Art from code - Generator.x
Generator.x is a conference and exhibition examining the current role of software and generative strategies in art and design. [Read more...]
Archive for December, 2005
Tara Donovan: Untitled

Tara Donovan: Untitled

Tara Donovan: Haze

Tara Donovan: Haze

Tara Donovan creates her work from large amounts of everyday materials. Paper plates, drinking straws and plastic cups become organic forms through repetetive addition and transformation.

In her Untitled she uses Styrofoam Cups and hot glue to produce forms blobby enough to make the most avid Computer Graphics fan envious. Haze sees drinking straws (2 million of them) stacked up against the wall, a subtle topology created through offsetting the straws. The resulting work have a poetic fragility, and must be amazing to see up close.

From a press release for the Ace Gallery:

Donovan is known for her commitment to process, unusual material choices, ability to transform familiar objects or substances into challenging new forms, and sensitivity to architecture. Using large quantities of readily available consumables such as paper plates, pencils, straight pins, Scotch Tape, fishing line, or adding machine paper, she exploits their flexibility to make highly tactile works with a strong element of surprise.

References to Minimalism and architecture are inevitable. For more images, see the Ace Gallery.


Holidays are in effect, so like most of the blogsphere Generator.x is quieter than usual. To compensate, here is a non-denominational, animal-related bonus project:

Intelligent MIDI Sequencing with Hamster Control was created by Cornell University student Levy Lorenzo for his Master of Engineering (Electrical). It uses 6 hamsters as an input device to an “intelligent” MIDI sequencer, presumably mapping parameters to sensors triggered by the hamsters moving around in a cage-like box.

From Lorenzo’s abstract:

This project was initially fueled by the desire to explore the MIDI protocol. It was decided that this would be accomplished by building a MIDI device. I also aimed to make something novel that had never been done before. But to balance out the unusual nature of its design, I wanted to also to create something that was very musical.After much consideration of different technical design aspects and contemplating various musical ideas, I was able to arrive at a project that would fulfill all of my musical and engineering goals.An intelligent MIDI sequencer was designed with hamster control.

The resulting music sounds generic, but not very hamster-like. On first listen, it is reminiscent of Brian Eno’s experiements with the algorithmic composition tool Koan from SSEYO. For a more complete description of the process, Lorenzo has provided a full report in PDF on the project page.

Murray McKeich

Murray McKeich (img from Memory Trade)

Troy Innocent: lifeSigns

Troy Innocent: lifeSigns

The main program of Third Iteration was a mix of academic papers and artists’ and technical talks, with disciplines from comp. sci to visual art and music represented. Highlights included Alan Dorin's "Beyond Morphogenesis: Enhancing Synthetic Trees through Death, Decay and the Weasel Test." Anything that messes up the idealised vitalism of generative art is fine with me – but Dorin’s paper also opened up interesting issues about the abstractions used in modelling plants, and what it would take to make your L-system trees wither, die and rot! On a historical angle, Mike Leggett discussed his experiments from the 1970s in what was called formalist film – but which Leggett now recognises as a generative practice (not computational, but based on formal rules and procedures). Also interesting, Tim Kreger & co’s “Time Space Modulator” project is an industrial design / cultural theory / generative art project, to make a physical interface to a complex, generative media database. The prototype device resembles an oversized, rapid-prototyped Rubik’s cube; lots of potential as a rich and intuitive interface / controller.

In the artists’ talks the standouts included UK duo Boredom Research (Vicky Isley & Paul Smith), who among other things presented some great workshops for kids on generative processes (all done with pencil and paper). Melbourne artist and conference chair Troy Innocent presented his lifeSigns work, which continues his interest in a living, iconographic digital language, and his pursuit of “generative meaning systems”. My favourite was from another local, Murray McKeich, who over the past decade has developed a trademark aesthetic of intricate monochrome digital collage, constructed from a massive personal database of scanned found objects. McKeich has recently turned to generative techniques for purely pragmatic reasons, and is now making multi-field, side-scrolling video from the same material. McKeich uses the scripting features of AfterEffects to generate huge populations of compositions, then selects the best for rendering. As I said to anyone who would listen, I’d love to have one running in my house as an ambient display. Or better still, have it generated on the fly by your ridiculously powerful games console…

Next post: forums and wrap up


Normally anything to do with fractals or strange attractors is practically taboo, due to obvious abuse in the early 90s. But this Roller Coaster variation of the Lorenz attractor (posted by CodeTree user cchoge) is sweet in its simplicity.

The viewpoint follows the path of the attractor, so that the viewer gets a truly spatial appreciation of the system. Source code is available, of course.


This looks interesting: WWW 2006 Call for papers for the 3rd Annual Workshop on the Weblogging Ecosystem.

In addition to a regular track of research presentations, this year’s workshop will feature the first ever weblog research data release. This data release will allow researchers access to 10 million weblog posts from July 2005. Researchers are encouraged to use this data set in the presentation of their research results at the workshop. We plan to compile the papers that focus on this data set into a book which will present an exciting view of a specific period of blogosphere history.

Sounds like a challenge for all the infoviz kids out there. I for one would love to see an open depository of data sets, provided under some Creative Commons license. Finding interesting and complete datasets can be a challenge for would-be information visualizers without academic resources. If anyone knows of such a depository, please leave a comment here.


