John & James Whitney
16 September – 12 November 2017


John Whitney and his younger brother James were two of the most influential pioneers of early computer films and cybernetic cinema. In the 1940s, they jointly experimented in the field of ‘non-objective film’ and participated in the American West Coast avant-garde art scene. Looking for new forms of audiovisual expression, they were inspired by early 20th century music to construct a sound-generating device to accompany the abstract and geometric shapes in their early films. In the 1950s, while James was increasingly engaged with meditative and psychedelic perception enhancement in film, John bought surplus anti-aircraft technology from World War II to construct his own ‘cam machine’ creating the first computer-based animations. With that, he not only gained attention from the film industry and directors such as Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick but also of a whole generation of experimental filmmakers.

Curator: Regina Barunke


28 September 2017
Henning Engelke: Pendulums, Canons and Computers. The Whitneys' Notion of Visual Music
John & James Whitney: Films 1944-75
Screening Room



Funding and Support

Ministerium für Familie, Kinder, Jugend, Kultur und Sport des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen
Kulturamt der Stadt Köln
Deltax Wirtschafts- und Steuerberatungsgesellschaft mbH
Hotel Chelsea


1-2 — James Whitney: Lapis, 1966
3 — James Whitney: Yantra, 1957
4 — John Whitney: Digital Harmony: On the Complementary of Music and Visual Art, 1980. Byte Books/A McGraw-Hill Production/Peterborough New Hampshire
Photo: Simon Vogel