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 May, 2006

Jared Tarbell: HappyPlace

Most people reading this blog are probably familiar with the work of Jared Tarbell, but he has never been properly blogged here. So stumbling over his HappyPlace piece provided me with a pleasant opportunity.

Jared is perhaps best known for his playful Flash work, which he has published on his site since the very early days. These consist mostly of generative sketches involving recursion, motion studies or technical experiments, which he generously provides the source code for. But these days he focuses more on his generative artwork, which finds a place on, his “Gallery of Computation” and “generative artifacts”.

HappyPlace is a good example of his more recent pieces. It uses the underlying structure of a network of “friends” and “non-friends”, simple agents acting on local rules. But through a baroque rendering style Jared has developed called Sand Stroke, these simple interactions become the raw material for delightfully intricate drawings. This strategy is not unlike that of C.E.B. Reas, who uses agent interaction as the basis of popular works like his Process series. Jared helpfully provides applets showing the agents moving both with and without the Sand Stroke rendering to make it easier to understand their behavior.

The style of drawing used in HappyPlace has taken Jared’s work in a direction which is visually quite different from his earlier Flash work. Where Flash tends to produce smoothly rendered vector objects, he now explores grittily detailed surfaces with a painterly interest. Interestingly, this change coincides with his move to using Processing, which allows pixel rendering in the very high resolutions needed to produce print-ready pieces.

For more Tarbell goodness, see some of these examples:


HTML and markup languages like XML describe documents as hierarchies of tags, in what is called a Document Object Model. This structure can be visualized as a graph.

Websites as Graphs (by Sala of takes a web page URL as input, and outputs a graph of the underlying HTML structure. Used on any large content site like CNN or BoingBoing, it reveal the underlying logic of presentation used to build those pages. Related information form clusters, with color codes revealing a tendency towards table- or CSS-based design (the former being a no-no, obviously) as well as density of images, links etc.

While the graphs make for interesting images, it is still hard to make hard and fast assumptions about the page in question only by looking at the graph. But a well-structured document will always reveal itself as such, as will badly-structured documents. Websites as Graphs should be of interest to anyone who has tried to define a page structure, particularly if that structure conforms to the current CSS-based ideal of “logic-not-presentation” style of web design.

The source code for Websites as Graphs is freely available for download. It was built with Processing, using the Traer.Physics and HTMLParser.

Update: Markavian has hacked up a remix version which allows you to browse the tag structure interactively and even follow links to new documents. To use it, point your browser to a URL in the following format:

“” should obviously be replaced with whatever URL it is you want to explore.

Relevant links:

Name: Project

Fornes / Nowak / Corcilius: From DIN to DIM

For a different take and a different scripting language, go read theverymany, Marc Fornes’ blog on his experiments in computational architecture. 98% of his blog so far is Rhinoscript code for creating generative structures, accompanied by intriguing illustrations. It makes you want to work with Rhino just to be able to see it run.

For those who don’t know it, Rhinoscript is a VBScript language used to control Rhino, a high-end 3D package used for anything from CAD/CAM and visualization to computer animation. Rhino is popular with coding architects, sculptors and CGI heads alike. It’s not as old skool as AutoCAD and AutoLISP, which has been used for computational architecture since 1986. But it’s likely a lot more useful.

theverymany is refreshingly focused on sketches and code, but there is documentation of one interesting recent project: "From DIN to DIM", a “series of experimentations looking at transitions between the German Standard of design to self-similar objects controled by declared variables…”. Done with Vincent Nowak and Claudia Corcilius, it consists of generative formal studies, using nested loops to generate structure.

As with much computational architecture, the results are visually very compelling. The techno-organic tower structures recall fashions in blobby architecture, while simultaneously reminding one of 70s sci-fi book covers. The translation of simple code structures into complex and appealing form seems effortless, it would certainly be interesting to see the slides shown in higher detail.

Marc Fornes is a graduate of the AA's Digital Research Labotary class, and is currently working as an architect for Zaha Hadid Ltd. He indicates in the sidebar of his blog that his rhinoscript library might be available as open source.

Italian generative art: Franchino, Capozzo, Limiteazero

Franchino: Petals #1 / Capozzo: Code.specific / Limiteazero: Laptop orchestra

C.STEM | Art Electronic Systems and Software-Art practices
1-2 June 2006, Sede 32 Dicembre, Turin

An upcoming exhibition / conference / club event in Turin looks set to blow the lid on the Italian generative art scene. C.STEM is organized by artist Fabio Franchino, and is possibly the first Italian event dedicated to generative and software-based procedural art. In a traditionally conservative Italian art scene this should prove an interesting event.

C.STEM will show the work of 3 Italians and one Norwegian, with myself (Marius Watz) representing the Nordic contingent. The remaining three are Fabio Franchino, Alessandro Capozzo and Limiteazero, all significant Italian artists or artist groups working with code. Their work has long been seen on blogs and web sites, and despite individual differences shows a tendency towards poetic, self-contained works. Aesthetics is a clear focus for all three, with a warm organic feel given to even the most abstract visuals. Whether this is an Italian specialization is hard to say, but it is interesting to note local differences in style and expression. Compare for instance to the Austrian scene with its focus on hard-edged abstraction.

