Author Archives: Nabila Wirakusumah

Conference Project Post-Mortem: An American Life

For my conference project I created a series of movies that explored my placement in an American context and the ways in which I could use Processing and generative art to challenge or alter the original narrative of the photograph.

I began by finding photographs of American families in Ithaca. I then photoshopped myself into the images and split them into .jpg and .png files with some transparent portions so that I would be able to code in-between the layers.

The code itself was rendered in pure red to emulate the aesthetic of Barbara Kruger’s work. Many of the aesthetic techniques used were also reminiscent of John Baldessari’s dot series, where the graphic obstructions not only created visual tension, but also added a psychological distance between the viewer and the subjects of the photographs.

When I first began the project, all I knew is that I wanted to use photographs so I would have some tension between the coded graphics and the photographic image. However, I was at a loss for what photographs to use, and the approach I wanted to take. For a while I was browsing through old photos that I had taken. There was no real system, I was just looking for ones that caught my eye. Because there was a lack of purpose, I found it hard to make anything really interesting.


The idea for this slightly more political approach to the project came to me while I was in a thrift store, browsing through various old knick-knacks that, to me, were strongly representative of a specific American narrative. This was just a few weeks after the disheartening election results, and I was questioning my place and future in this country. I had used old found photographs for a previous project whilst I was studying in Berlin, and I knew the existing power and narrative in their composition would provide a fruitful grounding for my project.

Funnily enough, it was the pieces that I hadn’t previously sketched and planned for that turned out to be some of my favorites. Particularly, No.4 and No.5 in my series. I think when I started planning them in my sketchbook first, I was too focused on how to control the code, rather than how to create a system in which the generative nature of my work could create an interesting effect itself.

I also at one point became too reliant on Baldessari’s visual techniques. In No.1, I struggled to manipulate the spirals so that they wouldn’t just end up forming red dots on the faces in the photo, as it would be too similar to the dot series. In the end, I created a piece that changed very incrementally over time, and I think the difference before and after is quite striking. screen-shot-2016-12-14-at-2-49-11-pm screen-shot-2016-12-14-at-2-49-33-pm screen-shot-2016-12-14-at-2-50-10-pm

This change over time was definitely something I wanted to incorporate into my sketches, to make the photographs more dynamic and so that I could take full advantage of the properties of generative art. I was surprised to find that the vertex drawings I did, and changing them incrementally over time, wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.


For No.2, I assigned variables to each vertex point of each shape, and added a noise incrementation so that they seemed to be expanding and growing in a somewhat organic fashion.

In every sketch, the axes that crossed particular portions of the photograph were very important. Mostly, I aligned the sketches to an axis that crossed over the eyes of the subjects. Though I wanted to differentiate myself from Baldessari, I also recognized that distracting and obstructing the face often had the most jarring effect on the viewer.

I also used loops in most, if not all, of my sketches. The allowed me to create these graphic accumulations onto of the images.

Because I was pretty excited about this project, time management wasn’t too much of an issue. However, I wasn’t quite aware when I started how many steps there would be. The process involved going to a number of thrift stores and flea markets, carefully selecting images, scanning them in, editing myself into them, creating the code, then finally creating the movie files. What took the most time was creating the code, but I did feel myself growing more comfortable with the code. I was much more careful with commenting out which code did what, which gave allowed me to navigate through the code more easily. Though control isn’t the ultimate goal of generative art, the ability to understand my code more easily gave me a certain measure of clarity so I could ensure that my goals would be fulfilled in the project.

One of my main concerns would be whether or not the insertion of myself into the images is fully necessary or even noticeable in many of the pieces. Aside from the wedding photo, I inserted myself into the periphery of the images, purposely out of the main line of site.

With No. 4, I feel as though suddenly it becomes noticeable that, of all the faces turned towards the camera, only mine isn’t obstructed in the end. No.1 also has me in the periphery, and when the image turns red and everyones eyes are marked out, mine is the only one left.

However, with No.2, I inserted myself with my back turned. I’m not sure if my insertion here is done to any effect, really. And the accumulations on the three main subjects, while it erases them, doesn’t distract from them at all. In fact, my focus has mainly stayed on them.

At the end of the day, I’m quite proud of what I accomplished with this project. I like the series as a whole, and I think the pieces do quite well together. I think the red on the high contrast black and white photographs is quite striking, and I think I definitely achieved my goal in changing the narrative and nature of the photographs throughout the series.

Conference Project Proposal: My American Life

The background for my art piece will consist of old, black and white photographs acquired from flea markets and thrift stores around New York state. An image of the artist will be added to the photos inconspicuously.

Using Processing, graphic shapes and lines will be added on top of the images, forming ‘accumulations’ of sorts on top of the subjects. As the accumulations progress, the subjects will be obstructed, changing the narrative of the photograph.

