MAT200A 2002 Winter
Courses : MAT200A
02W : Algorithmic Art : Graham
schedule MAT200A 02W
Report by: Graham Budgett
The Origin of the term 'Algorithm'
comes from the name of Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi
who introduced the mathematical concept of algorithm. He was born at Khwarizm
[present-day Kheva, Uzbekistan] and died c.840 CE. The word Algebra
is derived from the title of his book Al-Jabr wa-al-Muqabilah
Machine, which many hold to be the precursor of both computer software
and hardware, was first proposed by Alan
Turing in 1936, in an attempt to give a mathematically precise definition
of "algorithm" or "mechanical procedure".
An algorithm is a step-by-step process leading to a solution. It is
a logical equivalent to many procedures we use to generate many artifacts.
Given instructions with the appropriate materials, we could build a house,
a car, even an artwork. The algorithm for production is distinct from
its product. Yet generatively related. Artists like Sol
Lewitt have long known this. It is an intrinsic part of socially collaborative
disciplines like design, engineering and architecture. In fact, we could
argue that the relationship between instructions and product is as natural
as life itself - that computer algorithms are a pale shadow of material
processes underlying the organic world.
Peter Anders, in 'Envisioning
Peter Anders definition of algorithm touches on my approach to the subject
of Algorithmic Art for the purposes of this presentation - to trace the
algorithmic beyond 'Computer Art' or 'Digital Art' to a broader, more
Art and its context.
HOWEVER, LETS GET IT STRAIGHT, WHAT IS OFTEN MEANT BY ALGORITHMIC
ART IS IN FACT ART WHICH SOMEHOW DEPLOYS 'GENETIC
ALGORITHMS'. As others have
noted ALL computer-assisted art is algorithmic to some degree
since software itself is algorithm.
Algorithm & Procreation
Genetic algorithms were first developed as search
techniques where populations of test points are evolved by random variation
selection. In areas such as Information Theory and Chaos Research it
is anticipated that 'tracking algorithms' will soon provide a key improvement
in the control of chaos in technological systems as well as such biological
dynamics as pulse rate and brain seizure.
If we take two algorithms - two lists of instructions
- and swap discrete elements of code between them we can 'breed' new
algorithms which are
either 'fit' or 'unfit' for our needs.
Evolution for Computer Graphics - Karl Sims
Karl Sims generates creatures
for simulated environments where they fly, swim or sink according
to their 'nature'. The computer evalutes and selects them based on
dynamism and aesthetics.
Sims says of the evolutionary model:
When one or more of these images are chosen for survival, they reproduce
by copying and combining their genetic descriptions, often acquiring some
random mutations in the process. The resulting offspring images are generated
from the new genetic descriptions. They may look similar to their parents,
but often have some significant alteration. Since some mutations can add
new terms to the genetic descriptions and increase their complexity, the
resulting images can continue to evolve in unpredictable directions and
increase in visual complexity. In fact, complex equations can sometimes
emerge that would be quite difficult for any human to design or even understand.
Karl Sims, 'Genetic
This is a tried and trusted algorithm within cultural production as well
as in 'nature':
take two differentiated elements and combine them to
produce a unique third element
Historically, notably the Surrealists employed chance strategies and
"the third effect" to generate new possibilities of creativity
and meaning. Surrealism allied itself to the then young sciences
of Psychoanalysis and Marxism, but never lost it's grip on the
absurd as an antidote to orthodoxy.
Now, as art converges with science & technology, artists will need
to maintain at least a semblance of critical distance. Sims' partly 'aesthetic'
approach to selection could produce monsters - like the Surrealist's game
- depending on whose aesthetics are used in
the name of a cultural
Sommerer & Laurent Mignonneau
In the interactive real-time environment A-Volve visitors interact
with virtual creatures in the space of a water filled glass pool. These
virtual creatures are products of evolutionary rules and influenced by
human creation and decision. Designing any kind of shape and profile with
their finger on a touch screen, visitors will bear virtual
three dimensional creatures, that are automatically alive
and swim in the real water of the pool. The movement and behavior of each
virtual creature is decided by its form [which the viewer designed on
the touch screen].
Behavior in space is, so to speak, an expression of form. Form is an expression
of adaptation to the environment. Form and movement are closely connected,
the creatures capability to move will decide its fitness in the pool.
The fittest creature will survive longest and will be able to mate and
reproduce. The creatures will compete by trying to get as much energy
as possible. Thus predator creatures will hunt for prey creatures, trying
to kill them. The creatures also interact with the visitors, by reacting
to their hands movement in the water. If a visitor tries to catch a creature,
it will try to flee or stay still, if it gets caught. Thus the visitor
is able to influence the evolution by for example protecting prey against
If two strong creatures meet, they can mate and a new creature
can be born. It carries the genetic code of its parents. Mutation and
cross-over provide a nature-like reproduction mechanism, that follows
the genetic rules of Mendel. This newly born offspring will now also react
and live in the pool, interacting with visitors and other creatures. Algorithms,
developed by Mignonneau and Sommerer ensure smooth and natural movement
and animal-like behavior of the creatures.
Gregory Dudek - make
and mate art!
Algorithm & Recreation
Here is an algorithm of the legendary [game] 'Tetris':
when a new block appears, rotate it in such a way so it will complete
the top layer of blocks on the bottom of the screen making this layer
The similarity between the actions expected from the player and computer
algorithms is too uncanny to be dismissed. While computer games do not
follow database logic, they appear to be ruled by another logic
that of an algorithm. They demand that a player executes an algorithm
in order to win.
Bookchin's game algorithms drive Narrative
as Symbolic Form' Lev Manovich posits Database as the logical
successor to Narrative as the 'symbolic order' of the Computer
Age. He cites web and disk space as manifestations of the database, while
computer game 'narratives' are ordered by algorithms. "The projection
of these two fundamental parts of computer software and of the
computer's unique ontology onto the cultural sphere" is Manovich's
point. "The computerization of Society" is carried through not
just materially, but cognitively - in human perceptions and responses.
In his title and argument Manovich favors Database over Algorithm as the
age's 'symbolic order' while seemingly downplaying the necessity for algorithmic
agency within any database, virtual or actual.
Wilson's extensive website of links to Information Art sites is
a case in point. While one appreciates his contribution enormously,
constantly surveilling the site for broken links and correcting the problems,
it could soon fall into disrepair and obsolescence. Here are all
from his site referencing 'Algorithmic Art' and 'Algorithms for Creativity'
- all working as of January 2002:
Algorithmic Art Show
of Algorithmic Art
Mind, Machine Research
Harold Cohen - Aaron
for Artificial Art
Matuck - Landscript
Incidentally, Wilson's book, Information
Arts, as well as being extremely useful, replicates this
problem IN PRINT.
"jodi.org's pulsing green and black blankness
is not so blank as it seems, that is; one just needs to know where
to look. In Netscape's tool bar menu, there is a command to view "Document
Source." The source code comes up as a text document, and what
is revealed is that there is a whole layer of pictorial, ASCII text
art "below" the surface of jodi.org."
[if no longer apparent, here's one
from before the change. GB]
Algorithm & Architecture
Automatic Generation of a Functionally Correct Design Approach
Using Genetic Algorithms and Evolution Strategies: ...A stream
of spatial units [molecules] that results from the task's specifications
[spatial agenda] flows into this predefined, invisible world. When transferring
this spatial agenda onto the computer system, these smallest spatial units
are allocated a genetic entry corresponding to their respective function.
Depending on the use, the spatial units are given different characteristics.
A degree of relatedness to another functional area means that the spatial
unit in question must be placed in the proximity of the other related
units. One side surface of the volume of many of the spatial units, for
example, has to be flush with the outside space, i.e. potentially constitute
part of the facade. Others have to be part of seamless series of links
[e.g. porch, entrance, foyer, reception area]. An overall spatial unit
[population] generated in this manner can then be tested and assessed
in terms of quality [fitness]. If a space is not able to take its genetically
prescribed spatial place, i.e. next to related spaces, within the population,
then the overall result is unsustainable. If the system has, however,
found a population that has scored sufficiently well in terms of the internal
fitness function, then it appears on the screen as a possible solution
in the form of a 3-D mass model. From now on, the user of the system can
influence the evolution of the model. The user can individually and formally
assess the mass model proposed by the system and then take the solutions
that appear most architecturally interesting and transpose their geometrical
similarities onto the next generation of solution variants. Various mass
models, parts of which have been assessed as good, can now inter-breed.
