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EVL contributes to book on women in the digital arts

Members of the UIC Electronic Visualization Laboratory
New Media Futures Cover

In 2009, Maxine Brown, who heads UIC’s Electronic Visualization Lab (EVL), received an email from Donna Cox, director of UIUC’s Advanced Visualization Lab (AVL) enlisting her help in gathering information for a book on how Midwestern women in the arts contributed to the digital revolution.

“I knew Maxine was a key person for the book because she not only has contributed but also has a unique historical perspective,” said Cox.

That email sparked a chain of events that would eventually lead to the publishing of “New Media Futures: The Rise of Women in the Digital Arts,” in which Cox is one of three co-editors, along with Ellen Sandor and Janine Fron—all long-time EVL collaborators.

The book, containing personal narratives from its 22 contributors, goes on sale June 15.

Nine of the 22 contributing women (see the list below) have ties to UIC and the EVL, which was founded in 1973 by computer science professor Tom DeFanti and art professor Dan Sandin, who were interested in interdisciplinary collaboration to advance the development of interactive, real-time, computer-generated imagery.

“In the 70s, there were very few computer science departments in the U.S., let alone places where young people interested in both art and technology could go to school,” Brown said. “In fact, in the early days, the ‘electronic visualization’ art program was more renowned than the computer science program and attracted very technical-savvy artists, including a number of women. In the computer science department, students who had artistic hobbies (e.g., painting, ballet, playing a musical instrument, singing) gravitated to the program.”

The EVL was such an early pioneer in the digital arts that it collaborated not only within UIC, but with others, notably with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and with book co-editors Sandor and Cox at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at UIUC.

Quote from Sara Diamond

“I know most of the women who contributed to the book, many from the time they were either EVL students or collaborators or both and am thrilled to see this compendium that recognizes their achievements,” said Brown.

“While I don’t consider myself an artist; I am an art appreciator. I was active in the computer graphics community since 1976 and met EVL faculty and students, starting in 1977. I recognized how special EVL was, so was thrilled when offered a position here in 1986, where I started helping write grant proposals and promotional materials. Co-editor Cox told me that I am included in the book because I am an “artist of words and a collector of [computer] art.”

“While this is not a history book,” Brown said, “it certainly provides an historical perspective on the influence of Midwestern women in helping establish digital media as a true art form, and in helping promote its importance, both nationally and globally.”