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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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 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.

OFFF BCN: Drawing / Painting / Sketching

OFFF BCN: Hansol Huh – TypeDrawing / James Tindall: Sketchpad

The OFFF festival in Barcelona is next week, with a busy schedule mixing new media design heros with computational designers and generative artists. The EXTEND: Advanced Processing workshop has been mentioned here before, now the organizers have finally released the full list of projects for the exhibition.

Entitled “Drawing / Painting / Sketching”, this year’s exhibition has a focus on software works that emulate drawing processes. It might seem ironic that digital artists should spend so much time trying to recapture the quality of traditional drawing, but this is not necessarily out of nostalgia. The goal is ultimately the creation of organic expressions within a deterministic medium, with a richness of gesture often lacking in digital work. The last few years has seen a definitive move away from the technology-inspired images of the turn of the millenium, with complex animated works created through the use of computational processes coming to the fore.

The resulting works are nevertheless quite different both in style and focus – from C.E.B. Reas’ complex process drawings, to Hansol Huh’s playful TypeDrawing, to Leonardo Solaas drawing machine Dreamlines. Joshua Davis will be doing a workshop in the museum using his drawing components for Flash, while Zach Lieberman’s Drawn and Hektor, the Graffiti Output Device provide interactive installations moving beyond the screen.

It looks like OFFF will be an interesting mix this year, be sure to have a look at the timetable for a full overview of the events, including the conferences which in true Barcelona fashion run until 21:00 in the evening.


The ever-trusty feed brings news of a debate related to the Processing or Die thread a while back. A blog post over on Grand Text Auto about a lecture by C.E.B. Reas at the Human Systems | Digital Bodies conference has drawn some interesting comments about “procedural literacy” and discussion of general terminology.

Michael Mateas, associate Professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, has posted a link to his paper "Procedural Literacy: Educating the New Media Practitioner" (PDF). In it he argues that a knowledge of computational processes (i.e. procedural literacy) is a requirement for anyone seriously intending to deal with the so-called “new media”. It’s slightly on the techy side of things, but has some interesting historical references (Papert, Kay, Nelson etc.) as well as some fresh takes on the basic problem of computing for the humanities. For instance, he proposes (writing) games as the perfect vehicle for understanding a procedural approach. Interestingly, another participant in the discussion, Ian Bogost, has a book out on MIT Press entitled Unit Operations : An Approach to Videogame Criticism.

The idea of computational literacy extends beyond what is traditionally considered code. Our favorite Norwegian blogger heroine, Jill Walker, forced her electronic literature students to learn HTML and CSS in order to set up their own blogs. While HTML lacks any active computational component, it can still potentially hold a transformative experience in terms of understanding how computers “think”. Just ask all the Myspace kids.

And of course there is always the dogmatic Open Source view as to why you should learn to code: If you can’t hack it, it will control your life.


Barcelona is always a nice place to be, but the upcoming second week in May may hold particular interest to creatives working with digital media. The reason is the OFFF festival for "Post-Digital Creation Culture". Now in its fifth year, OFFF has moved away from its Flash-oriented roots and embraced the full spectrum of experimental digital work. According to the festival site, OFFF is exploring “software aesthetics and new languages for interactive and visual expression.”

The festival’s biggest pull is probably the presentations by a core of well-known creatives, with names like Kyle Cooper, Weworkforthem, Nando Costa and many more. This year the list is also conspicuously full of names from the computational design and generative art fields: Ben Fry, Golan Levin, Casey Reas, Marcos Weskamp, Zach Lieberman etc. It’s an interesting mix, and while the actual program of events hasn’t been announced yet there are sure to be some good presentations.

A special partner event of OFFF is the EXTEND: Advanced Processing Workshop. Co-produced by OFFF and Hangar (an art centre for the audiovisual arts), the one-week EXTEND workshop will be led by Ben Fry, Casey Reaz, Zachary Lieberman and Marius Watz. The workshop is intended for artists and designers who already know how to code, but who would like to experiment with new topics, learn how to extend the Processing tool itself or just play around in a constructive environment.