Having resisted Flickr for a while now, I have finally succumbed and started a Pro account. Negative effect: More time spent on yet another useful but time-consuming distraction. Positive effect: More documentation of events related to generative art.

For proof, have a look at the photoset of pictures from the Generator.x conference and exhibition. You can find more by looking for the "generatorx" tag, which will also give you pictures from Timo and Stigeredoo. If anyone else has photos and a Flickr account I hope you will upload them and tag them with “generatorx”.


Going with the recent typographic focus: Responsive Type is a computational typography study. The user types text in an applet, which renders the shapes and strokes of the type in realtime, allowing animation and modular typography. Created in Processing, the applet currently only has one typographic style. Work is underway to open up the source and allow users to add more styles.

Responsive Type was created by London-based Hudson-Powell for their exhibition at Beamst, Tokyo. Messages typed in the online applet are shown live in the gallery. The project is a collaboration with a team including Processing regulars v3ga and Michael Chang, see also the project credits.

Hudson-Powell is brothers Jody and Luke, who take a conceptual approach to design and illustration. For their September 2005 cover design for SHIFT they set up a web cam in their studio for a month. They then used various objects (strings, toy bricks etc) to spell out the letters SHIFT, changing them frequently. SHIFT also has an interview with Hudson-Powell online.

Via v3ga.

Toshio Iwaii, Electroplankton

[Toshio Iwaii, Electroplankton ->]

The Iteration conference series began in 1999, organised by the Center for Electronic Media Arts at Melbourne’s Monash University. This year’s Third Iteration was a three-day event, and while the event has a big Australian focus (it’s the only such conference in .au) there was a large international presence, with keynotes from Peter Bentley, Machiko Kusahara and Casey Reas, as well as several international presenters in the main program.

I’ll cover the keynotes in this post: Peter Bentley’s opening keynote, which made a convincing argument that Von Neumann / Turing style computers are basically all wrong, and that computation should be more organic – distributed, asynchronous, robust, component-based, embodied, and so on. I browsed Bentley’s (edited) book on computational models of growth and development on the book table – definitely worth a look for those seeking more complex & subtle generative systems.

Machiko Kusahara’s keynote was an immersive tour of digital animism in Japanese culture: all manner of digital-media creatures and robots, from Tamagotchi to Post Pets and Aibo. Best of all was the chance to play with Toshio Iwaii’s beautiful Electroplankton on a Nintendo DS. This is a great (but isolated?) example of an artist moving onto game platforms – I hope we see more in this line.

Final keynote was from Casey Reas, who talked about his own artwork and Processing. Casey’s presentation was quiet and spacious, lots of time to take in beautiful full-screen versions of his process drawing pieces. Despite acknowledging the (perhaps temporary) emergence of a Processing aesthetic, the examples Reas presented showed the platform’s increasing breadth and diversity (from custom hardware to machine vision and soda’s Moovl)

Next post: more from the papers and forums…

Olaf Nicolai: Nicolai modular font

Olaf Nicolai: Nicolai modular font

Olaf Nicolai: Nicolai modular font

«Glasarchitektur» printed in Nicolai

Following up on yesterday's post about Lineto, here is one of the experimental type projects they’ve released: Nicolai is a modular font, commissioned as an art project for the exhibition Museutopia in the Karl Ernst Osthaus-Museum, Germany. The theme of the exhibition was «Utopia». The artist Olaf Nicolai responded to this brief by commissioning Lineto co-founder Stephan Müller to create a font according to his specifications.

Stylistically reminiscent of typographic experiments from the de Stijl movement, the Nicolai font composes letters by using blocks of 3 colors. The colors can be specified by the user using a Shockwave application which outputs EPS. The application can be tested from the Nicolai product page.

For the Museumtopia exhibition Olaf Nicolai used the font to reissue a utopian architectural essay («Glasarchitektur» by Paul Scheerbart), and to print a quote by Karl Marx on a museum wall.

Cornel Windlin: Fresh inflatable type

Cornel Windlin: Fresh inflatable type

Lehni & Windlin: Rubik maker

Lehni & Windlin: Rubik maker

If you are looking for a font foundry with impeccable style and effortless conceptual cool, look no further than Swiss Lineto. Named after a PostScript command, Lineto was founded in 1993 by the influential designers Cornel Windlin and Stephan Müller. In 1998 they began distributing fonts, books and typographic bric-a-brac, bringing much type-related pleasure to the world. Claiming collaborators like Norm, Reala, Jürg Lehni and a host of others, Lineto has been a reference point ever since.

Lineto and its designers were players in the spirit of experimentation that dominated graphic design in the 1990s. They challenged typographic conventions with fonts such as Windlin’s classic Moonbase Alpha, and championed the new role of the designer as author. Also apparent in projects like Lego Font Creator, Rubik Maker and Sign Generator is an understanding of form as system, manifested as software.

This is not a surprising conclusion for typography lovers to arrive at. Typography has always been about systems and the programming of space. That is precisely why non-conformist typographers like Makela, McCoy, Carson, Deck and other American deconstructivists scared people with their apparent lack of control. Of course, as soon as one was willing to see beyond the apparent messiness of these rebels, deconstruction was a system too.

This post is dedicated to P.Scott Makela. Rest in peace, brother from another mother.