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...]
Beauty of numbers

Theorists like Lev Manovich have anticipated the “art of the database”. In the meantime, computational designers are turning the visualization of complex data sets into a source of beauty and understanding.

abstrakt Abstrakt: Jorinde Voigt

Jorinde Voigt: Territorium (4), VI/aus: Position 1-x; Nord-Süd-Achse; Zentren A-Z; Position-Zentrum/Identisch; Territorium 1-x; Zentrum 1-x; N,S,W,O; Drehrichtung der Himmelsrichtung im Verlauf; Konstruktion; Dekonstruktion; Countup-Countdown-Loop: 1-x Tage; Kontinentalgrenze
Rome, 2010
70×100cm, ink, pencil on paper, signed original

The drawings of Jorinde Voigt are means to project order onto her environment. She formalizes and orders aspects, objects and impressions to form complex graphs, applying both objective (scientific) methods and subjective decisions. The system designs thus bear a scientific character, but upon closer inspection they can neither be generalized nor be deciphered in terms of applicability. The drawings constitute ’subjective abstractions’ that can only be read as aesthetic products, as symbols for the time’s penchant for formalization, and as such elude any concrete application as patterns or logic.

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abstrakt Abstrakt: Ben Fry – All Streets

Ben Fry w/ Eugene Kuo, Chris Brown, Katy Harris: All Streets, 2008
Digital print, 4,7 x 3 meters

“All Streets” is a vision of the United States as represented only by its infrastructure of roads. The country that invented car culture is rendered quite clearly by drawing its 26 million streets. Focusing not on geographical features or political boundaries but only on routes of travel, the resulting map is revealing. Population-dense areas become complex fractal clusters that dominate the eastern parts of the country, while westwards the open landscapes of America’s heartland reveal blanker spots reflecting the harsh terrain.

Ben Fry is a pioneer of the new model of computational approaches to information visualization, applying design principles to revealing structures in huge sets of data. Fry does not consider himself an artist, but the emotional affect of his visualizations is undeniable. They represent a new form of augmented vision through which we might understand the complex data streams that increasingly dominate our digital lives.

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Andy Huntington: Cylinder

Andy Huntington/ Drew Allan: Cylinder (”Seahorses”, “Designed”, “Market”)

Cylinder by Andy Huntington and Drew Allan is an elegant series of data sculpture based on sound analysis. A mapping of the frequency and time domains produces cylindrical forms representing the spatial characteristics of the sound input. Physical versions of the digital 3D models are then 3D printed using stereolithography.

The idea of mapping sound to space is not unfamiliar. The Cylinder project shows similar strategies to those used in the exhibition Frozen, which showed sound represented as a continous space rather than as a one-dimensional signal. However, Cylinder is from 2003, predating Frozen and making it somewhat of an early example of the data sculpture genre.

There is a tangential similarity between Huntington’s pristine objects and Booshan & Widrig’s Binaural object. But in fact the spiky geometries of both works are a result of the numeric data underlying the form. Any data set will yield inherent patterns, and in the case of digital sound two “defaults” present themselves: The waveform (a 1D graph) and the spectral map found through FFT analysis, which represents a 2D map of spectral energies in the time domain. Any translation of these numeric representations into visual form must grapple with the fact that while they may be faithful representations of the data, they rarely give a good idea of how the sound is experienced by a human listener.

The Cylinder series show a range of different waveforms, some showing an apparent orderly structure with others suggesting a noisier sound input. Titles like “Seahorse”, “Design” and “Breath” imply the source sounds used to produce the forms. Their success as aesthetic objects derive from their complexity as well as from the clean quality given by the 3D printing process.

Information visualization: Social Collider / Synchronous Objects

Schmidt & Pohflepp: Social Collider / William Forsythe & ACCAD: Synchronous Objects

A disclaimer is in order: The following post is not original content, rather it is a collection of links provided by various people on a private mailing list. The initial request (from Memo Akten) was for “really hot data visualization”, and the following suggestions were made by some fairly knowledgeable people.

