Art From Code: A Response to Grace Hertlein


Through Hertlein we can truly get a sense of what randomness can really entail. In a way, it branches off from the rigid order of Nees that needs to be contrasted by moments of stochasticity. For the Hertleinian perspective, however, order is not quite needed, but rather that there is already some order attained through randomness. Of course, Hertlein does not quite let things go run chaotically amuck without any sort of design, but rather that she turns away from any attempt for perfection. In bringing it back to nature, however, I think of the possibility that nature is perfect in itself, and thus through her subject she is already able to evoke an ideal form. Taylor quotes Grace Hertlein’s idea of the computer as the “joyous machine,” and for some reason I can see pleasure most in Hertlein’s work more than Nees or Molnar. Perhaps this is for control is transferred to the background, and playfulness brought into the foreground. Or perhaps we humans are so narcissistic that any semblance of humanization is delightful to witness.

Of course, we might argue that these images are “dead fishes,” in that the use of the computer to make something we might be able to make with old mediums does not utilize computers to the fullest capabilities. This could be confirmed by the screenshots that I’ve posted. Yet all of these images are in fact active drawings, and therefore at the very least it is not as dead as the static image presented to you all. In the repeated drawing on processing, it is almost like we get to witness a superhuman process of drawing what would otherwise take hours. And only in a few seconds. Furthermore, it gets reset, and therefore we start again and get to be the audience for an alternative way the previous image could have been filled out –– that is what is enabled in combining active mode and randomness. I am more so critical about the desire to relate the computer’s creation back into our human world, as Taylor writes: humanization. Why is it so important it becomes human-like?


Perhaps it is okay to call these drawings organic, but I disagree with the correlation that this signifies a human-ish experience. The organic, noisy line work in fact disembodies us from humanity and abstracts us (our work can possibly be created by code). In reading about the turn towards naturalism, I wondered why did people care about this when nature has been a motif of art for centuries. It is the fact that it is not naturalism, but postnatural. Taylor does mark this turn as a move towards simulation, as it attempts to allow an artificial autonomy to the machine, so it might be a discredit for me to suggest Hertleinian approach is not maximal usage of the medium. In a way, it seems to be not just about the product, but the process of its creation, hence why active mode is the best way to view these works. It ceases to be an object and becomes a process. Yet furthermore, we need to keep in mind it is a mistake to anthropomorphize the machine; these works seem more likely as an occasion in which we witness the mechanization of  nature. Thus, we are forced to return to this idea that in our world, these organic structures are in fact parallel to Hertlein’s art. Nature’s world is full of space-time unique randomized variations of a pattern –– in water we might recognize a arbitrary configuration of blue noStroke curves, or in clouds we might see halo like, wispy ellipses.

Author: Tam Nguyen