The workshop fee is set at a low EUR 50, so it should be accessible to freelancers without design agencies who can bankroll them. The number of places are limited, however. To be accepted, applicants must submit a personal biography and a description of previous experience with Processing.

Application deadline is 21 April. See the following call for more information.

Read the rest of this entry »


Tom Moody has an interesting blog entry about sales of DVDs as art objects. Essentially, he’s quoting another post by Paul Slocum (the guy who made the dot_matrix_synth) about sales of DVDs from a recent show.

Paul Slocum writes:

With our first show at And/Or I was really surpised to learn that video does sometimes sell — we sold both of Tom’s videos.

I didn’t really expect the video pieces to sell, so I had to scramble to figure out archiving issues with DVDs. For most artists that we would show, getting a DVD produced would be cost prohibitive, so everything’s going to end up being a DVD-R. And how long these will last is unknown. I’ve read that playing burned media reduces its lifetime. I’m not sure this is true, but if it is, DVD-Rs repeating over and over in a collectors home could have short lifespans. And using the wrong kind of marker could reduce its life. Or a minor scratch.

Rather than go to great lengths to test DVD-Rs and research all the details of archiving, I’ve decided to take a “fair use” approach instead. First of all, I archive all DVDs that we sell via ISO images. If the collector’s DVD fails, then the we can replace the DVD. But as a secondary backup, I burn those ISO images onto a CD-ROM that comes with the purchase, and suggest that the buyer copy this data to their own computer and keep it safe. It seems a bit much to instruct the collector on how to rip a DVD and burn a copy, but if they have the ISO image it’s easy to burn a copy. Maybe this all seems like a little much, but I guess it’s the role of the gallery to figure out this kind of stuff.

Read Tom's post and the comments for more background info. His point about both the artist and the buyer having the means of (re)production is particularly relevant.

These are essential issues for anyone who wants to be able to sell their work in a gallery context, whether as software in executable form or pre-rendered video in DVD format. The classic issue of limited edition runs of something which is infinitely reproducable also comes up. Some video artists sell tapes or DVDs with a contract that guarantees the buyer that the artist will make new copies available if the storage medium should fail. C.E.B. Reas sells his Process pieces as uniques, complete with the computer hardware to run them.

If anyone has more real-world examples of how artists and galleries are dealing with these issues, any input would be most welcome.

Update: Paul Slocum has posted a tip about using Taiyo Yuden pro-quality storage media. Of course, I’m now completely paranoid about the safety of my backups…


Images shown are not from the Swarm exhibition.

Julie Mehretu: Ruffian Logistics

Julie Mehretu: Ruffian Logistics

Wattenberg: Shape of Song

Matthew Ritchie: Self-Portrait in 2064

This has been blogged elsewhere, but it’s interesting enough to bring up again. The Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia currently have a show they call “Swarm”. The title is a tip of the hat to scientific and cultural theories, as well as a more general idea of “unplanned and decentralized modes of organization”. Some obvious references:

Curated by well-known designers and curators Abbott Miller and Ellen Lupton, the exhibition brings together artists that typically would not be shown together. Painting is juxtaposed with generative software works and installation art, well-known art world names mix with less obvious ones. Generator.x readers will be familiar with C.E.B. Reas and Jason Salavon, but perhaps less so with Julie Mehretu or Matthew Ritchie. Of course, the reverse would be true for readers from the mainstream art world.

The interesting aspect of this exhibition is how the works are selected for relevance to a cultural idea (the swarm), and not for their inclusion in specific art trends. Generative art, still an outsider art form as far as the art world is concerned, suddenly makes sense in the show. After all, it tends to address issues similar to those explored in the complex paintings of Mehretu or Ritchie (if nothing else, then certainly on a visual level). While generative artists usually shy away from talking about the relationship between their work and the human condition, this show makes just that connection.

Julie Mehretu reference via dataisnature. More to follow.


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.