- Tom DeFanti joined the faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) in 1973, cofounding the Circle Graphics Habitat (later renamed the Electronic Visualization Lab, or EVL) with Daniel J. Sandin. DeFanti had started developing his programming language GRASS (Graphics Symbiosis System)—a powerful computer graphics language—while doing his PhD under Charles Csuri at the Ohio State University. DeFanti’s GRASS led to Zgrass, the language collaboratively developed by DeFanti, Fenton, and Nola Donato.
- The Chicago New Media Symposium panelists included Christiane Paul, adjunct curator of new media art, Whitney Museum of American Art; Oliver Grau, professor for image science, Danube University Krems, and a founder of the field of media-art history; Ellen Sandor, artist and coeditor of New Media Futures: The Rise of Women in the Digital Arts (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2018); Daniel J. Sandin, professor emeritus, UIC School of Art and Art History, and cofounder and codirector of UIC’s Electronic Visualization Laboratory; Jamie Fenton, software developer for systems used by artists in the exhibition; Tom DeFanti, senior research scientist, Calit2 at the University of California San Diego, and cofounder and codirector of the EVL; Sabrina Raaf, artist and associate professor at the UIC School of Art and Art History; and curator and organizer jonCates.
- Whitney Pow researches, writes on, and teaches queer and trans histories of games, software, computing, and Glitch Art. Pow is an independent game designer and developer, and they are assistant professor of Queer and Trans Media Studies in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University.
- Digital TV Dinner (1978), Jamie Fenton and Raul Zaritsky (video) and Dick Ainsworth (audio).
- NTSC stands for National Television Standards Committee, the group that originally developed the black-and-white and, later, color television system that is used in the United States, Japan, and many other countries.
- Dave Nutting Associates, founded by Dave Nutting and Jeff Frederiksen in 1974, began working with Bally Manufacturing and Midway Manufacturing in 1975 and closed in 1984.
- The significance of this innovation cannot be underestimated, as it is what allowed for the display, broadcast, and—most importantly for present purposes—recording of the signals sent from the system. This allowed for the preservation of the media, which is why we have access to this work today.
- Computers utilize frame buffers to store frames of visual information that the computer displays, such as pixel information used in computer games. Frame buffer capacities, and thereby computers’ resolutions, increased dramatically during the 1970s.
- Theodore H. Nelson’s self-published Computer Lib/Dream Machines (1974) is now widely understood to be “the most important book in the history of new media.” See Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort, eds., The New Media Reader (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003), 301. Jamie Fenton was inspired by Computer Lib/Dream Machines to reach out to Tom DeFanti, who is featured in the book alongside Daniel J. Sandin. Nelson also taught as a lecturer at UIC from 1973 to 1976, and DeFanti and Nelson were roommates at the time Nelson finalized his book. Sandin, DeFanti, and Nelson worked together closely in the Chicago new media community, collaborating and connecting with Phil Morton, Bob Snyder, Jane Veeder, Gene Youngblood, and many others. Computer Lib/Dream Machines thereby served as Fenton’s introduction to the Chicago new media communities, inspiring her to meet DeFanti and the others listed above. Although Nelson’s book is widely known and respected, his work in the Chicago new media communities is not as well documented. Fenton’s account in this interview provides insight on the formation of these communities.
- Fenton cites additional influences and inspirations including Olivia Jack’s software project Hydra (2018–present), the film Tron (1982), the game Lunar Lander (Atari, 1979), the film A Clockwork Orange (1971), the game Oregon Trail (1971), and The Whole Earth Catalog, which was published from 1968 to 1971.
- The Vector General, introduced in 1969, provided visual output to computers throughout the 1970s such as the PDP-11. (The Programmed Data Processor [PDP] was a computer manufactured by the Digital Equipment Corporation beginning in 1970.) Computer displays are now taken for granted because of devices with attached screens such as laptops and smartphones. When it was introduced, however, the Vector General provided new, powerful, and relatively affordable options to output computer-generated graphics onscreen. An example of computer graphics produced using a Vector General display (attached to a PDP-11) are the animated plans for the Rebel Alliance’s attack on the first Death Star in the original 1977 Star Wars film, which were created by artist Larry Cuba. This computer animation sequence was produced at UIC on the same system that Fenton references in this interview, and Cuba coded the sequence in the GRASS programming language created by Tom DeFanti.
- See Tom DeFanti, Jamie Fenton, and Nola Donato, “BASIC Zgrass: A Sophisticated Graphics Language for the Bally Home Library Computer,” ACM SIGGRAPH Computer Graphics (August 1978), https://doi.org/10.1145/965139.807366.
- GORF is an acronym for Galactic Orbiting Robot Force.
- The Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator (MAME) emulates older computer hardware in software, making older computer environments available on contemporary computer systems by running, as software, older or obsolete hardware. Antique arcade video game systems are now emulated through MAME on contemporary computers. MAME is therefore especially important to the preservation of video game histories.
- MacroMind developed MacroMind VideoWorks (the precursor to MacroMind Director) to run on the Apple Macintosh computer. This software became the primary method of creating an entire genre of early new media art and games: the digital interactive art variously called CD-ROM art or simply multimedia art.
How to Cite
jonCates, Jonathan Kinkley, and Jamie Fenton, “Stability Isn’t Everything It’s Glitched Up to Be: An Interview with Jamie Fenton,” in Perspectives on In/stability, ed. Delinda Collier and Robyn Farrell (Art Institute of Chicago, 2022).
This contribution has been peer reviewed through a double-anonymized process.
© 2022 by The Art Institute of Chicago. This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license: creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/