Generative Art and the Fifth Dimension

Maybe the allure of generative art and its cousins is that a three-dimensional being can attempt to create works that five-dimensional beings can appreciate.

I am a Fraud

I am a fraud. According to titles bestowed upon me, I could be a designer, a software engineer, a certain celebrity, or God forbid, a creative. To add to the absurdity, I have even been paid to be associated with at least one of these labels, which would make me a professional fraud. All of this, of course, is not entirely true.

Duck typing is a concept utilised in computer programming, which can be summarised with the axiom: when I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck. A guideline for inference and abstraction that suffices for most occasions. And if you, kind reader, observed that this writing accompanies the works from the illustrious minds of Adrian Shaughnessy and Justin Zhuang, and infer that I am a writer, I would gladly reassure you that I am a writer by the merit that I can put a pen to paper. Similarly, I am able to infer in turn that everyone reading this sentence is literate, a true but otherwise broad, sweeping and utterly useless observation.

In Seeing like a State, James Scott utilised the term illegible to describe a collection of individuals, the quintessential bureaucrats’ nightmare, that the state finds difficulty in classifying. To varying degrees, we all have the tendency to put people into boxes, though the urge is particularly strong with children, due to their limited view of the world. The same could be said of bureaucrats. Alternatively, James Patterson makes an attempt in redefining his own box, describing himself as the gently-rounded triangle, the intersection of a Venn diagram with its well-defined categories. And in a similar light, if folklore is to be trusted, anyone attempting to explain the existence of an elephant to blind men would find the task excruciating, as we pick the labels that are most local and accessible to us. At times I wonder, which one of our current labels, if not all, are too narrow in definition. That when our decedents and successors look back at us, they see blind men fondling a very confused elephant.

But we are more than a collection of labels. Not to say that labels serve no purpose. In On Exactitude of Science, exists a map that has the scale of a mile to the mile, such folly. Labels serve to provide an entry point to one’s identity, the key is to not mistake the means with the end, or in cartographic terms, the map for the territory. Though as an introspective exercise, I conceive myself to be defined by my everything. That the definition of my everything differs ever so slightly to your definition, which is constituted of our individual past stories, encounters, and experiences, of our values, principles and assumptions. And with every exposure to a new perspective redraws the boundaries to our everything, allowing it to grow. Some call it experience, others intuition or expertise, but I call it my everything for only with this name does it serve to depict its both magnitude and limitation. And it is my everything that influences my actions, regardless of scale. And it is from drawing from my everything that I have learnt that there exists different names for the same thing. Generative design shares many similarities to her cousins of the same surname, generative art and generative music, which too are share traits with procedural content from game development and simulation from economics. Even when I don the label of a designer, it does not mean that the parts of my everything that I have gained through other perspectives cease to exists. You do not disown the lessons you have learnt.

I have good reason to believe that at some point in our lives, we will be faced with a juncture where we would have no idea what lies ahead, that the fog of ignorance shrouds our vision. And at this very juncture, we would have to make it up as we go along, armed and shielded only by our past experiences and perspectives, by our everything, driven by a touch of foolhardiness and blind faith. And if we make it to the clearer end of the road, pass it off as success; or if we meet with failure, pass it off as a lesson. Perhaps if I were to propose a single label to attach to every one of us, it is that: we are all frauds.

«I am a Fraud» was first published in the festival guide for A Design Film Festival 2014.

I was Steve Aoki

It started as a joke. For months, the answer to my third most frequently received question was, “Yes, I’m aware that I like look him.” 

Some time ago, I heard he would be in town for a gig on Sunday, and on impulse, I signed up and bought tickets for two.

At best, I consider myself to be no more than a caricature. He wears a full beard, while I can barely complete a Van Dyke. His hair runs straight whilst mine waves. And, he is definitely taller than I am.

Yet, despite these differences, simply sharing the context of space and time allowed reality to be distorted, and my face to become his.

It begun outside the club. We passed a couple of groups who waved and said “Hi!”. I waved back, not knowing its implications yet.

We arrived with predictable timing. The thump of bass could be heard through the walls of the venue, flashes of maroon and cyan seeped through the glass panels, and the line snaked around to foretell a decent wait. We decided to let the numbers dwindle before joining in, leaving to look for a decent watering hole.

When we got back, the line was gone and we stepped up to surrender our tickets. The man in the suit smiled, and said, “Hi”. Eager to return such hospitality, I smiled too and returned a “Hey”.

The doors opened for us — with tickets left unchecked.

Then it dawned on me... but before much thought could take root, I was pulled aside to share the frame of a Facebook-bound photograph. I tried to defuse the situation by declaring my identity, but like most spirals or slippery slopes, you are in it before you know it. Just when I had explained myself, the next camera was lined up, ready to pounce. Supported by the mutual reassurance of a common assumption, this branch of reality was spreading faster than I could dispel it.

I had lost the battle.

After the fact, I joked with my companion that her corset was a suitable dress code for an agent, as any other attire might have rendered her a groupie. Throughout the frenzy, she stood a safe distance away, maintaining a firm grip on reality, but she was soon approached by eager faces seeking permission to join in the frenzy.

Caught off-guard, she nodded and waved them off in my direction. I welcomed the onslaught.

In a separate conversation on a later date, I was told that he too visits the dance floors, and mingles with the crowds. I thought to myself if this is how rumours start.

When we made out way out that night, I got caught up in a short exchange.

“Please let me tell you that I totally admire your work.”

“I’m not Steve.”

“It’s fine, I totally respect your anonymity.”

What was truth is now denial.

Monday morning came. I shaved. And I was Steve no more.

«I was Steve Aoki» was first published in the seventh edition of The Design Society Journal.

In Praise of Indulgence

Whilst the key theme of the recent Design Society Conference was “Craft”, it seemed that its primary school counterpart “Art” had an equal presence. The prevalence of artists on stage and art-like works presented have got me thinking about the current state of designers and their relationship with the creation of art or art-like objects.

As a practitioner, I too have indulged in the act of creating art-like work. Works which only serve to explore a medium, technology or technique. The genesis of works not steeped in ‘problem solving’, but more so pure indulgence.

Indulgence as things are, is not for the sake of sanity or as an escape from reality. Personally, it’s a time when I find myself with myself, alone. With no one to please nor statements to make, the liberation of being alone with one’s thoughts makes up for the excuse to spend “billable time” on anything that fascinates me; with the freedom to not look further than the present, a place where the future has no consequence.

Such is an entitlement which I question if i deserve.

The pragmatic side of me, as per anyone who runs a business has, hopes to see a voice come out of these art-like works. The belief that the work is the extension of the self in such circumstance.

The romantic side of me, as per anyone who creates on his own agenda, sees nothing more.

Yet it is a struggle us as soldiers of fortune have between commerce and art; almost having to tear ourselves away from the pragmatism, of having to see a value or meaning in the works produced. The blind faith that something would come out of it, and bring us to the promised land where the works speaks for themselves, and for us, and where we find our fated patron.

But fate is elusive, and a troublesome object to hope for.