the same ‘gesture’ as the numerous smaller pen and ink lines behind it. The three carefully placed rectangular shapes were also created by the plotter. 

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London/ Roman Verostko. Copyright: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 (Creative Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International


Barbara Nessim

Barbara Nessim 1939-

Ode to the Statue of Liberty 2


Cibachrome print of computer screen

Museum number: E.58-2013 

In 1980 Nessim was approached to participate in the Visible Language Workshop at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Although she was unable to take up the offer, she began to investigate using computers in her own work. In 1982 she obtained access to a Norpak computer system at TIME Video Information Services, and began to explore its limited range of shapes and colours. 

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London/ Barbara Nessim. Copyright: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International)


Colette and Jeff Bangert

Colette Stuebe Bangert 1934- and Charles Jeff Bangert 1938-

GRASS: series I


Plotter drawing

Museum number: E.1063-2008

The landscape of the mid-western USA is a central part of Colette and Jeff Bangert’s work. Their collaborative algorithmic drawings often reflect the changing seasons.  Colette stated, “The elements of the computer work and my hand work are often repetitive, like leaves, trees, grass… Grass is also random and random is a natural computer facility.” Since the 1980s their work has also explored disorder, revealing an increasing fascination with chaos and complexity. 

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London/ Colette and Jeff Bangert. Copyright: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International)


Manfred Mohr

Manfred Mohr 1938-




Museum number: E.58-2008

Mohr began his career as a jazz musician and expressionist painter. He started to explore the use of geometric imagery in the mid-1960s, producing his first computer-generated drawings in 1969.  In this print produced from a plotter drawing, the computer program creates a range of geometric shapes that echo some of his earlier paintings.  From 1972 onwards, Mohr has concentrated on examining the possibilities presented by the cube.  

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London/ Manfred Mohr. Copyright: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International)


Vera Molnar

Vera Molnar 1924-

Structure of Squares


Plotter drawing

Museum number: E.270-2011

Vera Molnar first started to use computers in 1968. However, her systematic method for creating art began in 1959 when she developed the concept of the Machine Imaginaire, which identified a series of hypothetical steps by which an image would be created.  Molnar imagined she had a computer and designed a program which formulated rules of behaviour. At the earliest opportunity she replaced her make believe machine with a real one.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London/ Vera Molnar. Copyright: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International)


Frieder Nake

Frieder Nake 1938-



Plotter drawing

Museum number: E.120-2013

Nake was among the first people to exhibit computer drawings as works of art, in Stuttgart in 1964. He is also considered to be one of the founding fathers of what we now think of as computer graphics. This work was produced using an algorithm written by the artist.  Nake introduced random variables into the process, and could not fully predict the outcome.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London/ Frieder Nake. Copyright: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International)


A. Michael Noll

A. Michael Noll 1949-

Computer Composition with Lines



Museum number: E.35-2011 

This is a photographic print of a computer-generated image created by A. Michael Noll in 1964, at Bell Labs, Murray Hill, New Jersey. The artist has stated that "This work closely mimics the painting ‘Composition with Lines’ by Piet Mondrian. When reproductions of both works were shown to 100 people, the majority preferred the computer version and believed it was done by Mondrian."

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London/ A. Michael Noll. Copyright: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International)


Desmond Paul Henry

Desmond Paul Henry 1921-2004



Mechanical pen and ink drawing

Museum number: E.377-2009

In the 1960s, D.P. Henry constructed various drawing machines from the components of analogue bombsight computers.  Henry was fascinated by the swinging motion of the machines and adapted them to accommodate pen and paper.  His drawing machines were operated electronically, but could not be programmed. 

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London/ Elaine O’Hanrahan. Copyright: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International)


Herbert W. Franke

Herbert W. Franke 1927-

Analog-Grafik P2

1970, from a photograph produced in 1955 

Silkscreen print

Museum number: E.100-2008

Franke produced his experimental photographs by moving a camera across the small screen of an oscilloscope.  He could alter the curves by using a mixing console that provided some degree of control over the image’s appearance. 

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London/ Herbert W. Franke. Copyright: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International)


Composite panorama depicting the entire dome

Composite panorama depicting the entire dome, with the original painting and plasterwork. The domed ceiling of the auditorium, which had greatly deteriorated over the years, was repaired and replastered and now requires repainting. As the remaining trompe l'oeil decoration of the dome is not original and was painted in 1985, this presented the Trust with an opportunity to commission a new design in a more contemporary style, that would become an attraction its own right and greatly enhance the King's Theatre.

