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Leonardo (June 2024) Vol 57 (issue 3): 353–356.
MIT Press
YLEM: Artists Using Science and Technology in the Wilderness of Art in the 1990s
Beverly Kleiber (Reiser)

Complete Article

June 01 2024

YLEM: Artists Using Science and Technology in the Wilderness of Art in the 1990s

Beverly Kleiber (Reiser)

Author and Article Information

Leonardo (2024) 57 (3): 353–356.

Article history

It was a Time of Naïve Enthusiasm

The emerging technologies were still undefined. The horizon seemed limitless. Hopes for the World Wide Web were indeed more romantic than real. It was a time of first love; we could fill in between the fuzzy lines with whatever dreamscape we desired. Despite the dystopian scenarios spun by sci-fi authors like Phillip K. Dick, my fuzzy lines were generally dusted with heat lightning out of a prairie storm mixed with pixie dust [1].

The First Empowering Development of the 1990S

For me (Color Plate D), it was the Amiga 1200 computer (1992). While the graphics were a triumph of imagination over gritty pixels, the fully populated RAM made interaction with humans fast enough to keep attention from fading. The Amiga computer with its Mandela software made interactive narratives possible. I created stories with multiple endings that depended on choices made by the participant earlier on the decision tree. I emphasized the power of humans to steer the ending of our evolutionary “story.” This certainly qualifies as naïve enthusiasm. Using the live video feed of the participant instead of a mouse amplified the immediacy of human choice.

The Advent of the World Wide Web

At last, there it was—the World Wide Web, which made all things possible, including interactive art installations. One of mine, Private_Loves/Public_Opéra, was shown at the San Francisco Art Institute in December 1997. It collected love stories both online and at the Institute’s McBean Gallery. The participant, either reading someone else’s or inputting their own love story, sat on an old-fashioned garden swing facing a monitor. Although populated by computer and video monitors, the physical setting evoked the atmosphere of a garden at midnight.

Software Capabilities

Software like Macromedia Director made interactive narratives possible, and I drifted in a fickle way between varied versions of various technologies and into the world of Macintosh. CD-ROM technology made distribution possible—at least theoretically.

The art market we hoped for never really developed, but creatively it was challenging and immensely exciting. Eventually the PC’s multimedia capabilities caught up with the Mac, and it was much more cost-effective. I migrated again. All in all, in the 1990s doors opened everywhere I turned. It was an exhilarating, expansive time in my creative life.


Coming of age as an artist when the tools for interactive multimedia first became widely available, I became a pioneer of walk-in immersive environments, cobbling connections between computers, cameras, and sound devices. It was a time of rapidly expanding media, and a loose cohort of intrepid artists known as YLEM/Artists Using Science & Technology, founded in 1981 in San Francisco, possessed the temerity to attempt a new story [2]. Below I discuss a few of these artists whom I consider groundbreakers and game-changers in the wilderness of art and new technologies in the 1990s. To better understand these artists and the churning lava pool that stirred their imaginations, I asked them the following questions:

What do you think were the most significant inventions of the 1990s?

How did they enable your artwork? Or not?

Artists and Scientists Conversing

When I first met Roger Malina, he was leading a NASA mission to put a telescope in orbit to measure the extreme range of ultraviolet light in the universe [3]. He was also the executive editor of Leonardo journal—at the time, the only publication with a substantial track record covering the art-and-technology intersection. Roger was always supportive of smaller grassroots organizations like YLEM and an enthusiastic attendee at our events.

Roger and Christine Malina’s yearly parties in Berkeley, California, were always a delight. The mixture of scientists from the Center for the Study of the Extreme Range of Ultraviolet Light in the Universe and artists featured in Leonardo and YLEM made for invigorating conversations.

Roger’s answer to how the significant inventions of the 1990s enabled his work:

The ability to assume multiple personas (heteronyms online) so easily like Fernando Pessoa did with difficulty [4]. Ability to express myself privately, publicly.

Early use of Integrated Circuits in Public Sculpture

Jim Pallas (Fig. 1) is credited with being the first to use integrated circuits in interactive public sculpture, in Century of Light, a performance sculpture created in 1978 [5].


His work is often populated by creatures or personages from a surrealist, certainly fantastic, and at the same time very familiar world.


His hand-rendered circuit boards can be viewed as drawings. However complex the circuitry, and however large the amount of data processed, the message of a given piece is never overwhelmed.

