Ben Laposky’s photographs–described in a 1987 book on computer art as the “first graphic images generated by an electronic machine”–are both beautiful and fascinating for their mix of human and mechanical input. A draftsman for a sign-painting business in Cherokee, Iowa, Laposky began experimenting in 1950 with an oscilloscope, a device that records the activity of electrical circuits in wavelike patterns on the screen of a cathode-ray tube. By adding circuits he produced a variety of patterns, which he then photographed. Fifty black-and-white images were exhibited in 1953 at the Sanford Museum in Cherokee (later his work was shown throughout the United States and in Europe and Israel). All but one of those 50 are part of the show at the Illinois Institute of Technology, which also includes 52 of the color images he began making in the mid-50s, using filters to color the patterns, which he apparently later superimposed on one another. For two decades he mounted exhibits and wrote essays on what he called his “oscillons” or “electronic abstractions.” But after the advent of computer graphics in the 60s, Laposky appears to have stopped photographing and exhibiting. He died in 2000, and his work faded from view until the present show.

With the current plethora of precise-to-the-pixel art, Laposky’s photographs can be seen for the unique, inventive works they are. They show much less evidence of the artist’s choices than meticulously controlled digital artwork; in fact Laposky stressed in his statements that after setting up the electrical circuits he wanted, he altered nothing. Instead his curved shapes reflect the mathematical relationships that describe current and voltage. At the same time, his photographs are decidedly fuzzier than most digital prints. Perhaps because the oscilloscope patterns were generally moving, or perhaps because of the limitations of his photographic technology or of the oscilloscope’s screen, Laposky’s lines are soft-edged–incomplete records of fleeting instants.

The designs themselves are wonderfully complex, with sinuous curves looping through space to create floating shapes in delicate harmony, set dramatically against a black background. The lines in 38 bloom outward in a kind of double crown from a bright center, while 79 shows rows of lines with bulbous ends, looking like hanging tasseled cords. 42 seems to record a Slinky’s spiraling path through space. One of the color images, 1229, suggests superimposed blue, red, yellow, and white flowers. The rhythm and balance in each piece reflect not only the artist’s vision but the ordered principles underlying the physical world.

An installation by Evanstonian Vera Scekic in the Cook County Administration Building’s rear lobby, an outpost of the Hyde Park Art Center, offers a cheerfully disruptive contrast to one of Chicago’s deadest interiors. Bilateral Symmetry consists of two huge paintings on facing walls, each filled with a grid of 13 by 15 circles in almost cartoonish colors–a sharp contrast to a place otherwise oppressed by various shades of brown. The circles are cut out of pools of poured paint; they’re often thick, and none is perfectly round–all have bumps and indentations and little cusps, which enhance their visual interest. Her “symmetric grids are trying to impose order,” she writes, “while the gravity-molded circles push back against this Cartesian space.” The lobby is also a giant collection of grids–in the floor, the ceiling, the nearby elevator bank, and in the panes of glass above and alongside the paintings. By providing another, highly imperfect grid, Scekic both echoes and defies the surrounding space, letting in a whiff of the organic. –Fred Camper

Ben Laposky

When: Through 9/16

Where: Illinois Institute of Technology, Galvin Library, 2nd flr., 35 W. 33rd

Info: 312-567-5293

Vera Scekic

When: Through 11/4

Where: Cook County Administration Building, 69 W. Washington

Info: 773-324-5520

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Fred Camper.