Norman White

“I am attracted by things that express physicality in a dynamic sense […] things that have weight, that wear out and rust, and that crash into each other.” (2003)

The kinetic machines and robots of Norman White, made from electronic parts and computers, explore regularity, randomness and logic in nature, as well as the interactions between humans and the behavioral capacity of the machine. A pioneer in electronic and robotic art, White exercised a tangible influence across several generations, both as a teacher at two of the primary arts programs in Ontario, and by having brought integrated media to the forefront of the Canadian artistic scene. 

At first attracted by the sciences, White earned a BA in biology from Harvard University in 1959. Later becoming aware of his interest in the arts, he took evening classes at the Art Students League in New York. White found a way of merging his two passions while employed at the naval shipyards in San Francisco, where he worked on complex electrical systems. He moved to Toronto in 1967, attracted by the opportunity for artists to obtain electrical components from industry at low or no cost.

Once in Canada, White was put in charge of courses in the Photo-Electric Arts Department of the Ontario College of Art (now the Integrated Media at the Ontario College of Art and Design) and began to experiment with installations that included electronic sculptures (First Tighten Up on the Drums, 1968), and later created interactive sensors (Dervish, 1974). These later projects proved to be among the artist’s most successful, earning him the prestigious Ars Electronica Award in Linz, Austria, in 1990. In 1995, he received the Petro-Canada Award in Media Arts from the Canada Council for the Arts in recognition of his contribution to the growth of media arts in Canada and his generosity as a teacher.