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Mark J. Stock: Algorithmic Art

In Art, Feature, Interview on October 31, 2009 at 9:02 pm

dscn7532_full“dscn7532”  by Mark J. Stock

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Photographer and vortex-flow sculptor, Mark J. Stock, creates artistic imagery with a scientific purpose.  Of his work, Stock says:

My research focus is vortex particle methods for flow simulation. In the last decade I have created a number of Eulerian, Lagrangian, and hybrid vortex methods in both two- and three-dimensions. In addition, I am interested in GPGPU (general-purpose computing on graphics processing units), parallel programming, computational geometry, cellular automata, and high-resolution image rendering and display.

Clearly from Stock’s artist statement, his interest in visual art originates from a place of deep scientific intelligentsia–contemplation. And yet like other science technologists–Eric Heller–Brian Piana–Don Relyea--who have been featured @ AD Mag, the bottom line is that the work is beautiful.  Sure, it can be described in neck-deep laboratory verbiage, but again and  gain one still arrives at the same place with the same impression…Wow This Rocks!

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Mark J. Stock : Algorithmic Art

An interview by Max Eternity

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dscn6107_full“dscn6107”  by Mark J. Stock

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Hi Mark, welcome to AD Mag

Thank you for your interest in my art.

Would you take a moment and tell us about yourself.  Where did you grow up?  Give us a bit of background information.

I grew up in a variety of towns across the Midwest, but mostly in Michigan. I had always been an organizer, and good at math. When home computers came onto the scene, I immediately started using them for science and art. My first computer art piece was probably an image of Moire line patterns from 1983.

Now as I understand it, for you, being an artist came as a consequence of being a scientist?

The Trouble with Algorithmic Art

"The Trouble with Algorithmic Art"

Somewhat, yes. While I had casually appreciated the arts for most of my life, the first time that I considered myself an artist was during my first job out of college. I was debugging some particle-system code, and to get an idea of why the results were going bad, I rendered the digital geometry with a computer graphics program called Radiance. The resulting image not only helped me find the bug, but it was so beautiful that it planted the “art bug” in me.

Did you grow up in an artistic household? Any scientists in your family?

No, and no—unless you count an uncle who teaches at a SUNY branch. My parents, both high school teachers, recognized and nurtured my inclinations toward art, math, and science. I owe them a lot for the freedom that they gave me in choosing my own path.

Since we will be talking more about science, I guess I should ask, are you college educated?  Where did you go to school and what was your major?

I spent more years than I’d like to admit at the University of Michigan. When I applied, I didn’t even know what engineers did; but after my first term, I realized that engineering was the field for me. Engineering is a wonderful blend of math, science, and practicality. I took degrees in Aerospace Engineering and Mechanical Engineering and enjoyed most of my classes.

In a moment I’d like to talk about some specific art/science projects that are featured on your website, but first I’d like to ask what (as it relates to your career field) what your title is, and what that might mean to the layperson?

Right now, I am simply a “Research Scientist.” To an observer, I appear to be a programmer. I write computer programs to simulate fluid dynamics. I frequently write papers and present my research at technical conferences. One of my professional goals is to create what could be called a “digital wind tunnel”—all the science of a real wind tunnel, but done completely on a computer, with no physical model or tunnel.

I ask that question, because I’ve found that when I attempt to speak about the more technical aspects of what I do, it sometimes becomes a real challenge to clearly say what I want to say without it being too academic or self-involved. In other words I try to be informative, while also avoiding as much “nerd talk” as I can. Do you find that to be a challenge as well? Does this concern you?

It is absolutely a challenge, and probably my greatest challenge. Traditional artists who use surprising analog techniques also have this problem—viewers first ask “how?”  Their answers are sometimes easy: “I cross-develop the film in different chemicals” or “I bury the pot in a hole with some straw” or “I heat up the wax layer and then peel it off.”  The extra challenge posed by creating science-based art is that our tools and techniques are more intellectual than physical, and often opaque to the casual observer. Even more so if you earn a PhD in the process of creating the work. Yet they still ask how, or sometimes even “what?”

