Richard Hamilton

Diab DS-101 Computer


Richard Hamilton 1922–2011
Object: 700 x 500 x 500 mm
Presented by Eddie Thordèn 1996

Not on display


Diab DS-101 Computer is a large object by the British artist Richard Hamilton that consists of a computer. It is comprised of three grey metallic-looking blocks, stacked on top of one another and separated by 1 cm spacers, which are placed on a fourth black block that sits directly on the gallery floor. The uppermost block features the logo of the computer’s Swedish manufacturer Diab (Dataindustrier AB), as well as a green LED light and a drive unit containing a floppy disk drive, a hard drive and a backup drive. On the block beneath this, which is the largest of the four, are featured two further LEDs, the top one glowing red or green and the lower one green, and this block’s grey casing conceals the computer’s central processing unit. The third grey block, which sits below this, is completely plain and contains the power supply.

This work was initiated in 1983 when Hamilton, who at the time was living and working in Oxfordshire in the UK, was invited by the computer company Ohio Scientific (acquired by Diab in the mid-1980s) to collaborate on the design of a minicomputer. A prototype of the work, with an existing Diab circuit board, was first exhibited in the exhibition Antidotes to Madness?: Richard Hamilton, Nam June Paik, Ree Morton, Hannah Collins and Piotr Sobieralski at Riverside Studios in London in 1986, and the final version was completed in 1989. Hamilton designed the exterior of the computer, dividing it into three sections according to function, and the UNIX operating system that it runs. At the time the machine was very advanced, with a specification that equalled an existing Diab computer that was three times its size. However, while the company planned to produce ten of these computers, only six were ever made.

The title of the work is the name of the computer product and states the model number in Diab’s standard format, and Hamilton’s use of 1s and 0s, which make up binary code on which computers run, emphasises the item’s function. The original title given to the computer when it was conceived for Ohio Scientific was ‘01-110’, a formulation that visually resembles the word ‘OHIO’. While the ‘DS’ of the final title is a standard model number, it also resonates with the interest in the Citroën DS 19 car held by British architects Alison and Peter Smithson and the French philosopher Roland Barthes. Hamilton and the Smithsons had been members of the London-based Independent Group in the 1950s, a circle of artists who were fascinated by modern technology and design. This interest continued throughout his career: in 1979 Hamilton created Lux 50 – functioning prototype (private collection), a high-fidelity amplifier in the form of an image of a ‘hi-fi’ painted onto a very thin amplifier, in collaboration with the Japanese electronics manufacturer Lux. Hamilton was also quick to incorporate developments in computing into the production of his art. He was an early adopter of the Quantel Paintbox programme, which was also used by the British artist David Hockney, and later in his career Hamilton used Adobe Photoshop in his work.

Collaborations were not uncommon in Hamilton’s practice, but from an artistic point of view this computer work, like the Lux amplifier, reflects his interest in the readymade object in art. Once photographed with one of the first readymade artworks in the background – Marcel Duchamp’s famous Fountain 1917, replica 1964 (Tate T07573) – the Diab DS-101 does not entirely conform to the category of the readymade, as it remains functional despite being on display in a gallery. As is explained in the Antidotes to Madness? catalogue: ‘The computer enters the gallery not as an artwork, but providing a function. Hamilton makes available to the viewer a “menu” of information directly relevant to his work in general and more specifically to the works at Riverside’ (Paley 1986, unpaginated). Hamilton insisted that the machine should be operational as a computer when it was put on display, ‘rather than simply sitting as a sculpture in a gallery’, until technical obsolescence rendered this impossible (Nicholas Serota in a letter to Eddie Thordèn, 26 February 1992, Tate Acquisition File, Richard Hamilton, PC101.1). Although visually similar to the minimalist stacked sculptures of American artist Donald Judd (see, for instance, Untitled 1980, Tate T03087), the critic Alice Rawsthorn has noted that Diab DS-101 Computer is more comparable to furniture designed by Judd, which also question the divide between art and design as, unlike equivalent products not created by well-known artists, they are displayed in art galleries (Rawsthorn in Godfrey, Schimmel and Todolí 2014, p.133).

In 1987 a graphics board and colour graphics terminal that were not designed by Hamilton were added to some of the Diab DS-101 models to allow viewers to interact with coloured pictures and information about Hamilton’s work, as was the case when another version of the work went on display at the artist’s 1992 retrospective at the Tate Gallery, London. In 1995 Hamilton proposed that the machine might support Tate’s first ever website, or be connected with other examples of the same computer in the Moderna Museet, Stockholm, and the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen, to create a networked artwork, but such plans did not come to fruition (see Richard Hamilton, letter to Tate curator Richard Morphet with attached diagram proposing linking Tate computer to Stockholm, Copenhagen, Northend and the world, undated [April 1995?], Tate Acquisition File, Richard Hamilton, PC101.2).

Further reading
Maureen O. Paley, Antidotes to Madness?, exhibition catalogue, Riverside Studios, London 1986, unpaginated.
Richard Hamilton, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1992, version reproduced no.88, p.180.
Mark Godfrey, Paul Schimmel and Vicente Todolí (eds.), Richard Hamilton, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2014, p.133, reproduced p.148.

Rosalind McKever
May 2015

Supported by Christie’s.

Display caption

Much of Hamilton's work has been concerned with merging the boundaries between fine art and advanced design and technology. In 1983 he was invited by a Swedish manufacturer to collaborate on the design for a minicomputer, and responded with this simple three-part box design. Hamilton has frequently engaged with the idea of the 'ready-made' art object. But whereas the ready-made is usually disassociated from its function, Hamilton has made an object whose practical use is paramount. The computer could be described as the ultimate 'intelligent object'.

Gallery label, August 2004