Idiosyncratic technology aside, the outstanding characteristic I find in Jim Pallas is the humor with which he embraces human life and his idiosyncratic take on the ironies and contradictions of our societal constructs.

Jim’s answer to how the significant inventions of the 1990s enabled his work:

The enemy of art is often the janitor.

1990s advances that are important to my art include integrated circuits: “Chips” enabled me to build easily, circuits that were complex enough to input signals from electronic sensors of sound, movement, light, temperature, time, etc. and manipulate that data in ways that are sophisticated and largely unpredictable.

Fig. 1

Jim Pallas with his sculpture The Nose Wazoo (1990). The sculpture is a responsive electronic creature that interacts by touching nearby visitors. (© Jim Pallas)

Self-Expression on the Bleeding Edge

My friendship with Lucia Grossberger Morales (Fig. 2) is one long conversation, hurtling recklessly through silly “girly” things to the weighty issues of contemporary art.


Fig. 2

Lucia Grossberger Morales’ Blackiris, a computer-generated image. (© Lucia Grossberger Morales)

Lucia always fought to allow her heart and soul the freedom to express on the fast-moving edge of new technologies. Nothing has changed. She is still blazing new paths as she innovates and creates new possibilities for herself and others, bridging two cultures at the nexus of bleeding-edge technology and fresh artistic expression.

Lucia’s answer re: how the significant inventions of the 1990s enabled her work:

In early 1990, some Internet marketing pioneers launched their site Electronic Mercado and asked me for a GIF to see how it worked. The GIF I gave them, which I created on my Mac, was 3K big.

The Internet expanded audiences with the ability to democratize information and let artists present their work online for anyone to see. In my case, I could show representations of my animated work using GIFs. Later in the decade, I could put actual videos on the Internet.

Websites became a new presentation form that has evolved to include video. The Internet expanded my imaginal space. My computer and I were now connected to the expanding and changing organism of the Internet.

Creativity Beyond Gravity

I first remember meeting Frank Pietronigro (Fig. 3) at a show we were both in called Bridges at the San Francisco Art Institute. To borrow his words, he was offering “a paradigm that considered creativity when actualized in environments beyond the confines of gravity.” He urged artists and scientists to exchange ideas, each educating the other from their own discipline.

Frank helped produce an event full of wonder called Yuri’s Night at Ames Research Moffett Field, celebrating the birthday of Yuri Gagarin and his flight as the first human into space [6]. Fittingly, Frank was “master of ceremonies.” This event was full of joy and promise and was attended by most artists of the Bay Area cyberarts community. It was full of singing bowls, people in amazing costumes, and video projections on aircraft—all occupying a huge NASA hanger and adjacent runway.

In his “vomit rocket” flight, Frank stretched the limits of Abstract Expressionism with tubes of pigment floating in a zero-gravity chamber, coining the phrase “drift painting.”

Fig. 3

Frank Pietronigro as he prepares to paint during a parabolic flight, 1998. (© Frank Pietronigro. Photo: Chiori Santiago.)

Frank’s exuberance and joy were contagious to all of us around him.

Frank’s answer to how the significant inventions of the 1990s enabled his work:

Adobe products for image processing, motion graphics, etc. etc. etc. impacted my life as an artist because I knew how important it was for me as a “painter” to move beyond the painting studios at the San Francisco Art Institute. I found myself learning HTML, Photoshop, Illustrator, and Premiere, and loved it. I was able to generate very large archival PNG images as flows with acrylic paint using an image transfer process [that] I then applied to wood panels. These products enabled me to represent myself as a professional artist given the media Adobe products bring close to hand. So indeed, the computer is a key part of my work to this day—motion graphics and video editing using Adobe After Effects, Premiere, and Photoshop.

Analog and Digital Intersecting in the Smoke

I always picture Jody Gillerman hanging out of a small plane over a lava flow or smoking volcano with her video camera dangling out the window (Fig. 4). Mind you, I never actually saw this, but the beauty and drama of her images plus the physical interaction of her installations made it seem so.

Jody followed eclipses, eruptions, and flows all over the globe to capture source material for her installations. One of these interactive installations, Shadow Dance, allowed visitors of all ages to interact with eclipses by using their feet on floor sensor controllers.

Fig. 4

Jody Gillerman, hanging out of the window of a helicopter, captures video of a volcano for one of her projects. Photo courtesy of Jody Gillerman. (© Jody Gillerman. Photo: Mick Kalber.)