Fabio Franchino shows an interest in autonomous virtual drawing machines, and has an at times painterly approach to his images. At home in print media, he creates sumptious compositions like City on sea, Suff and Petals. Other works like Homo and Blow are carefully exposed chaotic systems, in what is practically a kind of generative photography. Yet others (Silus, Toys) explore permutations of algorithmic form systems.

Alessandro Capozzo is more concerned with structure and topologies than with surface. His online works often deal with organic growth processes, but recently he has been branching out into installations and more complex interactive projects. One example is RGB, “an interactive musical installation for 2-9 users” where colored flash lights are used by the audience to influence the live music. Code Specfic is a new Processing application which interactively visualizes the structure of its own source code.

Limiteazero is an architecture, media design and media art studio based in Milan. Together, Paolo Rigamonti and Silvio Mondino create installations that are elegant not just in their simplicity, but also in their pureness of concept. Their Laptop orchestra sees the user “conducting” the sound and visuals on 15 laptops, turning them off and on to create a variety of soundscapes. The glass of a_mirror mirrors the world around it, but not without adding its own visual modifications, tracing the outlines of what it “sees”.

As for myself, I will be showing a new series of 4 prints called C/M/Y/K, produced as offset-print posters to be given away in the gallery. This project marks a welcome experiment with a medium I have not worked with for a long time, and it’s exciting to be able to exploit the sheer detail and scale of large prints.

For the purpose of stimulating discourse, C.STEM will feature a short panel of presentations moderated by theorist Domenico Quaranta. See the event program for details. The panel will then be followed by a C.STEM club event, with projections by the artists in many different locations. C.STEM is organized by Fabio Franchino and produced by Associazione Culturale 32 Dicembre with the support of

For the record, I generally try not to blog exhibitions I am participating in. But this show is too interesting not too, purely by virtue of the quality of the work shown by the Italian contingent. I hope it will prove a fruitful platform for future C.STEM events.


This call for works is very exciting, as there are very few bigger exhibitions of electronic art in the Nordic region. Electrohype in Malmö did an excellent biennial for many years, but had to close down due to short-sightedness of the local funding bodies.

i/o/lab in Stavanger has long been aiming to become a full-fledged node in the Norwegian electronic art network. With the Article project they will contribute significantly to the scene.

Call for work: Article biennial of electronic art, Stavanger.
Article is one of the main projects for Stavanger 2008 – European Capital of Culture. Article 2006 will be a pilot project for the 2008 installment, but also to underline that Article is intended as a biannual event BEYOND the scope of the European Capital year.

Article will be comprised of: a main exhibition; a conference related to the themes of the biannual; in-depth practical and theoretical workshops and seminars; and contributions from local resources and other collaborative partners.

The goal of Article is to promote artforms which don’t merely employ electronic techniques in its production and display, but also actively comment on technology, the ethics and politics of technology and the evolution and dissemination of technology. Article wishes to establish an open arena for artforms which critique and engage social processes and present reflected positions on the expressive qualities and contexts of the media.

By «Unstable artforms» we intend to encompass art which is not institutionalised and stabilised by traditional frameworks of production and distribution, art which crosses disciplinary boundaries, which engages unusual contexts and references, or art which is not anchored by permanent, static objects. [...]

Deadline: 15 June 2006
URL:PDF with call details

The i/o/lab initiative was set up by Kevin Foust, Jens Laland and Hege Tapio. The programme committee for Article consists of Jon Brunberg, Kevin Foust, Juha Huuskonen, Mogens Jacobsen and Hege Tapio.

Harris / Kamvar: We feel fine

Harris / Kamvar: We feel fine

We feel fine is a lovely new project by Jonathan Harris and Sepandar Kamvar. It scrapes blogs, Myspace accounts and similar social networking systems, looking for the sentence fragments “I feel” and “I am feeling”, recording the sentence and the context they appear in, including photographs in the case of Flickr entries. The result is a massive dataset of feelings and moods combined with demographic data.

Written in Processing, We feel fine is a delightful combination of data mining and typographic treatment. Like Golan Levin’s The Dumpster, it is at once poetic and somehow serious. The playful use of color and typography supports the content of the piece, making it both beautiful and wondrous to explore.

While We feel fine goes a little further than The Dumpster in trying to project scientific axis on the data, both projects make a claim at scientific impact which is not really held up by the work. Ultimately, both are arbitrary visualizations of data which is hardly quantifiable. The success of these works (and they are successful) then stems from their ability to project a snapshot of human emotions in multitudes of permutation, as evidenced on blogs and social networking services. While the viewer may get a slight insight from the axis on which the data can be projected, the sheer size of the dataset is much more signficant in its impact on the audience.

