The University of Madrid’s Centro de Cálculo (Calculus Centre) was created in January 1966 after a collaboration agreement between the university and IBM, which loaned a computer for study and research. Initially designed for engineers and science students, the centre was soon replaced by uses serving artists. This shift from technological to artistic debate was a genuine surprise at the time and was a landmark inside Spain’s artistic context, as well as a pioneering endeavour in an international framework.
In the second half of the 1960s, a period shaped by Francoism’s timid international apertura (opening out) and mounting external porousness, the rise in avant-garde experimentalism began to make itself known. This spirit was what made the materialisation of necessary synergies possible between computer programmers, architects, musicians and visual artists and to assemble this multidisciplinary research project, with few precursors internationally. Its director was Florentino Briones, yet it would be Mario Fernández Barberá, an IBM employee, who coordinated the project. Fernández Barberá was also an avant-garde art collector and a veritable advocate of the link between artists. At first, he called José Luis Alexanco, who then contacted Manuel Barbadillo as he was working on modular systems. Together, they started to use the computer for their visual investigations. In this period, Alexanco’s work focused on mathematical research around the construction and deconstruction of anthropomorphous figures via computer-based experimentation. Of all the artists to be part of the Centro de Cálculo, he was the only one who learned to programme, developing an exacting body of work.
Equally significant to the works produced there were the theoretical debates held. The centre began organising seminars to cover the need to create a broad framework of thought on the application of new technology to different aspects of life. Artists, architects, linguists, computer programmers and so on participated in the seminars and from 1970 onwards they were conducted by Ignacio Gómez de Liaño, with theory taking precedence in workshops and featuring renowned guest speakers in the field of semiotics and mathematics applied to art. Out of this came the pivotal text Generación Automática de Formas Plásticas (The Automatic Generation of Plastic Forms), which included an homage to Equipo 57 and contributions by Alexanco, Barbadillo, Iturralde, Elena Asins and Prada Poole, among others. Newsletters were also published with findings from some of the research and extracts from lectures, while exhibitions were organised, for example Formas Computables (Computable Forms, 1969), which travelled to different sites and events, among them the so-called Pamplona Encounters of 1972.
As an undertaking, it is inscribed within the international history of art and computing and constitutes a pioneering exploration of mathematical and rational relations between geometric forms, reflected in an open language, mediated by the machine, which eschewed the gestural expressionism of the painting created previously.