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...]
Tag: computational

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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.

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.


Going with the recent typographic focus: Responsive Type is a computational typography study. The user types text in an applet, which renders the shapes and strokes of the type in realtime, allowing animation and modular typography. Created in Processing, the applet currently only has one typographic style. Work is underway to open up the source and allow users to add more styles.

Responsive Type was created by London-based Hudson-Powell for their exhibition at Beamst, Tokyo. Messages typed in the online applet are shown live in the gallery. The project is a collaboration with a team including Processing regulars v3ga and Michael Chang, see also the project credits.

Hudson-Powell is brothers Jody and Luke, who take a conceptual approach to design and illustration. For their September 2005 cover design for SHIFT they set up a web cam in their studio for a month. They then used various objects (strings, toy bricks etc) to spell out the letters SHIFT, changing them frequently. SHIFT also has an interview with Hudson-Powell online.

Via v3ga.


This morning I got an interesting email:

Dear Mr. Watz:

I came across your sites by accident. My reaction: What gives you the right to call what you do “computational design”? The concept was developed by Prof. Dr. Dr. Mihai Nadin around 1994. THAT is computational design. I urge you to take a look at You can only learn. And please at least give credit to the man who actually developed the concept… before you ruin it further.

(name removed for privacy)
Research Associate
antÉ – Institute for Research in Anticipatory Systems
University of Texas at Dallas

Not wanting to ruin the work of a man I have never met, I did a little googling. As the email says: “You can only learn.”

Professor Dr. Mihai Nadin (see also Wikipedia) is a computer graphics pioneer of Romanian origin who has worked with computer applications in art and design since 1960. Currently a professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, Dr. Nadin has an impressive academic CV dealing with human-computer interaction. He started Computational Design as a field of study at the University of Wuppertal in 1994, defining it as follows:
Read the rest of this entry »

McGrath & Watkins: Manhattan Timeformations

McGrath & Watkins: Manhattan Timeformations

Manhattan Timeformations is a project from 2000, by architect Brian McGrath with designer Mark Watkins. It maps lower Manhattan in time and space, creating a layered historical model of geographic and economic data. It received an award of distinction from Ars Electronica, and was displayed at the Skyscraper Museum in New York.

“Manhattan Timeformations” is a computer model which simultaneously presents a layered, cartographic history of the lower half of Manhattan Island, and an exploded time line chronicling the real estate development of high-rise office buildings, which constitute the skylines of Midtown and Downtown Manhattan.

The web site gives a limited documentary preview without much chance of interacting with the data model. The model can flown through in 3D as well as rotated etc., but only in a prerendered manner. Still, the exploded views of the different layers indicate the potential inherent in this presentation.

Jutta Zaremba wrote an article titled "The skyscrapers of New York in the media arts", in which Manhattan Timeformations is touched upon. It is available from the V2_Archive.

Name: Project


United Visual Artists (UVA) have done it again (well, actually, they did it last year, but it looks so nice we’re posting it anyway). Working with interior designer David Collins, they’ve created a very good-looking LED wall for London hip nightspot Kabaret's Prophecy. It might have a kooky name and a pricey drink list, but at least patrons get to bliss out to a very classy computational display.

Design Week calls it a “deluxe play-den”, which is often a code for “well-designed but swanky to the point of annoying”. It’s also a members only club. Still, look at that screen…

UVA says they used 2968 Barco MiPix LED blocks, controlled by their DragonFly 2 LED control software. It even comes with custom interactive VJ options for color modulation, animations, patterns and scrolling text. To get a better idea, see the UVA site for more pictures and even a movie (see under “work”). It’s all very… disco. And in a grand way, too.

See also our previous post on UVA. Via pixelsumo and Interactive Architecture.


Toxi has tipped us off to a new and impressive information visualization resource. is the brain child of Manuel Lima, who is also the author of the BlogViz project. The site intends to be “a unified resource space for anyone interested in the visualization of complex networks”, an ambitious and applaudable goal.

Currently it indexes 150 visualization projects, ranging from the artistic to the scientific and grouped by type. All projects are listed with a short description, authors, links and sample images. There is also a submission form, so send in your projects or corrections to the information listed.

Originally from Portugal, Lima did a MFA in the Design+Technology program at Parsons School of Design in New York, realizing BlogViz as part of that work. He started after being frustrated by the lack of online resources about information visualization. The project is a labour of love, so help him with info or even send him a donation (link available from the About page.)

Ryan Alexander: K is for Killblor

Ryan Alexander: K is for Killblor

Killblor? Whatever. Ryan Alexander’s delightfully eclectic sketches are back online at after a hiatus. His work might easily be the closest thing computational design has to Steven Heller’s "Cult of the Ugly", full of things that exists just because they do.

Titled “Haha you thought it was drawings”, his collection of computational sketches display a playfulness that would make Ed Fella proud, combined with elegant yet eccentric motion. Be sure to check out his sketched artwork as well to see how he executes the same visual ideas in code, by pen or whatever comes in handy. Ryan worked for a while at Motion Theory, a LA-based motion design company who have used custom software solutions (often done in Processing) for a number of motion pieces for groups like R.E.M., Papa Roach etc. Now he’s at Hello Logan, a seriously great outfit co-founded by mad Russian genius Alexei Tylevich.

Ben Fry: Isometric blocks

Ben Fry: Isometric blocks
SNP gene sequences

Ben Fry: Salary vs performance

Ben Fry: Salary vs performance
Baseball team expenditure

One should not increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything.

That is the lesson of Occam's Razor, the famous principle from reductionist science. It certainly should ring true to Ben Fry, who has made number sequences his field of aesthetic study. He developed his taste for data while at the Aesthetics & Computation Group at MIT, receiving his Ph.D. for a his dissertation on Computational information design. He currently works at the Broad Institute of MIT & Harvard on what he calls "genomic cartography", finding useful mappings of the genetic data.

Fry typically works by reducing the elements of the data set to their essential interactions. Once so reduced, he applies minor aesthetic constraints in order to make the data reveal its hidden structures. When compared to classic visualizations that rely on brute computational force and unreadable graphs, it is this light touch and clarity of approach that makes his works so appealing. Several of his projects (like Valence and Anemone) have already become classics of computational design.

While not committing to his role as artist, Fry continually crosses the art/science divide by exhibiting at places like the Whitney Biennial and the Ars Electronica. Some of his works have made cameo appearances in Hollywood feature films like “Minority Report” and “The Hulk”. Fry has also received considerable attention for co-founding the Processing project with Casey Reas. For that work they recently received a Golden Nica at Prix Ars Electronica 2005.

The Whitney Artport are currently having an online exhibition of Ben Fry. Users can interact with a selection of 4 works. Zipdecode and Distellamap have been shown in various incarnations before, while Salary vs performance is a new work looking at numbers in the world of baseball. All have been written (or re-written) in Processing for online viewing.

The Generator.x exhibition will contain two works on paper by Fry, one from his work on Haplotype structures and one of his Dismap visualizations of the execution structure of computer applications. Here, his pieces represent a direction in generative work where artists and designers concern themselves with data as a pure source of abstraction and complexity. This practice has been described by theorists like Manovich as “data art”, the art of data mapping.

Relevant links: