Generative Art Example — Subway Drawings by William Anastasi

Subway Drawings by William Anastasi


The most interesting or rather central aspect of this work is its simplicity and sublimity. In this series of graphite drawings on paper, the artist sat on the subway, allowing the motion of the train determine the resulting ‘artwork’. The train’s motion – it’s halts, acceleration, sudden bumps, manoeuvres and direction determine the resultant line’s size, direction and weight. It also controls the speed and the direction in which the pencil he holds moves. The simple act of sitting down on a train, and obtaining different generative sets of artwork is significant as it amplifies the mutability and transience of life and in this example, life in transit/journey.

No one drawing is consistent as the tracks on which the subway train operates on, may also vary in orientation, condition, temperature spending on the destination/location. Anastasi noted below on each drawing the destination he was heading towards. The drawings then become an abstract manifestation of the transient journey between two points. They are almost cartographic in the way they record the unique and discrete motions for each specific journey to the respective destination. Fundamentally the resultant drawings then become a map of different journeys to to different locations.

Most of us when we take a ride on the bus or the train, especially in today’s fast paced society, we are often fixated and obsessed with simply reaching our destination on time — to meet a friend, get to work, or get home etc. However each time we take the train, no single journey is the same — some days we might be in a bad mood, we may have a different playlist plugged into our earphones, the train might be more densely populated or the train might even break down or halt momentarily.

However these poetic nuances are intangible and we often don’t pay attention to the process even though the ride itself has more affect on our emotional and cognitive state than the reaching of the destination. (If we happen to be on a crowded train we will probably feel more exasperated by the time we reach our endpoint as opposed to if it was peaceful and empty). Anastasi’s Subway Drawings manage to capture this process or phenomenology of travelling by using the tangible and physical factors that take place simultaneously with our experience. By letting the movement of the train control and determine his automated drawings, Anastasi is able to visualise and manifest a unique identity and portrait for each of these ‘journeys’. Apart from the movement of the train, his subtle and spontaneous movements in his hands (due to muscle memory) would have also played a role in the lines’ visual outcome. These then in a sense also capture the human experience of the journey on paper.

Generative Aspect

Anastasi’s Subway Drawings is generative in the way the constant factor is the act of taking a subway train ride, with a piece of pencil and paper. The unpredictabilities which constitute the motion of the train and mildly, the spontaneous movements of the body, make the work generative. No one outcome is identical and will never be identical. Yet they all share a common visual appearance (haphazard, overlapping lines) that expresses the underlying constant function/’algorithm’ of the designed system.

Personal interests & Further Exploration

I personally am interested in analysing the human condition and the way our experiences alter the perception of the world around us — relationships, spaces, memories. As humans, most of the time we are travelling between places and destinations. While we physically travel, our emotional and mental state also ‘travel’ and wander off to psychological or virtual ‘places’. This work could be built upon to explore this intersectionality of these realms and how the experience of travelling is a significant representation of ourselves.

It is interesting to think about how a work like this might differ if it were to take place in our current Mass Rapid Transport (MRT) System. In a densely populated city like Singapore where we rarely are able to get seats on the train, will the motion of rubbing against passengers of all sorts, having to navigate the space to find a comfortable spot, and other movements caused by congestion/rushing result in visually interesting drawings? This might be something I would want to explore for Project 1 — extrapolating the idea of recording and mapping the transient nature of journeys in today’s world. It is also interesting to think about how this work could perhaps be modified to be produced on our phones or devices instead as it is the main object that accompanies and occupies us when we travel. We are either texting, watching a movie, browsing social media or listening to music. The way our fingers interact with the screen (speed, direction, pressure) all depend on these factors. Perhaps, one interesting and powerful exploration would be thinking of a way to map the motion and traces of our fingerprints on our phone for each journey, over a period of time.

Intervention — Reflections

“Our bodies remember trauma and abuse — quite literally. They respond to new situations with strategies learned during moments that were terrifying or life-threatening. Our bodies remember, but memory is malleable.’