Visually, this work stems from an interest to combine photographic images with drawings and  abstracted graphics. Previous explorations into the combining their contrasting visual elements together have focused on creating cohesion between the two types of imagery.

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(L: 852 Series “Ladies Market”, R: Empty Series “Fleetwood” both mine)

For this project, I don’t have much of an interest in creating cohesion, instead I want to see the photograph engulfed in the coded visuals.

As it is my last year at Sarah Lawrence College, I naturally find myself wondering about the next chapter in my life. The recent election also has me thinking about my place in this country; how I fit in, and whether or not I want to stay. My family and I have always oriented our lives towards America. Though we have always lived around South East Asia, most of the films, TV shows and culture we consume is American, and my parents’ goal has always been to send me here for higher education.

Through this project, I am physically inserting myself into American family pictures and into the standard of “normality” that Pop Culture asserts the American family life is. I am interested in the different visual effects that can be produced by coding on top of the images, and how these accumulations will grow and alter the photographs. While I think the background in this work will be highly important, I believe that it is the coded imagery that will really change the story of the photograph.

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(L: by Barbara Kruger, R: by John Baldessari)

Though I knew I wanted to incorporate photographs into my coding project, I wasn’t sure where else it would go aesthetically, or even what the message would be. At first, I looked to Sonia Sheridan, as she creates generative art that using photographic scans of herself. However, I decided to move away from manipulating the photographs themselves and create generative sketches on top of the photographs instead.

I then looked to John Baldessari, particularly his dot series. I was interested in how the simple graphic shapes obstructing the faces of his subjects changed the narrative and spirit of the images. With their faces covered by dots, Baldessari marks them with anonymity and creates distance between them and the viewer. While the colors are bright, I do feel as though there is an almost sinister, cold feeling to the now-faceless subjects. Because of this effect, I decided to focus my codes on the faces in the photographs. I hope that as the code progresses and the graphics accumulate on their faces, distance will be created between them and the viewer.

I also looked towards Barbara Kruger’s work, particularly regarding style and aesthetic. With simple use of red bars and white text, she writes short, declarative statements across the photographs that make a strong statement to the viewer and forces them to redefine the context of the imagery she uses. I intend on only using black, white and red as well to evoke the same emotional intensity that Kruger’s work has. She also uses photography and imagery that feels iconic and classically American, which ties nicely into my goals for this project. 

The code will exist in the foreground of the piece. While the background provides the framework and context, the code is what will fulfill the goals of the piece and of course turn it into generative art. I anticipate that I will keep all, if not most, of the code in red, to stand out from the photograph and create cohesion between the pieces. While I want their form to vary from piece to piece, they will all be made with some noisy incrementation that allows the forms to accumulate and grow with the frame count.

It is important to the piece that the faces of the subjects in the photographs are obstructed by the code, so I would first need to be aware of the placement of the drawings, and the degree to which the noise will spread. To do this I’ll probably have to map coordinate points to orient my drawings to, by measuring the photograph out on Photoshop. Once I have the points from which I want the sketches to begin, I can also set up margins or axes to limit where the code spreads to.


Of course, because this is generative art I don’t want to restrict my code too much. It already will be generative in that I will be creating systems that dictate where these graphic images will show up and how they will look like, and by virtue of the noise function these images will change each time they’re generated. But I also believe that, since these graphics elements are growing, unlike Baldessari’s, the mood or narrative given in the story is also somewhat out of my control. As I decided to insert an image of myself into the piece, I wondered if I should intentionally create a separate .PNG file of myself to layer on top of the code, so that no matter what I wouldn’t be obstructed. But I believe that who and what the code obstructs, though guided at first, could end up changing and the effect may be something worthwhile to see as a generative artist. In short, while I am purposely seeking to change the narrative of these images, I am curious and open to see what the system turns it into.



These are two ideas of what these graphic accumulations will look like, and how I want them to evolve. For the spirals I will definitely be using loops, first to increment the amount of noise in the spiral, then later to draw the lines themselves. I also will keep the alpha on these spirals very low in order to not overwhelm the drawing right away.

For the sketch idea that starts with rectangles, I was inspired by Callum’s piece, “Alive Again”. His seems to have some 3D aspect to it, but I anticipate my sketches will stay within the 2D realm, to keep with my aesthetic goals.

I did experiment with creating more dimension in my conference work earlier, taking advantage of transparent .PNG files and editing a background code as well as a foreground code.


(Sketch using transparent PNG to code in background)

As of right now I’m still considering creating a piece in this way, if it manages to still cohesively work with the Barbara Kruger-aesthetic I’m aiming for.

Something I’ve struggled with this during this class is having my sketches change over time, and not stay stagnant. My earlier pieces definitely didn’t change drastically over a longer period of time, and I took a lot of inspiration for this project from Jack Colton’s pieces, as I always felt like his code did a good job accumulating and changing over time.