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Epigenetic Art Revisited: 
Software as genotype 
English (excerpt)  
English (full text)   

Epigenetische Kunst im Rückblick: 
Software als Genotypus 

Deutch (excerpt)  


Roman reflects on theory and practice as embodied in his 1988 paper on Epigenetic art: software as genotype.
Roman's exhibition included demo's with the original pen plotter he used in 1987 for his first algorithmic brush stroke.

The Brucknerhaus exhibit
   Carnival, algorithmic pen & brush drawing, 1989. 24" by 40". An early example of algorithmic procedures creating a work grown from the relationship of an initiating set of coordinates.
   Cyberflower IV,  Algorithmic pen drawing, 2000. 23" by 30".  The cyberflower series demonstrates that a new frontier of form emerges for artists who create original form generators
  Saphire, Ezekiel Series, algorithmic pen, brush & ink, 1993, 24” by 40”.  This is one of the first works to generate both linear fields and geometric shapes from the same initiating coordinate information. Recursive self-similarity joins the tight linear arabesques and the seemingly random distributions of lines. The initiator information is visually identified in the lower left rectangular field that includes silver leaf enhancement. 
Brucknerhaus exhibit
panel with book display case
    Untitled, algorithmic pen & ink drawing, 1987, 16” by 20”.   Driving a multi-pen plotter the artist’s code made all the decisions for this work including pen color changes.
   Untitled, algorithmic brush painting, 1989, 24” by 40”. Several brush paintings were made from 1987-89.  The first brush strokes driven by coded procedures were executed in 1987.  To achieve brush work the code pauses the machine and asks for a paint brush to be loaded with ink and placed in the plotter's drawing arm. The machine then executes the stroke. At first, for Roman, as a servant to the machine, the experience was humiliating and seemed foolish. The machine, named Brunelleschi, was master of the procedure via the code.  In this painting the code rotated a brush stroke and repeated its character rhythmically. 
Untitled page, Diamond Lake Apocalypse Series, algorithmic pen & ink drawing, 1991, 24” by 20”. With a format reminiscent of illuminated medieval manuscripts, this series was conceived as 20th Century electronic scripts celebrating coded drawing procedures.  Roman came to view his studio as an electronic scriptorium with pen plotter scribes delineating scripts and drawings. The left side displays non-rational glyphic characters generated with a primitive visual syntax. 


Display case shows 5 originals and 1 reproduction copy from an illustrated limited edition of The Derivation of the Laws by George Boole.  The text is Chapter III from Boole's Classic work, An Investigation of the Laws of Thought.. (Macmillan, London, 1854). This edition includes a Preface by Roger Malina, a statement by Roman and a Postscript.

1 4
2 5
3 6

Open books on display:  (1) text page with printed illustration made with line-cut zinc plate, (2) & (3) original Frontispieces; (4)  Frontispiece from the reproduction edition in black & gold , (5) & (6) original end pieces.

Rationale. This edition was created as a tribute to the 19th Century mathematician George Boole (1815-1864). Boole’s treatise on the Laws demonstrates the direct link between Aristotle’s principle of contradiction and the symbolic logic known today as Boolean Algebra. Boolean logic, a symbolic language seminal to the development of modern circuit boards, is fundamental to programming languages. The illustrations for this edition, generated with principles outlined in Boole’s Laws, exemplify the profound kinship emerging today between art and coded procedure.

Illustrations. Each book has original front and end-piece drawings. These are all, "one of a kind" works, drawn or brushed, stroke for stroke, with a pen plotter driven by Roman’s code.  Two families of form, 125 originals in each, introduced a radically new procedure that Roger Malina has referred to as "post mechanical" reproduction. This edition exemplifies epigenetic art whereby a series of originals are generated in a family of forms using the same parent code. This edition (1990) may be the first instance where an algorithmic improvisational series of original drawings was created for a bound limited edition.

Edition. The limited edition of 125 copies, bound in leather, was pulled by hand at the St. Sebastian Press in Minneapolis in 1990. Each copy has original front and end pieces drawn with coded procedures in the artist's studio. Other illustrations were pulled with line cut plates made from original pen plotted drawings.   The work was also issued in a reproduction paperback version based on the original type setting and plotter drawings (February 1991, ISBN 1-879508-07-9). The press is no longer active. The artist retains a limited number of copies of each edition. 