Our intervention involved triggering spontaneous and unpredictable muscle memory, while tethered to the other person. A highly emotive and powerful spoken word poem by Lydia Lunch played in the background, acting as the sensory trigger. We were not allowed to speak and could only interact via our momentary physical response to some of the harsh words in the track. The experience was very vulnerable in the sense where each of our muscle memory and consequent body movement were physically influencing, reacting to and culminating together (since we were tethered by a blanket on one arm each). We performed this intervention live within a restricted space.

Our main sensory trigger was the aural input from the track and the psychological effect the harsh words used further induced spontaneous reaction from our bodies. Though we did not physically touch each other, the intervention made us completely vulnerable to either of our bodily reactions, resulting in a very emotive and profound experience. There were some parts where it got mildly violent and tense and we could feel our heart rate increase and we also became acutely aware of each others’ breathing.

The inspiration for this intervention was to explore how two bodies with their own unique muscle memories, communicate intimately without speaking. Being able to literally and physically feel a person’s spontaneous body reaction to an emotional trigger was truly profound.

The Poetics of Space (Nests) — Reflections

Overarching Thoughts

In this chapter, Gaston Bachelard suggests that we intuitively are phenomenologists when we fantasise about the entity that a Nest is. Scientifically, a nest is a drab structure meticulously made up of leaves, twigs or other materials for a specific function — to serve as a space of refuge and shelter for birds and their nestlings. However, as humans we constantly ponder about the spirituality of the world we inhabit and the significance of our presence in this fundamentally infinite ‘space’ — space is infinite in the way it pervades and navigates through structures we have created to artificially compartmentalise and ‘control’ it. We in a sense, make ‘places’ out of our space, assigning them with specific functions to make sense of our being here. However as beings, with the ability to have experienced profound emotions, coupled with our highly advanced cognitive functions, we subconsciously are unable to ignore the fact that space as a concept is non- tangible and noetic. Space is the basis for our origin — time after all is considered a dimension of space in quantum physics. Essentially space is not physical; it is ‘nothing’ yet it is the overarching and primordial principle that allows matter to exist and exert its effects. Space is nothing, yet without space nothing can exist.

Personal Thoughts (on nests)

In the chapter Nests, Bachelard specifically explores how we apply this noetic intuition of space to our perception and interaction with Nests. A nest after all is the abode of a bird. Our abode is our room, flats, house etc. Why then do we have this innate propensity to associate our idea of ‘home’ with a nest? As stated in the chapter, many poets and artists have also made this reference to nests when describing the space they inhabit. We do not know at all what it feels like to be in a nest. What we perceive it to be is based on our own senses’ interaction with it.

Sight :

Nests are predominantly snuggled in corners, hidden and safe. They often mimic and blend into the space they inhabit as materials obtained by its builders (birds) of the nest are sourced from the vicinity. Even in highly inorganic and structured spaces like the crevice of a wall, the imagery of a nest evokes a sense of comfort. The way it organically camouflages and fits into the space it occupies, like scaffolding, permeates a sense of belonging and warmth. Even when we see nests built in all sorts of places in the concrete jungle we inhabit, we do not immediately feel that they are out of place. It is this rootedness yet adaptable nature that draws us to fantasise about how we perceive our ideal home to be — we want a permanent dwelling, yet one that comfortably sits into the space it occupies.

Touch :

Nests are often soft and fragile. They are made with fine twigs and are light. When we touch a nest (many of us probably have out of curiosity, as the author has mentioned), we not only feel it’s exterior, but we feel it’s recesses, or explore the negative space (interior within). We are highly aware of the mutability of these ‘dwellings’ due to their fragile structure. Hence we are careful and cautious when we approach it, fundamentally imbuing it with ‘safety’. Think about the way we approach bird nests as opposed to ant nests. Most of us have probably desecrated ant mounds mercilessly because of our mental association of its inhabitants with pests. Though fortified, ant nests are deliberately destroyed compared to bird nests which are completely vulnerable and exposed yet protected from destruction by our own reservations and sentiments. This is perhaps why we dream of nests being our homes or refer to our dwellings as ‘nest’. (because of the space it occupies in our mind as being an undisturbed and safe refuge.)

