Earthquake Room (2019)
PROCESS – Final Report
Earthquake Room (2019)
PROCESS – Final Report
“BUT IS IT ART, REALLY?”
Analysis of “Generative Art” with traditional definitions and theories of Art in response to What is Generative Art? (2009) by Margaret A. Boden and Ernest A. Edmonds.
With the introduction of computers and digital systems, “artists” have worked the new technologies and innovation into their works in ways that altered the processes and outcomes of “art-making”. Creating new realms and ranges of works, the article discusses and categorises the type of works into various labels, but placing them under the blanket term “Generative Art”. Throughout the essay, Generative art is pitted against “the precious bubble of fine art”(McCormack, 2003, p.5), where Boden and Edmonds argue for the shift of traditional qualities of art to new effects and results brought about by the innovation and systems in Generative Art. However, if generative art is apparently different (or better) that traditional art, can generative works be considered under the “antique” threshold of art? Using the existing philosophies of art, I will analyse and compare the different aspects of this new field and its role in the art world, corresponding to the questions brought up in the paper (Section V).
Definition of Generative Art
In the paper, generative art is defined as “work that has been produced by the activation of a set of rules and where the artist lets a computer system take over at least some of the decision making”(p.4). It brings about factors of man-machine systems and sets of specified rules into art generation. The artist is now involved in the construction and function of rules, which the autonomy of the results or artworks is passed over to the system. The rules define the form of the work. The “desired” outcome(s) comes in various sequences, which at most times, is diverse and unpredictable unless carefully controlled. Randomness is a quality of generative art, which traditional art lacks.
Generative art enables “the artist to concentrate on the underlying rules themselves: the structures that define the artwork, as against the surface” (p.7). While the power and variety of art practices “outside the bubble that are grounded in technologies for communication and information processing”(p.2) have grown, there is yet “a satisfactory critical framework” (Candy and Edmonds, 2002, p.266) for the new forms in art technology.
Generative Art and Theories of Art
For generative art to be considered as art, we need to look into the traditional workings within the bubble and explore new considerations for artistic critique of the generated systems and works. In response to the philosophical issues raised in Section V of the paper, I would like to go in depth with the defining aspects of Art.
The first point of consideration in Generative Art is the autonomy of art. Can autonomy be ascribed from the artist to the computer? In Leo Tolstoy’s “What is Art?” (1897), art is defined by its ability to express and communicate emotion. Critics argue that computers lack the expression and communication of human experience, so can its independence as a system without the artist’s touch convey the emotive or expressive quality of art? “Does it really matter what the ’feel’ of this activity is, if in fact it is no less directive, no less determinate, than algorithmic programming?” (p. 20). The emotive quality is still subjective to the intentions and context of the work and the removal of the artist’s touch is still an issue faced by generative works in the use of cybernetics to communicate with the audience.
Another aspect of art is authorship and ontology, where the lines are blurred in generative art. When the role of the artist and system is reversed, where the artist determines the rules and the system generates the art, how can we identify “the artwork” and its true author? Traditional works of art have distinct stylistic features that traces back to the artist, who has a full understanding of the formal qualities of the work. Generative art, on the other hand, with the randomness of the generated outcomes do not have full comprehension behind the produced works, that is if the product is considered the art work. However, as art moves into the modern world, there is a shift from forms to processes that defines an art work for example, Jackson Pollocks’s drip paintings and Sol LeWitt’s conceptual instruction works. In generative art, is the artwork the production (generation) or the product (generated)? There seems to be a pivotal shift in what is considered art, a key consideration when developing a critical framework. The artist has complete understanding and control over the art system (which comprises the artist, the program, the technological installation and its intention), and thus, should be focal to the critique of generative art.
Another question raised when approaching Generative Art is where does the creativity lie. Creativity is inseparable from fine art, as Clement Greenberg in “On Modernist Painting” (1960) argues that artistic mediums should “seek that which makes it unique among the possible mediums ” and exists as “the expression of its own uniqueness as a form”. While it may be hard to identify distinctiveness in the numerous generated outcomes, however, can art involve unpredictability as creativity? The appeal of complex systems is resulted from the “lack of predictive power” of the human mind and its innovative uses can open new fields of creativity. By introducing variety of interestingly different technologies, generative art is established by the higher range and unpredictability of outcomes of the system which engages the audience. Thus, the innovation of the art system and its components can serve as a new criteria of creativity in artworks.
The final and unavoidable quality of artworks is the aesthetic evaluation and artistic value. With the art system being the art work, how do we judge the “beauty” in generative art? This consideration is especially relevant when critiquing interactive art, where the experience is produce in response to behaviour of the audience with or within the system. The paper argues that “the familiar inside the bubble criteria” is secondary when analysing different interactive installations. The artistic focus should not be on the nature of the resulting artwork but on the nature of the interaction. An example of an aesthetically valuable interaction is Virtual-Reality art. VR art is a technological simulation that either mimic reality or create a disturbing sense of unreality, which is similar to the explorations in traditional movements of realism and surrealism. Can VR art be aesthetically critiqued in the same way as realistic and surrealistic works? Using the formal qualities (colour, form, subject matter, etc) of art works as a basis of critique in the emotions evoked, new aspects (sound, motion, interaction, etc.) of the out-of-world experience would have to be considered.
With the shift of the artwork from outcome to the process and system, new understandings of the workings should be paid careful attention to. To critically analyse generative art, the audience should have an understanding of the details of the programs and communications involved in the constructed system of rules and technologies, which can be conveyed by the artist. Using and bending the traditional philosophies of art, a critical framework can be developed to assess the effectiveness and quality of generative works. By changing the perspectives and focus within the relationship between the art work, the artist and the art system, the nature of innovation and interaction between audience and the work can be defined for its emotive quality, authorship, creativity and artistic creation.
