Since the 1960s, Manfred Mohr has tinkered with using computers as his paintbrush, and finally honors us with his first solo exhibition in London at the Carroll/Fletcher Gallery. His retro computer visuals are a throwback to the 20th century, and are a welcome contrast to the modern world's insatiable appetite for new technology. The exhibition is minimal and subtle, but it packs a whopping punch if you have the patience to wait until the end.

When I first entered Mohr's exhibition, I felt like I'd walked onto the set of a horror film. The gallery walls were covered with cubes in every possible manipulation: they were twisted, bent, flipped, inverted, oozing across monitors, broken down, pieced together, and with or without connecting lines. Had I walked into the den of a madman? Why is Mohr so obsessed with the cube? I wondered, with sweat on my brow.

Mohr attributes his key influences to Pierre Barbaud, a pioneer of computer-generated music, and Max Bense, a philosopher who believed that creativity could be explained logically. Combining these two influences, Mohr set out to give creativity a shape and a formula. In 1969, he gained access to the computer-driven plotter drawing machine, the key instrument to recording his ideas.

In 1972, Mohr began work on the cube, and then the "hypercube" as a 6-dimensional object. "The 'hypercube,'" he said, "is like a 'network of connections, like telephone wires crossing and connecting to giant switchboards." The way he sets this cube into motion is by inventing algorithms with binary code ("one and zero"), and letting the computer program run continuously. Mohr demonstrates that two simple numbers really do have endless combinations, much like a jazz musician's ability to improvise brand new melodies with a limited number of pitches.

On the other hand, Mohr's art effectively does what music can't do. "In music you hear the sound, and then it's gone," he told me. But Mohr attempts to capture this concept by showing how a shape transforms over time. "This is my music," he smirked as he gestured to the walls of cubes. I didn't understand his concept completely, as I can imagine it may have been similarly difficult to immediately grasp a five-minute description of Einstein's Theory of Relativity.

The fog began to lift once I entered the downstairs section of the exhibition, in which his earlier works (1960s–1990s) filled the walls from top to bottom. Unfortunately, some works were too high for me to see anything in detail, and others were so low that I had to stoop down awkwardly. In some works, textures jumped right off the page, creating a cool 3-D effect, but when I looked more closely, I noticed they were composed entirely of lines. This work sat next to what looked like a heart-rate monitor, again made only of lines. Then Sumerian alphabets – which already look like lines in their natural form – made entirely of lines. How does one go from lines to cubes? How would the exhibition be different if Mohr hadn't chosen cubes, but triangular prisms or spheres?

My questions were answered in the final room, which plays Mohr's four-minute film Cubic Limit on an old, noisy film projector. The film begins with the image of a cube. The cube revolves to show each of its sides as if watching a die being rolled in mid-air. Its twelve lines glow brighter and brighter until the shape suddenly emerges as 25 individual cubes. Just when you think no more cubes could possibly fill the screen, Mohr deconstructs the cube into its blinking lines, illustrating their limitless variations.

Trust the curator on this one: the film is expertly placed at the end of the exhibition, sending you away with an "aha!" moment of epiphany. It was like watching an M. Night Shayamalan film: the majority of the time details are murky and the audience feels full of questions or doubt, until the climax suddenly explains everything, and you have to start back at the beginning again just to catch all the details you missed.

You can bring the kids, but don't expect them to understand what they see. If you love music, math, or cubes, then this is right up your alley, but for everyone else, Mohr's concepts may go right over your head. For me, it was the film that made this exhibition complete. You may leave the exhibition wondering how something as simple as "one and zero" could be explored in so many ways. Perhaps we've skipped too many steps in our hunger for faster and better technology, and Mohr's work quite poignantly suggests that indeed, we have forgotten how to slow down and appreciate the most basic elements of creativity.

Manfred Mohr: one and zero, at Carroll / FletcherZak Hulstrom reviews Manfred Mohr's one and zero at Carroll/Fletcher.4