Jacob Gaboury

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Fellow Profile

Jacob Gaboury is a PhD candidate in the department of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University and a staff writer for the art and technology organization Rhizome at the New Museum for Contemporary Art in New York. His research is focused in the areas of digital visual culture, media archaeology, and queer studies, focusing on the marginal objects and marginal figures of the early history of computing. He is currently the 2013-2014 IEEE Life Members Fellow in Electrical History and a 2013-2014 Lemelson Fellow at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. In 2012 he was the History Fellow for the Association for Computing Machinery, and beginning in 2014 he will be the Tomash Fellow in the History of Information Technology of the Charles Babbage Institute. He has also recently accepted a position as Assistant Professor of Visual Culture & Digital Media at Stony Brook University in the department of Cultural Analysis and Theory.



Image Objects: An Archaeology of Computer Graphics

My primary research project is a material history of early computer visualization and 3D graphics, with a focus on the pioneering research center at the University of Utah from 1965-1979. Titled Image Objects: An Archaeology of Computer Graphics, it investigates the cultural, technical, and aesthetic conditions that made 3D graphical simulation possible thirty years prior to its use in popular film and videogames. While computer graphics have previously been theorized by scholars in film and media studies for the transformative effects that simulated imagery has had on contemporary visual culture, there has been no substantial research into the origins of these technologies or their broader influence on material culture. Adopting a media archaeological approach grounded in original archival research, this project offers a material history of the hardware, software, and technical languages that made visual computing possible. In so doing so it uncovers a neglected pre-history of computer simulation whose legacy may be traced not only to the contemporary entertainment industry, but also to disciplines as varied as desktop publishing, computer aided design, object oriented programming, and 3D printing. Ultimately I argue that it is through computer graphics that the field of computing first turns toward objects and questions of ontology, and that this shift has had a transformative effect on the way we use and understand computational technology.

At mecs my goal is to continue to develop my dissertation project and its focus on the early history of graphical object simulation while also extending that research into the history of early computer graphics in Germany. Building on the work of authors such as Christoph Klutsch, I am interested in exploring early research on computer visualization by artists and researchers such as Herbert Franke, Frieder Nake, Georg Nees, and Manfred Mohr, with a particular interest in the cultural and technical networks that developed between computer artists and researchers in the US and Germany in the 1960s and 1970s. While most existing work on the history of computer graphics during this period focuses on the work of artists in experimental institutional contexts, I am interested in exploring the interrelationship between artists and technical researchers pursuing practical solutions to industrial challenges. In tracing this international network of influence I hope to identify the broader cultural and technical imaginary of computer visualization during this early period.