They are presented here as an unedited list of links, they are listed in the order they appeared on the list. Some are fairly new projects while others are well-known canonical works. Two new favorites are shown above, namely Social Collider and Synchronous Objects.

Some pseudo-random Info Viz links

5 Days Off MEDIA: Frozen - Sound sculptures

Fischer & Maus: Reflection, Widrig & Booshan: Binaural

5 Days Off MEDIA: Frozen
Wed 2 through Sat 26 July 2008
Melkweg Mediaroom & Paradiso, Amsterdam

Frozen (part of the 5 Days Off MEDIA festival) is an exhibition of experiments in the representation of sound in media beyond the auditory. It examines the sound signal as a virtual space, presenting possible mappings that visualize or interpret the structures contained within the soundwaves.

Frozen was proposed and commissioned by Jan Hiddink and the 5 Days Off MEDIA festival in Amsterdam, and consists exclusively of original work. It was conceived with Generator.x 2.0 as a conceptual reference (all four artists in the show were also involved in Generator.x 2.0), but with a clearly defined focus: The representation of sound as spatial structures, realized as physical objects through the use of digital fabrication technologies.

For more information, see the documentation in the Frozen Flickr set, Leander Herzog’s FFT set or the blog posts by Benjamin Maus and Andreas Nicolas Fischer.

Frozen: Sound as space
5 Days Off MEDIA: Frozen - Sound sculptures - Herzog, Watz

Leander Herzog: Untitled / Marius Watz: Sound memory (Oslo Rain Manifesto)

Over the past years, there has been an enormous development in the field of live-presented audio-visual performance art. Owing to digital techniques, image and sound are connected in a way that was previously unthinkable. Frozen is headed in the opposite direction. Frozen pulls the plug and presents audio art, prints, and sculptures as independent, but interconnected works of art.

In the Mediaroom at the Melkweg multi-channel sound pieces can be experienced over an advanced speaker setup, accompanied by sound in a "frozen" form: Images and sculptural objects made using sound as input. These artworks use audio analysis and custom software processes to extract meaningful data from the sound signal, creating a mapping between audio and other media. Frozen will feature digital prints as well as four "sound sculptures" created using digital fabrication technology such as rapid prototyping, CNC and laser cutting, which allow for the direct translation of a digital model into physical form.

Frozen arose in collaboration with the Norwegian artist and curator Marius Watz, whose Generator.x project investigates the implications of generative systems and computational models of creation. The recent exhibition Generator.x 2.0: Beyond the Screen brought together artists and architects to explore the potential of this new mode of creation.

‘Audio sculptures’ will be on display by Andreas Nicolas Fischer (DE) & Benjamin Maus (DE), Leander Herzog (CH), Marius Watz (NO) and Daniel Widrig & Shajay Booshan (UK). These sculptures are based on audioworks by Freiband (Nl, Frans de Waard), and Alexander Rishaug (No).

Frozen is presented in the Melkweg Mediaroom and at Paradiso.

5 Days Off MEDIA is part of the 5 Days Off festival for electronic music from Wed 2 through July 6. 5 Days Off MEDIA presents three themes: Crosswire, Frozen and Roots. Locations: Melkweg, Paradiso, Dutch Institute for Media Art and Heineken Music Hall.

USGS Astrogeology Research Program: West side of the moon

USGS Astrogeology Research Program: West side of the moon

30gms just posted a link to the work of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Astrogeology Research Program on mapping the Moon. The maps are based on data from lunar missions in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and show the geological composition of the lunar surface.

The maps are visually stunning in their abstraction. The many craters become clusters of colors, giving the appearance of a complex composition. The palette is striking and chosen for contrast, but avoiding primary color clichés. Interestingly, both the colors and composition make the maps somewhat reminiscent of the work of Joshua Davis. Compare for instance with his light box images for OFFF.

The USGS site generously offers digital downloads of the maps in a variety of formats. The PDF versions are full vector quality, and are amazing to look at in high resolution. Would-be astrogeologists should check out the USGS Planetary GIS Web Server, a project with the charming acronym PIGWAD.

