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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Vague Terrain: Jeremy Rotzstain / Paul Webb

The online digital art journal Vague Terrain launched Vague Terrain 03: Generative Art last week, featuring work by 11 artists and musicians. Edited by Greg Smith and Neil Wiernik, Vague Terrain asks contributing artists not just for works (images, videos, mp3s), but also to articulate the context those works exist in. The final result is both artistically challenging and theoretically weighty.

This issue explores generative strategies in art, an approach to image production as well as for sound and live performance. From the abstract images of Meta to the image producing machines of Jeremy Rotzstain or the random music systems of Paul Webb, the works presented show a range of possible uses of generative systems. Of special interest are the many examples of sound works. Lately the generative art field has gotten most of its attention for visual art, belying the rich history of such systems in musical composition.

The most important theoretical contribution is a new paper from Philip Galanter, in which he clears up some common misunderstandings about his by now canonical definition of generative art (see this interview). Entitled Generative art and rules-based art, it traces a genealogy of generative art, presenting a number of historical works that are generative without being computer-based. Specifically, he looks at two exhibitions (Logical Conclusions: 40 years of rule-based art at Pace Wildenstein, New York and Beyond Geometry at Los Angeles County Museum of Art). Using these as a reference point, he clarifies some often-misunderstood terms and analyzes how the works in these shows can be understood in relation to a generative tradition.

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Vague Terrain: meta / Ben Bogart

Galanter’s presentation of these precedents is thorough. In focusing on the principles used to produce the works, he presents a firm platform for defining a basic terminology. The downside is that his paper does little to connect the aesthetic content of historical works to the works typical of the generative art field today. This is both a strength and weakness. In looking only at a limited formal aspect, Galanter avoids getting bogged down in art history. He can thus compare works that would otherwise be seen as representatives of different art movements. But in doing so, he risks giving the impression that a work like Alfred Jensen’s The Apex is Nothing is concerned with the same issues as Salavon’s Shoes, Domestic Production 1960-1968.

This dilemma clearly illustrates the problem of generative art as a definition that only describes a methodology. Apart from identifying an interest in systems, it says nothing about the resulting work and so constitutes a tenuous common link. Uncritical use of the term risks conflating artists from different periods and assuming that their artistic interests are the same, when in fact the contexts in which they produce their works are very different. Philip Galanter is no doubt aware of this, and likely does not intend to make this implication. But the recent historicization of generative art has tended towards ignoring differences in the desire to find similarities.

Finding historical references for generative art has the potential effect of legitimizing the current work by placing it in an art historical context. But it also risks ironing over the unique qualities of works. In the long run, the current generation of artists working with code and software as artistic materials might do well to specify their position as being separate from this historical context. This would allow them not only to state what is unique about their work, but also to be understood by the art world at large as more than an updated appendix to work done in the 1960’s.

All texts from Vague Terrain are under a Creative Commons license and are available for download as PDFs.

 

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
(detail)

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.