Thursday, January 31, 2008

Odds and Ends

Ah, back to blogging after some wandering in RL wilderness.

The holidays nearly did me in. Although anti-depressants are currently weathering a storm of debunkers, their alleged restorative process might be an appropriate metaphor. Getting through the Yuletide Ho Ho Ho-ing took some uptaking. But recovery from Christmassacre required serious re-uptaking.

Halloween. Now that's my idea of an enjoyable, even religious holiday.


This post is just odds and ends. Fragments. Bits. Discontinuous. Blogging for the televisual throngs.

Best to type quickly until my internalized remote control begins to surf.


Some regular OT readers will no doubt be surprised to learn that I actually have some friends -- and some of our frenetic regulars might even make for the fainting couch to hear that some OT readers really do send me messages that do not fall into the category of hate mail.

I know. There are those who won't believe me until I'm interrogated point blank while wired up on The Moment of Truth.


I am a mathematician, and I'd like to stand on your roof...
--Ron Eglash greeting African families while researching fractal architecture

One friend sent me this link to a sixteen minute video featuring Dr. Ron Eglash, an ethno-mathematician, discussing how fractal patterns are featured prominently in African architecture and art -- and even in board games and hair braiding. Eglash's presentation is first-rate as he mixes geometry (and symbolic code) with humor while illustrating many of his observations directly from his laptop.

He certainly knows his stuff. He received a Fulbright to look at African locales and their structures up close and personal. I especially enjoyed his demonstration showing the noticeable fractal patterns in villages across the continent. He used schematic drawings and overhead photography to make a most convincing case. He further notes that fractal forms are not universally found in all indigenous groups but are unquestionably widely represented throughout African culture.

I think anyone who is fractal-addicted or fascinated with algorithmic art will enjoy this stimulating presentation.

If this topic sounds a little familiar, I wrote a post on fractals and African art in the early, mellower, kumbayaa days of Orbit Trap.


And now, as Monty Python liked to remind us, for something completely different.

Another friend sent me to look over this installation in order to flush out my artistic preconceptions. Such work should make all of us feel better the next time someone tells us our art looks

Anyone have a Rolaids?

Cloaca (2000) by Wim Delvoye

[Photograph by Dirk Pauwels]

Honey, did you close the lid?

Cloaca (Detail)

[Photograph by Cristoph Neerman]

Artnet, in a post titled "A Human Masterpiece" by Els Fiers, fills in the gaps:

Cloaca, the latest work by the Belgian conceptualist Wim Delvoye (b. 1965), has just closed out its run at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MuHKA) in Antwerp. It was a room-sized installation of six glass containers connected to each other with wires, tubes and pumps. Every day, the machine received a certain amount of food.

Meat, fish, vegetables and pastries passed through a giant blender, were mixed with water, and poured into jars filled with acids and enzyme liquids. There they got the same treatment as the human stomach would supply. Electronic and mechanical units controlled the process, and after almost two days the food came out of a filtering unit as something close to genuine, human shit.

During the exhibition, the smelly assembly line caused quite some consternation. It seemed to bring an infernal message into the world. There is enough dung as it is. Why make more?

Worse, the installation was placed in a cold, clean space at the museum, where it was nourished by a first class chef who prepared two meals a day in an attached kitchen. The atmosphere suggested a hospital equipped for a strange experiment -- the birth and care of a machine that eats and defecates -- a mechanical baby. "Hi," it seemed to say, "I'm almost like you."


Delvoye has given a name to his harsh creature: Cloaca, referring to the ancient sewer in Rome. But while the cloaca maxima proved to be useful, this Cloaca goes beyond every purpose, except of course revealing of the meaning of art. So, too, the spending and earning of money is part of its purpose. The machine daily delivered turds that were signed and sold for $1,000 each.

Delvoye has since gone on to make new improved iterations of defecating machines. Version 8.0, Super Cloaca, consumes 300kg of food and produces 80kg of waste daily.

And you say you're having trouble selling fractal prints? Perhaps the problem with your art is that it's just not as tactile as Delvoye's:

Vacuum Packed! Quality Assured!