I still don’t know if “how?” is a result of an observer’s honest interest and curiosity, an indication that the piece cannot stand as a work of art by itself, or simply a response to the fear of not being conversational.

Red Streamlines

"Red Streamlines"

Perhaps, though I think your work–for all its complications–remains pretty straightforward.  In so far as you are basically using the science of movement and energy flow to create tactile imagery; providing a visual element for something otherwise unseen.  Yes?  No?  I mean for instance, when I look at your piece entitled “Red Streamlines”, which I must say is quite beautiful, is that not what I’m seeing…an artistic rendering of energy streams sculpturally suspended in motion?

Without going into vector field calculus, yes it is. Again, your words have distilled my work to its essence.

Moments ago you talked about the Moire Pattern, I’ve heard of it, but I’m not quite sure.  Isn’t it some type of optical illusion?

Yes it is. It appears when a large number of nearly-parallel thin lines overlap, or when two layers of repeated parallel lines overlap. It manifests as higher wavelengths and patterns absent in the single layer. In a way, that is the theme of much of my work: where many small and simple elements act in each others’ presence, complex forms often emerge.

Getting back to the “Streamlines” you also did a piece called “Green Streamlines.”  This work is similar to “Red” but it’s also different; reminding me of driftwood floating on the sea.  Which makes me wonder, do you find that others see things in your work that you had not intended?

Green Tendrils

"Green Tendrils"

That happens all the time. In fact, very few people see the same thing in any given piece. Because so much of the natural world is formed or influenced by fluid flow–air, water, lava, even dirt and rock flow.  And humans seem innately tuned to the patterns in their environment, viewers almost always see some familiar natural pattern in my work. A recent piece, “The Trouble With Algorithmic Art” specifically pokes fun at those unintended interpretations.

I would imagine that you have been compared to Kenneth Huff?  But earlier in a prior email conversation you said that you identified with another artist that I interviewed earlier this year, David Hull.  Though I would have to say that the artist whose work I think yours parallels the most of the artist that I am aware of, is Eric Heller, a physics professor at Harvard.  Your thoughts?

Eric Heller is one of the few artists who uses science and computational physics to create art. Of those, he is the only other one whose art is based on his own published research. While I admire scientists who create art, and artists who are influenced by science, it is a very tiny group of people whose art and science are one in the same. I feel honored to follow in Prof. Heller’s footsteps. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Ken Huff, for working to get digital art accepted as a valid art form. In addition to Huff and Heller, I have been influenced by the work of Jared Tarbell and Kent Oberheu. Their grasp of color and form is leaps ahead of mine.

Dynamo

"Dynamo"

So let’s talk about “Dynamo.”  It’s a work that’s meant to represent the energy flow of our sun.  And I like the description that you give on your site, saying:

The words “fluid dynamics” may bring memories of the swirling patterns in coffee, the smoke rising from a candle that has just been blown out, or the chaotic motions of rice grains in boiling water. None of these, though, can hold a flame to the largest (and frightfully close) mass of constantly convecting, active fluid flow that we know of– the sun.”

This work is fabulous!

I am glad you appreciate it. I am intrigued by the sun. It is this constant reminder that no matter how square my room, how manufactured the tools of my trade, or how linear my thinking, my life is owed to fluid dynamics, and its understanding will be my life’s work.

Extruded Simplices B

"Extruded Simplices B"

There’s so much I could ask about, like “Droplet #7 Revisited” or “Extruded Simplices B.”  But let’s see, why don’t you tell us about “Inside the Bomb.”  Now that’s intense!

Inside the Bomb

"Inside the Bomb"

“Inside the Bomb” stems from a frustration that I have with movies. Have patience, I’ll get back on topic soon. Explosions in popular culture are these very visual, flame-filled bursts that the hero always seems to be too close to, and yet he always survives. Actual explosions have relatively little flame, are over in the tiniest fraction of a second, throw out deadly debris at supersonic speeds, and are quite dangerous. Most people outside of the military have no concept—no intuition—of the speed and power of an explosion. When I was working on this piece, another bus bomb had just killed dozens of people in the Middle East, and I was reflecting on whether the dead had even a small moment to consider their fate. After recalling my studies of combustion and detonations in graduate school, I concluded that many did not. There must be this zone of awareness around a bomb’s burst inside of which a human cannot mentally react. “Inside the Bomb” is a rendering from inside of a turbulent fluid geometry, and is meant to capture the chaos and spatial warping apparent to a disembodied observer inside that zone.