Jody’s answer on how the significant inventions of the 1990s enabled her work:

“Video” goes digital! Video and Computers finally on symbiotic ground! Coming from a Fine Arts background in painting, drawing and printmaking, I love analog—specifically analog patch-programmable video processing/synthesis. Having personally built a video synthesizer, that established my entry into what seemed to be a unique video and computer graphics screen-based arena. However, surprisingly to me, prior to the ’90s, video/analog and computers/digital were two different worlds, very far apart, not easily merged.

“Digital Video” opened new doors. Interdisciplinary integrations were not easily possible prior to this. Coupled with new digital arts creation and distribution media (CDROM/DVD) and a newly forming internet with search engines, media arts integration and accessibility provided new digital landscapes, expanded avenues for creation, reach, distribution and accessibility. The intersection of analog and digital technologies provided exploration and new directions for my creating interdisciplinary interactive arts, interactive storytelling, and personally pressed media-based interactive CD-ROM/DVDs.

Balletic Robotics

Ken Rinaldo (Fig. 5) used the materials of biological and vegetable life with the skill of an engineer to create thoughtful and beautifully delicate robotic sculptures.

Sometime in the early 1990s I walked into an apartment in San Francisco’s Upper Haight neighborhood. It was a very traditional apartment with a small living room and no furniture. Displayed there were large, beautiful arms that hung from the ceiling. They were as long as I was tall and made from bare twigs and colored cords. They were jointed and moved around gently, poking their tips around in the space and creating a kind of syncopated, music-like breathing sound as they flexed their joints. I couldn’t tell if they were responding to me or if they were just searching for something to respond to. Later, as these arms multiplied, they became known as The Flock.


Fig. 5

Ken Rinaldo, pictured in his studio assembling a control device for one of his robotic sculptures. (© Ken Rinaldo. Photo: Amy Youngs.)


Ken on how the significant inventions of the 1990s enabled his work:

For me it was Photoshop and DVDs as they allowed me to edit and share my images and videos of my works internationally. DVDs were easily mailed to museums and galleries before the WWW was in wide use, and before production of my own website made them obsolete.

Later it was Google as this helped me to quickly find Data Sheets and electronic designs on the WWW. This helped with the production of my robotic artworks such as Autopoiesis and all the research and parts sourcing necessary to complete this Alife (Artificial life) installation.

Looking Back on my Years with Ylem

YLEM was a seed bed. You must remember that it was before curators discovered a thing called “Digital Art.” It was a grassroots, not-for-profit organization in the Silicon Valley tradition of “garage art.” I was fortunate to have acted as president for 14 years.

Our original monthly “Calendar” turned into a newsletter with guest editors, discussing great ideas, shows, books, events, etc. Trudy Myrrh Regan hosted forums with four or five stellar panelists, each speaking on some aspect of a loosely related theme. The ones standing out in my mind now are Leonard Shlain [7] and Larry Harvey [8]. Leonard Shlain talked about his books spinning out controversial cultural theories like the invention of the alphabet causing the ascendancy of male dominance. With a twinkle in his eye, Larry Harvey lifted the thought horizon of Burning Man theory into the stratosphere with his articulate prose. We had an (almost) yearly “Directory” with pictures, contact information, and artist’s statements. I carried around a projector and carousel from curator to curator loaded with slides of whatever sort I thought I could interest them in.

And then there were our Halloween parties. I remember going one year as a spaceport bag lady. Robotic sculptor Alan Rath was in a metallic robot face and kinetic sculptor Ken Herrick [9] was wearing a tux and pulling a kid-size wagon with a kinetic sculpture in it. The rest is just a glow.

I think it would be safe to say that our kindred-spirit gatherings were supportive, inspirational, informative, and lots of fun.

References and Notes

1 - Phillip K. Dick, a prolific sci-fi writer of dark novels. He wrote Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

(New York: Doubleday,1968), on which the movie Blade Runner (1982) was based.

Google Scholar

2 - Trudy Myrrh Reagan, “YLEM: Serving Artists Using Science and Technology, 1981–2009,”

Leonardo 51, No. 1 , 48–52 (2018:

Google Scholar

3 - Roger Malina, principal investigator for the NASA Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer Satellite at the University of California, Berkeley.

4 - Fernando Pessoa, considered one of the major literary figures of the twentieth century, called his imaginary authorial identities heteronyms rather than pseudonyms because they authored books while in an alternate personality.

