Thursday, 2 December 2004
Today, recreational research takes me to lesser technologically advanced drawing machines, but no less fascinating. As I a kid I was transfixed by ‘Spirograph’, generator par excellence of complex geometric moirÃ©s from mechanical cogs and pens invading paper space. At school learning the B.A.S.I.C.s of computer programming I made simple plotter routines of mutated equations of a circle – Spirographic echoes more Art than any 2HB could fathom. I was often reprimanded for ‘wasting’ printer paper!
When we talk about Generative Art its often implied that computers are an integral part of the process but really a Spirograph is a much a generative art machine as any combination of software and hardware in the computers of today. In fact the cogs of the Spirograph are actually the equivalent of both the Software and the Hardware .
Spirograph was invented in 1962 by British engineer Denys Fisher. His family was so excited by Spirograph that he eventually decided to sell it as a toy. In 1965 (later in the US) the new toy was shipped to its first customers. It was voted the best educational toy for 4 years in a row (1966 – 1969). It can still be bought today.
Mathematically, Spirographs produce Hypotochoids and Epitrochoids . The Spirograph also falls into the class of patterns known as Roulette Guilloche’s and this type of pattern is seen on bank notes – it’s a way of making counterfeiting more difficult.
Surely the inventor of the Spirograph must have had knowledge of the Harmonograph, an earlier pendulum-based drawing machine used to produce beautiful figures called harmonograms or Lissajous curve’s. Again, I remember being excited by remakes of this machine in 1980’s – captivating the imaginations of kids and turning innocent wonder into Â£’s. There are plenty of sites on the www explaining how to make your own Harmonograph ranging from the high to the low tech. Outside of making one, you could visit one of the many online versions done in Java.
I can’t leave the moment without mentioning the Metamatics of Tinguely’s machines for meta-mechanical expression.
“In machines intended for practical use the engineer tries to reduce the irregularities as much as possible. Tinguely is after the exact opposite. His objective is mechanical disorder. His cogwheels are so constructed that they jump the cogs continually, jam, and start turning again, unpredictably. (. . .) The same movement can appear ten times in succession and then, apparently, never be repeated again. This creates an unusually acute sense of time.”
Marius of evolutionZone has made some software drawing machines whose output uncannily resemble the motions of a mechanical drawing device, with a sense of motion and temporality – these are spatially beautiful generative art pieces. The colours are amazing too!
more info here