USGS Astrogeology Research Program: West side of the moon

USGS Astrogeology Research Program: West side of the moon

Ebru Kurbak / Mahir M. Yavuz: Newsknitter

Ebru Kurbak / Mahir M. Yavuz: Newsknitter

While the generative potential of knitting should be obvious (it has pixels, it follows rules), a new project by Turkish artists Ebru Kurbak and Mahir Yavuz shows the full computational potential of the medium: Newsknitter combines computerized knitting technology with live internet feeds to produce the ultimate in customized sweaters. Using the daily news as a data source, a software generates different visualizations which are then finalized as patterns ready for knitting.

Newsknitter will be shown at the Ars Electronica festival this week as part of their Campus 2.0 exhibition at Kunstuniversität Linz. On display will be 10 unique sweaters generated by the Newsknitter software. The sweaters were produced at TETAS Tekstil in Istanbul, using Shima Seiki knitting hardware.

The Newsknitter web site does not indicate whether custom garments will eventually be for sale, even though it would seem an obvious extension of the project. Too bad the daily news typically makes for a grim way to commemorate one’s birthday or other significant date.

For a different take on generative knitting, see this old post: Freddie Robins: How to make a piece of work when you’re too tired to make decisions.

[Link via pöfmagazine]


Manuel Lima of VisualComplexity gave an inspiring presentation yesterday at Reboot 9.0 in Copenhagen. Manuel set up the site in 2005 after doing his thesis project BlogViz at the Parson’s School of Design. Frustrated by the lack of a unified visualization resource, he started collecting links and even scanning out-of-print articles. Soon after VisualComplexity (VC) was born.

Since the launch in 2005, VC has grown to feature over 460 projects. Seen over time, it mirrors current trends in the Infoviz field regarding what kinds of data people are visualizing, as well as what techniques are popular. To reflect this, the site now features navigation by topic or by method. The statistics over common searches and subject distribution is also interesting reading.

Although the intention of VisualComplexity is academic, it does reveal a fascination with the aesthetic qualities of networks. In his talk, Manuel compared structures that look similar despite being essentially different in nature. For instance, the massive Millennium Simulation, which shows the evolution of the Universe, looks strikingly like the neural net of a rat. Obviously, this has no scientific relevance, but might explain why networks have such an aesthetic impact.

Lev Manovich has presented a reading of visualization as Data Art, with Infoviz projects often have an emotional impact on par with more traditional art forms. His paper “Data Visualisation as New Abstraction and Anti-Sublime” is downloadable from his web site. Seen in this context, VC is a treasure trove of works with both scientific and aesthetic impact. Simply scanning the page with thumbnails of all the projects will confirm this.

According to Manuel, the next step for VisualComplexity will be to turn it into an open map of maps. The VC database itself will be opened up for people to navigate or visualize in new ways. Hopefully this will help the database grow even further.

Relevant links


Boris Müller: Poetry on the road 2006

Boris Müller has put online documentation of Poetry on the road 2006, a poetry festival for which he creates a computational design identity every year. A specific text is used as raw material, then treated by Müller’s software in some way to create a visual representation. This visual is then used for posters and other publicity materials, including the book that is released every year.

Eschewing the more magical approaches of previous years, the 2006 edition has seen Müller has gone firmly in the direction of information visualization. Words in a poem are given a numerical code by adding the values of their letters together. This number gives the word its position on a circle, which is marked by a red dot. Gray lines connect the dots in the sequence the words they represent appear in the poem. The diameter of the circle on which the dots are placed is decided by the length of the poem. In this way several poems can be represented in a single image.

To get a feeling for the system, try the interactive demonstration. Click the “write” tab to have a go writing your own text.

Müller has being doing Poetry on the Road since 2002, and the series are a wonderful showcase of computational ways of treating text as more than just typography. This writer’s favorite remains the 2003 edition, where letters were used to control a drawing machine much like the classic turtle graphics used in LOGO.


There is now photo documentation of the Further Processing exhibition (see pts. #1, #2) online on Flickr: Further Processing photoset.