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Notes on Epigenetic Art: the
Notizen zur Epigenetischen Kunst: Die Ezechiel Serie
|Ezekiel versions from the early 1990's. The one on the right was shown at Ars Electronica in 1993|
The following article, Notes on Epigenetic Art: the Ezekiel Series, is quoted from Genetische Kunst - Kunstliches Leben (Genetic Art - Artificial Life), Edited by Karl Gerbel and Peter Weibel, (ISBN 3-901196-072, Vienna, 1993), pp 334-337. These notes were written to accompany several works that were shown in the Genetic Art - Artificial Life exhibition held at Linz in 1993.
English Version German Version
|NOTES ON EPIGENETIC ART: The Ezekiel
ROMAN VEROSTKO, April 1993
Intentions. For over 30 years, as an artist,
I have always tried to create well crafted works with icon-like
qualities pointing in some evocative way to hidden reality. As early as
I can remember I was always awestruck when I took time to really look at
something and think about it as "being" and then contemplate
whether the opposite was possible - "not being". "What
would it be like", I wondered, "if there were no me - no cloud
- no earth? Early on
I learned to wonder about the "marvelous" event of things
existing just "the way they are". Within commonplace phenomena
I learned to see a "hidden" marvelous world filled with
mystery. My approach to art
grew from this marveling, always holding a reverence for the materials
of earth and a sense of wonder about most things. Eventually this came
to include circuit boards, computer languages, and the forms one could
explore with simple algorithms.
In this essay the terms "code",
"software" and "instructions" may be used
interchangeably. In general we are referring to coded procedures and
algorithms which may be integrated in a program of instructions for a
For the past decade I have been writing code and
marveling at its power as a procedure for investigating form with a
computer. Coded electronic
procedures provide artists with a radically new and powerful tool for
investigating a marvelous world of unseen form. Those who integrate
their art with coded procedures are on the threshold of a new frontier.
To tap this frontier as an artist there have been two great hurdles. One
has been the task of translating form-generating ideas into a practical
working code. The other has been the search for appropriate materials
and methods for achieving tangible archival quality work.
The code as a form-generator is only half of the
struggle. To succeed as "art" the form must be successfully
engendered in something tangible - something one can see, touch, feel or
hear. Some years ago an artist friend, standing by an elm tree, asked
"What gives this tree such a powerful presence?" And he
answered, noting that "you can touch it - feel its surface - its
'being here'"! Because aesthetic experience involves the senses one cannot
separate "art" from its material embodiment. In my current
work the form necessarily includes the paper, surface, texture, color,
and manner of presentation -
the total experience. The nature and quality of materials have been
carefully chosen and transformed in the process. For me, the finished
work should have an aura that invites the casual viewer to pause for a
moment, sensing that the work, as a human endeavor, goes beyond material
Robotnics . Many people who visit my studio are surprised
when they see engineering plotters cabled to two computer work stations
- one for research and development - the other for creating art.
When a plotter is working, visitors often stand with eyes glued
on the drawing arm which, with a "seeming intelligence", draws
precisely, surprisingly, and without hesitation - executing literally
thousands of lines - changing colors - first here and then there. These
plotters exude an uncanny presence!
They have become members of the studio family - there's
Brunelleschi, a nine year old 14 pen plotter, the first one I ever used
- then another one named Alberti who executed all the frontispieces for
a limited edition of George Boole's "Derivation of the Laws"
(1989-90). Our latest member of the family, Botticelli, has a 36 inch
bed and has been executing the recent Ezekiel Series.
robotniks , tirelessly execute instructions fed to them
from computers. The computers interpret the code for them. The code is
essentially a set of detailed instructions for making the work, i.e.,
what steps to take to make a color decision or how to determine control
points. This procedure for
making art, which I have called "epigenetic" is employed, to
some degree, by a number of artists working today.
Epigenetic Art .
The term epigenesis , borrowed from biology, refers to the
process whereby a mature plant or phenotype grows from a seed or
genotype. By analogy, in my studio, the art work (phenotype)
"grows" from the software (genotype). Although the sofware
contains the essential "form generating" information, it
requires an appropriate "environment" and
"nurturing" if it is to generate a mature work of art.
