Herbert W. Franke

Herbert W. Franke, born in Vienna on May 14, 1927, studied physics and philosophy at the University of Vienna and received his doctorate in 1951. In 1980, the Austrian Ministry of Education and the Arts awarded him the professional title of professor, and in 2007 he received the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and the Arts FirstClass. In 2018, the University of Design Karlsruhe also awarded the pioneer an honorary doctorate for his work in the field of art and science.

1952: behind the desk at Siemens Halske
1985: order in chaos
2015: Home Office

His life is defined by three main fields of work. They will be briefly described below, thus documenting the diversity of his work. His intellectual work is based equally on the rationality of the researcher and the creativity of the artist, which are ideally combined in his person. His entire life was characterized by the bridging of the „two cultures“.

In addition to producing graphics, Franke was also frequently involved in the conception of moving sequences, specifically addressing issues of image-sound compositions. An apple II was his first personal computer which he bought 1980. He developed a program as early as 1982 that used a midi interface to control moving image sequences through music. He also realized such projects with other artists, for example the Astropoeticon from 1979, which was created together with the painter Andreas Nottebohm, the musician Walter Haupt and his good friend Manfred P- Kage. Another important example is the Hommage à E. M. for the artware 1989, a „digital ballet“ with music by Klaus Netzle, in which a dancer dances with her electronically alienated mirror image, which she creates through her own movements. With these and other works, Franke has made an important contribution to the development of multimedia art from the very beginning.

2015: Herbert W. Franke’s Wavelets at his home computer

Only in recent years has „art from the machine“ begun to interest traditional museums as a branch of modern art. Franke, who from the beginning was firmly convinced of the future importance of this art movement, has also assembled a collection of computer graphics that is unique in the world, documenting 50 years of this development with works by respected international artists, supplemented by his own works. The historical part of this collection has become the property of the Kunsthalle Bremen; there it was presented to the public for the first time in 2007 with an extensive exhibition.

He made an important contribution to the scene with an exhibition entitled Wege zur Computerkunst (english title: The Eve of Tomorrow), n exhibition officially shown by the Goethe-Institut, which presented the first major overview of digital art in the 1970s in more than 200 countries.

As a physicist, Franke was predestined to bring science and technology closer to the general public in popular form due to his talent as a writer, which became apparent early on. About one-third of his nearly fifty books, as well as uncounted journal articles, therefore belong to popular nonfiction; in 1992, he received the Karl Theodor Vogel Prize for technical journalism. Franke also quickly established himself as a literary writer. As early as the 1950s, he published his first works, which appeared in the prestigious Austrian literary magazine Neue Wege, where literary figures such as H. C. Artmann, Friederike Mayröcker and Ernst Jandl were also first introduced to the reading public.

Franke’s novels and stories are not about predicting future technologies, nor about forecasting our future way of life, but rather about the intellectual examination of possible models of our future and their philosophical as well as ethical interpretation. In this context, however, Franke attaches great importance to the seriousness of scientific or technological assessments of the future in the sense of a feasibility analysis. In his opinion, a serious and meaningful discussion about future developments can basically only be conducted on this basis. In this respect, Franke is not a typical representative of science fiction, but rather a visionary who, as a novelist, deals with relevant questions of social future and human destiny on a high intellectual level.

Today, Herbert W. Franke – an elected member of the PEN Club as well as the Graz Authors‘ Assembly – is one of the most renowned authors of utopian literature in the German-speaking world. He was an author for the Suhrkamp publishing house for fifteen years, and after the reduction of the „Phantastische Reihe“, several novels were later published by the German paperback publisher dtv. In addition to 21 novels and more than 200 short stories, he wrote numerous radio plays, which were broadcast on many stations. It is available both in paperback and in a limited hardcover edition. Franke’s literary work has won many awards. In 2016, he was awarded the title of European Grand Master of Science Fiction by the European Science Fiction Society. Almost all of his novels have since been reissued as e-books by Heyne, and a complete edition of his works with more than twenty volumes is currently being published by p.machinery – both in paperback and in a limited bibliophile hardcover edition.