Sound :

A nest with hatchlings, emit chirping noises, making the presence of life known. Even when we are unable to see what is inside of these nests, psychologically this notion of chirping, hungry, fragile nestlings invoke an idea of occupancy — we may not even know if a nest is empty or occupied yet we intuitively tend to believe the latter. We do not directly have to had seen a nest to develop this perception — documentaries, books etc have all cultivated this notion strong enough.

Personal Thoughts (on birds)

Birds are like Gypsies, they are free to fly around and make places out of any space they want to, regardless of the consequences that might occur from doing so. We however do not have this luxury fundamentally due to our anatomy. We do not have the ability to simply fly wherever we want to and conveniently build a ‘defined space’ with surrounding materials. We are also too physically ‘large’ to do so. Hence, this portability and possibility is only something we can dream of, supporting the proposition that we tend to treat nests as phenomenologists.

Apart from being restricted by our biological anatomy, we are also restricted and bound by societal rules we have created. We need money to build and purchase a ‘home’, or money and authority to secure a piece of land. We do not have the rights to make any space of our choice our ‘home’ despite space in itself being an unquantifiable entity — we have made it measurable by creating structures, buildings, rooms, that dissect it, creating artificial enclaves that allow us to allocate it. We are hence all limited by these ‘places’ and can only navigate in specific directions — we cannot walk through a wall even if we wished. Birds however can simply hover over these structures freely, having full access to all the space there is out there. By associating our homes with nests, I imagine we wish to recreate a nest like space, albeit artificial, one that evokes this sense of freedom. These are expressed in the form of SOHO apartments with high ceilings or Glass Facades etc.

Concluding thoughts

Thought I can relate and identify with the idea of associating nests to homes and in our dreams, it is significant to note that how we often view other places or rather spaces made into places, is based on our own experience, emotions or perceptions. The idea of ‘home’ is universals. Though varying in structure, geographical location, or aesthetic appearance, the ideal notion of inhabiting one that encompasses the ‘spirituality’ and ‘poetics’ of a nest is possibly universal and intuitive. This however does not apply to spaces we do not consider to be our ‘abode’. The perception of these other spaces we walk into and explore, are more rooted in our unique interaction with the world, moulded by our own experiences. For example, a person suffering from PTSD may associate the space of a clinic with trauma while a nurse might associate it with familiarity and comfort.


Here is a descriptive anecdote I wrote awhile back, expressing my perception and phenomenological associations of the space of a LGBT Bar in Chinatown :

“On nights like this, the ivory coloured tiles shimmer like scales of a mythical imaginary creature. A creature conjured up with such immense conviction and self belief that its seemingly delicate eccentricity and ‘out of place-ness’ endowed it with a sense of impenetrable boldness and authenticity. It’s scarlet red inner walls which reverberate with exuberance and passion, coupled with heady dance records from the colourful 80s attract characters of all kinds- some curious for a taste of the unfamiliar while others longing for the regular opiate of being amongst their own ‘kind’.

Through the gate, a young walks in, and eyes dart quickly to steal a glance before shifting back as inconspicuously as possible to preserve their ego driven feigned nonchalance. After all they were all in their own capacities, subtly hoping to garner the ‘spotlight’ in a predominantly male ‘playground’ that embodies both the veracity of masculinity and the sensuality of femininity. This potent fluidity permeated through the bar – a ‘Shangri-La’ for those who lived within thinly defined boundaries.

He keeps his gaze forward and walks briskly down the long walkway wedged between the two rows of crowded tables. His well built body gave each step he took with his leather boots a compressed weight. Yet there was a hint of effeminacy in the way his feet moved, with such perfect rhythm and swing, that one’s senses could be coaxed into believing they were watching an androgynous model parade down a runway. It took a calibrated degree of spacial awareness, spontaneous judgement, and calculated confidence coupled with seasoned practice, to exert this sort of presence in a place that was so ‘loud’.

