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Golan Levin and Collaborators

Essays and Statements

More than Just Pretty Pictures: Three Questions for Generative Artists

These questions were posed to the audience during a lecture I gave at the Generator.X Conference on Generative Art in Oslo, Norway.
Golan Levin, September 2005.


Marshall McLuhan stated, in 1964: "The medium is the message." Assuming we agree with this premise, in the way McLuhan intended it (as elaborated in his book Understanding Media), I pose the following questions concerning generative art:

0. So, with our generative artworks: what kinds of meanings are we making? In other words, what sorts of messages do generative artworks communicate, not through their medium, but as a medium?

1. How can generative strategies, which are designed to produce (or reflect) infinite variations, yield forms which nonetheless feel inevitable (i.e. which do not feel arbitrary)? Or is arbitrariness the point — the message of the medium? Here, I showed Jim Campbell's Formula for Computer Art (2001). As an illustration of different approaches on the spectrum between "arbitrary" and "motivated" generative designs, I contrasted Mark Napier's Black & White Carnivore client (2005), and Natalie Jeremijenko's Live Wire project (1994), both of which visualize network traffic. Both of these artworks subscribe to Campbell's Formula, but with very different results.

2. How can generative strategies tap into richer perceptual spaces? What other meaning-making potentials are latent in computational abstraction? Can we generalize the idea of generative form? Here, I showed Karl Sims' Evolved Virtual Creatures (1994). These creatures have extremely simple forms (rarely more elaborate than a couple of rectangular blocks) — but highly evocative, generatively-evolved behaviors which address our perception in a very rich way.

3. How can generative strategies tap into richer conceptual spaces, without sacrificing the experiential aesthetics of abstraction? Assuming we value abstraction for its powerful ability to address our perceptual and aesthetic senses (as I do), how can we expand the conceptual scope of (abstract) generative art? Put another way, how can generative strategies activate further dimensions of our psychology (beyond retinal experience), such as our imaginations, symbolic [Jungian] minds, or unconscious minds? Here, I presented Jason Salavon's Form Study #1 (2005). This project taps into rich cultural psychological territory, and provokes our imaginations, without (I claim) sacrificing generativity or abstract formalism in the slightest.