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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David Dessens: Foldable fractal / Daniel Widrig: Object01

David Dessens: Foldable fractal / Daniel Widrig: Object01

Apologies in advance to anyone who has grown bored with the stream of posts about Generator.x 2.0, but the project isn’t quite over even though Club Transmediale ended nearly 3 weeks ago. Here are a few updates:

  • At the vernissage in Berlin we had some visitors from Turin, including Bruce Sterling who is the guest curator of the Piemonte Share festival. The theme of Share this year is “manufacturing”, so discussions quickly began about the possibilities of taking the Generator.x 2.0 exhibition to Turin. As a result, Generator.x 2.0 will open in Turin March 11 as part of the Share festival.
  • Regine Débatty just posted a very favorable review of the exhibition on We-make-money-not-art. She says it’s “the best show in town right now”, which is most welcome praise indeed.
  • Quite a few videos from the vernissage have been posted online. Eno Henze has a good walkthrough of the exhibition, but there are also videos from MovingWeb, WatchBerlin and VernissageTV.
  • Institut HyperWerk HGK FHNW was one of the partners for the Generator.x 2.0 workshop in Berlin. It now looks as though this collaboration will continue with a potential presence at the Ars Electronica festival later this year. Meanwhile, a generative fabbing workshop is currently underway at HyperWerk, with results being posted to Flickr.

Neil Banas: rain-penlike-smallbasins-full (section) / Jim Soliven: HTorsion

Flickr surfing is no longer a waste of time. Beautiful works like Neil Banas’ rain-penlike-smallbasins-full or Jim Soliven’s HTorsion make even idle searching worthwhile. Both can be found in the Processing Pool, which has a generally high level of quality. For more excellent examples, see Paul Prudence "Flickr fruits" on Dataisnature.

Despite its bias towards photography, Flickr is rapidly becoming one of the most important resources for generative artists. Its image storage facilities are of obvious use in any art practice, but it’s the social infrastructure that makes it a killer app for artists. In seconds an image can be uploaded and shared with a larger community that can give feedback on the work, while image pools makes it easy to see work by other artists and make new contact.

Flickr can’t replace personal web sites or blogs for in-depth information, but it allows for a sense of immediacy and interaction that those channels lack. While portfolio sites generally show only finished work, Flickr makes it easy to publish work-in-progress and rough sketches that would otherwise never be published.

Sadly, Flickr policy dictates that non-photographic images are not the focus of the service, with some resulting weirdness and frustration. But that still hasn’t stopped artists like Joshua Davis, Golan Levin and Lia from publishing excellent documentation of their work that is far more comprehensive than their personal web sites could ever be.

Caveat emptor: Like any commercial service, Flickr is not a democracy. Nor is it perfect. The dreaded NIPSA (Not In Public Site Areas) policy and the new content filters that have replaced it has made life on Flickr a little pleasant than it used to be. Some people might be more comfortable with alternatives like ComputerLove or deviantART

Recommended starting points for generative art on Flickr


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.


Generator.x has been on extended (and unannounced) one-month holiday, but now summer is ending and blogging will slowly resume. To warm up, here are a few random links that have accumulated:

  • AOL reSearch has just managed to release a substantial data set containing 20 million search queries from over 650 000 users. What was probably an eager attempt at scoring Open Source brownie points, has rapidly become a public relations disaster. Americans are rightly paranoid about their privacy, and the data set is likely to include personal data like names, social security numbers, unpleasant searches for porn and violent images etc.

    The original post has not surprisingly been removed from AOL, although a cached copy can be seen using Google's cache. Mirrors posting the data set can easily be found, one of the best bets is to try the Bittorrent download. While the release of these data is bad news, it’s sure to be of interest to information visualizers and dataminers. It would almost be surprising if no art works came out of this debacle.

    Read Techcrunch for a good overview of the whole story.

  • Kunstverein Medienturm in Graz will feature a show called Further Processing in September. The show will show software-based works created with Processing, and also give a presentation of the tool itself. Contributing artists are Pablo Miranda Carranza, Fabio Franchino, Ben Fry, Golan Levin, Lia, Mark Napier, C.E.B. Reas, Karsten Schmidt, Martin Wattenberg, Marius Watz. The show is curated by Sandro Droschl (director of Medienturm and one of the curators behind Abstraction Now) and myself.
  • Art.ficial Emotion 3.0 is an interesting exhibition at Itau Cultural in Sao Paulo, Brazil, featuring a major presentation of media artists whose works relate to cybernetic theory. See Paul Prudence's writeup on Dataisnature for a summary. Regine over at we-make-money-not-art recently did a interview with Guilherme Kujawski, one of the curators of the show. In it he presents his ideas about the exhibition and its relation to cybernetic theory.

    For visual impressions of the show, see the following Flickr sets : mrprudence, watz.

