Joseph Nechvatal (born in Chicago in 1951) is an American transdisciplinary artist who creates virus-modeled artificial life computer-assisted paintings and animations. He moved from Chicago to the downtown Tribeca area of New York City in 1975 and soon began studying at Columbia University with the philosopher Arthur Danto while working for The Dia Art Foundation as art archivist to the minimalist composer La Monte Young. In 1980 he moved from Tribeca to the Lower East Side and became closely associated with Collaborative Projects (Colab), the influential post-punk artists’ group that included Kiki Smith and Jenny Holzer, among others. Amidst the sordidness of the Lower East Side, Nechvatal found cheap rent, artistic camaraderie and politically inspired creative energy. Those were glory days for the famous Colab projects – Just Another Asshole, The Real Estate Show and The Times Square Show – and Nechvatal even helped establish the Lower East Side non-profit cultural space ABC No Rio where exhibitions were animated by political purpose.
Nechvatal’s art in the early 1980s chiefly consisted of dense post-minimalist gray graphite drawings that were often photo-mechanically enlarged, sculpture, and musique concrète-like tape collages. In 1983 he co-founded the famous avant-garde, art music audio project Tellus Audio Cassette Magazine and in 1984 began work on an opera called XS: The Opera Opus (1984-6) with the no wave musical composer Rhys Chatham.
Nechvatal first began using computer-robotics to make conceptual paintings in 1986, that were exhibited at Documenta VIII in 1987. In 1992, when he was artist-in-residence at the Louis Pasteur Atelier in Arbois and the Saline royale d’Arc-et-Senans, Nechvatal created computer virus codes used as an artistic tool. This work, known as The Computer Virus Project I, was a reflection on his personal experiences of risk and loss with the AIDS (SIDA) epidemic in New York. In 1995, at the urging of Pierre Restany, Nechvatal moved to Paris and began to split his time between Paris and New York. During this time, he earned his doctorat in the philosophy of aesthetics and technology in England and wrote two art theory books: Towards an Immersive Intelligence and Immersion Into Noise. In 2001 Nechvatal extended his experimentation into the virus as an artistic painterly tool in a series of artificial life works termed The Computer Virus Project II. These works include various series of paintings, animations, and a lengthy audio piece entitled viral symphOny (2006-2008). Though viral issues and gender fluidity are culturally and politically topical, those subjects are nothing new to Nechvatal. In 2000, he exhibited artworks (with artist’s statement) investigating virtual hermaphrodite complexity in his New York ec-satyricOn 2000 exhibition, and again in his 2002 show vOluptuary: an algorithic hermaphornology. He has continued to use viral and androgynous forms in his work, since.
You can follow him on Twitter at @twinkletwink and reach him through his website at: nechvatal.net