Jonathan Harris presented at the OFFF Festival yesterday. See his site for his other visualization projects. Sepandar Kamvar founded a search engine called Kaltix, which was acquired by Google. He is a consulting assistant professor of Computational Mathematics and Engineering at Standford.


The EXTEND workshop with Casey Reas, Ben Fry, Zach Lieberman and yours truly is now underway. Today is the second day, yesterday was spent giving personal introductions and dividing the 18 participants into groups. Each day we have micro-lectures. Zach started off by talking about animation and movement, and showed some examples from his making things move workshop.

The participants have shown significant interest in data visualization, and so Ben presented some background to computational information design. He used his Linkology project as a specific example.

Casey is currently speaking about the history of Processing (traced back to ACU and other MIT projects) and how to sketch with code. He is also talking about the importance of the concept of libraries as a way of extending Processing, and in particular to bring it beyond the screen. In particular, he is demonstrating the new PDF library with some code examples that will soon be posted to the Processing site.

I will sporadically be blogging the workshop over on Code & Form, a new blog I just opened to support workshops, teaching and code experiments.

OFFF BCN: Drawing / Painting / Sketching

OFFF BCN: Hansol Huh – TypeDrawing / James Tindall: Sketchpad

The OFFF festival in Barcelona is next week, with a busy schedule mixing new media design heros with computational designers and generative artists. The EXTEND: Advanced Processing workshop has been mentioned here before, now the organizers have finally released the full list of projects for the exhibition.

Entitled “Drawing / Painting / Sketching”, this year’s exhibition has a focus on software works that emulate drawing processes. It might seem ironic that digital artists should spend so much time trying to recapture the quality of traditional drawing, but this is not necessarily out of nostalgia. The goal is ultimately the creation of organic expressions within a deterministic medium, with a richness of gesture often lacking in digital work. The last few years has seen a definitive move away from the technology-inspired images of the turn of the millenium, with complex animated works created through the use of computational processes coming to the fore.

The resulting works are nevertheless quite different both in style and focus – from C.E.B. Reas’ complex process drawings, to Hansol Huh’s playful TypeDrawing, to Leonardo Solaas drawing machine Dreamlines. Joshua Davis will be doing a workshop in the museum using his drawing components for Flash, while Zach Lieberman’s Drawn and Hektor, the Graffiti Output Device provide interactive installations moving beyond the screen.

It looks like OFFF will be an interesting mix this year, be sure to have a look at the timetable for a full overview of the events, including the conferences which in true Barcelona fashion run until 21:00 in the evening.

Name: Project

Dein Lieblingsgestalter: Generative hip hop visuals

Jannis Kreft has uploaded videos of his generative hip hop visuals (made in VVVV), which was blogged here a while ago. It looked good in pictures, but in motion it really rocks. Massive kudos to Jannis for proving that abstract generative visuals can stand its ground against speculative booty videos. You can find the video over on, it’s short but most excellent.

For those who of you who don’t know German, Dein Lieblingsgestalter roughly means “your favorite designer”, but Liebling also means beloved and so is a more ambiguous word. The name is a play on a German rapper whose artist name is Deine Lieblingsrapper. I have no idea if Jannis knows him or not. In any case, the video features a gem of German rap, created specifically for Jannis’ finals show (note that this is transcribed from the video, and my German grammar is dodgy at best): / Monarch und Thec / this is how we do / Ihr hört die Raps von Monarch und Thec / für deinen Lieblingsgestalter / Jannis Kilian Kreft / das ist innovativ / quasi ganz grosses Kino / vergiss alles was du kennst / Wer war noch mal Tarantino?…

Name: Project

Dein Lieblingsgestalter: Generative hip hop visuals

I should say that Jannis is an ex-student of mine from the Universität der Künste, so I am probably biased when looking at this project. But I love the way he has managed to make the hip hop expression effortlessly his own, all the while making no attempts at satisfying any visual clichees from the genre in his visuals. He manages to create visual 3D spaces with sound-responsive input, without it feeling contrived or unoriginal. The colors are good, and he has a solid grasp of graphic vocabulary. Makes me think it would have been an excellent addition to the Generator.x tour.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, if I was still his teacher I’d be proud. Way to go, Jannis. It’ll be interesting to see what you do next.

Call for workshop participation: Public Private Interface – Art and Technology in Public Space.
Wednesday 7th of June – Saturday 10th of June
at Atelier Nord Oslo/Norway by Susanne Jaschko & Erich Berger
Free participation
Urban public space operates as an interface between the individual and the public. It is a highly social, political and economic space. Nowadays digital technologies are omnipresent in this space, employed as systems for communication, control and organisation. The use and application of these technologies have strongly effected our understanding, perception and behaviour of public and private spaces.

The workshop will deal with the public space as field of artistic expression. We will analyse the properties and conditions of public space and the potential for art responding to this specific environment. Special attention will be laid on art and design using the existing technological infrastructure.

Deadline: 19 May 2006
URL: Complete text of the call for participation