2006-12-26

Generative Art



Nervous States by Jonathan McCabe is data visualization using a process that resulted in a material gallery show of six digital prints. Neural nets generated patterns processed further by the artist/programmer; entirely new, generative art. When it's based on a neural net and mixed down further, what similarities may remain with human systems? Interesting questions re the emerging art form of data aesthetics. I'm really just learning how much creative potential there is, not being a programmer myself. Two of my favourite sites on info vis are Information Aesthetics, and Data as Nature (hat tip for this very post); they feature a tantalizing variety of original ideas and images.

McCabe's Nervous States was distilled with a novel process:

Each image is essentially a visualisation of the output state of a small neural network. The X and Y coordinates correspond to two variables in the connections of the network; the colour of the pixel at that point is a representation of the network's behaviour for those parameters. So the image is a map of system states; coherent colours show areas of relative stability or gradual change; edges show sharp jumps in the output; marbled swirls show complex oscillations.


Got that? The teeming void's review continues, and sums up the intriguing essence of this work:

This work also makes me wonder about communication, meaning and generative art. As McCabe explains them, and in the context of the "nervous" metaphor, the generative system is poetic in itself; the images can be read in that context, as mysterious maps of complex dynamics - or they can function on a more "retinal" level, as sheer visual stimulus - or perhaps both. But how comprehensible is the generative system for a wide audience? Does it matter? Understanding the images as state maps, rather than physical (or even simulated physical) traces and gestures, is a considerable leap of abstraction. And at a time when open-source tools are drawing more and more artists and designers to generative techniques, McCabe's work issues a similar challenge: underneath the initial challenge of learning to code is the conceptual process of understanding, designing and visualising generative systems, and it's those systems that (I'd say) are at the core of the work.


Read on: teeming void's review of Nervous States.

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