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.


Peter Merholz has blogged his notes from a lecture that Martin Wattenberg recently gave at UC Berkeley. Martin charted early experiments in visualization, and talked about his works like History Flow, Apartment, Name Voyager and more.

Martin Wattenberg: Color Code

Martin Wattenberg: Color Code

Martin Wattenberg has released a new project called Color Code for AIGA’s online journal Loop. He describes it as “a full-color portrait of the English language.”

Color Code uses a Treemap visualization to show 33000 words. Each word has been colorized according to the average colors of images found on Yahoo image search using the word as a search term. The words are grouped by meaning, and can be explored interactively by zooming in and out of different clusters of related words.

Martin used the same Treemap algorithm for the Map of the Market visualization of the stock market, which has become a real-world computational design classic.

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