Generative art and experience of nature

To sketch our interest in generative art we will pay a brief visit to the end of the eighties and the beginning of the nineties when we were studying at the Rijksakademie (State Academy of Fine Arts) in Amsterdam. At the time we were under the impression that a work of art seemed to be primarily a strategic instrument guaranteeing the continuity of the institutionalised art establishments. New artworks had to be shown every month, and production had to be kept up. The journals gave the most extensive and favourable reports to those galleries and art institutions buying big expensive pages of advertisements in their magazine. The so-called new and interesting seemed to be strongly intertwined with mutual commercial interest. We concluded that the art world was a generative system maintaining itself. (See Model Spaces.) In addition, post modernism stripped us of illusions, leaving us with the view that nothing is possible beyond the appropriation of images from other cultures and from the past. Repetition, re-combining, eclecticism, the end of history [1]. As artists, we experienced that the associative tendency of our human mind may disturb the spontaneous development of new possibilities. By following our intuition, we often close off avenues that might have led to interesting results.

In this context the idea of automating art production arose. This would expose the underlying generative mechanism of the art world, and it would circumvent the cultural and the biological limitations of human art at the same time. Initially this idea was a rather nihilistic response to the powerless situation in which we seemed to find ourselves. However, this point of departure rapidly became an adventure when we realised how difficult and at the same time challenging it is to attempt an art in which spontaneous phenomena are created systematically. Art that is not entirely determined by the subjective choices of a human being, but instead is generated by autonomously operating processes. An important source of inspiration at this are the self-organising processes in our natural surroundings: the complex dynamics of all kinds of physical and chemical processes and the genetic-evolutionary system of organic life that continuously creates new and original forms. To us it is very important to observe these current processes and to record them. (See Landscape films, Fulgurites Endoscopy and Tomato Habitus.) Over the past years this has led to several form collections, the so called Morphotheques. Each Morphotheque is showing the stages of transition or the variations of forms that could be expressed within a specific generative process. (See Morphoteque #12, Morphoteque #13 and Morphoteque #15.) In other works the form transitions are generated in real time by means of a machine. (See The Factory, Sandbox and Top-down Bottom-up.) In addition to working with natural processes, we use the computer for the development of artificial worlds with self-organising properties. We wish to see what happens if we ourselves describe a process of growth in a computer program. Not a simulation of laws that are valid in our physical world, but instead the definition of an artificial nature *, with fictional laws constituting a complete world of its own. By developing generative programs we unlock worlds that show their own spontaneous expressions. These expressions make visible the internal structures of an artificial nature in all its variation, with a high degree of detail and often of great beauty. (See Breed, E-volver and Accretor.)

The visual results of the virtual growth processes do not represent anything but they arise from a logical and direct use of the medium and its formal visual means. This testifies to an approach that is related to concrete art, which has its origin in Modernism. The artwork itself is the reality. Jean Arp: "We do not wish to copy Nature; we do not wish to reproduce, but to produce. We want to produce as a plant produces its fruit. We wish to produce directly, and no longer via interpretation.(...) Artists should not sign their works of concrete art. Those paintings, statues and objects ought to remain anonymous; they form a part of Nature's great workshop as do trees and clouds, animals and people..."[2] . Concrete art does not reject the increasing prevalence of technology and industrialisation, but it wishes to provide new times with a fitting visual language. We share this approach but in contrast to modernistic artwork - that attempts to reveal the universal harmony of reality by rational ordering and reduction of visual means[3] - we are actually striving for complexity and multiformity in the final result. The harmony model has been replaced in our case by the conviction that chance, self-organisation and evolution order and transform reality. Thus, new scientific insights and technologies contribute to a continuation and adjustment of older modernistic and expressionistic ideals. The concrete and formal approach can now enter into a union with new possibilities that are enshrined in the procedural character of the computer. We are challenged to create vivid, artificial worlds in alliance with technology, and to design them in so refined a manner that they may awaken new possibilities of experiencing nature.

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* The concept "Nature" is often used in the meaning of unspoiled land, an area that has not been touched or cultivated by Man. In a broader sense, however, nature means "disposition" or "character". From this point of view, Nature is the expression of the underlying laws that shape a world or entity. These fundamental laws of nature determine which development, growth and transformation processes are possible, and which are not.

[1] Jean Baudrillard, "Les stratégies fatales", Grasset & Fasquelle, Paris, 1983
[2] Jean Arp, "Abstract Art, Concrete Art", in: Art of This Century, New York, 1942
[3] Piet Mondriaan, "Le Néo-Plasticism", Rosenberg, Paris, 1920


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