This process of mutation, controlled by the user, can be applied to any
number of generations until a basic conception is found, which is then
advanced further by conventional means.
Merz Merz's Igloos express his pre-occupation with the fundamentals
of human existence: shelter, food and cultural interaction with nature.
Many of his works refer to the principles of the Fibonacci
series, an exponential mathematical sequence that underlies the growth
patterns of natural life. Fibonacci Naples, 1970, consists of
ten photographs of factory workers at lunch, gathering from one person
to a group numbering fifty-five [55 is equivalent to 10 in the Fibonacci
Vladimir Tatlin's 'Monument to the 3rd International' 1920 [left] and
a detail of 'paraSurf' by Macus Novak [right].
'Tatlin's Tower', designed to out-Modern and dwarf Eiffels's Paris
structure, was never engineered, but exists as various scale models and
images. The realised Constructivist
tower would have housed Moscow's telephone exchange and Communist Party
Headquarters. It features a double
helix which adds a dynamism and prescience to it's Modernism.
Marcus Novak's recent 'transarchitecture', existing predominantly in
Cyberspace, is algorithmically generated or 'bred' and - like
Tatlin's virtual structure - can be interpreted as symbol and agitprop for
radical innovation beyond the realm of architecture per se.
|Algorithm & Modernity
In the 'Visual Arts' the period of Modernism spans from the end of the
19th Century [with the ascendancy of Photography & Film] to the present
- if you're from one camp - or until the mid-20th Century if you belong
to the other. [See arguments about 'Postmodernity']
What happened mid-20th Century was a great tendency in the artworld toward
reduction as a response to the perceived moribundity of 'painterly'
Abstract-Expressionism and the dominance of Formalist Criticism
embodied in the person and works of Clement
Cube Hans Haacke 1964 - his early works were 'art political' in
that they eliminated artistic gesture in favour of system. Later
he succesfully hybridized the reductivist aesthetic of his art and his
realpolitik [See below: MoMA Poll]
Minimalism & Conceptualism are the best known 'movements'
from that period - they shared a systematic, reductive approach to art-making
- but there have been others who had that approach:
Harold Cohen has Aaron
- a software - make paintings which have evolved in complexity since
1973, but still maintain a very 'English' mid-20th Century Modernity
- very R
B Kitaj. Having reduced his art-making in a systematic effort
to exclude many of the mannered elements of painterly painting,
he proceeded to write
and refine 'C' code for Aaron which replicates those very elements.
At his recent talk at UCSB I asked him if he felt paternal toward Aaron,
"I know the difference between a child and a computer" he responded
in characteristically witty and astute fashion.
Cohen claims that he is discovering universals in perception and
response to images. Yet AARON has a recognisable style and "signature" Stephen
- Santa Barbara's own Jean-Pierre Hébert
for one. There is an unmistakable Modernist ethic and look to many of
Algorithm & Information
1. THE ARTIST MAY CONSTRUCT THE WORK
2. THE WORK MAY BE FABRICATED
3. THE WORK NEED NOT TO BE BUILT
Resisting the arch formalism that had become institutionalized by
the 1960s, Conceptual Art has sought to analyze the ideas underlying the
creation and reception of art, rather than to elaborate another stylistic
convention in the historical succession of Modernist avant-garde movements.
Investigations by Conceptual artists into the networks of signification
and structures of knowledge that enable art to have meaning, frequently
have utilized text as a strategic device to examine the interstice between
visual and verbal languages as semiotic systems. In this regard, Conceptual
Art is a meta-critical and self-reflexive art practice, engaged in theorizing
the possibilities of signification [including its own] in art's multiple
contexts, including its history, criticism, and historiography, its exhibition
spaces and markets, and so on. In interrogating the relationship between
ideas and art, Conceptual Art de-emphasized the value traditionally accorded
to the materiality of art objects and placed greater emphasis on revealing
the semantic systems that make it possible for meaning to be communicated.
