Archives for the Month of March, 2006

The Grammar of Ornament

The Grammar of Ornament – Owen Jones

Eric Gjerde has uploaded scans of a set of pages from the exquisite ‘The Grammar of Ornament’ by Owen Jones which was originally published in 1853. There’s a great range of designs here featuring decorative motifs from the Byzantine, Chinese, Indian, Persian and Moorish cultures among others, often employing tessellated patterns. The nature of these patterns, with their properties of repetition, iterative transformation, as well as subtle natural colour palette, should make them of interest to artists and designers of all kinds

Not surprisingly Jones Owen was a product of Victorian prosperity; educated at Charterhouse and then the Royal Academy.

‘His observations of decorative art on his extensive travels in Europe and the Near East were employed to improve the poor quality of Western design. His goal was to change the Victorian habit of mixing elements from a wide variety of sources and applying this mix indiscriminately to buildings, graphic design, and products.’

The Grammar of Ornament includes Owen’s personal manifesto of the ‘General Principles’, offering guidance to the designers of the future – particularly in strategies regarding colour.


Rephlexion – Yesyesnono

Yesyesnono contains Oli Laruelle’s sound responsive generative art and visual computational experiments. Using mainly proce55ing in a live setting he produces complex sound visualisations with quite some variety and beauty. CVC, recently performed at London Dorkfest, has a painterly quality about it, almost like a living cubist painting. It runs in perfect synergy with (and responding to) the music of Chun Lee aka Sonicvariable who Olli collaborates with under the name of Cracktux. Both artist/musicians are heavily involved with Openlab, a collection of sound and visual artists using open source tools. If you are in London this weekend check out Open Lab #2 (2nd April) – An evening of audiovisual innovation with opensource. Cracktux as well as a many other interesting experimenters will be performing and the price of admission is £0.00’s!

Extra: Recently I worked with Olli on an interesting project for BBC Radio1.

Otto Piene – Lightspace

Lightspace 1957-2001 – Otto Piene

In 1959 Otto Piene created ‘archaic light ballets’ based on torches and perforated cardboard, later on, in 1960, he produced a ‘mechanical light ballet’ requiring visitors to operate cranks to set ‘light objects’ to slowly move and provide a projection montage. Even later things seem to have got more mechanical, with the use of electrically powered dynamos in his ‘Automatic light ballet’.

In 2001 the Kunstmuseum Celle Mit Sammlung Robert Simon staged an exhibition of these kinds of works called Lightspace 1957-2001

The walls appear as distorted galaxies and refracted cosmos’s where lattices of light are projected from primitive shapes.

Spotted at the intriguing and fascinating ‘Space is the place – Art in the age of Orbitization’

Darwinns Instruments & Tree Growth – Jer Thorp

Treegrowth – Jer Thorp

Jer Thorp’s Darwin’s Instruments is a result of research into Neural Networks and Genetic Algorithms, it allows you to evolve little multi-sound instruments and has the appeal of learning, a somewhat hermetic and tantalising system, through interaction. By selecting two sounds you create parents to produce offspring hybrids.

Jer has done a lot of interesting work in Flash, including some L-System biology for his Treegrowth project which itself has evolved, through code sharing, into a project for the V&A by Philip 0’Dwyer called Trans_vision.Also worth a visit is his

‘By clicking and holding the mouse, you can create independent neural networks with random connection weights between nodes. When nodes reach activation threshold they play a sound.’

Generative Art is as Old as Art

Sketch (details) – Mathew Lewis

A couple of weeks back Marius featured an article about the output of a drawing machine by Mathew Lewis. What was remarkable about the work was how non-computational it appeared. The works, developed on AL – a scheme based environment, are almost childlike, with the energetic marks of an un-steadied hand producing people like objects, or even animals with disjointed tails. I suppose the reason I’m reposting is because this work is a great example, not for the first time, of how generative art needn’t look a certain way; how it can appear to take on certain ‘human’ qualities.

What it also reminded me of artists who have used mental procedural methods to ‘build up’ their art. Artists such as Paul Klee, who is very well known, and whose Pedagogical Sketchbooks are of interest to artists of all terrains, as well as lesser known’s such as Wolfgang Schultz (Wols). Wols used the term ‘crystallization of thoughts into lines’ and many of his works, like Stadt Zentrum, were built up using repetitive gestures to bring a drawing to fruition. Also a while back I mentioned Rangolis, Tribal procedural art found in India.

