Mathematics has been used to structure paintings, as well as music. To artists working with film, video and computers it is the source of time-based abstract compositions. 

Films showing in this section: 

15:25 - Robert Fairthorne and Brian Salt Equation X+X=0 1936
15:29 - Norman Mclaren Around is Around 1951
15:38 - Lutz Becker Horizon 1966-68
15:43 - Stan Hayward and George Borzykowski Square 1969
15:45 - Peter Donebauer Entering 1974
15:52 - Daryl Viner Inside / Outside 1977

Robert Fairthorne and Brian Salt Equation X+X=0 1936

5 minutes. Collection: BFI National Film & Television Archive 

‘If abstract films are really abstract films …they deal exclusively with those abstract relations that can be expressed in terms of shape and motion’ wrote Robert Fairthorne in Film Art in 1936. A mathematician and information scientist, Fairthorne saw aesthetic potential in an animation made as a teaching aid by Salt, and proposed this collaboration. The film is silent. 


Robert Fairthorne was born in 1904, and died in 2000. He was a regular contributor to Film Art , (see his The Principles of the Film 1933, reprinted in The British Avant-Garde Film edited by Michael O’Pray, University of Luton Press). In later life he wrote on mathematics and information theory, and was recognised as a pioneer in the field. Salt made one other film Euclid 1.32 ‘purely as an aid to teachers and students’. X+ X = O was their only collaboration. 

Norman Mclaren Around is Around 1951

10 minutes. Collection: BFI National Film & Television Archive / NFBC 

Norman McLaren’s film Around is Around was made for showing in 3D at the Festival of Britain. For it, he developed a technique based on filming oscilloscope patterns - pioneered by the American artist Mary Ellen Bute. 


Norman McLaren was born in Scotland in 1914. Studied at Glasgow School of Art, where he ran the Film Society. His early abstract film experiments and anti-war film Hell UnLtd, gained him an invitation from John Grierson to work at the GPO Film Unit, where he perfected his painting-on-film technique. A pacifist, he moved to the USA at the outbreak of War, working with Mary Ellen Bute in New York, before taking up what proved a life time’s residency at the new National Film Board of Canada, again at John Grierson’s invitation. He died in Montreal Canada in 1987. 

Lutz Becker Horizon 1966-68

5 minutes. Collection: Artist

Lutz Becker made this film while working experimentally with BBC electronics engineer Ben Palmer. Becker hoped ‘we might find some kind of equivalent to electronic music. We explored ways in which visual effects could be created through utilizing a feedback circle between .. TV cameras and monitors’. Made in the age of black and white TV, the film had colour added later in an optical film printer. It was transmitted by the BBC in 1969. 


Lutz Becker was born in 1941. He studied at the Slade School of Fine Art, London. He graduated under Thorold Dickinson and became a distinguished director of political and art documentaries such as Art in Revolution 1971, Double Headed Eagle 1972, Lion of Judah 1981 and Vita Fururista 1987. A practicing painter, he is also a curator of exhibitions. He collaborated with the Hayward Gallery on The Romantic Spirit in German Art 1994, Art and Power 1995 and Tate Modern on Century City 2001. Becker is currently reconstructing Sergei Eisenstein’s film Que viva Mexico

Stan Hayward and George Borzykowski Square 1969

1 minute. Collection: Artist, courtesy the Film & Video Umbrella 

This short work exploring the harmonics of the square was based on a design and computer programme by Hayward. As no colour monitors existed when the film was produced, the image was created as three monochrome sequences and recorded frame by frame. The film is silent. 


Stan Hayward was born in 1930. He left school at 15 to join the Merchant Navy, then worked as a musician and started scriptwriting, notably for The Goons. He wrote for Richard Williams and George Dunning (The Flying Man 1961). Inspired by the Whitney brothers, he set up a computer animation partnership with Imperial College in 1971. He is author of Scriptwriting for Animation, and Computers for Animation (both Focal Press 1984), and created the popular children’s character Henry’s Cat (with Bob Godfrey). 

Peter Donebauer Entering 1974

8 minutes. Collection: Artist 

The imagery and sound in Entering were performed ‘live’ by Donebauer and composer Simon Desorgher, and recorded in real time, using a colour TV studio at the Royal College of Art. Later Donebauer and Richard Monkhouse developed the Videokalos synthesiser, as an image-sound performance instrument. Entering was transmitted by the BBC in 1974. 


Peter Donebauer was born in 1947. He studied at Manchester University and Royal College of Art, London. A pioneer of colour video, Donebauer designed and built a synthesiser in the early 1970s that became central to his practice, allowing him to work closely with musicians in ‘live’ largely improvised performances. He has continued to make tapes but now runs a large television production company. 

Daryl Viner Inside / Outside 1977

5 minutes. Collection: Film & Video Umbrella 

Darrell Viner began using computers in the 1970s as a way of exploring transformation, both in drawings and through animation. Later he included them in his kinetic sculpture and interactive environments. The tape is silent. 


Darrell Viner was born in 1946. Studied at Hornsey College of Art and the Slade School of Fine Art. Viner was best known as a maker of largescale sculptures and installations in which motors allowed elements to move seemingly under their own momentum, or through interaction with the audience or performers. In the 1970s he used computers to make drawings and animation, and to explore transformation, before including them in his sculptural work. He died in 2001.