Edward A. Shanken Art
in the Information Age: Technology and Conceptual Art
John Hilliard c.1970 - Cause
In 1970 the art critic Jack Burnham wrote with great
Information processing technology influences our notions about creativity,
perception, and the limits of art ... [It] is probably not the province of
computers and other telecommunication devices to produce works of art as we
know it; but they will, in fact be instrumental in redefining the entire area
of esthetic awareness.
Jack Burnham, "Notes on Art and Information Processing" Software
In 1969, Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art opened
a show titled, "Art by Telephone." Thirty artists, including
noted conceptualists like Joseph Kosuth, were asked to place telephone
calls the Museum and to instruct the staff about what their contribution
to the show would be.
The first proposal for a specifically telephonic art was an unrealized provocation
offered by the Dadaists in Berlin in 1920. The Dada-Almanach proposed that
an artist could call in an order for a picture by telephone, and have it
made by an artisan. In 1922, Lázló Maholy-Nagy claims to
have indeed ordered five paintings in porcelain enamel by telephone from
a sign factory. According to Maholy-Nagy, these Telephonbilder as he called
them, were created when he sketched out his paintings on graph paper with
the color chart from the factory in front of him, and relayed his instruction
via the telephone to the supervisor of the factory at the other end of
the line. Moholy-Nagy wrote years later of the process: the supervisor "took
down the dictated shapes in the correct position. [It was like playing
chess by correspondence.]"
Peter Lunenfeld In
Search of the Telephone Opera
Joseph Kosuth exhibited elements
of his "Seventh Investigation [Art as Idea as Idea] Proposition
One"  in the Jack Burnham curated Software exhibition.
This work included the same text in various international contexts: a
billboard in English and Chinese in the Chinatown neighborhood of lower
Manhattan, an advertisement in The Daily World, and a banner in Turin
[in Italian, which was temporarily on display at the Museum of Modern
Art's Information exhibition.] The text was comprised of a set of six
 to assume a mental set voluntarily.
 to shift voluntarily from one aspect of the situation to another.
 to keep in mind simultaneously various aspects.
 to grasp the essential of a given whole; to break up a given whole into
parts and to isolate them voluntarily.
 to generalize; to abstract common properties; to plan ahead ideationally;
to assume an attitude toward the 'mere possible' and to think or perform symbolically.
 to detach our ego from the outer world.
Kosuth's statement in the Software catalog
emphasized his intention that the work not be able to be reduced to a
mental image, but that it exist as information free of any iconography.
Complexity in Information Theory "Roughly, the Kolmogorov complexity
of a sequence of symbols is the shortest computer program which will
generate that sequence as its output. For certain classes of random
processes, the Kolmogorov complexity per symbol converges, on average,
to the entropy per symbol, which in that case is the entropy rate,
the entropy of the latest symbol, conditioned on all the previous
ones. This gives us a pretty profound result: random sequences are
incompressible; and, conversely, an incompressible sequence looks
random. In fact it turns out that one can write down formal analogs
to almost all the usual theorems about information which talk, not
about the entropy, but about the length of the Kolmogorov program,
also for this reason called the algorithmic information."
Words in Green Neon Joseph Kosuth
Hans Haacke - MoMA
'Information', an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1970, claimed
to be the first conceptual art exhibition mounted by a U.S. museum. The
artist Hans Haacke posited this SYSTEM as art: a query, a response algorithm,
and its visual feedback.
ALGORITHMIC ART: The life of Language, whose grammars can be said
to constitute a creative growth formalism, can be compared with the
plant growth for instance, that carries the general character-model
and information encoding.*
translation from ABOUT GENETIC ART
KUNST: das Leben der Sprache, deren Grammatik als ein Erzeuger Formalismus
interpretiert werden kann, vergleichbar dem Algorithmus des Wachstums
von Pflanzen bzw. deren Informations-Codifizierung und die allgemeinen