More recently I think of an interesting body of work resulting from quite meticulous procedural repetition by Witold Riedel. The ‘Complex Drawing’ sequence contains clues in the titles. ’45 minutes 1 seed’ and ‘120mins 12 seed’ are really a set of instructions as to how they were produced, simple code infact. Witold says:

‘Many of my drawings in general start with little clusters of information; one could call them information ‘seeds.’ I place them on a page and then let the drawing grow from them and around them. Some seeds are planted on the subway; some drawings are finished on the train.’

12 concentric circles of 777 loops – Rod McLaren

Similarly, Rod McLaren’s drawings have instructional (or descriptive) titles that reveal starkly the method in which they made. Check out 12 concentric circles of 777 loops, Dotting the largest circular disc possible in an hour and Loop in blue (10 minutes), repeated in dots (25minutes). Some of these drawings form part of the ‘Fully Articulated drawings’ series where Rod asks:

‘Can loops or dots be drawn as fast or as consistently as possible, 50 or a hundred times? How quickly can the brain make the hand move whilst the eye ensures control? Can it be controlled without the watchful eye? Can a loop be repeated carefully at slow or high speeds? How may dots can be made in an hour? Can quality be maintained? Is it pointless (or point-ful?) to behave like a machine or a program? Can something be copied well? Would it be different for a right-hander? And: does anything interesting result from this?’

We should possibly travel no further now than Phil Galanter’s remark in an interview at

’ But the most exciting generative work I’ve encountered in the past few years is by an artist we will never know. Most folks know about the prehistoric cave paintings found in France and elsewhere depicting animals and so on. The oldest of those is about 35,000 years old. But in 1999 anthropologists discovered the oldest known artwork, and this work is more than 70,000 years old. It consists of triangular tiles inscribed in hand sized pieces of red ochre. It is an exploration of pattern and aesthetic form that would be clearly recognized as such by someone like M. C. Escher or generations of Islamic artists. And it is generative in that an abstract autonomous system creates the form rather than the moment to moment intuition of the artist. Tiling systems are algorithms that existed long before there were computers.

As I like to say, generative art is as old as art.’

ManyFolds in Variety

Leave Variations – Azuma Hideaki

Take a break from code for a minute and have a look at some exquisite paper constructions by AZUMI Hideaki. ManyFolds in Variety is an origami site but you won’t find too many swans, bears or cranes competing for your attention here, instead you will find mathematical abstractions formed in space tasting of constructivism. Most are iteratively constructed with a nod in the direction of classic mathematical models. All right, so some do refer to real objects occasionally – take for example these leave variations; using a single sheet of paper the sequence of transformed creases reveals beauty in form as well as subtle colour graduation.

The explanatory fold diagrams that accompany the constructions are works of art in them selves.

Ryoji Ikeda – Datamatics

Datamatics – Ryoji Ikeda

C4I and formula both occupy a place between concert, film and media installation – a large montage of computer generated imagery, mostly representations of data in different forms are synchronised with music and sound to afford an hypnotic synaesthetic sensory effect.

‘C4I is both a concert and a film that uses data as its material and theme, highlighting the ways in which data shapes our understanding of the world.

It is one of the first pieces in datamatics, the artist’s long-term series of works exploring data. Datamatics explores the aesthetic potentials of data by using data itself – from its transparency to materiality, from its ultra-speed to hyper-diffusion. The project derives the hidden constants of data-ness from the vast data ocean that ranges from DNA and the everyday world to the universe and pure mathematics.’

Ryoji Ikeda, Japanese electronic composer and media artist, presents C4I and Formula at the Barbican tonight, his first concert in London for over 6 years.

More details here

Early American Computer Animation # 2 – Review

Poemfield – Stan Vanderbeek

The program featured some key films made between 1966-1969, spanning a wide range – the films were a mix of formal, educational and highly experimental.

The biggest revelation for was in the use of sound in these films. Often the visual output seemed as if it might have been sound reactive, although highly syncopated and syneasthetic – the sound was always added later on. Another interesting feature of sound was that some of the films juxtaposed non electronic music, such as African tribal chanting or Indian classical music, the outcome hinting towards a fusing of techno and the primitive. At times the sound and visuals were built as an aural/visual assault, this I suspect being a record of a time when certain perception enhancers were not uncommonly used when viewing this films.