This process of actually "growing" the work in some
tangible form is, by analogy, "epigenetic". The mature art
form, likened to phenotype, can only be "grown" with tangible
materials - paper and inks - and then only with an appropriate set-up of
computer and plotter which constitute, as it were, a nurturing
environment. The convergence of all these elements is required for
"growing" the art work, a process analagous to biological
A Personal Expert System . The
software, with a computer and a plotter, constitutes a "personal
expert system". The system is capable of generating visual forms of
interest to me as an artist - forms whose origins the artist can both
reveal and conceal with recursive improvisations. The choice of
materials and the evolution of the software grew side by side over a
period of ten years. Experimentation with paper, inks and plotting
procedures has been extensive. Through trial and errror and seemingly
endless hours of experimentation, the system has evolved into a unique
set of procedures with a language of its own.
. The software, under ongoing revision, is an integrated network of
routines named Hodos taken from the Greek word for "path" or
"way". This term best describes the unfolding forms of the
first series of plotted works which were conceived as
"pathways". Following a period of teaching in China I
recognized many analogies between "hodos" and the oriental
concept of "dao" (pin yin for “tao”, the way).
My studio, named "Pathway Studio" has an oriental seal
carved by the distinguished shufa master,
Wang Dong Ling. Wang, awed by the brush strokes of the computer, chose
the classic expression "xiao jing zhai", "little footpath
studio", as appropriate for the seal. Many works executed in the
studio receive this seal.
Families of form .
capable of generating a family of forms with each being simultaneously
related and "one of a kind". This is possible because the
system operates like a chaotic system subject to the "butterfly
"butterfly" effect refers to the observation that even minute
phenomena in such a system affect the whole - the flapping of a
butterfly wing is said to have an effect on world weather patterns.
routines are parameter driven with procedures capable of
generating visual form with outcomes subject to similar effects. By
"parameter driven" we mean routines that perform a function
"not more than" and "not fewer than" so many
degrees, pen strokes, or colors. The slightest change, say a .005 change
in the initiating seed, affects all the controlling parameters and
consequently the final form. The
"auto" modes built into the system allow "Hodos" to
alter its variables and to do so within parameters that I may choose to
control - or not control. The
consequent forms are interrelated by the degree of variation in the
program parameters and the way such parameters are controlled - or not
controlled. This dialectic
between "control" and "uncontrol" has been the
centerpiece of my form considerations as an artist for over 30 years.
DIAMOND LAKE APOCALYPSE and EZEKIEL SERIES .
Art Works . I have
labeled several distinctive series of works related to program routines
and the way those routines have been used: Pathway; Gaia; Scarab; and
the Diamond Lake Apocalypse (DLA). The most recent DLA works are named
the Ezekiel series.
The DLA and Ezekiel Series are code generated
scripts and illustrations presented as "illuminated" pages
reminiscent of medieval manuscripts.
The scripts and illustrations are executed with a multipen
plotter coupled to a PC. The plotter draws from an array of technical
pens loaded with inks mixed in the studio. All brush strokes are plotted
using Chinese brushes adapted to the machine's drawing arm.
Each page, plotted on rag paper, is enhanced with a touch of pure
gold or silver leaf, applied by hand. However the illuminated
"initials" (design elements) are always code generated and
. The "illumination" for each work is realized with code
driven improvisations based on a single initiating stroke. This stroke,
generated by randomly cast control points, can be seen in the brush
strokes. Software procedures provide parameters to create reflecting or
mirror strokes on either or both axes or none at all.
The "script" headers and initials are derived
algorithmically from the
same set of relations; thus a "self-similarity" permeates the
whole. More recent routines allow for transformations of form from one
set of control points to another. The
same algorithm used for asymetrical works in the Pathway series drives
the recursive loops that generate the severely symmetrical "Ezekiel
and Meaning . Parameter
controlled recursive loops are commonly used today in applications and
research in practically all disciplines. They provide an awesome means
for visualizing the evolution and transformation of form.
As we develop an iconology (interpretation) of these forms we
will see that they are the icons of those procedures which are shaping
One could think of the works in all of these
series as diagrams or visual analogues to the coded procedures by which
they are made. The
essential character of the finished work is derived from the
"form-generating-procedure" or "algorithm" acting as
genotype . For this reason one could say that the finished work
is an epiphany, or manifestation, of the artist's code. Each work
celebrates its code, especially the recursive routines which shaped its
character. It is noteworthy that such procedures hold much in common
with processes associated with crystallization and genetics.
These epigenetic works invite us to savor both the beauty and the mystery of their coded procedures - not so much for their stark logic as for the grace and poetry they yield. They provide a window on unseen processes shaping mind and matter. By doing so they become icons illuminating the mysterious nature of Earth and Cosmos.
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