Oct 16th 2017

Art and Technology: A Conflux of Creative Genius?

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Technology plays a critical role in art. Historically, the role has been one of silent supporter — new paint formulations, artificial brush bristles and the evolution of digital photography have changed the way both artists and viewers approach and interact with creative pieces. Advancements in computing, printing and AI, however, are reimagining the intersection of art and technology. Let’s take a look at four tech advancements changing the face of artistic evolution.

Pollution Pieces

Consider the work of Dmitry Morozov, a Russian media artist who discovered a way to turn air quality data from Moscow into art. The city offered unique opportunities; liberal regulations regarding gasoline composition and the burning of material results in ever-changing air concentrations of CO, CO2, HCHO and CH4. Morozov built a small machine equipped with sensors to capture pollution data — an Arduino open-source computer to analyze the information and translate it into multicolored shapes — then leveraged a small printer to produce small pictures of current air composition. Of note? “The more pollution I get, the more beautiful the images are,” says Morozov. “It’s a little bit ironic.”

Robot Writers

Or consider the work of artists Julian Adenauer and Michael Haas: a robot known as the Vertwalker. Currently on display in a Berlin art gallery, the pair’s “Rising Colorspace” piece leverages the Vertwalker — a round, nearly flat, wall-climbing robot — to continuously create art using one of eight colors. Following a software pattern to determine its movements, the Vertwalker glides up and down walls for three hours at a time, then it’s off for a recharge and time to start over. But the wall is never scrubbed clean, making Vertwalker’s piece an ever-evolving installation. Haas puts it simply — “the process of creation is ideally endless.”

Futuristic Failure

Is art supposed to be permanent, standing the test of time to inform and intrigue future generations, or decay as years grind by to yield new forms and creations? For example, portions of the once-functional Roman aqueducts survive and are now considered “art,” while the rise of quick-produced 3-D prints and materials drives art and technology culture more focused on creation than consistency. As noted by the Financial Times, some artists — such as California’s Anya Gallaccio — are using high-performance 3-D printing processes to create sculptures which naturally decay over time. By choosing clay rather than plastic or metal, Gallaccio is able to create detailed reproductions of natural landmarks which come with material-based inconsistencies and will eventually self-destruct. It’s a meeting of artist and machine to inform a new kind of balance between nature and the “unnatural.”

Memorable Math

Math and art have a long-standing relationship: Many concepts and mathematical constructs produce beautiful shapes when rendered in the real world. That’s the aim of workshops such as “Illustrating Mathematics,” which leverages 3-D printing to create unique visualizations of specific math functions. For example, mathematician John Sullivan used visualization techniques to create his “Borromean Rings,” a set of three linked rings which offer both a pleasing shape and will naturally fall apart if any of the rings is cut.

This picture is an optical illusion: three flat circles cannot actually be connected in this way.
The Borromean Rings (Wikimedia Commons)

Or consider the work of Fabienne Serriere, who purchased and then hacked an industrial knitting machine to create custom-knit scarves which demonstrate cellular automata patterns. There’s also the Twitter Bot that animates a new symmetric curve from complex Fourier series every single day.

The future of art? Technology. From pollution-printing computers to robot writers, decomposing 3-D prints and malleable math images, the conflux of art and technology allows creators to both simplify their process and enhance the end results, while simultaneously embracing the promise — and potential pitfalls — of tech-based artistic automation.

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