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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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, 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.


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 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, 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, 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 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.

Read also:


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


Golan Levin: The Dumpster / Martin Wattenberg: Thinking Machine 4

DATA ART: The art of the database
The other identifiable tendency in the FURTHER PROCESSING exhibiton is data visualization as a new type of cultural artifact. Ben Fry's “Isometric Blocks” is a scientific visualization of blocks of genetic codes, while Golan Levin's “The Dumpster” datamines the world of teenager blogs to find patterns in blog posts relating to romantic breakups. Martin Wattenberg's “Thinking Machine” shows the user how a computerized chess player “sees” the playing board as a field of energies in flux. Pablo Miranda Carranza experiments with architectural principles and parametric design, creating systems that learn to design their own output through the use of genetic algorithms.

These works have aspects of design objects or results of scientific research, but their popularity with lay audiences are proof positive of their emotional impact. Contradicting their status as “objective” visualizations of dry data, these works can in fact be seen as a pure form of computational art. Within the context of FURTHER PROCESSING these works are shown as examples of a new type of cultural artifact, pointing to a need for better tools for understanding the complex world of information that surrounds us.

Processing was originally created by C.E.B. Reas and Ben Fry in 2001, when they were both at the Aesthetics & Computation Group (AGC) at the MIT Media Lab. Directed by John Maeda, the ACG was the one of the first academic programs to combine computational and aesthetic theory.

Processing tries to reduce the threshold keeping non-technical persons from experimenting with code by employing a set of core strategies:

  • A simplified language syntax, allowing immediate experimentation with visual output.
  • A programming interface which is intuitive and non-technical
  • An Open Source architecture, which allows the extension of the tool by its users.

Since its inception, the Processing project has received considerable attention and the tool is now used as a standard teaching tool by many art and design schools worldwide. In 2005 Processing won a Golden Nica award in the Prix Ars Electronica.

Processing will be on display in the exhibition, so that visitors can try the tool and hopefully get a taste of code for themselves.


Karsten Schmidt: enerugii wa antee shite inai I (Unstable Energy I)
Mark Napier: Genesis (7 bit)

FURTHER PROCESSING: Generative art, open systems
23.09.-11.11.2006, Kunstverein Medienturm, Graz

Pablo Miranda Carranza (ES), Fabio Franchino (IT), Ben Fry (USA), Golan Levin (USA), Lia (AT), Mark Napier (USA), C.E.B. Reas (USA), Martin Wattenberg (USA), Marius Watz (NOR). Curated by Sandro Droschl and Marius Watz.

FURTHER PROCESSING uses the Open Source software Processing as a departure point to examine positions based on computational processes. Programming has always been a component in computer-based media art, but there is now an increasing interest in software and the computer code itself as methods of artistic exploration. Combined with the emergence of a new generation raised on microcomputers, BASIC programming and the Internet, this has produced a new movement within the media art scene, one which is concerned with code-based abstraction and the art of the database.

GENERATIVE ART: The system as art object
All software is by its nature based on systems. It is not surprising then that much software-based art is concerned with the system itself as an object of investigation. Loosely grouped under the term Generative Art, this work goes beyond the simple desire to use code as a tool. Instead, algorithms and code structures become the framework and material for the work itself.

Historical art movements like Conceptual Art, Minimalism, Fluxus and Op Art, as well as artists like Bridget Riley and Sol LeWitt, can serve as a background for understanding this artistic practice. At the same time. the importance of new scientific theories like complexity theory, emergence and artificial life should not be ignored. Advances in contemporary electronic music is another influence, with several of the artists working with musicians to produce software-based performance systems for the synaesthetic combination of sound and image in a live context.


Lia: O.I.G.C / C.E.B. Reas: Process 9 (software 3)

Within FURTHER PROCESSING several artists adopt a generative position, but with distinct formal interests. Lia and C.E.B. Reas use kinetic processes as an analog to drawing, leaving complex traces on the screen’s canvas that become heavily layered surfaces. They both show a sparse use of form and color, but while Lia exhibitis a minimalist aesthetic, Reas’ work is richly layered and complex. Fabio Franchino explores the computation as a design tool by commenting on the nature of pattern, which itself can be said to be a practice of rules. His “Unfinished Wall” describes a pattern that is non-repeating, which through procedural creation could be generated on a vast scale.

Karsten Schmidt and Marius Watz deal with the evolution of structures in space, tracing out virtual sculptural forms on the screen. Here vivid color and density of the forms is used to great effect, producing bold spatial compositions. Finally, Mark Napier's “Genesis (7 bit)” is daring enough to use the text of Genesis from the Old Testament as raw material, interpreting the letters as the coordinates for points in space. The resulting arcs and filament-like traces are delicate and mesmerizing.

The generative works in FURTHER PROCESSING present an aesthetic of complexity, concerned with formal explorations of spatial and temporal parameters. Ranging from the opulent to the minimalist, these pieces comfortably bridge the gap between an electronic image culture and traditions in drawing and painting.

