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...]
 
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Skot (Frank / Gmachl): aka (audio by General Magic) from Tina Frank on Vimeo.

We have posted about the Vienna scene and the Austrian Abstracts here on previous occasions, but the video work that was central to that movement has generally not been available for viewing online. Therefore, it’s with great pleasure we see that Tina Frank has posted some early videos to Vimeo. Let’s hope other artists follow her initiative, it would be nice to have an online archive of these early experiments somewhere.

Shown above is the video AKA by Skot, produced for Gasbook 4. Skot was the name used by Tina Frank and Mathias Gmachl for a number of collaborations from 1996 to 2000. Gmachl is also one of the founders of farmersmanual, a collective that was central to the Vienna scene. “Aka” means “red” in Japanese, and the video was made with Image/ine software from Steim, one of the very first softwares to support realtime processing of video on a regular computer.

Frank created the video "iii" below by taking digital audio files of the music by Peter Rehberg (Pita) and opening them as raw pixel data in Photoshop. An oval image mask was superimposed, giving a more specific form to the resulting video. The result is classic glitch, taking a signal of a given form and deliberately misinterpreting it as something else.

More videos on Tina Frank's Vimeo stream.

Tina Frank: iii (audio by Pita) from Tina Frank on Vimeo.

 

The early-to-mid 1990’s were an interesting time. “Multimedia” was a hot buzzword, and people were wondering if CD-ROM and Internet was here to stay. Macromedia Director ruled the world of interactive graphics, and World Wide Web and HTML was finally transforming the Internet into a visual environment.

Early experiments using the web for art purposes quickly became iconic: Jodi hacked HTML, Form Art was briefly defined as a genre, Net.art considered ironic approaches to art production via this new channel and artists like Stanza explored Director as a tool for generative graphics.

During this (golden) period, Vienna was a hotbed of experimentation. A large group of artists pushed the boundaries of abstraction in visual art as well as music, often experimenting with code-based tools. It should be noted that the term “generative art” was not in use at the time. Nevertheless, the work produced at the time clearly articulated generative and procedural approaches to sound and image synthesis, prefiguring the current interest in such work.

Among this loosely affiliated group were artists like Farmers Manual, Tina Frank, Monoscope, Pure, Lia and Dextro. The music label MEGO and the film label Sixpackfilm provided publishing outlets. Norbert Pfaffenbichler put together an overview of the scene in the exhibition Austrian Abstracts in 2006, which expanded on the previous exhibition Abstraction Now, focusing specifically on the activities of Austrian artists.

Lia: Turux.at

Dextro: Turux piece / c079

Early pioneers of generative Director programming, Lia and Dextro quickly became influential both inside and outside the Director community. Their mix of crisp pixels, erratic animation and blurred surfaces was unique at the time, presenting a perfect visual counterpoint to a musical scene experimenting with glitch and sound defects.

Together, they produced Turux, a seminal web site which featured Director “soundtoys” and generative visual sketches. Thanks to the site’s intentionally cryptic interface design and the “anonymous author” fad popular with the Vienna artists (many of which used pseudonyms or group names), the authorship of Turux was unclear to outsiders. Often, visitors had no idea if Lia, Dextro or Turux were actual people or just project names. Nevertheless, Turux became an important reference for the nascent scene, its fame only heightened by its obscure origin.

When the collaboration ended some time later, Turux remained online practically unchanged. As a document of a specific time period, it became a time capsule of styles and strategies.

The original Turux.org is now offline for good, having been replaced by a placeholder. But Lia and Dextro have both set up their own archives. Lia recently launched Turux.at, a partial archive of her half of the project. Included are 21 works in Director, documented as stills and interactive Shockwave movies.

Dextro’s Turux experiments have been integrated into dextro.org, which presents his work chronologically organized from his early period up to now. See the Turux subpage for a list of sketches. For an example of his newer work, see c079.

 

The Austrian Abstracts
22.09.-15.10.2006, Arti et Amicitiae, Amsterdam

The Austrian Abstracts is an exhibition of 27 Austrian-based artists, collected through their concerns with principles of abstraction while working in a wide range of media, from software to sculpture and painting. The show continues the investigation from the 2003 Abstraction Now at the Künstlerhaus in Vienna, with several of the artists appearing in both.

As the title implies, the Austrian art scene forms a nexus for the show. Even though the participating artists are from different countries, many of them are based in Vienna or have a special connection to Austria. However, the point of the exhibition is not to establish a patriotic position. Rather, it takes as its starting point a renewed interest in abstract art, which could be clearly observed in the Austrian scene of the last 10 years or more.

As the work in the exhibition demonstrates, the new interest in abstraction became evident in work with video and digital media. From the mid-1990’s artists like Dextro, Lia, Tina Frank etc. began experimenting with code, creating mostly web-based works that dealt with generative systems. These works became popular with net audiences at the time, and were loosely seen as related to net.art even though they essentially were formal investigations. Gradually these works became recognized as a coherent movement, and many of the artists involved have since expanded beyond the web to work with installations etc.