  • Code & Form is a new blog I’ve started to cover more technical and code-related issues that would be too geeky for Generator.x. This separation of content means that Generator.x will be more clearly focused on finished works and theory, rather than tools and technology.
  • Ars Electronica is around the corner, if anyone is going and would like to meet up please send me an email on marius at unlekker net. I had thought of organizing an official Generator.x gathering, but there are not enough hours in the day… Hope to see some of you there anyway!

Jared Tarbell: HappyPlace

Most people reading this blog are probably familiar with the work of Jared Tarbell, but he has never been properly blogged here. So stumbling over his HappyPlace piece provided me with a pleasant opportunity.

Jared is perhaps best known for his playful Flash work, which he has published on his site since the very early days. These consist mostly of generative sketches involving recursion, motion studies or technical experiments, which he generously provides the source code for. But these days he focuses more on his generative artwork, which finds a place on, his “Gallery of Computation” and “generative artifacts”.

HappyPlace is a good example of his more recent pieces. It uses the underlying structure of a network of “friends” and “non-friends”, simple agents acting on local rules. But through a baroque rendering style Jared has developed called Sand Stroke, these simple interactions become the raw material for delightfully intricate drawings. This strategy is not unlike that of C.E.B. Reas, who uses agent interaction as the basis of popular works like his Process series. Jared helpfully provides applets showing the agents moving both with and without the Sand Stroke rendering to make it easier to understand their behavior.

The style of drawing used in HappyPlace has taken Jared’s work in a direction which is visually quite different from his earlier Flash work. Where Flash tends to produce smoothly rendered vector objects, he now explores grittily detailed surfaces with a painterly interest. Interestingly, this change coincides with his move to using Processing, which allows pixel rendering in the very high resolutions needed to produce print-ready pieces.

For more Tarbell goodness, see some of these examples:


HTML and markup languages like XML describe documents as hierarchies of tags, in what is called a Document Object Model. This structure can be visualized as a graph.

Websites as Graphs (by Sala of takes a web page URL as input, and outputs a graph of the underlying HTML structure. Used on any large content site like CNN or BoingBoing, it reveal the underlying logic of presentation used to build those pages. Related information form clusters, with color codes revealing a tendency towards table- or CSS-based design (the former being a no-no, obviously) as well as density of images, links etc.

While the graphs make for interesting images, it is still hard to make hard and fast assumptions about the page in question only by looking at the graph. But a well-structured document will always reveal itself as such, as will badly-structured documents. Websites as Graphs should be of interest to anyone who has tried to define a page structure, particularly if that structure conforms to the current CSS-based ideal of “logic-not-presentation” style of web design.

The source code for Websites as Graphs is freely available for download. It was built with Processing, using the Traer.Physics and HTMLParser.

Update: Markavian has hacked up a remix version which allows you to browse the tag structure interactively and even follow links to new documents. To use it, point your browser to a URL in the following format:

“” should obviously be replaced with whatever URL it is you want to explore.

Relevant links:


The EXTEND workshop with Casey Reas, Ben Fry, Zach Lieberman and yours truly is now underway. Today is the second day, yesterday was spent giving personal introductions and dividing the 18 participants into groups. Each day we have micro-lectures. Zach started off by talking about animation and movement, and showed some examples from his making things move workshop.

The participants have shown significant interest in data visualization, and so Ben presented some background to computational information design. He used his Linkology project as a specific example.

Casey is currently speaking about the history of Processing (traced back to ACU and other MIT projects) and how to sketch with code. He is also talking about the importance of the concept of libraries as a way of extending Processing, and in particular to bring it beyond the screen. In particular, he is demonstrating the new PDF library with some code examples that will soon be posted to the Processing site.

I will sporadically be blogging the workshop over on Code & Form, a new blog I just opened to support workshops, teaching and code experiments.


Due to the current concert tour (which is going very well, expect an update very soon) blogging has been a low priority. Here are a few interesting things we’ve noticed recently:

  • Atelier Nord has a call for participation for a workshop called The Empire’s New Clothes - Art, Fashion and Technology. The deadline is today – Monday 24 April, so if fashion is your thing hurry up and send them a CV and statement of intent. Apologies for the late post of this call
  • Switchboard is a new Processing library written by Jeffrey Crouse. It implements a general application layer for using web services with Processing. Services already implemented to varying degrees are “google, yahoo, msn, allmusic, shoutcast, foaf, and rss/atom feeds”.
  • Linkology by Ben Fry is a project for New York Magazine showing link connections between the top 50 blogs. I’ve been meaning to blog it forever, but never got around to it so I’m simply linking it here.
  • Visualcomplexity keeps adding new projects. Some new favorites are Essence of Rabbit (by our Berlin friends at Pictoplasma) and Font 004 - Community by Marian Bantjes. Interesting to see that Visualcomplexity is including projects that don’t fit a strict infoviz focus. If you haven’t checked in for a while then take a look and consider subscribing to their RSS feed. It’s well worth it.

Photos and video of the Generator.x tour should go online in the next few days.