Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 127 / MARCH 1991 / PAGE 43

Pathways. The Mondo Blendo computer art movement
by Steven Anzovin

You may not have heard of it, but it's all around you - on TV, in advertisements, in the movies. It's blendo, a.k.a. "genre-bending," "digital postmodernism," or "synergistic art," and it may well be the first important - or foolish - aesthetic idea to come out of computer graphics.

What is blendo? Michael Gosney, publisher/editor of Verbum, the Journal of Personal Computer Aesthetics, calls it "the parallel convergence of art forms" combining "anything and everything - type, bitmap paintings, vector graphics, scanned images, animation, 3-D...." School of Visual Arts academic Timothy Binkley describes computer art as the creation of "a prodigious menagerie of things" brought into being "merely by waving a magic wand." It's a fair characterization of the blendo approach. You take whatever elements are relevant (or irrelevant) to your purpose and put them into your picture.

The computer makes it supremely easy to mix and match images, move them around, add and subtract at will - no forethought necessarily required. The typical blendo computer picture has dozens of little images - some scanned, some 3-D, some animated - swirling around the screen, perhaps orbiting one central figure or a big piece of type. (The process of creating blendo art should probably be called blenderizing or Osterizing, or maybe just buzzing. The blendo art scene would be the blendorama.)

Because it's both easy and infinitely versatile, blendo is fast becoming the dominant style in computer art. But it does have a history. You can see the precursors of blendo in artworks by the early twentieth-century dadaists Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst. Duchamp indulged his peculiar sense of humor by offering a toilet as a work of art and combining machine parts, kitchen utensils, painted plate glass, and other materials in his major work The Large Glass (The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even). In the little-known classic La Femme 100 Tetes (1929), Ernst pasted old commercial engravings and illustrations into a collage novel, making a bizarre narrative out of previously unrelated imagery.

James Joyce's nearly incomprehensible Finnegans Wake is still the premier blendo work of literature. It mixes themes from dozens of myths and coins new words from scores of languages to make a goulash so rich it can be sampled only in helpings of a page or two. (Finnegans Wake is one of the few novels that would benefit from data decompression.)

Recent blendo artists can blenderize with tools and skills the dadaists and surrealists would envy. Richard W. Maile uses a computer to seamlessly insert a swimsuited Elvis Presley into Botticelli's painting The Birth of Venus, creating a "new" work called The Birth of Elvis.

Macintosh commercial artists Richie Williamson and Dean Janoff won the most recent SuperMac Pixel-Paint art competition with Motel Room, mixing scanned images or retro fabrics, furniture, and interiors from design books with photos of fashion models. The result doesn't look like reality - the models seem to float above the scene - but the fake look is part of the blendo style, too.

Up in dada heaven, Duchamp and Ernst probably wish they'd had computers, too. Joyce no doubt would be into hypertext. Finnegans Wake would make the biggest and most complex HyperCard stack in the world.

Blendo is creeping into Hollywood films. David Lynch likes to throw in all kinds of basically irrelevant but interesting stuff, like the many visual references in Wild at Heart to The Wizard of Oz. And into TV commercials, where animated soda-can-logos, raisins, and toothpaste tubes cavort with real live actors and moving text, while music, voice, and sound effects blast all at once. Commercial producers seem to think blendo is a style for the underaged and impulsive, since most blendo effects appear in spots for junk food.

But it's on computers that blendo really comes into its own. The sheer ease of digital image manipulation makes it inevitable that every picture and sound is made equal. Assemble a library of scanned pictured and paste them anywhere you like; the computer screen smooths every texture and color into uniformity. Put them all together, and presto - it's blendo!

Make it interactive, and blendo is time-independent, too - you can see any picture any time you like, in any order. The not-so-hidden aesthetic assumption of blendo can be stated as follows: If all things on the screen look the same, maybe they're all of the doesn't matter what's up there, as long as it look nice.

Blendo is a democratic style, just right for the age of the triumph of democracy. Unlike heavy-duty multimedia, which requires a fast color PC, video and/or CD-ROM linkages, digital image and sound compression, color scanners, and what-all else, respectable blendo is possible at home with any computer, a cheap hand scanner or video digitizer, a paint/animation program, and printer. As always, assembling hardware and software is easy; the hard part is opening your mind and letting it all come together in the true blendo style.