Mark thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me.  I’ve really enjoyed it.

The pleasure was mine. You made me think about my work in ways I hadn’t yet considered. Thank you.

Droplet #7

"Droplet #7"

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Visit Stock’s website here, and see more art in the AD MAG artist galleries here, and be sure to check out the full archive of AD Mag artist’s interviews here.

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Mikka Nyyssönen: 1 + Random

In Art, Feature, Interview on October 15, 2009 at 12:09 pm

painting2“Painting 2”

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1 + Random

An interview with Mikka Nyyssönen

by Max Eternity

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Hi Mikka, welcome to AD Mag

Hi Max, Thanks for inviting me, the subject of your magazine is close to my artistic interest.

I’ve been looking at your website, there’s so much art and information there. Exactly how many different types of media do you create? I know you do video and sculpture, but you also paint on aluminum? What else?

Well, I have not counted the amount of different media types I’ve made.  I’m very interested in transporting work from one media to another, like importing a computational way to think inside painting or change the character of sculpture by painting it with a style very different from way it was sculpted,  or sculpt something using a random set of rules instead of one’s expressions.

Mainly my work history goes:  I studied painting, moved to the sculpting, then to the installation.  I also studied a little bit of programming at the beginning of this century, and now my work technically is a mixture of all this. Sometimes I choose the media after the idea of the work, sometimes idea of the work comes when playing with some media.

And did you design your site?

Yes, some years ago. At the moment I’m planning to redesign it, maybe to look more like game.

I like that idea.  So, how long have you been an artist?

I graduated from Helsinki Academy of Fine Arts back in 1992, so it’s 17 years now. Although, I don’t work all the time as an artist.  Some years I don’t produce very much. My work does not sell very well as of yet, so I must earn my living doing other jobs.  Sometimes, I do also graphic design, book covers, curating, teaching basic computer skills, posters, web design, to mention a few from last years.

You are from Sweden, yes?  Do you come from an artistic family?

Almost… no, I’m from Finland!  It’s the next country to the right on the map.

Yes, I am aware—my apologies, please continue.

I come from ordinary Finnish family, from a small paper industry town. I saw images of artworks mainly from local library’s books. I have always drawn a lot.  Later I wanted to became a cartoon artist and then a painter.

So let’s talk about a few specific pieces of your work that grab my attention. You do so much interesting work, but I’d like to zoom in a few. For instance, you created an installation, exhibited in 2004, which is entitled “1+ Random.”  It’s a great name for a work of art, and a great concept too…using cardboard and a computer?

1+random

“1+ Random” computational installation

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Well, making computational artwork does not necessarily demand a computer or screen at all. Cardboard as a material was familiar to me from my previous installations , in which I often cut it into small pieces as a sort of building material.

Doesn`t that somehow remind the way the computer divides things to one’s and zeros?

Anyway, in this particular piece I was interested in combining this valueless everyday material to an algorithmic decision of how to place the pieces for the exhibition space in Purnu, Orivesi.  Half of the pieces of the work were placed after the instructions that the simple, randomly-based, computer program gave me, and half of the piece’s placement was decided by me—in my own cognition. Because the simple program did not know anything of any kind of cultural values, the composition it made is also not related to any specific way of organizing visual things. My part of the composition, instead, must be somehow connected to several ideas, which give the overall work compositionally valuable. The installation as a whole is a combination of these two approaches, hence the name 1+Random.

halfrandom3
"Halfrandom"

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I like your idea of using analog materials to create visual art that imitates a digital process. We’re talking now about “1 + Random”, but were you going with the same concept when you also created “Half Random”?

