RA3 — Generative Art Theory by Philip Galanter

1. Generative ‘Art’?

Prerequisite:

Galanter in his overarching preface, states that there are some pre requisites for an Artwork to constitute ‘Generative’. On a superficial level, it involves Art created by ‘Non-Human’ Systems as opposed to Art created by Humans. It is important to note that ‘Non-Human Systems’ do not necessarily mean the use of technology but rather some basic underlying algorithm (many of which are numerical and analogue). Rather, Generative Art in its ‘primitive’ beginnings, paved the way for Computers.

The Jacquard Loom Machine can be considered one of the earliest Generative System where loom manufacturing was automated using cards with holes punched in. Islamic Patterns that followed geometric rules and mathematical algorithms were also early explorations of Generativity. The precision in the way a single modular pattern was laid out and then repeated, lead to a wide variation of designs and motifs.

Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque

Source: https://mymodernmet.com/islamic-architecture/

Autonomy

It is emphasised by the author that most contemporary is not to be associated with generative works, as the artist rarely relinquishes control of the work. Galanter then further argues that there are issues that exclusively impact generative art as a practice. And that generative art is a methodology to making art rather than a subset of ‘art’ in itself which he explains is ambiguous due to the many nuances surrounding what constitutes art — for which he raises the provocative question “if it is art, is it ‘good’ art?

Hence there is a need to come up with a broader schema as to what Generative Art is as a theory rather than prescribing it with a strict and stringent definition. It is important to note however that the  fundamental manner in which generative art operates is very strict and has to satisfy the following —

1) there must exist a designed system (within the work)  with some sort of functional non-human operating system involved

2) the choices and decisions being made by the system has to be specific.

2. Using Randomness Effectively (‘Disorder’)

When approaching the conception of a Generative Work, one should utilise randomness as a complement but not as the fundamental function/operative. Randomness, Chance produce ‘disorder’ (which is key to achieving ‘effective complexity’ which will be explained in the later portion of this essay,) but are meaningless without any sort of contrasting order or framework for the system in which it is being used.

For example in Noll’s Gaussian Quadratic, horizontal positions are visualised using a quadratic function while the vertical positions are visualised using Gaussian distribution of random numbers. The Gaussian distribution in itself is some sort of skeletal system whose functional output differs depending on its input numbers. The numbers inserted here by randomness is ‘random’ yet when visualised with a highly familiar mathematical graphical function, gives the work some sort of arbitrary visualisation to compare to, allowing viewers to appreciate the deviations from the piece relative to one of normalcy.

‘Normal Gaussian Distribution’

‘Noll’s Gaussian Distribution (taken from PDF)’

A completely random function in contrast would be unintelligible and exist pointlessly — though generative, if the underlying system is one that lacks any sort of cultural, emotional or scientific association we can intuitively relate to or identify with, then the generative results produced by that system will not constitute ‘art’ but rather just gibberish. We hence have to be mindful that ‘Generative Art’ has to satisfy both ‘Generative’ and ‘Art’.

This notion of ‘disorder’ brings us back to Galanter’s argument that the peak complexity occurs when there is a mix of both order & disorder as opposed to Shannon’s notion that there is an indefinite positive correlation between the increase in disorder and complexity. As illustrated by Gallant, in his analogy of pixels which by Shannon’s theory would constitute ‘complex’, according to him are modular and easily identifiable in their discrete elements (making them the opposite of ‘complex). Her theory is one that is empirical and personally I feel when applied to the nuances of human condition and cognition does not apply as ‘accurately’ or intuitively.

While understanding the ‘machine system’ and its unique modus operandi is key, as artists we have to also be highly aware of how this notion of ‘machine intelligence’ is perceived and processed by the human mind — this then beckons me to recall the idea of the ‘Uncanny’ discussed in the previous assignment where ‘peak uncanny’ is at a specific point that is half recognisable yet half foreign. Similarly, peak complexity is achieved when the Generative Piece is ordered enough conceptually/algorithmically to be processed, yet its structure and visualisation can be highly disordered, seducing the mind to put in effort in consuming the work.

We do not associate disorder with complexity if we are able to make sense of break down the disorder in an orderly fashion. Rather the disorder is manifested in some sort of superficial sense — sound, visual. But if we are able to identify and associate this ‘disorder’, that in itself prescribes some sort of psychological order over the work — we know that white noise are just pixels, in contrast to a long strict of characters in sentences that make no sense. We naturally will be inclined due to conditioning to identify some sort of pattern or word formations, requiring innate effort to process- this in itself then makes the process of consuming the work complex. Though letters are simply digits the same way pixels are individual elements.

Hence as an artist we have to be highly aware of the ways in which we as humans perceive and process the entity of the work as a whole rather than just extrapolating its potential effectiveness by just scoping into one aspect of it – it can blindside us from achieving a much more effective complexity.

3. Complex Systems as Framework for Generativity:

A highly complex system that operates as a whole with multiple processes that are able to synergise and function within itself without any external intervention. Non Linear. (Small continuous changes resulting in macro level phase changes)

Complexity Science 

Complexity Science as a bottom up process instead of top down reductionism — the emergent whole is greater than the simple summation of the same of its parts. This idea of the ‘whole’ being greater than the sum is not exclusive to Generative Art and I personally believe can be seen by both Bodies in the 2D and 3D planes

2D plane — individual elements are placed precisely, relative to each other on a 2D plane, keeping in mind ‘invisible’ yet important concepts of Space and Balance — these are not measured elements that form the summation of the elements yet they are part of the whole.