Franke’s literary works have won many awards, and he has received the Kurd Lasswitz Prize, the highest award in the sci-fi scene in Germany, on several occasions. In 2016, he was awarded the title of European Grand Master of Science Fiction by the European Science Fiction Society.

activities as a scientist. Although, apart from five industrial years at Siemens, he was always a freelancer after his doctorate, he made valuable contributions to basic research. As a „private scholar,“ such as one hardly ever finds in our scientific community today, he worked theoretically for many years in several special fields and published remarkable papers.

He recognized already in the mid-fifties that the mathematically defined concept of continuity has a similar meaning in the perception of art as symmetry. As a theoretical physicist fascinated by the principle of interaction in systems, he also became involved early on with questions of cybernetics. He was particularly interested in questions of the connections between perceptual processes and art.

Bookshelf in the home office of Franke’sScience Fiction publications
An overview of Herbet W. Franke’s Algorithmic Art in 65 years.
1960: Hardcover of the frist anthology Der Grüne Komet”

In his rational theory of art, published in the 1960s in Cybernetic Aesthetics, he described perception as the basis of aesthetics and thus art as a construct that can be grasped with the help of information theory. He described the scheme of effects in a flow chart and traced the aesthetic function of emotions back to a rational basis. His multilevel model enabled him to explain the long-term effects of art. He further put forward a hypothesis on creativity based on random processes in the brain, which also suggested a model of the dream. Here again Franke, pioneer of information aesthetics, was a step ahead of his time. His ideas, developed on a cybernetic basis, have only recently been confirmed by the latest findings in neurobiology. He also passed on his far-sighted theoretical ideas as well as his experience as a pioneer of algorithmic art to students in teaching assignments at the University of Munich as well as at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich for two decades.

Photo documents of Franke’s historic cave explorations 1952 to 1980

In the caves of Hawaii (2003)

Since his student days, he has also been involved as a speleologist in questions concerning the history of the formation of karst caves. During numerous expeditions to alpine caves he found the opportunity to make observations, which he was then able to utilize in theoretical works. As early as 1951 – only two years after Libby’s discovery of natural radiocarbon as a means of determining the age of organic substances – Franke came to the surprising conclusion that this method should also be usable in an important special case for dating non-organic substances, namely cave sinter. However, his paper published in 1951 in the renowned Naturwissenschaften was initially met with great skepticism and rejection. It was not until 1957 that physicists at the University of Heidelberg became interested in an experimental verification of the theoretical considerations. In cooperation with Franke, they proved the practical feasibility and thus established the methoe of age determination of dripstones by means of the C14 method that is commonly used today.

In the following years, together with Prof. Dr. Mebus A. Geyh of the then Lower Saxony State Office for Soil Research in Hannover, he systematically applied the method to cave sediments, which led for the first time to exact data on the age of dripstones and to physical measurement data for the chronological classification of end-glacial and post-glacial climatic periods. Today, the method is established for dating cave sinter and forms an important building block for climate research of the fading ice age; thus, Franke is one of the initiators of isotope-based paleoclimatological research. Further, long before NASA’s first images, he deduced theoretically that there must be vast cave systems on Mars.

Finally, he gave theoretical reasons for seeking a program instead of a world formula to describe the physical world, and was able to show some basic properties of such a program on the basis of cellular automata. He published these findings in a philosophical-theoretical book entitled Das P-Prinzip in 1995.

In 2008, Franke was appointed senior fellow by the prestigious research institute Zuse Institute Berlin ZIB. In the research project math goes art initiated there, he has investigated interactions between mathematics and art, in particular in the context of three-dimensional worlds on the web. Since 2017, the ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe is building up the Herbert W. Franke Archive.