Stan VanDerBeeks Poemfield #2 explored the representation of lines of text from a poem with geometric alignment, transformation and composition. The style of copy is pixellated and there is interplay between the background patterns and the foreground text. While not overly breathtaking seen in today’s climate of hypermedia and rich graphical environments, for its time it must have caused quite a stir.

VanDerBeek studied art and mixed with the likes of Buckminster Fuller, John Cage, and Merce Cunningham. Later he built his Movie-Drome theatre at Stony Point, New York, and produced shows with multiple projectors. Interestingly his shows utilised large number of random image sequences resulting in performances that were never the same.

Movie Drome Theatre – Stan Vanderbeek

‘Influenced by Buckminster Fuller’s spheres, VanDerBeek had the idea for a spherical theatre where people would lie down and experience movies all around them. Floating multi-images would replace straight one-dimensional film projection. From 1957 on, VanDerBeek produced film sequences for the Movie-Drome, which he started building in 1963. His intention went far beyond the building itself and moved into the surrounding biosphere, the cosmos, the brain and even extraterrestrial intelligence.’ – Jürgen Claus in Leonardo, Vol. 36

John Stehura’s Cibernetik 5.3 is a dense mesh of geometric figures that have an extraterrestrial sentience about them. In the early 60’s work on Cibernetik 5.3 was inspired by the discovery of DNA by Watson and Crick – the algorithms used to animate the primitive shapes were based on genetic modelling. In evolving spatial environments shapes come in being, organisms made of light.

Permutations – John Whitney

Permutations and Arabesque are two very well know films by John Whitney. Showing these two films together allows us to see the development of Whitney’s work and how he essentially refined the same concept over a long period of time. Both films present the line or dot as dancer. Whitney must be the greatest contender for being THE precursor to the modern music visualisation plugin – the kind of visual output you’re used to from the MP3 player of your choice. This is audio reactive visuals at it highest – all though all the sound is added to these films after they have been made.

Peter Foldes ‘La Faim’ (Hunger) broke from preoccupation of abstraction of the earlier films to provide an animated satire of self-indulgence. Here computers were used to handle complex morphing, dissolving and reshaping throughout the animation. The film remains fresh and the style has been echoed in a lot of work since, particularly Flash animation with scripted timelines.

Googolplex by Lillian Schwartz & Kenneth Knowlton utilised their self developed graphical programming language EXPLOR to build a kinetic patchwork of binary grids pulsing to the sound of African tribal chant. The work, a result of research at BELL laboratories into the perception of sound and images, exists somewhere between a psychotic Cellular Automata and stroboscopic Bridget Riley. EXPLOR is an acronym for Explicitly defined Patterns, Local Operations, and Randomness. A very simple language for computer generation of still or moving images developed in 1972.

One of the astounding things about all of the works shown was the method in which they were made. Often there was only enough computer memory to produce one frame of graphics at a time. Each frame was output to an optical printer in black and white, then pieced back together a frame at a time and coloured. Music was then added and synched later down the line. Many of these short films took weeks or even months to make, as artefacts of a history, light-years ago in computer terms, they remain extremely interesting and inspiring to recent generations of computer artists.

Early British Computer-Generated Art

Group Theory Grid Tony Longson

As follow up to last weeks program and part of the ‘Bits in Motion’ group of events, the NFT3 puts on an evening of early computer generated works from the UK. The event will include introductions and discussion with some of the artists including Stan Hayward and Malcolm LeGrice.

’A journey through previously lost or obscure material, from the first computer animation made in Britain to the appearance of computer graphics in commercial TV and film. The pioneers of the medium often made their art on mainframes designed for business or scientific use, developing innovative software to achieve aesthetic effects that evoke nostalgia and awe.’

Tuesday 7 March, 610pm, details here

The event marks the culmination of CACHe, an extensive research project looking into the origins and history of early British computer art. Recreational Archaeologists will enjoy perusing the back issues of PAGE, the long-running magazine of the Computer Arts Society.


Richard Bamattre has made a generative, browser-filling, Flash construction that uniquely regenerates itself for each click you apply. Form-wise, a nod in the direction of the Constructivists and Suprematists, colour-wise they remind me of palettes from the works of Joseph Albers. The Swf is called ‘suprematism_cityblox’ so there’s also a touch of Broadway boogie going on too. Simple and effective.