Issue #013 Published: 19-06-2017 // Written by: Nicholas Burman

Algorithm Art

Computational creativity is a multidisciplinary practice that embraces the role that machines and algorithms can have in the artistic process. Amsterdam’s creative scene has a history of utilising both the developments in engineering and the philosophical aspects to these futurist innovations; Remko Scha’s Institute of Artifical Art being the prime example. Currently, Rietveld alumni Omri Bigetz is working with algorithms and a 3D printer to add another string to the city’s bow in regards to adopting advanced approaches to art.

‘Algorithmic art’, art that is produced via algorithms, dates back to the early 60s. The brainchild of the German programming pioneer Konrad Zuse, the ‘Graphomat Z64’ was originally intended as a machine to draw maps but was adopted by Frieder Nake, who produced abstract images, and other trailblazers in this arena. Nake and others were exhibited at the 11th Sonic Acts festival in 2006. One time monk and renowned American computer artist Roman Verostko wrote about seeing algorithms in art as representing artistic procedures, noting specifically that “those who create these algorithms are artists.” More recently, Google garnered attention with the presentation of their DeepDream software, an artificial neural network that reprocesses images into hallucinogenic visions.

Tel Aviv born Bigetz started out in photography, although felt dismayed over purists’ complaints of digital interference in the results. Feeling that the camera is already an instrument for (mass) producing manufactured images, especially in a world of digital smartphone lenses, he decided to move towards the totally ‘fabricated’, although still retain the physicality of paper. His work can be seen as a natural extension of machine manipulation, just with a keener eye to the future.

Bigetz designs 3D images and, in collaboration with programmers from around the world, develops algorithms which recalibrate his designs into something a robotic arm can draw onto paper. The results are very different to simply printing a screenshot of a digital design. The variants of the tool used (pen being the most common), and the varying success of the algorithms translating the 3D composition, mean the results have a traditional ‘organic’ quality. These sorts of mistakes in algorithm art have been described as ‘glitch art’, however, for the machine these are not glitches, they are just different results to what the artist was expecting.

While his designs are limited to what computers and his practical skills are capable of, the results are never the same (this applies to retries based on the same algorithm as well). The futuristic process apes the science fiction aesthetic apparent in the pieces, and also makes the previously impossible possible. For example, an image of interlocking heads was drawn with one, 500 metre pen stroke. The works themselves are illustrative and particularly reminiscent of something you might find in a graphic novel. 

Since those early trials with the Z64, from 1960s conceptual abstraction to identity-driven hyperrealistic renderings today, how artists utilise machines highlights how their generation sees the physical world. With algorithms an ever more prominent underpinning of contemporary experience, how likely is it that we’ll be celebrating programmers as great artists in the (near) future?

Image: Omri Bigetz