It is past midnight now and the buzz of the crowd starts to blend in with the music from the Madonna, Cher and other Diva produced numbers that play on the screens. Ash trays get increasingly vandalised by wet cigarettes – some pre maturely stubbed out, perhaps in a rush to head upstairs and others left with just their alcohol stained butts, probably fully savoured within the span of casual small talk with strangers that called for the help of an anxiety mitigating drags of nicotine or intimate conversations that needed a stabiliser wedged between quivering lips or fingers.

The young man makes his way up the central carpeted crimson steps that lead up to the heart of the bar. Framed portraits of immortalised icons such as Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland, and pin up style cult classic posters line the green walls like enchanted talismans that have been plastered all over to bestow upon this place its quaint charm. The portraits aren’t just icons but worshipped idols that somehow emanated the fearless self empowering energy one needed to embody to feel as free as they were allowed to be in this ‘temple’. As he reaches the end of the carpeted steps he is immediately transported into a luscious gaudi gilded interior that looks like it belonged in Mrs Manson Mingotts Mansion from Edith Wharton‘s Age if Innocence. Everyone here are self made characters with interchangeable roles — a seductress , a damsel in distress, an innocent boy, a lonely man seeking companionship. They could be whoever they wanted to be whenever they wanted to be.

It was an open stage where even a seductively wielded billiard stick could be a prop.

It’s after all synonymous with the character of its residence – a melting pot of multicultural and multi religious landmarks.”

Ch 4 — Space and Place Reflections

Initial Thoughts

Yi Fu Tuan talks about how we as humans define the space around us and assign meanings, indicators and labels to this abstract intangible dimension in an attempt to navigate and operate within in – we are after all bound by space – physical, psychological, emotional. Tuan proposes that the definition of space has its roots in the orientation and function of our mortal bodies. Our upright position cuts through ‘space’ vertically as opposed to when we are rested where we ‘surrender’ to it. We innately are inclined to treat what is in front of and above us as positive and superior as opposed to what is behind and below us as negative. Our sight allows us to only see what is ahead, and we tend to ignore anything that goes on behind our back. We are fixated on this idea of moving ‘forward’ towards a destination. The word ‘back’ used in set us ‘back’ is negative as is the idea of navigating through space in the opposite direction. Essentially the space around us is constant. It is the schema we make of it that changes it. Fundamentally, ‘forward’ is defined by whichever direction we are facing or by actual objects that frame our field of vision to be focused on our object of interest.

Further Thoughts

One question that came to my mind while reading this was, how do we then define or manage the space around us if our sense of sight is removed? Forward may then be indicated by the ‘loudest’ sound or by the strongest aroma/odour. Ultimately I feel our sense of direction to navigate in space is determined by what we are seeking out at that point in time, both consciously and subconsciously. For example if I was in a room blindfolded, with the pervasive aroma of an espresso and a cup of strong oolong tea, and if I was a coffee connoisseur, I would ‘walk’ or navigate towards the coffee aroma, defining that as my ‘forward’. Hence our sense of direction or orientation does depend on our interests and inclinations. We do not care to approach something that does not pique our interest. We leave it ‘behind’ us, literally.

Concluding thoughts

It is important to note that in this chapter, Tuan mainly explores space and place in relation to the human body and culture or rather the ‘conventional’ human body.  Having interacted with people who have experienced trauma and as someone who has myself, I started to think about ho unnatural external factors then morph our cognitive abilities or perception when it comes to making sense of the space around us (compared to average people). For example, when one is having a panic attack, they become acutely aware of the space around them — ceilings become ‘shorter’ and walls seem more ‘closed’ in. The body’s defence mechanism dramatically alters the perceived space, heightening one’s awareness of it to an uncomfortable and distorted level. Similarly, the headspace or the psychological space one feels when their trauma is triggered, is dissociative, removing them from their rootedness in their current physical ‘space’ and transporting them to an imagined one. This then makes us think how we are able to move through spaces without physically moving. I personally am interested to explore this idea more — one where we explore how perpetual exposure to external stimuli in some people (PTSD victims), changes the way they view space, and how we as designers accommodate or find interesting ways to explore space from their perspective. Can we then try to replicate this negative yet unique experience for someone ‘normal’?