More on this edition


  Epigenetic Art Revisited:
Software As Genotype, 2003


"In the last quarter of the Twentieth Century the form-generating power of algorithms executed with computing power seized the imagination of a number of artists. These coded procedures are of a different order than traditional procedures. How shall we label this process?  This was a question that my wife, Alice, and I posed in 1986. In our search we found ourselves returning again and again to similarities between biological processes and coded procedures. We settled on the term epigenetic and this became the basis for my 1988 paper on Epigenetic Art.

Epigenesis refers to the process whereby a mature plant, the phenotype, grows from a seed, the genotype. For example an acorn embodies the genotype or code that contains the information needed for growing a mature oak tree. Given the proper environment it can, in time, grow into a mature tree, the phenotype. The “growing” process is called epigenesis.

By analogy my code, likened to genotype, contains the information needed for generating an art form. Given the proper studio environment the code literally grows an art form. By analogy to biological epigenesis, this process may be viewed as epigenetic.

Clearly any coded procedure that has the information necessary for generating an art form can be viewed as epigenetic. The more general term in current use is generative art.

Content and meaning. For over a quarter century generative art has been creating the icons of our information age. These icons emerge as diagrams or visual analogues to the coded procedures by which they were made. The essential character of each finished work is derived from the "form-generating-procedure" or "algorithm" acting as genotype. For this reason the finished work becomes an epiphany, or manifestation, of its generator, the code. For me, each work celebrates the code that shaped its character. It is noteworthy that such procedures hold much in common with processes associated with crystallization and genetics. In general these works provide a window on unseen processes shaping mind and matter. By doing so they become icons illuminating the mysterious nature of self, earth and cosmos.”

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Epigenetische Kunst im Rückblick:
Software als Genotypus, 2003

"Im letzten Viertel des 20. Jahrhunderts waren viele Künstler von der formengenerierenden Macht von Algorithmen fasziniert. Diese codierten Prozeduren unterscheiden sich von traditionellen künstlerischen Vorgehensweisen. Wie sollen wir diese Prozesse benennen? Das war eine Frage, die meine Frau Alice und ich uns im Jahr 1986 stellten. Dabei entdeckten wir, dass wir immer und wieder auf Ähnlichkeiten zwischen biologischen Prozessen und kodierten Prozeduren stießen. Wir einigten uns auf den Terminus "epigenetisch", und das war der Ausgangspunkt für meinen Artikel Epigenetic Art aus dem Jahr 1988 (der 1990 in Leonardo veröffentlicht wurde).

Epigenese meint den Prozess, durch den eine ausgewachsene Pflanze oder ein Phänotypus aus einem Samen oder Genotypus wächst. So enthält eine Eichel den Genotypus oder Code, der die gesamte, für das Wachsen einer Eiche benötigte Information enthält. Im geeigneten Umfeld kann daraus ein voll entwickelter Baum entstehen. Dieser Wachstumsprozess wird 'Epigenes' genannt.

Analog zum Genotypus enthalten meine Programme oder Codes die gesamte zum Entstehen einer Kunstform benötigte Information. Unter den richtigen Bedingungen im Atelier wächst die Software buchstäblich vom kodierten Ablauf zur Kunstform. Ähnlich der biologischen Epigenese kann dieser Prozess als 'epigenetisch' gesehen werden.

Natürlich könnte jeder kodierte Ablauf, der alle für das Entstehen einer Kunstform benötigten Informationen enthält, als 'epigenetisch' bezeichnet werden. Der seit kurzem geläufigere Begriff dafür ist 'generative Kunst'.

Seit mehr als einem viertel Jahrhundert generiert epigenetische Kunst die Ikonen unseres Informationszeitalters. Man könnte diese Ikonen als Diagramme oder visuelle Entsprechungen der kodierten Abläufe sehen, durch die sie entstanden sind. Der bezeichnende Charakter jeder fertigen Arbeit leitet sich vom 'formgebenden Ablauf' oder 'Algorithmus' ab, der als Genotypus fungiert. Daher könnte man auch sagen, dass das Endprodukt eine Epiphanie oder Manifestierung seines Erzeugers, des Codes, darstellt. Für mich ist jede Arbeit der feierliche Ausdruck ihres Codes, besonders der wiederholten Programme, die ihre Eigenart ausmachen. Dabei ist zu beachten, dass derartige Abläufe viel mit Prozessen gemein haben, die mit Kristallisierung und Genetik in Verbindung stehen. Dadurch werden sie Ikonen, die die geheimnisvolle Natur des menschlichen Wesens, der Erde und des Kosmos widerspiegeln."
(Roman Verostko)

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