Coca Cola Poster

 

3D plane — negative space etc (architectural bodies) cannot be simply deconstructed using the positive elements because the flow of space and the use of negative space is as equally significant in the function of the final body.

Tianjin Ecocity Ecology and Planning Museum

Non Linearity of Chaotic Systems leads to amplification of small differences  —’the Butterfly Effect’. A Complex Adaptive System is akin to the process of Evolution and Natural Selection—Adaptation over time in reaction to the environment and other external factors causing certain genetic mutations to be favoured and others to be ‘phased out’ — speciation

Domesticated breeding of Foxes as a Generative System: 

When internalising Galanter’s argument that Complexity Science forms a strong foundation for Generative Methodology, I immediately recalled an experiment detailed in one of my favourite writings — Richard Dawkins’ ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’. 

This phenomena can be observed in the Experiment Conducted by Russian Geneticist Dimitri Belyaev in the 1950s (detailed in Richard Dawkins’ ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’). This phenomena is one that has both order (external restrictions imposed) and disorder (innate DNA or behaviour of the animal). A process that happened over multiple generations, over time it’s outcome becomes less abstract and more crystallised – the difference/separation in species becomes increasingly apparent and we end up with two or more divergent breeds from 1 ‘System’. Belyaev as the ‘Artist’ of this Generative Process, utilised the Fox’s innate flight or fight response to select Fox’s that were more receptive and calm to the intrusion of his hand. This is an example of how one harnesses the system’s idiosyncracies without directly manipulating it.

Short Video on the Experiment

What is interesting to note here, in Belyaev’s Breeding Process, in terms of unpredictability was that certain behavioural patterns were linked: as one line of his breed became more behaviourally domesticated, they also started to change physically. They were linked (some genetic mutations or some genes were linked and influenced each other) they did not fully occur individually as scientists previously hypothesised :

“These dog-like features were side-effects. Belyaev and his team did not deliberately breed for them, only for tameness. Those other dog-like characteristics seemingly rode on the evolutionary coat-tails of the genes for tameness” — The Greatest Show on Earth, Dawkins.

Breeding not just isolated to Foxes but to that of Dogs for a wide variety of purposes -—Daschunds hunting Badgers, Borzoi for Guarding, Whippets for Racing etc. These were all possible due to the ‘Artists’ (in this context Breeders and Scientists) who observed the system ‘DNA/Genetic Mutation’ and over a period of time favoured certain unpredictabilities to form an ordered production line of the same ‘unpredictabilities’. As this process became more crystallised, other nuanced attributes became increasingly apparent (further inherent mutations that were carried forth by the more ‘major’ mutations’).

Hence observation of the system we are working with is key. We need to make sense of the highly profound Chaos of the Chaotic System and harness it in a way that allows us to establish intuitive order (without forcing it directly). This then utilises the core of the system and makes the operative of the system itself a component of the Artwork.

This to me is ideal in Generative Art, the outcome should not be so far removed from the initial starting point that we see no correlation between the system’s underlying function and it’s output. Rather we want to be able to see a divergent set of outputs that are fascinating yet unique to a specific system.

4. Complexity Science as the trailblazer for Generative Art:

New Models of Complexity science that form the basis for Contemporary Generative Art – Fractals and L systems. These models are somewhat ordered systems that are still able to simulate certain processes in Nature such as the branching of plants.

It is significant to note that nature in itself to some extent is ‘ordered’ in the way the golden ratio or Fibonacci sequence ratios are manifested. Hence order does not correlate to a lack of complexity. We have to be mindful of the type of ordered system that is being implemented and if the ordered system is ‘diverse’ enough to produce different and divergent results depending on the information being applied to it.

The process may undergo a very ordered procedure but if the function produces a unique outcome each time, depending on the type of input, then ‘order’ in this context still constitutes a valid and intelligible generative exploration. Mindless Order that reproduces the same mundane result repeatedly, would be an example of a non generative ordered framework/system.

5. Problems

Authorship

Galanter discusses many problems involving the methodology and approach of ‘Generative Art’. Amongst which the problem of ‘Authorship’ resonated with my own dilemma when approaching or designing a Generative Work. Is the Production of Meaning to be borne by Artist, Machine or Viewer? Is it truly possible to strictly confer authorship to only one of the entities or is the role of Generative Art as suggested by Galanter, to destabilise the fundamental idea of authorship?

The importance is upholding Ambiguity, as long as there is some sort of shared authorship instead of it being restricted to just one entity, the outcome and interaction with the system automatically becomes non predictable and ambiguous. The control given to the reader to some extent allows the work to be manipulated depending on their choice while at the same time, the readers are limited by the options offered to them by the computer (which ultimately is further limited by the parameters we as designers set for it to function within).

Personally, I would then view authorship as a sort of collective and feedback loop process in itself rather than the structuralist theory put forth by. Authorship is in a constant and non definite feedback loop between all three entities and each entity needs some aspect of authorship autonomy to sustain the whole.

 

Final Project — Further Ideation

“Switch Loop”

Description:

A series of installation stations where participants establish dialogue with each other only via audio. Each station will explore a different aspect of the phenomena of ‘audio’. What type of sounds are evocative or highly sensory? The two participants form a closed loop with each having control of what the other person is hearing in real-time. They do however have control over the choice of response they make in reaction to the input they receive — to adjust the volume, pause, fast forward, skip or choose any specific sound they deem suitable to convey their intended non verbal ‘message’.

Stations:

Station 1:

Pop Culture — Interaction can be either extremely pleasant or unpleasant, depending on the type of Song Participants choose to play from Spotify. They have access to huge database of genres and can choose from classical all the way up to avant garde.

Station 2:

Collected Peripheral Sounds — Cars, People walking, talking, trains, traffic lights, clock ticking.

Station 3:

Using the Fundamental Technicals of ‘Sound’— different frequencies, pitch, beats, rhythm etc.

Station 4:

Unfamiliar/Uncanny Sounds — pushing the interaction to the level of discomfort and unease by playing sounds that are highly triggering in nature yet completely unidentifiable. Psycho-Sexual Aspect of Sounds.

Concept

The systems are closed loops as only the two people involved in the interaction are receiving the audio input. It is important to note and remember however that they cannot hear the sounds they choose and as the stations progress, they have less ‘control’.

Station 1: For the music station we simply can choose popular songs with very specific cultural or emotional associations just based off the title. For example the Power of Love by Jennifer Rush or Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. Such songs are so deeply rooted in pop culture that they have grown to have a shared association amongst the masses. Hence to some extent this allows the users to still be able to choose how they want to ‘influence’ their ‘listener’

Station 2: ‘Peripheral’ Sounds are sounds we hear daily in the ‘background’ and form the soundscape for the world we live in. They are all recognisable yet we rarely hear them in silo. This interaction will heighten our sensory reactions to these audio. For example the sound of Cars Honking or Espresso Machines Crushing Beans. The sounds will be labelled. Though the choosers will not be able to hear the specific sound unlike station 1, they will be choosing based on their own unique interpretation/experience of the sound. For example the sound of chatter might be comforting to someone yet highly irritable to someone else. Hence there is both Inherent vulnerability yet unpredictability in the way this station will operate

Station 3 is to explore sound and the way we perceive audio, down to the very fundamentals. Music is pleasurable or dis pleasurable because of the way different tones, pitch, rhythm are put together. This station will hence be ‘primitive’ in the way we react only via beats, tones, pitch etc. We often do not in our contemporary time and age consume audio in this manner. This station attempts to trigger some sort of possibly inherent evolutionary reaction/perception we might have of certain beats and manifest this very raw interaction between two Humans living in the digital age. Sounds here will be labelled and Participants with background in Music Theory might have a slight advantage when it comes to having ‘control’

Station 4: This level of interaction explores the ‘uncanny’. Sounds that are highly and oddly ‘familiar’ yet completely unidentifiable. For example the sound of a Wet Mop Slapping Against Cold Floor. This sort of sonic notion involving the idea of ‘wetness’ can be naturally very psycho-sexual without it being derived from anything directly or recognisably sexual.

The audience will not be able to hear the songs being played but will however be able to observe the facial and bodily expressions of the users during the span of the interaction and how these differ from pairs and stations.

Final Project — Initial Ideation

INtial Exploration

Strengths:

Exploration of Emotions via Text allows for us to dissect and observe the change in one’s emotional state over a period of days. We do not need to personally know someone but rather just have access to the information on their devices, to have a perception of their intimate self.

Weakness: 

Not visually powerful enough. The use of circles signify closure and was not ideal in exploring multiple relationships.

Idea 1: (Sculpture)

Topographical Map,
2-Dimensional to 3-Dimensional
Web-Like Structure with both Peaks  And Valleys.

(Areas of Concentration of both Positive and Negative Emotions)

Centre, Neutral line representing the timeline or days.

Digital/Physical Visualisation.

 

 

Inspiration

 

Idea 2 : Mixed Media

Simpler but possibly more visually powerful

Creating a Visual Map:
By using Identified Texts —> Assigning Emotion to it —> Looking at Date/Day Text was sent —> Look at Phone Gallery/Social Media to find Image/Tweet saved/liked on Corresponding Date.

To try and visualise if there is any correlation between the intimate interactions we have online vs the more subtle interactions we make with social media in itself. See if there is any pattern in the type of image that is generated or comes up for any particular emotion.

Do the emotions we feel and show via our texts influence the content we interact with on social media or vice versa?

16 October 

Emotion: Vulnerability

Text: ‘Please keep it to yourself’

Tweet Liked:

Image Saved on Gallery:

Outcome:

Creating a detailed visual database of the relationships we involve in, in the virtual world. Proof of Concept that our Devices provide access to our most intimate and private thoughts/feelings and that these information can be publicly accessed. Archiving information over a period of days, and then connecting the days with similar imagery to see if there is any correlation between emotion and type of social media ‘trace’ within the same day.

Exploratory Generative Study — Final Iteration

System:

Looking through texts and identifying most appropriate text sent by person/user objectively, to best summarise feelings expressed on that day. Reflected in work.

Constants:

Equidistant Points on Circumference
Centre Point
Colour/Shape assigned to contact
Size of Circle
Distance between Circles

Dependant Variables:

Number of Solid Lines
Number of Dashed Lines
Size of Area formed by Lines
Density of Lines
Words Expressed

Conclusions:

No connection between third party without intermediary connection through me

Results/Findings:

There was a flow in emotions expressed by each person/myself through the days. Validated that text messages are indeed intimate and are indicative of what we feel. They’re not just superficial.

Process:

Final Outcome can be overwhelming and ‘messy’.

1.Dilemma between adding too many and too little ‘lines’: I did not want to force any sort of connection/correlation upon the viewer and leave it up to themselves to connect it intuitively. I mainly connected the points representing myself to indeed show that there is some sort of consistency in emotions expressed throughout the period. This was to merely guide the viewer in making their own connections between the other elements.

2.Number of Circles Vs Size of Circle: Not too big as to make it obvious. But not too small to make it completely not readable.

Lack of Lines/Negative Space are as important as the presence of Lines/Area.

possible Improvements/exploration:

Hard to predict the outcome as it was not pre meditated.

Digitalise the Data but in a more objective way:  using an external computer etc that will analyse it in a way that is different from human objectivity. (we still are to some extent influenced by our emotions). Interesting to see how an isolated machine system makes sense of the words and assigns the links between them.

Possible Expansion: are there also links between ‘vague’ or ‘expressionless’ words? Punctuation? Emojis? Etc.

Exploratory Generative Study — Update

Contacts:

I will be working with 5 contacts (the few I mainly communicate and have some sort of emotionally intimacy with in this current period). It is significant to note that these dynamics might change over time and completely disappear too — this however will be part of tracking the transient role we play in each other’s life through our phones. If I happen to break communication with 1 out of 5 of the people, the data visualisation representing that respective person will be empty for that period of time. There will not be any additional or new contacts added into the system designed around the initial 5 subjects.

Time Period:

Will take place over a period of 1.5 to 2 weeks so as to have enough diversity in the visualised outcomes yet have some overarching structure/parameter.

Data:

Initially I only thought of recording the connections we made between each other based on similar keywords indicative of the same sort of emotion, and  the ‘background’ third party connections between the other users themselves make (via me as an intermediary). However I have decided to include the types of emotions within the graphs (categorising of them as either positive or negative feelings and taking note how these map out through the days).

The initial idea was to use discrete/isolated and progressive grids that represented each respective days. However I felt like the structure seemed very rigid and would be counter intuitive to the way they were meant to portray the very organic and salient connections of our digital relationships and intimacy. Hence I will be using circles instead (the centre being Myself, and 5 Equidistant points on the Circumference to represent the contacts).

 

 

Instead of organising them in a linear manner, I will be organising the circles themselves as part of a larger circular clock like interface or some sort of spiral — this will allow us to view the entirety of the data as one cohesive pattern/piece that can be taken apart slowly instead of a blatantly broken down grid structure. This improved iteration will require slightly more ‘effort’ from the viewer, increasing engagement and stimulation. Having no discrete start or end in a circular loop also reinforces the concept of transience and fluidity of digital intimacy.

 

Reflection — Amplifying The Uncanny

Overarching Thoughts (on GAN , ‘ The Uncanny’ in contemporary society)

In this article, the authors explores how Generative Adversarial Networks (GAN) and Machine Learning have intensified the phenomena of the ‘uncanny’ — described as a certain level of discomfort or unease one feels when a machine mimicking organic human behaviour comes seemingly close to, yet disjointed and ‘faulty’ in its portrayal. It’s the simultaneous humane semblance and recognisability in the machine that plays with our emotional perception, yet our awareness and consciousness that it is a visibly artificial machine-construction that evokes this sensation.

It is provocative, provoking, unsettling and ultimately a unique reflection of our own perception of ourselves. The dysfunction in the machine and its faults are not rationalised in the way we would observe, clinically, the faults of a system like a washing machine or a vehicle (also machines). It is the machine-learned human nuances these machines have and their anthropomorphic form that seduce us into making some sort of ‘involuntary’ psychological and mental connection to them. Their form, appearance and behaviour (though crude, a sufficient enough representation of the human) creates an intuitive intimacy and we project our own feelings, experiences and learned world views onto our observation of this machine. This at the same time is inextricably linked to our obsession, fear and intrigue with technology/artificial intelligence.

It is not just a random discomfort but one that deeply is rooted in some way to our subconscious feelings towards technology’s presence and co-existence in the contemporary world. For example, if a primitive human like a Neanderthal who has no known knowledge or experience with technology sees a work like Ken Feingold’s ‘If, Then’ 2001 , it will probably be shocked and intrigued in a very banal and unintelligent manner.

For us humans who have some preconceived perception and familiar intimacy with technology and are constantly adapting to live with it, as augmentations of our body/mind, a representation like that is even more uncomfortable and uncanny. It plays on this innate, (irrational?) fear (one that has been propagated by novels, movies and media) of artificial intelligence eventually becoming intelligent enough to adopt and appropriate what we hold on to as our ‘humanity’.

Essentially this concept is what we believe distinguishes us from machines. Though crude in its superficial portrayal, any machine that is mildly capable of replicating some sort of human learned behaviour like speech immediately destabilises our position of supremacy, reminding us that the lines between the real and ‘unreal’ is becoming increasingly blurred. It also plays on this fear of automation and artificial intelligence replacing the role of humans.

However this is not something that is insignificant. In fact, I personally feel that this concept in relation to GAN in this context then opens up the possibilities for a very contemporary personification or reflection of the human condition. The outcomes of these GANs mirror the change in perceptions and emotions the amalgamation of technology has had on us. They mirror the fears, attachment and feelings we have grown to possess with the increasing presence of these artificial ‘bodies’. After all, this is an extremely valid, relevant and powerful aspect of the contemporary human condition that cannot be ignored. It is this then, that I believe, plays a significant role in plunging us into the ‘Uncanny Valley’ (first introduced by Masahiro Mori in 1970). It is only when the ‘humanoid’s’ anthropomorphic form is transitioned into being fully indiscernible from that of a normal human that we find ourselves out of this disconcerting state of Uncanny.

http://www.umich.edu/~uncanny/

Personal experience of ‘the Uncanny’ 

This music video by one of my favourite artists, Bjork came to mind with regards to ‘The Uncanny’. Though it is a music video and I am aware that it is graphically modelled and not real, the portrayed interaction of these anthropomorphic humanoids (the way sexual intercourse and ‘love’ is expressed via turning of gears in the figures, the leaking of fuel liquid etc) evokes an uneasy yet seductive feeling. The song being about ‘Love’ — a feeling that is very humane and far from machine, being portrayed by humanoids then makes us for a moment re consider if ‘Love’ is exclusive to us and if the ‘Love’ we feel/know of is just one possible perception limited by the human experience.

FURTHER THOUGHTS (On Being Foiled)

The article describes the Generative Process of the work ‘Being Foiled’, as a Positive Feedback Loop. By using the initialised system that is pre-trained to produced Unreal, Deep Fake Portraits, (based on the dynamics of the generator and discriminator) and then subverting the function by ‘fine tuning’ the system, the machine goes through a 3 Part Process (Divergence, Convergence and Collapse) which leaves an abstract ‘trail’ or track of the deep fake construction and configuration process. The outcome is essentially a gradual and increasingly intense breakdown from imperceptibly realistic portraits to discrete geometric shapes, bold colours and full abstraction.

Source: xCoAx 2020: Proceedings of the Eighth Conference on Computation, Communication, Aesthetics & X

As the portraits breakdown in this feedback loop, we see prominent blue lines marking the face shape, eye contours and silhouette of the hair that intensify and retain giving us some sort of ‘clue’ on how these remaining parameters could possibly be the basis for a Deep Fake face construction. In’Being Foiled’, all the portraits lead up to one identical abstracted image. This suggests that the system in its deep learning process of being fed countless faces, (constant reaction to discriminator by the generator and vice versa), might have determined/learned a standard and arbitrary ‘blueprint’ as a basis to construct convincing Deep Fakes that ‘dupe’ the discriminator into recognising it as a real face.

On Generativity

The unpredictability aspect of the Generative Methodology in the GAN system, is most noticeable in what is described as the ‘peak uncanny’ in the iteration of the early stages of the feedback loop process.

Source: xCoAx 2020: Proceedings of the Eighth Conference on Computation, Communication, Aesthetics & X

In this image, the bold red hue pervades through the face and the background, while thin blue lines exaggerating the contours of the eyes, face and hair are present. The eyes are misaligned, the hair highly regularised and simplified as crosshatch lines and the wrinkles around the eyes unrealistically pronounced.

What the authors’ describe as ‘fault lines’ of the system ‘indicative’ of its generativity, these very perceivable and consistent marks in each iteration points to the relative points of the system where it is at it’s ‘weakest’ (in this context, with regards to which features of the face it faces the most struggle in replicating the organic human face). The word ‘weakness’ is used here relative to system’s objective and prescribed function. In fact, this very weak ‘points’ I describe, are probably the most optimal points from which the unpredictability potential of the system radiates from.  In this concentrated areas of ‘fault lines’ where the system breaks down and exposes itself most apparently, there is potential for the designer or artist to then target and expand on propagation in these areas, perhaps by by fine tuning the weights of the generator or by some other relevant manipulation.

However part of generativity and in the GAN system is the lack of control we have over the system. We are able to trigger and adjust the weights of either the generators or the discriminators but the circular loop in which the two entities communication and react to each other, is constant and immutable. The information that is communicated between the two changes depending on how we fine tune the system but the fundamental process remains the same. There is no fixed end state and the systems constantly evolve over the training process.

Concluding Thoughts

How generativity is successfully harnessed in this work and exploration is by fundamentally subverting a relevant and powerful machine constructed system (GANs & Deep Fake). Instead of constructing a generative system from scratch, an existing Generative System with an innate objective function is manipulated in such a way that it’s underlying unpredictabilities cause a feedback loop that deconstructs and reverses the Deep Fake Process into Abstraction.

Essentially a system that is trained to produce Images that we are unable to distinguish from real images, is manipulated into accomplishing the exact opposite. What is then significant from this outcome is the fact that a generative system is capable of manifesting itself in this extreme duality — two very different iterations that diverge from a common process. It is then our role as Artists to trigger or explore the divergent and variant outcomes these ‘closed systems’ can produce, by first analysing and then manipulating the interactions between the objects of the system and, our interaction with the system in its design process.

We also need to be conscious in the way the ‘Artistic’ outcomes of these Generative Process are presented: “while initial mesmerising and transfixing, can quickly become banal, monotonous repetitions for the sake of overwhelming the viewer with the “sublime of algorithmic productivity” (Zylinska 2019).”

Though it is argued in the article that this very algorithmic representation is powerful, we have to consider the affect and over saturation these type of repetitive output can have on our audience — we do not want them to be immune or ‘numb’ in their intuitive reaction to the works. Hence it is important to possibly explore how these iterations can be displayed — perhaps via projection or by intersecting the physical and virtual planes. One question we can ask ourselves as Generative Artist is if it possible to enhance the ‘experience’ of the dialogue with a closed system without taking away its essence?

Exploratory Generative Study

Themes

Shared Emotional Space, Virtuality, Latent Influence/Connections, Indirect Affect, Intimacy.

Concept

Exploring how our screens and phones have become augmentations of our psyche and emotions. Our phones are vessels that hold all the information about our lives — private and public.

We leave both digital and physical traces on our phones.

Physical: Fingerprints, the pressure, speed and direction in which we text on our phones is relative to our mood and state of mind – when we are arguing we tend to text faster. Some days we barely touch our phones or reply conversations when we’re feeling existential or disassociated from our world.

Digital: Text Messages are often intimate and representative of our state of mind. We engage with different people via text, creating a shared space with each one of them. We also leave traces on Social Media via Text or Visuals.

Aim 

To create a Visual Map of our emotions by identifying descriptive words associated with emotion in our text messages. While  taking note of the emotion expressed by the person we are texting. Our mood constantly changes and is influenced by everyone around us. Two people who are detached from each other can influence each other indirectly if they both communicate via an intermediary entity. For example if person A texts me and I am affected by his emotional state of mind, this then will have an influence on how I respond to person C. This is ever more so apparent in the contemporary world today where we are psychologically connected (voluntarily and involuntarily) due to the veracity of the digital/virtual world.

We are always multitasking and replying or engaging with multiple people at the same time unlike in real life where we do not have the ability to have multiple intimate dialogues simultaneously. Essentially my idea is to attempt to visualise a map that connects specific people via their expressed emotions and at the same time visualise how they play a part in influencing my mental state. Our phones have become augmentations of us and we barely pay attention to the way in which we engage with it and how this engagement has affect on our cognitive and emotional state.

Part of the exploration in this study is to take a step back and attempt to deconstruct the relationships we form in the virtual world (specifically text conversations) and sequence a set of representations that express this complex phenomena in a clearer way. By forming a sequence of simple ‘data graphs’ over a specific period of time, we can then track and process how  the people we text play a role in our lives.

Constant Variables

Size of Parameter
Positions of Point
Relative distance between Points
People

Outcomes:

Number of lines
Area within Boundary
Number of connections between me and specific person
Number of connections between people

INITIAL Visual Sketch

For each corresponding emotion or word between any two people, a line will be drawn to connect the respective points. The red line represents a connection between two isolated people while the black line represents a connection between a specific person and myself.

i Light 2019 SG — Reflection

1, i Light Experience

i light 2019, involved a serious of light based installation works mapped out around Marina Bay. As part of our Bicentennial Celebration, this series was meant to commemorate aspects of Singapore’s History while articulating and expressing the progress we have achieved today. Personally I feel that the series was meant to visually convey the advanced and state of the art nation we pride ourselves to be. Instead of being displayed or curated in an enclosed and discrete space, each of the installation was integrated into the natural environment of the Marina Bay Area. This seamless and intelligent way of blending the works into the heavily lit Marina Bay Area and it’s powerful landmarks, then make the works accents of our already popular city core.

There is no discrete start or end to this journey and one is free to approach any of the pieces they find interesting as they navigate their way around the Bay Area. Instead of simply reinterpreting the works in conventional ways like in previous years where it was almost always tied back to historic moments, in the 2019 Festival there were some works that commented on contemporary and important issues such as Climate Change and Waste Management. Such issues are relevant national issues moving forward and it was significant to see that the designers were using this opportunity not to just simply pride ourselves in our past but remind the general public of where we want to head towards in the future. i lights also essentially is a smooth movement and flow across and in between significant monuments rather than being pit stops —when we transit from one point to the next, the journey or the space between the points were also filled with smaller interactive elements. This ensures the experience journey isn’t broken and the viewer is guided seamlessly from start to finish.

2. What might the “curators” have to consider to plan such a transformation?

1. Cost — Projections and Audiovisual technology at such large scale is costly and as curators they have to consider the allocated budget and be cost efficient without compromising the end result.

2. Safety —As some of these works were placed on walkways, obstructing public space has to be taken into account to ensure there is enough mobility for all sorts of people including adolescent and seniors. However they probably had to strike a balance between being too safe and too obstructive —the works being along the pathway of Marina Bay makes the movement through it intuitive and this was a vital intuitive element of i lights.

3. Artistic Choices — Another possible consideration could have been discerning how to complement the landmarks without overly layering them with augmentations to the point they lose their inherent characteristic or recognisability.

4. Sustainability — As these works were displayed over a long period of time over a span of weeks, Curators would probably have to consider sustainable of ways of supplying them with power and avoid unnecessary usage.

3.What alternate ways could YOU imagine transforming these sites to communicate something unique or unknown about Singapore culture?

One way to further build on such works in the future would be thinking about how rather than repeatedly talking about our local history which most people are more or less familiar with, we could instead create conversation about unique cultures or subcultures that exist within Singapore (how they’re unconventional yet uniquely singaporean).

In recent months, especially with the Covid-19 Dormitory breakout in SG,  Migrant Worker causes and issues have been gaining more traction and attention. Many of our landmarks were built by these migrant workers and they  as a demographic occupy a large part of certain spaces in SG — Peninsula Shopping Mall ,  Lucky Plaza, Little India etc. They have set up semi permanent enclaves in these areas and Singaporeans ourselves have grown to associate these spaces in relation them. They have shaped both our cityscape  (laboriously) and these small spaces they frequent (culturally).

Hence one way to make national monument installations more contemporary and meaningful could be layering them with audiovisual elements that portray the migrant worker experience living in SG. This will not only highlight our multiculturalism in a unique way but also create a powerful dialogue by intersecting the labour aspect of our landmarks with the glamour, power and authoritarian aspects of it. Such possible approaches that highlight issues in our current world are important to address, moving forward. Being a nation that only busks in its past glory becomes superficial after a certain point.

Illuminating Embodiments — Reflection

Overarching Thoughts — bodies & Virtuality

Rafael Lozano Hemmer talks about the concepts of ‘body’ and ‘space’ and how they operate in similar manners and are not necessarily discrete entities. A physical space or monument though ‘permanent’, its meaning and purpose is subject to the course of time and mirrors the change in society. Hence it is as equally mutable as our physical bodies. Similarly, ‘space’ is not a static concept and our bodies— through posture, movement etc cuts through space, creating a flow which in itself then harnesses ‘space’. By moving through a space, like in dancing for instance, one commands control over it and redefines it. Different dancers within the spaces will portray a different interpretation to the viewers, depending on their emotions and movements. We are powerful enough to deconstruct and re-interpret space through our fluid bodies. Hemmer creates an intersection and interaction of our physical bodies and public monuments/places by augmenting and layering it with technology inputs such as projections and other audiovisual elements. His works are also interactive in the way these elements are controlled by our physical bodies and the way we move through space with them.

In RE:Positioning Fear, the participants’ shadows trigger portraits of people. Virtuality here then is the bridging entity between people and architecture. The ability for the artist to have control over the virtual realm depending on his predetermined functions, opens up a multitude of possibilities that are not limited by the materialistic aspects of that particular building. He is able to re contextualise and re interpret a historic building away from any rooted fixed meaning. It is important to note that this temporal realm of virtuality does not belong to exclusively the building or our bodies —  it is a shared space with predetermined trigger responses but ultimately mutable and responsive to the interactivity between us, the building and the artist. Though these are three separate entities, virtuality as an intermediary allows for interactivity and contact.

Since no interaction can be fully premeditated (we all have agency over our own bodies), real life interactive works have a high chance of producing unpredictable and surprising outcomes as opposed to the artist’s original vision. In RE:Positioning Fear,  Hemmer points to this as he mentions how the behaviour of passers by was the complete opposite of what he expected to see — yet this does not in any way invalidate the profoundness of the experience but rather just goes to show how layering virtuality on top of a physical building can allow it to be explored and seen in new and unexpected perspectives. This unpredictable set of outcomes also gives the artist a chance to further develop or tap into concepts they might have been insular to previously.

Further Thoughts — Body as Performance

“In fact, Lozano-Hemmer declares that he is ‘interested in the body as a performance, a process of becoming, of change, and less interested in physiognomy, anatomy, forensics and physical ergonomics’”

Hemmer talks about how he views our physical bodies as performance instruments rather than static. He seems them as non absolute and fluid entities that are inclined go through the constant process of change and renewal. It is indeed true that our physical bodies though biologically and clinically are very materialistic, their inherent biological process imbues them with processes such as ageing and mutation. Hence change is inbuilt into our physicality to begin with. On top of this, we are able to also control the way we express our body via its movements to portray different emotions. Our postures and gestures constantly change depending on the situation we are in or the person we are interacting with. They adapt and respond accordingly with intuition. Body language is also not universal and differs across habits and cultures. Each subculture has its own unique set of ‘body language’, further amplifying the mutability of the human body and its movements. This is also why each of us interact with our spaces or redefine it in our own unique ways.

concluding thoughts

As designers of interactive spaces, we then have to study the behaviours of the occupants in our site specific installation/interactive space and adjust our works to potentialise on these unique nuances — movements of a busy train station in Tokyo as opposed to that of a quiet station in Hampshire will be completely different. Space will be interacted with in different manners and the space itself will have a very different ‘memory’ attached to it as it is carved by humans over time. Redefining it then will also require us to take all these aspects into context — we have to understand the characteristics of the body we are working with before we deconstruct and reinterpret it. Ultimately this is to ensure our interpretations are relevant, insightful and meaningful and not purposeless.

Tokyo Train Station

Bentley Railway Station (Hampshire)

Reflection — Marius Waltz, Closed Systems: Generative art and Software Abstraction

Overarching Thoughts 

Waltz mainly discusses how generative art in itself though highly precise and ‘controlled’ in the way the system which produces it is designed, its aim is to reproduce an outcome that is as close to nature as possible — organic and spontaneous phenomena which carry the inherent characteristic of ‘life’ itself — mutability and hence unpredictability. As artists and designers we want to create experiences that replicate the poetic nuances of what constitutes ‘living’. Yet we are acutely and admittedly aware that we are inextricably limited by our logic and human perception. Though we are able to ‘feel’ various intangibles such as emotion, we mostly attach these ‘feelings’ to objects or people to give them some sort of physical association and meaning. Science explains that chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin are responsible for these ‘feelings’ yet there is a somewhat spiritual and noetic aspect to these emotions that we simply can’t fathom — concepts of the soul etc.

Aware that we are only limited by our own human condition and perception, and that we simply do not have the power to ‘play god’ and detach ourselves from this schema or worldly experience to deconstruct everything from a completely unbiased, pure and distilled approach, we then turn to the use of software systems and algorithms. In a way these systems operate out of the parameters that confine ‘life’. They lack intuition and perception and their ‘learning’ depends on what information we choose to feed them. However this then renders these highly precise systems with  the ‘non existent human-objectivity’ to assist us in deconstructing our experience as a detached entity. What we have inbuilt in us, that these computerised binary systems lack is the very thing that limits us from fully taking apart (and hence recreating) the condition of ‘to be living’. We cannot put together something we do not even know how to take apart.

This then brings us to the systems we rely on. Though these systems are inanimate and devoid of any sort of ‘lively’ essence, they too produce unpredictabilities. A ‘glitch’ in the matrix or a ‘bug’ that comes up once in awhile, derailing the system from producing its supposedly premeditated outcome, resulting in moments of deviance and dysfunctionality. This capability and propensity for highly objective and parametric systems to produce unpredictabilities while lacking life, forms the key fundamental basis for generativity to exist as a significant philosophy or methodology in answering the questions we have always sought out.

The implications of a set algorithms having some sort of possible innate biases that ‘mimic’ or rather come close to mirroring the similar unpredictabilities seen in nature, while being tangible and adjustable to our touch, is highly significant. Essentially we now have in our hands a modifiable, parametric ‘replica’ that comes as close as possible to ‘life’- something we have zero control over. Whether the way it manifests is indeed controlled by a ‘higher being’ or simply operates on some sort of universal code, or balance, it is beyond us as humans as ‘life’ in itself is not in our power. We are executioners of life in the way we carry it in our physical bodies, yet when we age it is ‘taken’ away from us. We reproduce but we cannot ‘ inject ‘life’ into something. ‘Life’ in itself is not exclusive to our race. Yet given our highly developed cognitive functions and emotional perception, we are inevitably unable to simply dismiss it — existentialism, nihilism, solipsism, absurdism are all simply manifestations of the human acute awareness and frustration of our inability to understand or comprehend fully the greater world we live in.

As designers we have to apply this intuition with suitable technical skills to create a complex and interesting generative system. Waltz explains that ‘reverse engineering’ is an essential approach towards generativity — we try to ‘plan’ the intended outcome (together with its possible ‘set of unpredictabilities’) and decide what type of software, input algorithms or data set we can utilise to produce this result.

Further thoughts

In the  ‘void loop()’ section, Waltz talks about the rise of the net and how advancements in technology, together with our fascination of it, led to early exploratory works of generativity. Though they were relatively ‘crude’ and rather simple (far from the likes of veracity and complexity with associate with technology today), they fundamentally operated as valid generative closed systems. Waltz suggests that because of this closed system characteristic, and the lack of need for interactivity, coupled with the focus on the infrastructure and nature of the system itself, generative art is closer to fine art than it is to media art.

This then contextualises the approach he is suggesting for us as designers to adopt. Rather than creating an experiential piece that capitalises on user-system interaction, we should analyse the materiality of the system, it’s patterns and behaviour and modify it to our desire. It is then a process that requires a sufficient level of ‘stringency’ and discipline. We have to be precise about how we piece the elements of the system together the same way a painter precisely places brush strokes onto a canvas. It is only with this precision that we will be able to create a system that is able to function to produce profound yet meaningful outcomes.

The point of generativity is not to directly intervene/alter in the system’s process but rather to first deconstruct it and understand the potential underlying unpredictabilities it is capable of producing on its own. We then modify or add elements to it to ‘capture’ or record these unpredictabilities. We are hence required to be careful in the way we construct the system — whether digital or analogue, that each of the element is calibrated and not artificially biased to ‘rig’ the outcomes. The beauty of the outcome is not in its visual appearance or how close it is to the artist’s ideal but rather it being a meaningful and conceptual representation/manifestation of the non visible nuances and characteristics that are inherent in the designed system.

However by designing the system with some sort of discretion, we will then able to predetermine one that is able to also produce visually/mentally stimulating outcomes. Here our intuition and understanding of world views come into consideration as we make deliberate choices. Choosing to add Element A instead of B can and will result in a very different set of outcomes but which would be a more effective representation of the system? ‘Effective’ in a sense where it targets and attacks or destabilises our worldview. Does it satiate our craving to want to process intangible phenomena or offer any sort of visible, identifiable respite to deepen/expand our understanding of the relationship we have with these non discrete, poetic entities.

Data Scultpures

In the final section, Waltz fantasises about the idea of generative art completely moving off the screen (he is careful to remind us that it is indeed not limited to just pixels displayed on a screen). He believes that with technology enabling us to “extrude virtual forms” onto three dimensional space itself, this opens up the possibility for generativity’s exploration to expand even further in the contemporary world. Waltz also mentions the experimentation of data sculptures, ‘representing normally intangible information flows as physical manifestations.’

Refik Anadol, Engram : Data Sculpture for Melting Memories

The above work is an example of data sculpture I personally find fascinating.

‘Anadol gathers data on the neural mechanisms of cognitive control from an EEG (electroencephalogram) that measures changes in brain wave activity and provides evidence of how the brain functions over time. These data sets constitute the building blocks for the unique algorithms that the artist needs for the multi-dimensional visual structures on display.’ 

Earlier I mentioned how we as humans are constantly looking for ways to grasp and portray the intangible processes that we experience in our brains and body. ‘Engram” successfully harnesses and measures the empirical aspect of our cognition to then use it as input data to essentially produce an organic visual ‘life-like’ representation of our memories. The outcome is profound and mesmerising — through Generative Methodology we are able to appreciate the sheer wonderment of our brain and its functions via an almost spiritual experience. Though there is no direct interactivity and it is a closed system, there is psychological and emotional dialogue between the work and viewer intuitively. This dialogue then helps us process and internalise the intangible phenomenology surrounding our memories.