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 January, 2006
Jan 22/06
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It’s holiday time here at Generator.x. I will be in Thailand for the next 3 weeks, missing out on Transmediale but back for Tangible Code in Oslo and AV06 in Newcastle. Hopefully I will have internet access so that I can delete the most annoying comment spam.

Have a nice time, I know I will.


Toxi aka Karsten Schmidt has been playing productive troublemaker the last few days, blogging some loose thoughts about what kind of tools and ideas are needed for a productive evolution of the computational design field. To roughly summarize: He is critical of the current state of the generative / computational scene, and the tools that are being hyped. Among his criticisms is that the work that is currently popular in the scene is often focused on immediate gratification, duplicating already existing work. It also often found lacking in niceties like software design, or even a more general understanding of good coding practices.

Karsten used Processing as the basis of his statements, pointing out that the procedural syntax of Processing could educate lazy coders and ultimately a dead-end for serious users of the tool. Not surprisingly, this has caused an explosive (but not incendiary) discussion over on the Processing forums. Ultimately, the discussion deals with the theoretical foundation for a tool like Processing, but also with possible future directions for the project. It’s on the techy side, but relevant for anyone who fancies her/himself a coder or who wants to understand what makes a programming language/tool capable of maximum freedom of expression.

Be sure to also read Karsten's followup where he clarifies his position after some misunderstandings.


Images shown are not from the Swarm exhibition.

Julie Mehretu: Ruffian Logistics

Julie Mehretu: Ruffian Logistics

Wattenberg: Shape of Song

Matthew Ritchie: Self-Portrait in 2064

This has been blogged elsewhere, but it’s interesting enough to bring up again. The Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia currently have a show they call “Swarm”. The title is a tip of the hat to scientific and cultural theories, as well as a more general idea of “unplanned and decentralized modes of organization”. Some obvious references:

Curated by well-known designers and curators Abbott Miller and Ellen Lupton, the exhibition brings together artists that typically would not be shown together. Painting is juxtaposed with generative software works and installation art, well-known art world names mix with less obvious ones. Generator.x readers will be familiar with C.E.B. Reas and Jason Salavon, but perhaps less so with Julie Mehretu or Matthew Ritchie. Of course, the reverse would be true for readers from the mainstream art world.

The interesting aspect of this exhibition is how the works are selected for relevance to a cultural idea (the swarm), and not for their inclusion in specific art trends. Generative art, still an outsider art form as far as the art world is concerned, suddenly makes sense in the show. After all, it tends to address issues similar to those explored in the complex paintings of Mehretu or Ritchie (if nothing else, then certainly on a visual level). While generative artists usually shy away from talking about the relationship between their work and the human condition, this show makes just that connection.

Julie Mehretu reference via dataisnature. More to follow.

Even Westwang: From Sites to Flows

Even Westvang: From Sites to Flows

Social networks are the bomb. You get intimate details on interesting people, you digg news stories, social bookmarks are and trackbacking is the new black. Any day now, you’ll be asking yourself: Dude, where’s my web site? All I have are these feeds and flows…

That’s the question Even Westvang posed in his lecture From Sites to Flows: Designing for the Porous web at the University of Oslo: “Do I still have a website, or do I maintain a series of f!ows in an ecology of services?”

Even recently helped start a new social network in Norway called [], so he has lots of opportunity to ponder these questions, and better yet, what does it mean for designers. Graciously, Even has shared his thoughts as a downloadable PDF on his Polarfront site. Licensed with a Creative Commons license of course. It’s all very Web 2.0.

Even also spoke at the Generator.x conference about his Nomen Nominandum project.


The concept of the artist software work camp is spreading. Piksel in Bergen has been a hit with the live visuals performers and developers, now the French city of Poitiers is host to Make Art 2006 later this month. The event is organized by the Goto 10 collective, who describe Make Art as a “festival dedicated to the integration of “free and open source” software in electronic art”.

This is an event for and by people who make stuff as well as talk about it, so expect a hands-on approach. The schedule includes a Pure Data workshop, an exhibition and a program of lectures and software presentations. Most of the tools presented tend towards applications in sound or community building.

Now what is needed is for someone to organize an open source work camp for the visual people, rallying the Processing, VVVV and Open Source Flash communities. Any takers?

Jan 16/06
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Generator.x:  Introduction

Generator.x: Introduction

Wattenberg: Shape of Song

Wattenberg: Shape of Song

I’ve just come back from the opening of the second installation of the Generator.x show in Stavanger, an opening which must be considered a success on all counts. Not only did it get a good reception from the local audience, but the show itself looks great in the slightly raw and intimate halls of Tou Scene. But don’t take my word for it, look at the images above and below, as well as the full set of photos on Flickr.

For the opening, I gave a short introduction to generative art and design, which was followed by Trond Lossius speaking about his work with sound. He talked about generative sound being sound as a Platonic idea, with the specific incarnations being shadows of a meta-sound which is never really heard.

The exhibition was followed by a live concert with local electronica heroes QRT, HOH and NES. Gisle Frøysland did live visuals using the open source MøB software he has developed at BEK. I showed my own piece Neon Organic in a newly revamped OpenGL realtime version.

