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“A revolution normally lies ahead of us and is heralded with sound and fury. The algorithmic revolution lies behind us and nobody noticed it. That has made it all the more effective – there is no longer any area of social life that has not been touched by algorithms.  Over the past 50 years, algorithmic decision-making processes have come very much to the fore as a result of the universal use of computers in all fields of cultural literacy – from architecture to music, from literature to the fine arts and from transport to management. The algorithmic revolution continues the sequencing technology that began with the development of the alphabet and has reached its temporary conclusion with the human genome project. No matter how imperceptible they may be, the changes this revolution has wrought are immense.”


Quoted from The Algorithmic Revolution, Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM), Karlsruhe, 2004, Exhibition Catalogue, p.1.  www.zkm.de




Roman Verostko has been creating algorithmic works for more than twenty years. The Algorithmic Revolution currently showing at the ZKM in Karlsruhe includes several examples of his earlier work.  Procedures employed in the Pearl Park Scriptures are similar to those used for his earlier work in the Algorithmic Revolution. 


Discussions of algorithms, code and the algorist often evoke wrinkled foreheads and blank stares.  Here an algorithm may be best understood as a detailed step-by-step procedure for carrying out a task such as a musical score for singing. The code for singing would be the musical notation.  For the algorithms discussed here, the code would be written in a compatible computer language.  All computer programs such as word processors and spreadsheets are algorithms.  An algorist is an artist who includes his own original algorithms in the process of creating art.  What was revolutionary for algorists was the ability to use a computer for complex algorithms that required extremely extensive logical computation.

Roman, both as an artist and a theoretician, held a consuming interest in the deeper implications of this revolution as it unfolded.  In 1988, at the First International Symposium on Electronic Art at Utrecht, he presented a seminal paper identifying the analogues between algorithmic form-generators in the arts and biological processes.  Its subtitle, Software as Genotype, spells out the key analogy: the artist's algorithm, similar to biological genotype, contains the code for generating the artwork. Roman wrote that these algorithms brought us a generative procedure that has “opened a new frontier in the arts."

Historical context


Looking back on the last quarter of the 20th Century we can see clearly the revolution that has occurred.  A number of artists became intensely committed to developing algorithmic procedures that embodied their own individual artistic style. Working separately, these algorists, through their own coded procedures, achieved unique individual styles with a full body of mature work during that period.  Among them was Roman Verostko. 


For both technical and aesthetic reasons algorists like Manfred Mohr, Jean Pierre Hebert and Hans Dehlinger had settled on pen and ink drawing with pen plotters.  Designed for architects and engineers, these drawing machines, are now being replaced with ink jet and laser printers.  A few algorists, including Roman, preferring to draw with ink pens, continue to employ pen plotters. The drawing arm of these machines presents an uncanny resemblance to the artists’ hand.  Roman, whose first machines were equipped with 14 pen stalls, wrote his code to manage a palette of 14 drawing pens.  In 1987, with an interactive routine for mounting paint brushes on the plotter’s drawing arm, he created the world's first code driven brush paintings.  While he continues to employ occasional brush strokes, he has concentrated, in this series,  on the refinement of coded pen and ink drawing.  Following years of trial and error, Roman’s Pearl Park Scriptures present superb refinements in algorithmic drawing techniques. 


Creating “art” via algorithmic procedure.


Basic to Roman’s approach to algorithmic art is his belief that a “score” for drawing compares to musical scores, architectural plans and choreography. These various codes, when successful, reflect the unique aesthetic preferences of those who create them.


He knew, from years of experience that he needed to bridge the gap between the rational, cold, unfeeling nature of the code and the aesthetically satisfying visual forms he wanted to generate. He understood that a form-generating procedure for his art could not succeed without careful attention to the interaction between the media and the coded procedure.  This required knowledge and aesthetic understanding of paper, ink, pen, plotter, and computer.


The code had to be written with an understanding of how the drawing machine handled code, the way pen points responded to various paper surfaces and the way ink-pens responded to drawing arm speeds. All converged in creating the aesthetic qualities of the finished work – and the code itself had to be integrated with the working solutions.


Since the early 1980’s Roman has been consumed (when not frustrated) with code adjustments for the relationship between his algorithmic form generators and the technology of ink viscosities, pen points, and paper surfaces.  Since 1949, as an artist, he has always been committed to the aesthetic quality of visual phenomena related to texture, surface and color.  He could not conceive of form separated from its material manifestation.


The Pearl Park Scriptures, 2004-2005. 

Early every morning, before breakfast, Roman takes a brisk walk around Pearl Park near his lakeside home in Minneapolis.  During these morning walks his meditations range widely and have a deep impact on the studio work he undertakes each day.  The Pearl Park Scriptures, influenced by these morning walks, embody his studio work for the past year (2004-2005).  Their format is based on decorated pages of medieval illuminated manuscripts.  Some pages, enhanced with a touch of gold leaf, evoke the precious quality of sacred texts. 

Each work presents a colorful drawing accompanied with lines of glyphs that read from left to right. An “alphabet” of glyphs was generated for each text in this exhibition. Some works present  “non-rational” glyphs arranged like a language without any meaning.  Others present glyphs coded with specific texts from sources such as Darwin, Genesis, Lao Tsu, and the Apache Indians of North America.  The choice of Scriptures has been guided by an effort to bridge both time and culture - to find meaning from diverse cultural approaches to spirituality and learning. 

Roman’s own spiritual journeys have guided his choice of scriptures. This has even included confrontation with texts that have no rational meaning as in some forms of Zen meditation and in the “non-sense” of the Dada and Neo-dada artists of the 20th Century.  The works in this show that present glyphs arranged without any rational meaning shed light on those experiences.

As in all of Roman’s work the drawings remain entirely non-representational and are chosen primarily for their visual form.  For these works Roman has concentrated on forms that are lean with complementary colors and a memorable structure.  The relationship of form and text flows from the artist’s perception of evocative qualities present in the visual form.  For example, in Scripture “N”, the green and blue form has life-like qualities that complement the Darwin text.   

All of the drawings were created with hundreds of barely visible pen strokes. The drawing pen must retain even distribution and precision for many hours without failing.  Just as the sculptor’s chisel leaves its mark on the stone, so these pen strokes leave their mark on the paper. These fields of soft pen strokes exceed what can be achieved with the human hand - their precision and even distribution reveal the inner beauty of the artist’s “mind-hand”.  They also reveal a patient artist who must often discard many hours of work due to pen failure.

The Pearl Park Scriptures summarize Roman’s involvement with code for well over 20 years.  They represent the convergence of experimentation with new visual form, coded meanings and the human ability to communicate.  They may also lead us to ponder the codes we use daily – not only our language but also our gestures and even our dress codes.   Leaping beyond these concrete aspects of living, they faintly echo the coded processes of genes that shape life itself. By doing so they become icons illuminating the mysterious nature of self, earth and cosmos.

Alice Wagstaff, PhD, 
Program Coordinator
FISEA ’93: Fourth International Symposium on Electronic Art

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