New exhibition asserts: programming is for artists too - Technical.ly Philly

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Oct. 3, 2014 11:53 am

New exhibition asserts: programming is for artists too

A show opening tonight at Philadelphia's Little Berlin gallery aims to introduce visitors to the wide world of generative art.

A real-time visualization of Wikipedia edits, "Listen to Wikipedia." The project is being featured at a gallery exhibit opening today.

(Via Listen to Wikipedia)

What is generative art, you ask?

“Even the language [to describe it] is difficult,” acknowledged Lee Tusman, the curator of a new show, Heavily Scripted, that opens tonight at the gallery Little Berlin.

"I think the regular art world can learn a lot about sharing from the coding community."
Little Berlin curator Lee Tusman

Here’s a stab at it: generative art is art that is not created by the artist’s own hands, but rather by the computer code they programmed. It’s often data driven and interactive.

“There’s not a lot of this work being shown by galleries,” but, Tusman said, “We’re in a particular moment right now where this is becoming a bigger and bigger thing.”

An "NSA haiku." (Via nsahaiku.net)

An “NSA haiku.” (Via nsahaiku.net)

The work he’s chosen for this show includes work like Listening to Wikipedia, which allows viewers to watch (and listen to) revisions to Wikipedia in any language in real time; or a tool that creates haikus with words from the NSA’s watch list.

It also includes more “traditional” objects like Roopa Vasudevan’sgrillz.” Vasudevan, a recent graduate of NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program created five hip hop-style grills, worn over the teeth. They’re 3D printed, based on a program she created that maps references to wealth or poverty in five different rap songs, including Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy” and Jay Z’s “Hard Knock Life.”

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In the future, Vasudevan would like to try to trace the work of one musician over their career.

A grill, generated by Biggie's "Juicy." (Via rouxpz.com)

A gold grill, “generated” by Biggie’s “Juicy.” (Via rouxpz.com)

As the person writing the parameters for a computer designing the grills, she thinks a lot about artist Sol Lewitt, who famously would hand instructions to others to draw the work he’d conceived right onto bare walls.

Tusman has instructed all the artists in Little Berlin’s new show to share their source code, allowing fans to literally duplicate their work. Visitors to the gallery will even be able to take home print-outs.

Claiming programming as a mode of creative expression.

“I think the regular art world can learn a lot about sharing from the coding community,” Tusman observed, relying heavily as it does on open source, shared innovations.

One of the projects Tusman has highlighted, @greatartbot builds off another: Become A Great Artist In Just 10 Seconds.

Anthony Prestia, a lawyer by day, who recently moved to San Francisco, started with the Become A Great Artist program to create @greatartbot. The original program generates images based on what the “painter” types into their keyboard. He created a Python script to generate the keystrokes and another set to curate the images and post them to Twitter. He’s tinkered with the algorithms a lot and says now, they respond to the reactions of his Twitter followers to generate more art resembling the most popular pieces.

Prestia could have generated the images in Photoshop or MS Paint, but got interested in using Become A Great Artist because it’s “impossible to have something come out of it that doesn’t look machine-generated,” he said.

Computer-generated art. (Via @greatartbot)

Computer-generated art. (Via @greatartbot)

Another program, Post the Met, put up objects from the Met’s online galleries to the antiques section of Craigslist. The museum has since shut it down.   

Heavily Scripted’s curator, Tusman, also made the choice to include an online phenomenon called Webdriver Torso, a series of thousands of geometric videos uploaded to YouTube that baffled viewers until it was discovered they were a tool Google uses to continually test upload quality. Collectively, they’ve been viewed more than six million times. 

“It reminds me of digital minimalism,” said Tusman, the on-screen equivalent of the work of Dutch painter Piet Mondrian.

From YouTube engineering to traffic signal timing, code surrounds us in our daily lives, but for a lot of people consider it boring, the artists acknowledge.

Vasudevan explained that one of her goals is to stake a claim to programming, “not being seen as just something that math and science people do but also a mode of creative expression.”

It’s something literary artists are dabbling in, too.

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Emma Jacobs

Emma Jacobs is an independent multimedia producer and reporter based in Philadelphia. She spent three years in the newsroom at WHYY public radio and has contributed to NPR, PRI's The World and TheAtlantic.com. Her first love is radio but the internet is a close second.

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