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Golan Levin and Collaborators


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Segmentation and Symptom

2000 | Golan Levin

Segmentation and Symptom

Segmentation and Symptom (2000: Golan Levin) A series of portraits, created for the British arts quarterly Zoo. Custom computational techniques were created to produce a delicate treatment of the subjects, resembling the filigree of a spider's web.

The notion of an image filter has been an idée fixe in the computational arts for decades. Significant examples include Ken Knowlton and Leon Harmon's alphabetic nude from 1966-1967, and more recently, Jim Campbell's dynamic LED displays and Daniel Rozin's interactive pixelated mirrors. Of course, in popular software culture, the idea has taken up permanent residency in the long list of filters available in Photoshop and related tools.

Creating a "custom image filter" or "personal pixel" has become a widely adopted exercise in many computational arts curricula, including my own. The project is one of the easiest entry points for students who are keen to reclaim computation as a personal (and not merely corporate) medium. In 2000, while a student myself, I tried my hand at the problem while researching the imaging potential of Voronoi diagrams. These geometric constructions appear frequently in nature, in e.g. cells and crystals, where they represent the equilibrium boundaries between compressed spatial units. When I was invited to create a portrait series for the Zoo quarterly, I applied the Voronoi algorithm to repurposed photographs of refugees, for whose fragile condition I felt the delicate filigree of the Voronoi diagram was a compelling match.

Since any filter can be applied to any image, a nagging arbitrariness nowadays attends many technology-driven artworks whose meaning is predicated on such filtering. Creating a custom image filter begs the core question: under what circumstances can a filter and its subject be well-matched? Daniel Rozin skirts this question, but only partially, by turning the filtering process into an open-ended interaction. I find that my own attempt, here, in the static medium of print, doesn't adequately address the core question to my satisfaction, which is why Segmentation and Symptom represents something of a dead end in my work.

Related Projects

For a related set of yet more Voronoi portrait experiments, see these similarly processed yearbook photos.

For another project which derives portraits from algorithmically-treated photographs, see these Floccular Portraits.