For more information, see Kunstverein Medienturm.

To be followed by pt.#2, on Data art.

The following information refers to past events, and is only retained for historical purposes.
Generator.x: The concert tour

Generator.x: The concert tour (Phonophani, Lia vs. Emi Maeda)

Generator.x: The concert tour – 19-29 April, 2006

Phonophani (NO) / Marius Watz (NO)
Emi Maeda (JP) / Lia (AT)
Frank Bretschneider (DE)

This week sees the beginning of the Generator.x concert tour, with 7 dates all over Norway – we’ll even go north of the Arctic Circle. The tour is produced by Rikskonsertene, and presents a selection of artists working with generative strategies in the intersection between sound and visual performance. Co-curators are Marius Watz and Alexander Rishaug, the latter also known for his music and his RandomSystem festival projects.

Norwegian Phonophani (aka Espen Sommer Eide) will play glitchy improvisations using Max/MSP, accompanied by generative visuals by Marius Watz. Helsinki-based harpist Emi Maeda will play harp combined with electronic sound manipulations, with Lia doing visuals. Finally we are pleased to be joined by Frank Bretschneider from Berlin, one of the founders of the renowned Raster-Noton label and a veteran of minimalist beats and sine wave abstractions. In what could be seen as a continuation of the Gesamtkunstwerk tradition, Bretschneider also produces visuals from his sound works.

Photos from the tour will be put online on Flickr.

Generator.x: Tour dates

Our thanks go to Rikskonsertene, Alexander Rishaug and local organizers like TEKS, BEK and Tou Scene for making this tour possible.

For information about the concert that took place during the Generator.x conference in Oslo, please visit the Generator.x Club page.

Lia: Mira

Lia: Mira

Lia has posted a lovely new Shockwave piece called Mira over on her site. Particles swarm around, creating intricate flower shapes that emerge like slow fireworks. When a flower is fully drawn, a path is drawn to a new point and the process begins over. As usual, the color scheme is subdued, in this case using black and pastel colors. It’s a nicely resolved piece, turning what seems like a limited geometry trick into a source of visual complexity.

Mira also features Lia’s signature control panel, a cryptic set of parameters for the user to play with without ever really knowing what they do. If in doubt, have patience. The flowers grow slowly, and feedback to a change in parameters will not be immediate.

Read also the Generator.x profile on Lia.

Lia, Carvalhais, Tudela: 30x1

Lia, Carvalhais, Tudela: 30x1

Lia and @c (Miguel Carvalhais and Pedro Tudela) are premiering the installation 30x1 at Solar, Cinematic Art Gallery in Vila do Conde, Portugal.

In the present setup 30×1 is built of a circuit of 15 screens along which 5 series of one minute audiovisual pieces are distributed. Each series is presented at least twice in the space and although different screens have limited visible coexistence, the sound projected by each screen flows through the space, mixes and shifts, along the walk through the gallery’s different rooms.

30×1 is an audiovisual composition, mechanically articulated by the shuffling of the DVD players and constructed by each visitor’s trajectory in the gallery. The installation is created using synchretic audiovisual pairs, juxtaposing audio and visual objects with diverse origins but a common integration. The tools of the trade were Processing, Max/MSP and Reaktor.

Solar is a gallery programmed by the organizers of the International Short Film Festival of Vila do Conde, a festival that yearly programs a generous selection of experimental film and video. Previous exhibitions featured Christoph Girardet, Matthias Müller, Manon de Boer and Siegfried Fruhauf.

30×1 will be showed from the 10th September to the 23rd October 2005.

TinyLittleElements: Live visuals

TinyLittleElements: Live visuals

Well-known for her work with abstract generative studies and live visuals, Lia is a good example of the autodidact programming artist. Born in Graz, Austria, she has no formal education in art or programming, and got involved in the electronic art and music scene of Vienna partly through collaborations with another Austrian artist, dextro. Their collaboration consisted of a series of abstract generative sketches done in Director Shockwave, and was very influential in the mid-90s web scene.

Lia rapidly gained a reputation for her own work through the site, again using Shockwave and minimalist abstract graphics to great effect. By her own description, Lia’s work is inspired by natural systems such as invertebrate animals and plants. Coming from an Austrian brand of abstraction, her minimalist graphics typically use minimal color and are strictly non-representational. She frequently uses angular shapes as building blocks for compositions with an unmistakably organic feel.

Lia has recently moved away from web-based work, working on installations or live visuals for music. She has a long-standing collaboration with Portuguese experimental music group @c and the Cronica Electronica label. Now she often performs as TinyLittleElements with partner Sebastian Meissner, alternately a pure visuals set or an audiovisual combo group. Lia has done live visuals at many prestigious festivals such as Ars Electronica, Mutek and Sonar, sometimes doing marathon sets of 7 hours using her own custom performance software.

Lia will be participating in the Generator.x exhibition with a new work, as well as doing live visuals at the Generator.x club event.

Lia has a multitude of web sites documenting her work: