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.

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