The concept of these two works is relatively similar, using digitally defined randomness at some part of the art-making process. (Although the way how the works do look is totally different from each other). While working with randomness I noticed that the result is very much dependant how and at what point of process digitally defined randomness is used. (Actually computer-based randomness is not random because it’s always based of some algorithmic formulae. But in my art’s case the computer certainly produces good-enough randomness as proposals where to place and how to deal with some visual elements of my works.) It’s like a making a group-work with the unknown.

wallpainterswall1“Wallpainters’s Wall”

The simple nature of your sculptures and installations is fascinating. It’s all very basic, yet at the same time it’s complex. I think the piece “Inside Out” really captures this idea of simple things that really make you curious…make you think.  And that piece called “Wallpainters’s Wall.” is just fabulous. It appears rather large–monumental. Tell me about this piece, where is it now?

Pori Art Museum (http://www.poriartmuseum.fi/) bought the work recently to their collection. It was exhibited there at the beginning of this year in their group show called “The site of painting”. Wallpainter’s Wall is eleven meters long piece made with acrylic colors and by cutting holes on kapaplast plates. Before doing the painting I wrote a computer program which gave me a sketch for the work. The program “decided” the color of each horizontal stripe, length of each stripe and the length of each of the cut holes in the work. I see the work as a hybrid of traditional way to make paintings and algorithmic-based  decisions made by a computer. Wallpainter`s wall is and looks hand-made although a big part of its aesthetics comes from a script that can not know nothing of aesthetics.  This paradox was my main reason to paint this work.

What do you think of this idea of the hybrid artist; one who creates both digital and traditional art? I created a name for this. I call it TADAE, which means Traditional And Digital Artist-Engineer.  I came to conceptualize that because I think artist who can easily think in both digital and analog really represent a completely new subset of creative individuals. This is something I find very important, because I think it sets a historical
precedent. Have you given any thought to this?

TADAE sounds fine!  Mixing colors physically from the tube gives different results than mixing colors on-screen, both ways are important. And even minor knowledge of computer algorithms gives artist new ways to have or develop new ideas in one’s brains. There’s plenty of ways to combine these ways of thought to create a meaningful artworks.

We’ve talked about some of your computational and analog installations, now let’s talk pure digital. You’ve made some video art?  I like the piece called “Space Cave.” How did that come about?

Spacecave is a flash movie made of pictures taken inside my earlier sculpture “Cavepainters Cave” (2005). Illusion the work creates is constructed from the pieces of very limited part of reality. Script that moves and changes the parts of the work is partly based on randomness, the movement is always different, You could watch it several years without the film repeating itself exactly. Basically the work is a 2d work which tries to look like a 3d.  It is a hybrid of painting, sculpture and visually of Sci-Fi movies in a digital form.

Spacecave-AvaruusuolaSpacecave Avaruusuola” flash animation screenshot

There’s another video you created entitled “American Traffic.” I find it very interesting that a Scandinavian artist would create such a piece, but at the same time I think I might understand–why?

The picture material of this flash movie is taken from inside a car during traveling from Roanoke, Virginia to New York at 11th of October 2003. A script that runs the movie loads and shows the pictures in a random order. The work is a road movie without a story or characters. It shows one of the ambiences of our times which is very ordinary for someone living there and then but much more exotic for an external visitor(or to someone who might not know what a car is.) Later I made also a comparison work called Helsinki traffic, but that’s not online, never finished it. The work is not a document, it’s experience seen through that time’s consumer—driving–and a script putting images to a random order. I might have been interested in this subject also because of the Hollywood movies, I had seen thousands of scenes of American traffic before actually being there, the work is also my approach towards this imagery.

Finally, since we haven’t yet talked about your paintings, I think we should because they’re all quite good. Like you paintings of sculptures series. That’s an interesting concept, and they have a certain 1950’s modern look.

Yes, they certainly do. Although, the way I made that series was totally different from the Modernists. The works were composed of the forms of my previous sets of sculptures (8 sculptures) on top of each other, and then reducing details to flat surface paintings while also changing the color themes.

Do you have any thoughts about out digital future?