The exhibition will remain in Stavanger for a minimum 3 weeks, see the Tou Scene web site for details. I would like to thank local organizers at Tou, Nils Henrik Asheim and Alain Fassotte, for their support and quick turnaround in organizing an excellent opening event. Thanks also to Espen Tversland, the museum host for the National Museum who will follow the exhibition around Norway.

More photos to follow, including videos of the projected pieces and the concert.


Halfshag’s pixelArt tool must be heaven for Eboy wannabes. Isometric pixel graphics might be oh-so-2002, but this tool gets big kudos for its cool architectural styling, more futuristic Modernist than retro Atari.

PixelArt is developed in Flash, by halfshag aka Richard Simpkins, a London-based Actionscript developer & designer. The tool itself is easy to use. Blocks are selected from a pre-existing library, and can then be dragged around the grid and placed on top of each other. No particular isometric skills are required, the tool does it all for you.

There are also community functions that allow you to save your and reload your creations once you’ve registered as a user. Saved pieces will be displayed in the pixelGallery, as well as in a downloadable screensaver. The screensaver retrieves creations from the web site, and shows them locally in high resolution. It’s almost better than TV.

The images shown above are the following (left to right):

Onoxo: Clean exp

G.x in Stavanger – see Google Local

Onoxo: Organic

Lia: Sum_05

This Saturday marks the opening of the second incarnation of the Generator.x exhibition on its travelling tour, this time in the beautiful city of Stavanger. The venue is Tou Scene, a local powerhouse for art, music and alternative culture. Tou was set up by independent artists in 2001, who took over the amazing buildings of the abandoned Tou Breweries. The project’s continued existence was ensured through support over the State Budget this year.

The opening will be an all-evening program, starting at 18:00 with the exhibition vernissage. Then there will be live musical performances and VJ’ing as the night goes on. The programme is not yet finalized, but participants will include Trond Lossius (soundart), Gisle Frøysland (visuals), Marius Watz (visuals) as well as local DJs and artists. Details to follow.

Stavanger lies on the south-west coast of Norway (see Google Local for reference). It is the little Texas of Norway, known for oil production and beautiful coastal landscapes (including the spectacular rock formation called The Pulpit). It is also a haven for extreme sports, where surfers (kite and regular) can find prime spots on the windy beaches. But make sure to wear a drysuit against the cold water. This is not California, people.

Links (in Norwegian):

Onoxo: Clean exp

Onoxo: Clean exp

Onoxo is the project name of Zagreb-based VJ and motion designer Vedran Kolac. Working in VVVV, he creates forms that tend towards the architectural while retaining an organic quality. His work is proof positive of the potential of VVVV for creating generative live visuals. Be sure to take a look at the movie version of Clean Exp.

Kolac is also a part of the Strukt Visual Network, a collective operating out of Austria which puts out a magazine for graphic design and live visuals. Strukt has also become a gathering point for various projects, such as the Redestrukt Visual Crew and other spinoffs. In a VJ scene that has yet to find a coherent voice, Strukt stands out as a group that communicates both loudly and clearly.

Falstad: 2D Vector field

Paul Falstad: 2D Vector field

Falstad: 3D Waves simulation

Paul Falstad: 3D Waves simulation

Workshops on computational design and generative art tend to start with a sense of excitement. The participants find themselves exhilarated as they discover that forms can be made to move and interact with just a few lines of code. But then a certain point is reached, where the words “trigonometry” and “vector” are mentioned. And often exhilaration turns to despair.

Regardless of whether you believe the old “right brain / left brain” clichee that creative people are bad at math and vice versa, there is a wall of knowledge that divides the scientist from the creatives. The old mistake is to think that the scientists have all the knowledge on their side, since they can to refer to physical laws and all kinds of theorems. The artists and designers are left with “soft” theories of communication and art history, much maligned by the rational scientific community. But put a physicist in charge of an advertising campaign, and you will most likely get a spectacular failure. In fact, it will be much like a nuclear reactor built by cubist painters.

Yet aesthetics is a field of knowledge, with massive amounts of empirical data to back it up. Advertising execs and industrial designers can refer to demographic studies, ergonomic principles and historical and cultural biases as to which color best expresses joy. But the artist is sometimes left with no option but to say “it is so”, without the faintest data to back her up. Still, no creative would doubt that any artist’s method is based on a mass of internalized knowledge. It’s just a shame it’s so hard to communicate.

A simple “you know stuff, too” pep-talk will never get creatives over the mathematics threshold. Some will give up, some will find unexpected resources within themselves and yet others will learn to build on work done by others. That’s where people like Paul Falstad come in handy.

Falstad has published a rich resource of Java applets demonstrating physical and mathematical principles, many of them with source code included. One can find wave simulations, vector fields, digital signal filters, magnetostatic fields and even quantum theory. And while this is still heady stuff, at least it’s in a visual form.

Another famous source is Paul Bourke. He has published papers, algorithmic how-to's and even information on common file formats. Many computational designers acknowledge a deep debt to Bourke’s work.

Want to model organic or mechanical motion? Go pay Craig Reynolds a visit, he created the classic Boids algorithm and has plenty of data and code online. This is essential reading for learning how to describe movement in terms of intention and action, rather than just as a set of changing X,Y coordinates.

The moral? There is hope. Any student who learns to google creatively will find help for even the most obscure problem.

(Via Andreas Nordenstam on BEK’s BB list.)