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Epigenesis: The Growth of Form
Frey Science and Engineering Center,  University of Saint Thomas, Saint Paul, Minnesota USA

Frey Science & Engineering SE of Summit Ave & Cretin: The mural is located on the first floor of the Owens Science Hall, the building towards the right pictured above. Visitors from a distance might call security service in advance to check on accessibility.

General view from the north side of the hall.

click for detail of this panel click: detail 3 center panels of this left section click: panels 5,6 (center) & 7.
click on sections for details

Site and structure.  The University's Frey Science and Engineering Center was dedicated in September 1997. The mural project, located on the main floor of Owens Science Hall, employs technologies developed in the pioneer stages of the digital arts revolution. The project consists of  eleven code-generated drawings in variations arranged as a visual syngraphy.  Both  pen & ink strokes and brush strokes were executed with a multi-pen drawing machine guided by original drawing instructions.  Each pen-plotted unit was executed on Stonehenge paper measuring 3 feet by 6 feet. Installed in eleven units framed with oak paneling the finished project measures 40 feet by 9 feet, occupies two alcoves, and wraps around a central pilaster.

THE ELEVEN  PANELS / click on units for larger images :

left end    left triptych (3 units)  mid triptych (3 units)   right triptych (3 units)    right end

General view from the north side of the hall:

 click: panel 11, partly visible, right-most panel.claick: panels 8,9,10 click: panels 5 (not visible),6 (center not lighted),7

larger detail larger detail larger detail
The eleven coordinates controlling the brush stroke are identified in the eleven golden orbs shown in the diagram on the right.  The first and last coordinates have dotted lines connecting to the beginning and ending of the brush stroke.  These two extra coordinates may be viewed as sleepers.. They  determine  the direction of the slope the brush will take for the beginning and ending of the stroke's curve. The smaller calligraphic strokes present visual variations based on the brush stroke curve.

Technically this smooth curve stroke is called a "NURBS", (a non-uniform rational  spline).  

Brush Strokes. The brush strokes that mirror each other identify the initiating coordinates. Thousands of lines, derived from this initiating shape, cluster and mirror themselves throughout the eleven panels. In effect the mural displays the growth of form and, by analogy to the biological process, may be viewed as epigenesis. The smaller calligraphic strokes were code-generated with procedures drawing  on the same controllers used for the brush strokes. I view them as pure visual form statements about  the slope and curve information permeating the entire project.  A  "self-similarity" permeates the form variations as all share the same parent code.

click for larger detail click for larger detail

Above: The  central geometric configuration was achieved with several series of parallel pen strokes generated with the very same coordinate information as used  for the brush strokes and every other pen stroke in the entire mural. Gold leaf was applied by hand to the small center diamond that displays the key pen stroke. The pen stroke was code generated. and pen plotted.

Interpretation and Title.   These works may be viewed as  visual analogues of the coded procedures by which they were made somewhat as the winding banks of streams display the traces of the forces with which they were shaped. From this perspective the mural displays the visual traces of the procedures with which it was shaped. Throughout the mural the form-generating process manifests itself in clustering webs of pen strokes with each stroke echoing the information contained in the initial eleven sets of coordinates.   (click on image sections for larger details)

Detail:  1 of the 4 gold leafed roundels.  The black stroke inside the roundel was code generated and executed with a fine brush mounted on the plotter's drawing arm. Gold leaf was applied by hand in all instances.

Sisyphus renders the stroke -  animated time warp (962 KB)

Above: The Saint Thomas brush stroke was rendered as a sand etching on December 10th, 1998 in collaboration with Atelier Ho in Jean Pierre's Santa Barbara studio.  Atelier Ho, a studio collaborative of the artists Bruce Shapiro and Jean Pierre Hebert, had created several versions of a sand etching machine, Sysiphus, that plotted vector graphics on a sand surface with a steel ball. Verostko provided the vector coordinates of  the St. Thomas brush stroke that was executed by Sisyphus. This procedure demonstrates how algorist'  form generators can be transported across media. The time warp animation shows the path as it is traced in the sand. Further Sisyphus documentation may be found at: 

Historical note. Historically we had no term in the arts to identify the art-making process whereby works are generated by the artist's own coded procedures. In 1986 I set out in search of a term to accurately describe my art-making process. In 1987 I settled on the term epigenetic as a specific descriptor of the algorithmic procedures in my work. The following year I  presented a paper identifying the biological analogues for work created with fine art generators (algorithms) created by artists. This paper, presented at the First International Symposium on Electronic Art (FISEA, Utrecht, 1988) and later published in Leonardo (23:1,1990), outlined the rationale for the use of this term. Later, seeking a broader identity for my practice, I helped establish the usage of the term "algorist" for identifying artists who work algorithmically. The term  "epigenetic art" continues to be an appropriate and more precise usage in identifying the nature of my algorithmic art.  

Epigenetic by analogy only. The biological term epigenesis refers to the process whereby a mature plant, say an oak tree, is "grown" from an acorn. By analogy, an artwork such as this mural, is algorithmically "grown" from the software that contains the form-generating instructions likened to "genotype".  This procedure for generating the work may be viewed as epigenetic but only by analogy to the growing process. See my paper: "Epigenetic Painting: Software as Genotype" (Utrecht, ISEA, 1988).

Installing the last unit (29kb),  August 1997.

Installation. Work was installed in August 1997 using a reversible method as a conservation measure. The six foot paper units were hung on secure acid free backing and protected with UV filtering laminated glass.  The frames and white stained oak panels were crafted by  Don Zwernik who is shown with Roman installing the last unit.

View westward (10kb)

Technical specifications:

The 1996 Scale Model for Epigenesis. This preliminary model, a work of art in its own right, served as the first stage of this project. A second version of this model is permanently on display at the downtown Minneapolis campus of the University of St. Thomas (second floor, main overpass) Click below for model details.

The 1996 Model  (76" by 18").

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