This movement has been given the de facto title “Austrian Abstracts”, deriving from a series of screening programs of digital experimental video that first gathered many of the artists in the current exhibition. Counting Abstraction Now, the show at Arti et Amicitiae is thus the third manifestation. Curator Norbert Pfaffenbichler has effectively become the chronicler of the movement, giving the works a framework in art history even as the artists themselves often refuse to comment on their conceptual aspirations.

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Jason Salavon’s work has been popping up all over the place lately. This week Infosthetics posted about his Playboy Centerfold piece, with several other blogs picking up the link. At the Generator.x conference Golan Levin showed his Form Study #1 as an example of how generative work could tap into richer conceptual dimensions.

Salavon’s project is a kind of anti-visualization. He hints at profound hidden meaning, but ultimately obscures or ridicules it. This is particularly true of his series of what he calls amalgamations, which includes the Playboy Centerfolds, 76 Blowjobs, 100 Special Moments etc. In these and works like Everything, All at Once the strategy of data averaging is an ironic device, ultimately reducing signal to noise. Not coincidentally, the resulting images tends to be pleasing to the eye, composed of pastel colors and soft shapes. In this way Salavon succeeds at creating visually interesting abstract images, while imbuing them with a suggestive content.

As attractive as the amalgamations are, Salavon’s Golem is a better comment on generative art. Golem is a series of 100 000 abstract paintings, created by software designed by Savalon to “relentlessly generate an infinite variety of such paintings”. This is a conceptual piece disguising itself as a visual work. Salavon claims that Golem “might be said to pass a Turing Test for abstract painting”, but in reality it is an ironic (if not nihilistic) comment on generic abstract painting and the use of software to create infinite variations.

Golem cuts to the heart of an issue meticulously avoided by most generative artists: What is the value of a single image produced by a process that generates infinite series? What constitutes the art object, the singular output or the process as a whole? For artists that are trying to operate in a commercial art reality (as Salavon is), these are dangerous questions, potentially undermining the value of software-based work. Artists like C.E.B. Reas have circumvented this problem by selling software works as unique one-off objects with no editions, or as single large-scale prints presenting snapshots of the work. The difference is that Reas is genuinely interested in the single image, whereas Salavonseems intent on demonstrating the meaningless of the same.

 

Abstraction Now, K├╝nstlerhaus Wien, 29 Aug – 28 Sep 2003.

Abstraction Now was a seminal exhibition on abstraction in contemporary art, cutting across genres and media but featuring media art and generative works in a prominent position. Conceived and curated by Norbert Pfaffenbichler with Sandro Droschl, the show collected painting, sculpture, video and computer-based works grouped by abstraction as a theme.

The works of 74 artists were presented, 25 of them shown online and in a media lounge section of the show, curated by Lia and Miguel Carvalhais. The Abstraction Now online project is still online, featuring interactive and generative works by artists like Dextro, Levin, Lia, Yugop, Reas, Tindall etc.

A hefty catalogue was produced for the show, thoroughly documenting the works and providing a series of insightful texts on the exhibition theme. Norbert Pfaffenbichler presents a solid background to abstraction as artistic device, and then goes on to describe how generative works become algorithmic tableaux vivants. Lev Manovich’s text “Abstraction and Complexity” examines the works in the media lounge section, and argues that complexity is the main paradigm of generative software abstractions.

From the introduction to the catalogue:

The project ABSTRACTION NOW presented current tendencies of non-representative art, particularly focused on audio-visual media and interdisciplinary aspects. Classical artistic genres such as painting and sculpture were confronted with modern digital forms of expression in an interdisciplinary manner. In this context, the in art theory highly over-strained concept of Abstraction functioned as common denominator with respect to content, and it referred to so far hardly considered conceptual interrelations between individual disciplines.

The catalogue is available from Camera Austria. At 28 EUR, it’s good value for a high-quality production. And if you need proof, you can also access the catalogue texts in PDF form for free. Respect to Pfaffenbichler, Droschl etc. for making these texts available.

Links:

 
Tony Scott: Glitch Art

Tony Scott: Glitch Art

Tony Scott has created some eerie glitch art photographs by capturing long-exposure photograms of the computer screen. Simple animated shapes create complex abstract images, dissolving blurred and faded trails, evocative of skyscrapers or obscure technical film formats. Scott has created other variations on the same theme, but the vertical stripes seem more successful. He has also posted a description of the flat-panel photogram technique he uses.

The best thing about this piece is how lo-fi and analog it is. The film process lends a totally new quality to what would otherwise have been a familiar experiment in abstract shapes. It points to the inherent quality of the process, and might explain why 16mm buffs get all frantic trying to explain that film just feels sexier than video.

Scott’s Beflix site is worth poking around in, see for instance the explanation of the data visualization process used to produce the art works. And if you’re doing similar things yourself, maybe you’d like to submit work for the Glitch Art & Design Aesthetics Book.

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