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The history of early digital art demonstrates to us that it was scientists and not artists that tended to be the frontrunners. Nikola Šerman (1938) took a doctorate in 1978 at Zagreb University\'s Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and Naval Architecture with a dissertation entitled Contribution to the methodics of reduction of mathematical models of dynamic systems with distributed parameters. He solved numerous technical problems in thermal power plants (TE [TPP] Rijeka, TE Sisak, TE Plomin and others) and elaborated or headed the making of a large number of professional and feasibility studies. A distinguished member of the academic community, he is a member of the Croatian Academy of Technical Sciences, a winner of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts Prize, and later, in 2009, was awarded the rank of emeritus professor of Zagreb University.1

Mathematical modelling and computer simulations as a whole belong among the basic tools for the analysis and solution of technical problems that relate to the automatic process controls in power stations and similar industrial plants. The mathematics that describes process dynamics is usually composed of differential equations. Simulation of a modelled process is conducted by resolving these equations with the use of a computer. When Šerman began to use a computer for his scientific work at the end of the sixties, the computing power of commercially available digital computers was insufficient for the purpose. But the market also offered special electronic devices, named analogue computers or "differential analysers". In the Czechoslovakia of the time the MEDA (small electronic differential computer) model was designed and built. Model MEDA 80T (80 amplifiers, T transistor) was composed of 24 integrator networks, which made it capable of solving up to 24 simultaneous first order differential equations.

From 1965 Šerman was a lecturer at the Mechanical Engineering Faculty, in the energy department. In 1969 MEDA 80T became accessible to Šerman's department, and the first steps in its use were "directed to an examination of the dynamics of the control loop of a given steam turbine. Afterwards I took my first steps in the modelling and simulation of heat exchanger dynamics."2

Here from 1969 to 1971 he created a series of computer drawings by way of relaxation from scientific work, as a hobby. The graphics he created had no connections whatever with his scientific endeavours. They were instructions for the solution of 39 tasks of descriptive geometry that Šerman imagined as possibly interesting contemporary artists. He says of this process:

During my relaxation I amused myself exploring the visual effects of mathematical units that I selected arbitrarily and that MEDA animated. Relying on my educated guess and the method of trial and error, I produced many images, with no pretentions to art.3

The works represent a graphic interpretation of the solution of differential equations of an oscillator -- whether of one independent (transient) or two linked oscillators (Lissajous curve). Different visual effects were achieved by varying the parameters and by operations into the structure of the equations and their solutions. Although the author stated that he did not follow the exhibitions or the art scene of the time, clearly he understood contemporary art as abstract and non-figurative, founded on geometrical form. On every drawing he wrote by hand instructions meant for artists unknown to him to make it easier for them to construct these forms by machine, instead of giving themselves the trouble of drawing precisely with the use of tools such as compass, curves and other equipment for descriptive geometry. All the drawings were written on standard A4 paper, some drawings going across the edge of the paper.

In 1972 Šerman donated his drawings to the Gallery of Contemporary Art in Zagreb, and they became part of their collection.4 But they were not shown in public until 2000 in the exhibition I Am Still Alive5 in Zagreb and subsequently in the exhibition Bit international [Nove] tendencije Computer und visuelle Forschung Zagreb 1961--1973 in Neue Galerie am Landesmuseum Joanneum in Graz.6 The curator of both exhibitions was the present author, Darko Fritz. Encouraged by the exhibition, Šerman returned to the problem of the creation of the old prints and did them again with digital technology. He called these processes the new, digital phases of the work:

The second phase, prompted by the 2007 exhibition in Graz, came into being as a successful attempt to produce graphics similar to those of the analogue phase through application of a digital computer, a PC. I shall refer to it as the digital phase, the vector graphics of which could be reproduced on any kind of printer suitable for the printing of vector graphics (for example the HP Laser Jet series). In the third phase, about 2019, I reworked software of the digital phase that was developed in the MATLAB programme environment, in such a way that I could draw the vector graphics of the digital phase with the use of GNU Octave freeware, i.e., without resort to the expensive MATLAB environment. This was purely a programming piece of work, without any visual creativity, but it enabled Mr Tomislav Mikulić to present works of the digital phase in the publication Nikola Šerman, Computer Graphics, published by High Resolution Design Studio Pty Ltd, Melbourne, Australia 2019.7

This concrete example of the recreation, emulation and migration of the programmes of analogue computers to two different digital interfaces shows us in practice possible methodologies for archiving, restoration and the (museum) conservation of digital art. These themes are highly pertinent to the digital art community of the 21^st^ century.8

A distinguished member of the academic community, although he does not follow goings-on in the art world, Šerman has once again (after a quarter of a century) taught use something essential, although (again) nobody has asked him anything.

  1. "Nikola Šerman", Hrvatska tehnička enciklopedija, Miroslav Krleža Lexicographic Institute, Zagreb, 2018. 

  2. Nikola Šerman, structured interview, Darko Fritz, 2020. 

  3. Ibid. 

  4. So all the works are dated 1972, not 1969-1971. All the drawings of 39 mathematical problems are listed in the inventory under the inventory number 1427/1-47. The resolution of the first task is on three pages. 

  5. "Computer works from the Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb collection", I Am Still Alive, exhibition catalogue, Darko Fritz, mi2, Zagreb, 2000, p. 28. The Web site of the exhibition I Am Still Alive is accessible at https://darkofritz.net/curator/alive/index.htm, accessed 1/7/2020. 

  6. The reproduction of one Šerman work is published in the catalogue of the exhibition, wrongly classified as from the exhibition tendencies 5

  7. Cf. n. 2. 

  8. In 2020, for example, the Summit on New Media Art Archiving was held at the ISEA, in Montreal, and the programme of the Media Art Preservation Institute was founded at the Danube University.