Summary

Micro Arts was founded in 1984 by Geoff Davis along with an international group of young artists and programmers. It released computer generated art, conceptual pieces and story generators on data cassettes and teletext, and provided a forum for computer artists and musicians. Micro Arts came out of an art scene around London Video Arts and London Film-Makers’ Co-op, B2 Gallery, video art and alternative culture. It used consumer micros such as the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and BBC Micro. In 1985 all the material went on Prestel Micronet teletext and telesoftware (which went offline in 1991). This meant the art software could be downloaded into the home. All this happened ten years before web publishing.

The range of publicly released computer art was very wide:

  • generative visual art with user control – MA1 ‘Abstract Originals’ – 7 programs
  • conceptual and challenging programs – MA2 ‘Various Unusual Events’ – 6 programs
  • feminist agitprop – animation of the SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanas – ‘The Money Work System’ (in MA2). This also included a Universal Basic Income (UBI) concept used in later fiction by Geoff Davis
  • math/data art – ‘Carry On Computing’ (in MA2)
  • story text generator – MA4 ‘Cow Boils Head’ – endless fiction
  • slow art – ‘Minimal’ – 23 months to draw one screen (in MA2)
  • art animations – MA3 – based on Duchamp, Mondrian and Muybridge – 4 programs

Other aspects:

  • had a print magazine – ‘Language as a Virus’, ‘Electronic Beowulf’, ‘Micro Music’ and many other articles
  • graphics connected with Manchester Hacienda, Sheffield Leadmill and London NetWork 21 pirate TV
  • inclusive, not exclusive, no membership, open source (before it was named) software, publicly available on national Prestel teletext and via mail order data cassettes
  • widely reviewed in the national computer press such as Computing and Computer Weekly, and niche magazines like Blitz, Sinclair User etc.


MA1 Geoff Davis – ‘Abstract Originals’ – one of seven generated art pieces

Micro Arts was an independent producer of many types of computer art, and the first public forum and distributor aimed at the general public. Inclusive, not exclusive, no membership, open source, publicly available on national Prestel teletext and via mail order data cassettes. It was not a member of anything and had no affiliation to contemporary clubs and organisations. 

The various programs were copied and sold on data cassettes for the newly available ‘micro’ computers, and were also available via teletext and telesoftware. The software art could be viewed and interacted with via simple menus. The programs could be edited once they were installed on the micro. This was before open source software was even a term, but free software code had always existed, particularly in academia. The print magazine had London and mail distribution and even appeared in a stage play as a prop.

MA2 Geoff Davis – Various Unusual Events – The Money Work System (SCUM Manifesto)
– one of six art pieces

MA1 Geoff Davis – ‘Abstract Originals’ – one of seven generated art pieces

Slow Art - MA2 Geoff Davis VUW -Minimal
Slow Art – MA2 Geoff Davis VUE -Minimal (one pixel every 22 minutes)

Micro computers were in contrast to mainframes or mini computers.  ‘Micros’ were small cheap domestic computers that had just hit the shops. These plugged into normal TV sets.  Micros were for home or student use, unlike the small IBM Personal Computer (the original PC) which was an expensive business machine.

MicroArts-tw2.jpg
Data cassette MA2 – a normal cassette with recorded data bits

Micro Arts was modelled on the London Film-Makers’ Collective (LFMC) and London Video Arts (LVA) as an artist-led practical and educational arts group. It was also inspired by the early 1980s art scene such as at B2 in Wapping and the Diorama in central London. This was a very social system, for post-art college and ‘outsider’ artists, enabling people to work on their and others’ art, and get feedback and support. Micro Arts focussed on releases and publications, like an independent music or video company, but also had this group and educational approach.

There was also a printed magazine with articles and photo sections. This was distributed around art venues in 1984.

Micro Arts Magazine computer art
Micro Arts Magazine computer art
MA4 Geoff Davis – Cow Boils Head – continuous story text generator

 

During 1985 all the Micro Arts material was put on Micronet 800, the computer section of Prestel. This move from actual to virtual marked the end of the active period. It worked successfully as a catalyst and interest point for art on computers. Micronet, and Micro Arts, closed in 1991.

 

MA3 Martin Rootes Vol. 1 – Vortex – generated art (screen photograph)

 

What else happened in 1984-85?

Microsoft Windows 1.0 was released.

GEM 1.1 graphical interface released.

First domain names registered – symbolics.com and some others

CD-ROM developed.

The first Apple Macintosh computer with a Xerox Park inspired graphical user interface GUI is released in 1984. The computer mouse (for WIMP interfaces) also developed.  Paint, illustration and publishing software quickly followed.

See The History of Computing Project 1984 (other years available)

 What else?

Madonna, Prince, Scott Walker, Test Department, Phil Collins, Frank Chickens, Max Headroom, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, ZTT, Ghostbusters, The Karate Kid, Back to the Future, Nostalgia, Commando, the miners’ strike, Margaret Thatcher, half of a European Community budget rebate, Derek Jarman, Leigh Bowery, Cerith Wyn Evans, BodyMap, Mark E Smith, Harry Enfield, Loadsamoney, Spitting Image, Post-punk, New Romantics, Neo Naturists.

World population in 1984 was 4.8 billion. In 2018 it is 7.7 billion. An increase of nearly 3 billion people, 60% more. For every 5 people there are now 8.

Geoff Davis short biography

Geoff Davis has a background in programming, fiction and music. He went on work in graphics at Sheffield Art College (Sheffield Hallam University) and London University of the Arts, and later, web production. He has an MA Electronic Arts from Middlesex University (Cat Hill). He also worked for Nesta (when it was NESTA) and worked extensively in the web industry.

His fiction has been published by PEN International amongst others. Nnn Goes Mobile, a cyberpunk novel , was published in 1994 alongside a multimedia game on the UK Arts Council Hub. He devised Easy Money Units (Emus), an electronic currency, in Death in the Bubble World novella in 1997. For more info see People page.

Easy Money Units EMU c. Paul Greenleaf London)
Easy Money Units EMU image c. Paul Greenleaf London

 

Naming (2019)

Micro Arts was occasionally called the Micro Arts Group by journalists, so this name has been adopted for the 2019 website and new activities. The old material is being released in new formats and new events and releases are planned.

For more information on the People who worked on Micro Arts please see the People page.