Boden, Margaret and Ernest Edmonds. “What is Generative Art.” Digital Creativity, 20, No. 1-2, 2009: 21-46. Received from: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.458.8471&rep=rep1&type=pdf
Tolstoy, Leo (1995 ). What is Art? (Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky). London: Penguin. pp. 3–4.
Greenberg, C. (1965). Modernist painting. Art and Literature, 4, 193-201.
Throughout the tour of the carefully curated Minimalism exhibition, works that caught my eye were works by Lee Ufan and Nobuo Sekine, with both artists having led the Mono-Ha movement in East Asia.
Mono-Ha “Object school” was an Eastern school of thought, which represented a group of 20th century Japanese artists. The core of the movement was the focus and appreciation of the nature of the materials, letting the object speak for itself which ties in the idea of “not-making”. As of minimalism, they rejected western notions of representation, focusing on the relationships of materials and perceptions rather than on expression or intervention.
The beginnings of Mono-Ha can be found in an article by Lee Ufan (1970-1971): “Sonzai to mu wo koete Sekine Nobuo ron (Beyond Being and Nothingness) – A Thesis on Sekine Nobuo.”
Link to article: https://monoskop.org/images/a/ab/Ufan_Lee_1970-71_2013_Beyond_Being_and_Nothingness_On_Sekine_Nobuo.pdf
An avant-garde painter and sculptor based in Japan, his art ideology revolves around an Eastern appreciation of the material as a rejection to the Eurocentric thought of 1960s post-war Japan. His works juxtaposes the raw and natural against the industrial materials, choreographed in mostly unaltered, ephemeral states.
(I did not document the actual work used in the Minimalism exhibition, so I chose similar works from Lee Ufan’s series of “arrangements”. The work by Lee Ufan in the Minimalism exhibition was a choreography of large rocks and metal sheets alternating each other in a circle.)
In the Relatum series, his sculptural works are composed of untouched stone and industrial metal pieces. He refers to his sculptures as kōzō,“living structures”, which deviates from traditional expression and towards the detached act of arranging or mediating. The detachment is in line with the Mono-ha’s engagement in “not making” and to focus on “the world as it is”.
The notion of encounter between the natural and industrial in his works can be adapted into our interactive work, where we explore the relation between industrial reflective and refractive materials and light, a natural element. We are exploring the behaviours of light with man-made objects in space through interactive arrangements. The role of the sculptor is now passed onto the viewer, where the “encounters” of light and object are determined by their actions.
While the actual work was not in the Minimalism exhibition, Phase – Mother Earth by Nobuo Sekine was featured in photograph documentation as one of the key works in the Mono-Ha movement. This work involves the excavation of a cylindrical volume of earth from the ground, and placing it next to the space produced. The work was considered a “thought experiment” where Nobuo Sekine challenged the laws and different phases of space. He brings to light the reality of the negative space – Can emptiness be considered as matter and thus, material?
The idea of defining an object using its negative is really interesting and in the eyes of minimalism, strips and defines the essence of the “thing” to its absence. Can objects be defined by the intangible, such as their absences (negative space) and shadows (as opposed to light)? In our narrative project, we would like to discover more about the implication of objects and scenario through their overlooked forms – their shadows. How real can the narrative be when it is replaced by its suggested existence? We would like to explore alternative and abstracted forms in a “sculpted space” where malleable reality is hinted through the manipulations of shadow, sound and space.
Mono-Ha goes beyond the idea of “not making” but taps on the relations between the nature of materials, be it tangible or intangible. The concepts are highly relevant to both our interactive and narrative projects in our theoretical concerns and execution. Our overarching exploration of the experiencing of the intangible in both our projects can draw inspiration from the Mono-Ha movements and Minimalism and we hope to be successful in highlighting the profound ideas based in these schools of thought in our works.
Narratives are usually associated with the linear, from one singular output. However, contemporary interactive narratives involve the deconstruction of stories and their presentation, making the process of navigating and finding the narrative an interesting one.
Lynn Hershman – Lorna (1979-1984)
Lorna, the first interactive video art disc, was presented on a television screen within a installation space of various furniture and narrative-specific objects. The space is constructed as Lorna’s (the main character) apartments and each object tells a piece of information of Lorna’s life and history. The work consists of 17 minutes of video and 36 chapters and when approached by the viewer, re-contextualises the work as the sequence changes.
Lorna is a woman who is confined to her apartment with no contact to the outside world, except for the television. The viewer interacts and make choices for the protagonist, and searches for logics and connections between the deconstructed narrative to form his own. In some way becoming the protagonist, the viewer is positioned in her space and is confronted with the self-directed existence of a person alone.
Cecile B. Evans – What the Heart Wants, Handy if you are learning to fly and Endurance Study: A Pictorial Guide
In What the Heart Wants (2016), Evans dives into the future where technology becomes so advanced that the line between human and machine is questionable. In a time known as “After K”, the non-linear narrative centers around the female protagonist, HYPER, an omnipotent system. Humanity is questioned in a time where machine and consciousness are interconnected.
In the Berlin biennale, the work is curated and placed in front of a T-shaped platform surrounded by water. The video features various scenes including students in the car of a robot, commercials, an immortal cell named “HELA,” a memory of 1972, and various other narrative strands. Surrounding the platform are stands of moving holographic images of butterflies, an airplane, a crowd and 3D mass of arms from the work Handy if you are learning to fly and Endurance Study: A Pictorial Guide.
The works come together as an interactive narrative installation to present an imaginative but unsettling piece of science fiction. His work reinvent the way a narrative is presented, using space and video to present a reality in multiple dimensions.