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.
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.
My conference project’s theme is nature and its replication using code. Nature is known to follow a system and set of rules while utilizing the slightest bit of unpredictability. The same can be said for coding: there are rules to follow, but there’s a lot of room for randomness. I wanted to incorporate this within my code and find just how close to the beauty of nature I could make my sketches. I was very inspired by Holger Lippmann’s work representing aspects of the natural world in his art.
When I began each sketch, I had a few guidelines but not many. For instance, the first sketch I created was Push + Pull based on my original sketchbook drawing of an ocean with the tide coming in and out. I knew what I wanted the general sketch to look like, but I was not prepared for the outcome which exceeded my expectations. With the use of multiple gradients, I was able to form the landscape without using defined shapes. Rather, the gradients are made up of individual lines that change color with each y value (probably?). Then, to add the value of the waves hitting the sand, I used simple noisy white lines. I was very pleased with the end result, not aware that I would even consider using multiple gradients. Even now there is still more I’d like to add, for instance clouds or boats in the distance, but for now I’m very happy with this sketch.
My following sketch Anthocyanin is based on an idea I had of flower garden. Flowers are very interesting and difficult to replicate exactly the same each time. Much like natural flowers, my coded flowers take on new identities with every run of the program. This was my most difficult sketch because it required me to take a concept like Wave Clocks, which has a lot of different parts, and expand upon it. I had to first find the right flow I wanted the petals to follow, but due to the noise in the sketch I could not create the same exact flower each time. I was disappointed, but eventually I made it work by controlling the variables as much as I could. However, it was very frustrating to find what exactly I could control and how. The rest was just a matter of finding the right colors and locations for each of the flowers.
Right now I’m still trying to perfect my Drip Drop sketch. It looks almost identical to the original sketchbook drawing I made earlier in the semester. I really loved the idea and wanted to make it as close to the original as possible. The idea was to create puddles during the rain, and as the rain falls there are ripples throughout the puddles. Instead of using a function to create raindrops like I had originally planned, I found I liked the appearance of simple random ellipses popping up.
Encompassing Sun is the one sketch I implemented 3D in. The first part of my sketch was the sphere in the center, and to make it more dynamic I wanted it to be a rotating sphere that zoomed in and out throughout the sketch. From there I discovered you could get some really interesting patterns when adding the rotate() function to noisy lines, hence the sun’s outer design. There was a lot I had to consider with this sketch such as transform() and push and pop matrix. A lot of it was just guess and check until I finally began to see how things were affected with each change. My plan was to originally just have the sun in the center, but I wanted other spaces in the sketch to be interesting as well, so the other rotating spheres could be other planets. It was a fun sketch that took me by surprise considering how much new material I used that I didn’t even think I would consider.
All in all, I’m very happy with my work for this conference. It’s really satisfying to see simple sketches in a notebook become dynamic artworks in code. I’m always surprised how different the final product is from my original intention, but I’ve always found it to be for the better. There’s still a lot I need to learn and understand in order to better control my sketches, but I’m very happy with where I am right now.
Pros and Cons of Dying (and Not)Pro: When I was bumped from a deeply desired psychology class, I stumbled upon New Genres: I Expect You to Die. I thought, great! The perfect class for me. I love New Things and the expectation that a class will kill me. I approached my don, Shahnaz Rouse, with my choices for alternative registration. Her only comment on this class was, “Angela? Oh, you’ll have fun.” Knowing Shahnaz, this meant that I would most certainly die. I set it for my first choice. Con: I did not understand the entire syllabus or any part of what I was getting into, but assumed I would. Many peers and parents and miscellaneous acquaintances asked what this class entailed, and the best I could muster was “coding. Also James Bond. And theater?” Pro: In 2013 I quit coding. In 2014 I quit theater. In 2016, I subjected myself to both simultaneously and hoped I would swim. I was extremely anxious for every class, but somehow myself and 20 others swam! Even when I missed two classes in a row, I managed, thanks to Angela’s advice that, at the time, sent the butterflies in stomach to full rage. “Just watch, you’ll figure it out.” Little did I know, that was an excellent summary of the entire class: this wasn’t about any sort of product or goal or anything tangible that could be easily quantified. I Expect You to Die was about the process. The primary process was learning. Learning to code, learning to move in meaningful ways, learning just how many ‘rules’ four college kids could break in an hour before presenting our beautiful abstraction to the class– I was terrified, and learning. Con: At the end of class, David said that he would send out the rehearsal schedule. Suddenly I understood the syllabus. I had accidentally committed myself to a theater production at Sarah Lawrence College. Pro: I loved rehearsal. There was something very pure about the work we constructed. I didn’t understand the class until our first rehearsal, when David asked us to walk around the stage and, together as a group, “die.” From that point on, I realized that I didn’t have to know what I was doing: we would figure it out together. This, in combination with a silly desperation to produce code that I was proud of, helped me to create We Expect You to Talk. The script started as a simple dialogue, but then grew into what I referred to as “a bad sitcom,” complete with strange noises (see above audio files) in between. With over 200 lines written into the system, I was extremely proud of what I had done. I don’t think I would have pushed myself like this on my own, but every other component of the show felt so magnificent that I wanted to create in the same way. Even better, after presenting it to the group, I watched as my original idea developed into something more fun, better, and eventually a tool that we used to think about the show. Con: We Expect You to Talk in its original form never made it into the show. This did not bother me in the slightest, as it seemed out of place with the show’s trajectory (and I still love my strange little code). Pro: Several of the pieces that I worked on with other students did make it into the show. Every exercise and every scene David had us explore opened my mind in a different way. Between David’s encouraging face and Angela’s confident “why not”s, I found a space that I could truly explore and invent. Some nights I was a dancer, some a coding “expert,” some a folie artist. Every member of our class was as diversely useful and flexible as our out there ideas and not once did I think that my time went unvalued. Con: Due to medical reasons, there was a significant portion of the pieces I couldn’t participate in for the show because they were too physical. Our dances and running and falling were so beautiful, but I couldn’t guarantee that my body would execute them safely. Pro: That didn’t matter. Angela and David instead introduced me to my new home, the tech table. There I began my swift and terrifying education in projection and QLab. For those who are unfamiliar, QLab is a program that cues queues for sound, video, and picture. I soon fell in love with all the strange mapping, layering, and moving components across our expansive ‘stage.’ We began with one surface and expanded to many odd surfaces to experiment with our two projectors. An entirely new creative outlet was offered at the tech table. Although I still ended up ‘on stage’ for three scenes, my foray into the wild world of projection gave me a very particular joy. Con: By our 10 hour tech day rehearsal, the projectors and QLab were so strangely broken that we could only click and drag video to approximate where it should be on our stage. Pro: Our incredible stage manager, Michelle Hernandez, and our tech expert Ti somehow had everything fixed and running perfectly by Monday. Over the course of the week and a half where the projections weren’t working, I also learned QLab and our projection maps much more intimately, to the point that we could run the show even without everything functioning. At no point in the semester did I stop and say “hey, I can handle this.” Part of I Expect You to Die was always staying on your toes and adapting to new directions. Whether it be a new stage direction, more clips to add to scenes, or even projecting a moving car across two thirds of the stage (thank you Ti!), Angela and David kept pushing us to further refine our piece as a group. Incredibly, we ended up with a show that had meaning, depth, and beautiful harmony between technology and human bodies. Con: We still had to perform it.
(The Tech Table Pre-Show Pump Up, X Gon Give It to Ya by DMX)Pro: Performing it, as it turns out, was the least scary part. Our four shows operated much like a group trust fall: yes, there were a million ways that the show could go horribly wrong. However, we had to trust that our entire team (Michelle, her assistant stage manager, sound tech, the runners, actors, and yes– tech table) would operate smoothly and together, always listening to each other and holding on tight. Between all four shows on all three nights, I think I breathed twice: once at the beginning, once at the end. Never have I witnessed such intense unity and composure as I did while watching our show. Every moment was terrifying, but that was a part of the thrill. Our show was 21 students on a boat with Angela and David at the helm, telling us to find a paddle. We used spoons, planks, and stove tops to bring us to a place where we felt that we could say, “this is it. This is what we are saying.” Con: As we cleaned up our shoes and pants in the costume room Saturday night, it sunk in that this wild ride was over. There were hugs, well wishes, and gentle threats about not staying in touch. After the show, my formerly impossible weeks felt empty. Once you become a part of a group, a machine, an idea, it’s terribly hard to become an individual again. My brain was ripe with all sorts new ways of seeing that I had been taught and that I had exercised for weeks on end. Suddenly, my life was very normal. Pro: We still had one more class. Our final class was two weeks from opening night, exactly. Somehow, those two weeks felt like two months. As each person stumbled into our room in the lowest floor of Heimbold they were greeted by smiles, hellos, and a few inside jokes that had developed during the show. It was a sad, sweet reunion that allowed us all to debrief the semester. There were talks of opening our own strange theater company and pursuing “weird theater” here at Sarah Lawrence. Perhaps our legacy of experimenting and playing will live on. Honestly, I am still unsure if I was in a theater production or a fever dream for the last month and have not fully processed either reality. Regardless of whether or not I constructed this entire fantasy in my mind, I loved every part of it, especially all the wonderful humans who made it happen. If you had told me last semester that I would be participating in the world’s greatest game, I probably would have laughed. I would likely laugh now as well, but for a different reason: now, I’m ready. With Love, Micha
“How was it to make?” My classmates and I were asked this question all semester, and it always stuck out to me as such a startling question. Each time I thought about it, my mind went blank. How was it to make? It was just hard and complicated and confusing, and most of all, frustrating. But it was also amazing and beautiful and so dumbfounding. How am I supposed to put hours of staring at a screen, countless dashed hopes, and unexpected results into words?How was it making this conference project? The first word that comes to mind is stressful, probably because I just really wanted to get it right. More than anything, I just wanted to get it right and do everyone and everything justice. This made every second that I worked on and thought about my project miserable, until today, when I finished recreating the five Vasarely pieces, and made a few Vasarely-inspred sketches like the one shown here. Honestly, I don’t know what changed. One theory is the pressure of having to complete this post. The necessity to finish everything made me appreciate Vasarely’s work, the process of coding, and what I’ve learned this semester a lot more. I actually enjoyed working on conference today, which is something I couldn’t say before. Whenever I complete an assignment, a paper, a project, I always say that I could’ve managed my time better so that I didn’t have to do so much at the very end, but at this point, I think it’s just my style. I actually like the doing the work when I have the high pressure to complete it. I’m happy with my project as it is now, and I’m excited to incorporate more animation, some interactivity, complexity, and the logical next step, make some optical art in the third dimension. This project will never really be complete, as I will always be trying to astound the brain with my art, whether that’s generative or any other type. I have many plans to continue using Processing and inspirational artists like Vasarely and Bridget Riley to make things that amaze. This project has definitely been helpful in mastering a lot of basic coding concepts like variables and loops, but I have also been forced to use colors beyond grayscale and the occasional purple. What I gained most from this semester was of course learning a new awesome skill. I had known some Java previously, but this level of understanding is not something I expected from myself. I also have so much more appreciation for technology, and I have been introduced to another facet of art that I will be involved in for probably the rest of my life.