Panorama of the primed dome, prepared for outlining

The entire dome spans 12m in diameter and is approximately 1.5m high giving an  approx. area of 57m2 the box shaped free standing scaffold inside the King’s theatre disconcertingly swayed as painters ascended or descended ladders, and John said “it’s like painting on a bouncy castle,”…..so if I had to make a long exposure or take shots in sequence  it had to be done when the workers were on a break and as there were teams of artists and painters this was not always easy.

Applying a soft wash similar to watercolour as a base for additional layers of paint

There was no daylight this was a problem because the artists and painters had differing lighting needs, the painters needed small 110 volt 80watt portable tungsten light at 2500k, the artists needed high power 500watt halogen lighting to maximize illumination covering large areas of the dome evenly, and to approximately match daylight at 5000k to match paint colour, every time I was on site the lighting changed as workers moved around. I needed to get a soft painterly light in my images to match the original painting but the lighting was harsh and mixed I tried various methods to get this right including flash, also a ring flash it gives a softer feel to the light but nothing worked all too harsh. Eventually I used a mix of long exposures (when the scaffolding stopped swaying) and against my better judgment increased the ISO. Increases the sensitivity of the digital sensor.

John Byrne's original design

John Byrnes original design, using acrylic and gouache on paper for the King’s theatre dome, the title  ‘All the World’s a Stage’ depicts a swirling celestial scene, where a black harlequin carries the sun through the clouds and a flame-haired woman, draped in a star-cloth banner, pushes the moon through the sky.

(No caption)

International Conscientious Objectors Day is marked around the world each year on May 15th. In July 2011 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that ‘states must respect the right to conscientious objection as part of their obligation to respect the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion', bringing European law in line with international human rights standards 

Panel two detail

Photographs of people across the panels generated readings related to family and the impact of war, particularly loss, suffering, love, absence and separation, such as “the fragility of an individual family in a wartime situation”. The photographs led some viewers to reflect on personal experiences and family histories, one viewer responding that the woman and barbed wire reminded them of “someone I knew who was in some kind of internment camp as a child in World War Two”. 

Panel three detail

Conscientious objectors and their families received white feathers as a symbol of cowardice, so these were included in both triptychs. One viewer particularly interpreted the family photo and feather as “carrying disgrace of white feather, suffering through loss and convictions of others, betrayal of country and church to support them”. Most viewers interpreted the feather as cowardice but there was some aberrant decoding, including “for pigeon carriers at the front line”, “elements of nature”, “symbol of peace and love” and “writing implement”. 

Panel one detail

140 people were surveyed about their interpretations of ‘The Ties That Bind (II)’. Shared interpretations of the triptych included war/wartime (114 responses), imprisonment (109), suffering (99) and family relationships - some in relation to war (98). 21 viewers clearly interpreted pacifist meanings from the triptych that correlated with the practitioner’s communication intention. The ship predominantly signified war to viewers, but this image was also interpreted as migration. The hands predominantly signified hope and prayer. 

‘The Ties That Bind (II)’

Although communication intentions for the panels were specific, each image and composition was open to multiple interpretations. Readings of the textiles were inevitably informed by viewers’ personal and cultural experiences, their own memories, histories, and wider social and historical knowledge. Evidence of contextual influence on interpretations of the work also emerged at some sites, with viewers associating the images with local or regional history.

Digital development: envelope

Key issues in the practice were generating intertextuality between the panels to generate a holistic sense of meaning from the work, and developing intratextuality between signifiers within each panel to generate specific meanings to inform the narrative sequence. Some elements were included to communicate redundantly, such as crossed out British flags (to signify lack of patriotism), with an expectation of shared interpretations from viewers. Others, such as the envelope, were more entropic, to generate subliminal responses and associations. 

Image of Harriet Bell (wife) with barbed wire

Commutation tests (Barthes, 1967) were an integral part of the design process, identifying the characteristics and differences of individual signifiers within a paradigm or syntagym and defining their significance. Applying this within the textile practice involved changing a visual signifier (e.g. image or colour) and examining if this altered the meaning of the elements it was grouped with. Existing signifiers were also rearranged into new configurations to determine if different meanings were created. 

Textile trials for ‘The Ties That Bind (II)’

Responses to the first triptych revealed that further textile qualities were needed to contrast with the two-dimensional printed cloth, so flocking and greater use of stitch and applique were trialled to give additional surface textures. Viewers’ predominantly associated the small white crosses in the first triptych with graves; so larger decorative examples were incorporated in the second triptych to connote Christianity. Redundant signifiers such as WW1 bombs and warships were also trialled.

Digital development: Richmond lock image

Specific imagery had to be incorporated to build a framework of visual encoding within the textiles to test at different sites. This involved considering the communicative function of individual signifiers (images, textures and colours), the readings generated when several signifiers were brought together, and the overall meaning created when groups of signifiers were combined within a composition. The lock was incorporated to connote imprisonment and a key added in later visual experiments to reinforce this reading but also suggest potential for release.

