Jonathan McCabe: The Origami Butterfly Method
Last week I opened an exhibition by Canberra artist Jonathan McCabe – The Origami Butterfly Method. The show presents a family of images made with a supremely elegant – and as far as I know original – generative technique. The Method goes something like this. Imagine a square sheet of paper, and mark a dot somewhere on it and record its position. Fold the paper along a random axis, and watch where the dot ends up, recording this position. Repeat this thirty-two times. Use a weighted average of that list of points to determine the colour (or at least hue and brightness) of that original point. Now repeat, using the same folds, for as many points on the square as you like (say, several million). What I love about this is that despite the intensely tactile quality of the surfaces, these images have no “thing” to them: they’re visualisations of transformations of space – traces of topological history. This generative technique has lots of neat features. It’s resolution-independent (you can sample as many points as you like), the procedure is simple and compact (32 folds) and because it’s a sequence, it’s richly connected with image structure: the first fold is the most significant in controlling macro-structure, and the last fold influences the smallest level of detail. McCabe uses genetic algorithms to search and “optimise” the space of possible fold sequences / images. Oh and also, he’s making animations out of them. In this exhibition McCabe printed high-res images onto 72cm square canvases, in (very affordable) editions of one. More than half this show at The Front gallery, Lyneham, sold on the opening night.
McCabe isn’t plugged in to the generative arts scene – I had to ask him to make this site so I could write this post. Maybe that’s part of the reason his work seems so fresh – he’s been refining these techniques by himself for quite a while. After seeing this show I think the work could do with some attention: it’s got “retinality” to burn but underneath that is a generative technique that is poetic in itself.