5 Jim Pallas, “Century of Light Shines for Twenty-Five Years,”

Leonardo 50, No. 3, 246– 252 (2017):

Google Scholar

6 Yuri’s Night, NASA AMES Moffett Field (2022), short film:

7 - Leonard Shlain, surgeon and inventor, author of Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light

(William Morrow & Co, 1991); Sex, Time and Power:How Women’s Sexuality Shaped Human Evolution

(Viking Press, 2003); and The Alphabet Versus the Goddess

(Viking Books, 1998).

Google Scholar

8 - Larry Harvey (11 January 1948–28 April 2018) was the main cofounder of the Burning Man event, the author of “The 10 Principles of Burning Man,” and an articulate spokesperson for the Burning Man organization.

9 - On sculptor Ken Herrick’s kinetic sculptures, see Beverly Reiser, “Sculpting with Light,” Leonardo 21, No. 2,  200–201 (1988).

Google Scholar

Color Plate D: Ylem: Artists Using Science and Technology in the Wilderness of Art in the 1990S

Beverly Kleiber, aka Reiser, shown interacting with hot spots linked to actions, such as sound or animation. (© Beverly Kleiber) (See the article in this issue by Beverly Kleiber.) ©2024 ISAST

Supplementary data


Gritty Pixels in a Phosphorescent World

Beverly Kleiber aka Reiser talks about the emergence of interactive art made possible by the new technologies of the 1990s. Footage of computers/video interactive art installations created for the Burning Man Festival and the SIGGRAPH Art shows. Images and video © 2024, Beverly Kleiber aka Reiser

- mp4 file


Roman Speaks

Roman Verostko talks about a visit to a gathering of Ylem/Artists using Science and Technology in the early 1990s at Beverly Kleiber aka Reiser’s home. He goes on to describe her contribution to Digital Arts. 2min, 10sec. Recorded in Minneapolis 2019. Images and video © 2024, Beverly Kleiber aka Reiser

- mp4 file


Ylem As I Knew It in the 1990s

Luc Sala interviews Beverly Kleiber aka Reiser. Pioneering artists in the 1990s -Ylem/Artists Using Science & Technology. Two-minute modules: Roman Verostko, Jim Pallas, Ken Rinaldo, Jody Gillerman, Lucia Grossberger Morales, Beverly Kleiber aka Reiser, Frank Pietronigro, and Roger Malina. Images courtesy of the artists and NASA. Luc Sala interviews Beverly Kleiber aka Reiser at the Digital BE-IN San Francisco ©Luc Sala 1997. Roman Verostko ©Roman Verostko 2024; Ken Rinaldo ©Ken Rinaldo 2024; Jody Gillerman ©Jody Gillerman 2024; Jim Pallas ©Jim Pallas 2024; Lucia Grossberger Morales ©Lucia Grossberger Morales 2024; Beverly Kleiber aka Reiser © Beverly Kleiber aka Reiser 2024; Frank Pietronigro ©Frank Pietronigro 2024; Roger Malina ©Roger Malina 2024.

Leonardo was founded in 1968 in Paris by kinetic artist and astronautical pioneer Frank Malina who saw the need for a journal to serve as an international channel of communication among artists, with emphasis on the writings of artists who use science and developing technologies in their work. Published by The MIT Press, Leonardo has become the leading international peer-reviewed journal on the use of contemporary science and technology in the arts and music and the application and influence of the arts and humanities on science and technology.

Leonardo is interested in work that crosses the artificial boundaries separating contemporary arts and sciences. Featuring illustrated articles written by artists about their own work as well as articles by historians, theoreticians, philosophers and other researchers, the journal is particularly concerned with issues related to the interaction of the arts, sciences and technology. Leonardo focuses on the visual arts and also addresses music, video, performance, language, environmental and conceptual arts—especially as they relate to the visual arts or make use of the tools, materials and ideas of contemporary science and technology. New concepts, materials and techniques and other subjects of general artistic interest are covered, as are legal, economic and political aspects of art.

Leonardo is published six times a year by The MIT Press. Subscriptions to Leonardo include print issues, digital versions available on The MIT Press website(link is external) as well as the annual companion issue of LMJ. Individual issues or articles for both journals are also available from MIT Press, digital databases such as EBSCOhost(link is external), Project MUSE(link is external), JSTOR(link is external) and via libraries and institutions around the world. 

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