So many possible universal outcomes there…varying between killer nanobots destroying all life on earth or good robots supplying enough food, energy & other goods freely for everyone on Earth. From the sculptor’s point of view the development of 3d printing sounds very interesting–the possibility to print almost anything in 3D at your home in the future. As well, theories like Nick Bostroms “Are we sims” (http://www.simulation-argument.com//simulation.html), seems to be saying everything’s already digital and there’s (small) probability that we’re living in someone’s computer right now. So, the digital era creates its own cultural theories and concepts also, which certainly will be different from last century’s cultural theories and that new theoretical field will invent it’s concepts from things like 3d and virtual reality and biotechnology and theoretical physics. It will be interesting to follow, but to be honest I don’t have very strong opinion where the digital future will go, with so many options there.

Art Concept“Art Concept”

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Mikka, thanks for taking the time to speak with me.

Thank You for interviewing me.

“The Digital Dilemma”

In Feature, News on October 5, 2009 at 12:52 pm

ArtWorks magazine, a fine art quarterly based out of Carmel (Pebble Beach) California, has recently published “The Digital Dilemma” which speaks to digital art concerns that some in the industry have as it relates to curating and collecting.  To read the piece in its entirety pick up a copy of the Fall issue of ArtWorks at your local Barnes & Noble.  What follows is a lengthy excerpt from the article.

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The Digital Dilemma
by Max Eternity

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GenFLowIII_003451“Generative Flowers III 003451”

As digital art becomes more mainstream, artists, collectors and galleries alike are having to conceptualizing new ways to function in the marketplace; simultaneously facing the challenges of new media conservation, authentication and provenance.  Yet with a growing market at stake, digital editions are serious business, even though there’s some resistance.

One person with doubts about digital is Andy Weiner, co-owner of Spaightwood Galleries.  Weiner and his partner Sonja have tens of thousands of prints in inventory; a large percentage of which dates back several centuries.  Even so, around 8,000 pieces are of 20th century artists like Warhol, Chagall, Kandinsky and Matisse.  Still the gallery carries no digital editions.

David Rudd Cycleback, author of Judging the Authenticity of Prints by the Masters

“Whether you are talking about a 1650 Rembrandt etching or a 2005 digital print, things like originality, artistic quality and number in existence, affect value and desirability”

– David Rudd Cycleback –

Author of “Judging the Authenticity of Prints by the Masters”

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Kirstin Heming, Director of Pace Prints in New York, takes a more confident approach to digital editions.  Maybe it’s because the gallery has been selling digital prints since the mid 90’s.  “Our collectors are more secure with the process” she says.  And in regards to conservation of digital inks, Heming says “initially, it may have been a concern, like when we did our first exhibit with Kiki Smith in 1997.  8 years ago, however, inks became less of a worry.”  Indicating that was around the time when ink quality had become engineered to last for centuries instead of decades.  But when asked about the gallery’s protocol for issuing limited digital editions “that distinction is not clearly made” Heming replied.  For some, this is a red flag, because less familiar collectors tend to assume that digital automatically means reproduction, or worse–fake.

Rex Bruce, Director of LACDA

“One thing that should be understood is that people have been buying and selling limited editions a long, long time”

– Rex Bruce –

Director @ The Los Angeles Center for Digital Art (LACDA)

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At the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art (LACDA), Rex Bruce, has a very firm stance on issuing protocol.  Bruce, LACDA’s director, says that the art center only shows original singles and limited editions, known as multiple originals.  “There is a huge difference between multiple originals and reproductions” says Bruce.  For that reason “we never show digital reproductions “

GenFLowIII_004295“Generative Flowers 004295” by Don Relyea

Artist Don Relyea has one of the oldest fine art blogs on the internet.  Relyea’s approach to art embraces the concept of digital media convergence.  His Internet site features music, prints and moving images, where he blogs about his family as well.  In Relyea’s words “the internet is a great tool for emerging artists to keep people informed about the projects they are working on…”

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Max Eternity, contributing writer to Artworks Magazine and editor of Art Digital Magazine, is a 21st Century Renaissance man who creates innovative print types reflecting the Bauhaus school and Early American modernism.  In prose via a network of informational web portals, Eternity advocates artistic and social concerns ranging from architectural preservation and digital literacy to the Afro/Euro fine art construct, government transparency, health and nutrition.  An avid inventor, he currently has over a dozen utilities and processes in various stages of development.