Developing the second triptych backgrounds

The panel backgrounds were formed from the detritus of past collecting; stained lining paper edges from old picture frames, sections of discarded fabrics, and torn fragments of aged house paint and wallpapers. The collage process enabled ‘hands on’ working with these materials, exploring spatial relationships and defining the panel dimensions. The compositions were photographed and disassembled, with individual components scanned and the backgrounds reconstructed digitally. This process echoed the early stages of the practice, where hand-generated experiments created components for later digital development.

Textile trials for ‘The Ties That Bind (I)’

After several stages working digitally and on paper, the work progressed to textile experiments incorporating digital printing, stitch, heat transfer printing, screen printing and hand painting with reactive dyes. Specific images were incorporated alongside portrait photographs to communicate the objector’s story. The first triptych particularly featured crossed out medals to connote lack of bravery, stamps to denote the period (and suggest ‘for king and country’) and white feathers as symbols of cowardice. 

Sketch book page and family photographs

Family and war photographs formed the first components for visual experimentation to convey John Edgar Bell’s story. Tentative narrative relationships between photographic images and other visual signifiers such as colour and mark were explored, creating micro visual syntagms and analysing the potential meanings they might convey. Within the research two textile triptychs were developed, with responses to the first triptych informing the image content in the second set of panels. 

Richmond cell walls: writing

It was not known where John Edgar Bell was imprisoned, but his health deteriorated and he agreed to non-combatant service in 1918. His family moved home from Denholme to Saltaire (West Yorkshire) due to abuse from the community, but this continued when his war status became known. Although he was a skilled engineer he could only get employment as a lamp lighter after the war, as no one wanted to work with a ‘conchie’.

Richmond cell walls: drawings

The Richmond visit provided insight into the conditions of imprisonment for conscientious objectors in WW1 and WW2. Covered with drawings of family, supportive phrases and religious texts and symbols, the cell walls are testimony to the faith of the imprisoned men. Further research provided information on the experiences of individual prisoners, with drawings such as ‘N.Gaudies mother’ cross-referenced to Norman Gaudie, writer of ‘The Courage That Brings Peace’ (1922) (www.coproject.org.uk). 

Richmond Castle: conscientious objectors’ cells

Narration through cloth was the primary focus of the research, a reflection on family history, religious motivation and social exclusion. The recollections of John Edgar Bell’s daughter formed the first facet of background research, with a limited number of family photographs to inform the visual narrative. This was supplemented by investigation into the experiences of conscientious objectors and their families in WW1, later contacting English Heritage to arrange access to photograph the cells at Richmond Castle.

A shell-tempered ceramic bowl

This shell-tempered ceramic bowl has been partially reconstructed after Pitt-Rivers acquired it, and bears one single word, painted onto the outside: THAMES. Many objects from Pitt-Rivers’ collection are recorded simply with the provenance of the River Thames – which may mean an object recovered from dredging the river, may imply it was found on the Thames foreshore in London or along the banks of the river further upstream, or even may represent a purposefully vague provenance given by a dealer that usefully removes any possibility of coming from privately owned land. Whatever the case for this object, there is no doubt that today the modern text has become an integral part of this medieval object. (Pitt Rivers Museum Accession Number 1884.35.38)​.

An abraded ceramic tile

This abraded ceramic tile, of Romano-British or post-Roman date, is from Pitt-Rivers’ fieldwork at Castle Hill in Folkestone, Kent in 1878. Initially believing its earthworks (known locally as ‘Caesar’s Camp’) dated from the Roman invasions of Britain, his excavations revealed the monument in fact to be a medieval castle. Four different museum catalogue numbers are present, and a hand-written label describes the circumstances of discovery. Written for museum display, the label’s text retains elements of the General’s interpretive challenges in the field – singling out this possibly Romano-British find from a site that proved to be medieval in date, and describing the monument as a ‘camp’ rather than a castle. (Pitt Rivers Museum Accession Number 1884.138.25)​.

Neolithic flint axe

An excavation at Cissbury in West Sussex in 1867-8 was one of the first field projects directed by Pitt-Rivers, and was one of the first modern scientifically recorded archaeological excavation. This Neolithic flint axe offers some textual evidence to support this claim. Attached to it is a pre-printed label, completed by hand: “CISSBURY PIT NO. 22 FEB 4 1868 ALF”. The label is a very early example of the recording of archaeological features or contexts from which objects were recovered. This modest 150-year-old label is just as significant as the Stone Age axe to which it is glued – perhaps more so. The letters “ALF” stand for Augustus Lane Fox – as the fieldwork was undertaken before the General took his full name, Augustus Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers. (Pitt Rivers Museum Accession Number 1884.125.153)​.