Delvoye also set himself the task to insert the products of Cloaca in the global economic system. The Casino Luxembourg had a special Wim shop where you could buy a Wim action figure but also a whole range of Cloaca products: Cloaca T-shirts, a 3D Viewmaster, Cloaca toilet paper, posters, etc. But that's just a merchandising detail: the Cloaca machines are works of art which produce works of art. On show were dozens of vacuum-packed Cloaca eliminations made during the 5 first exhibits of the machine around the world. There's apparently a waiting list of collectors eager to buy one of those, and the faeces made during the New York exhibition are the most sought-after.
--from "Wim Delvoye: Cloaca 2000-2007" on We Make Money Not Art

This project takes the museum guide's admonishment of please don't touch the art to a new level.

In fact, metaphors expand almost exponentially here. Is this elevating the low or undercutting the high? Is the message that all modern and postmodern art is crap (literally!!) or is this analysis from more in line with your thinking:

Cloaca brings together trends in contemporary art that are usually considered separately. At one extreme is a growing interest in how art and technology intersect, particularly with regard to where life begins and ends, and the impact of artificial intelligence, robotics, software, and bioengineering on cultural production. At the opposite end of the critical spectrum is the investigation of abjection as a fundamental part of the human condition. Cloaca addresses both of these areas of inquiry by drawing direct parallels between the contemplation of art, the contemplation of our body and its functions, and the degree to which each are effected by advances in medicine, gene mapping, and technology. In its imitation of human behavior, Cloaca even functions as a modern-day golem.

Maybe, in the (ahem) end, we should let the artist have the last word

When I was going to art school, all my family said I was wasting my time, and now I have made a work of art about waste.


Go for the Jugular

Go for the Jugular (2008)

And speaking of art stuff that stinks...

Tim's latest post on Anti-Fractals was definitely on target. A noticeable trend among some of the more prominent (through their own self-promotion) Ultra Fractal artists is to produce fractals that don't look like fractals. In fact, these fractals (and Tim provided examples) seem to want to mirror conventional art -- especially abstract expressionism resembling melted ice cream.

As Tim notes, UF's upgrades have been deliberately designed to remove fractalness by adding Photoshop Jr. graphic manipulation tools. Now Xtreme layering and masking can be done in a "pure" fractal generator without suffering the heartbreak and guilt of "cheating" with Photoshop. Working in UF strictly in order to make large prints is a defensive rationale I often hear. But anyone with weightlifting processors and plenty of RAM oomph can post-process on a grand scale fairly easily in Photoshop. No, the real reason is probably an ailment found in royal blood -- closer to a kind of disinterested, entitled snobbery.

Don't get me wrong. I'm happy to see fractal art look less stereotypically identifiable as such. I've been hitched to that wagon for many years.

But how ironic is it that some of these fractalists freely exploring the increasingly non-fractal, non-representational modern art event horizons are the very people who will insist other feudal fractal artists remain confined within safe, conventional, same-as-it-ever-was boundaries.

Let's revisit the rules for acceptable entries in last year's Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest:

We want to show artwork that is uniquely fractal; artwork that uses fractal tools to produce less-fractal imagery is not as desirable.

Why do I keep expecting to read some huckstering small print ad speak like:

Using Ultra Fractal not included. Limitations not applicable to contest panel members.

Look at the images Tim included in his post. No, the rules did not apply to BMFAC's judges. They were free to be as progressively avant-garde as they wished. That way they can come off looking more cutting edge -- more convention-smashing than the regular entrants they conveniently artistically hogtied.

And if you want to join the vanguard of these pioneers, you best follow their lead and imitate their style. Better yet, just clone their representations by enrolling in the Mississippi School of Anti-Fractal Artâ„¢.

But don't expect apologies anytime soon from this bunch who profit out the eating end by self-selecting their own work and then profit again out the defecating end by hanging that same non-juried work into a juried exhibition they themselves have judged.

Do you smell something?

I do. Every one of the BMFAC judges should be ashamed.

But they aren't. At all. On the contrary, they're getting big time promotional exposure as heavily trafficked blogs like Boing Boing send websurfers scurrying to gawk at the contest pages.

This is mixed blessing, of course. The true exhibitors and winners -- those who actually had to enter the competition, who played fair by the hypocritical rules limitations the judges imposed but were not bound by, and who were juried and selected -- deserve every recognition. I hope the BMFAC site is swamped with people coming to see the real winners. This achievement spotlighting their talents should be widely seen.

But it's a travesty that the judges who set up this promotional self-glorification to further their own careers are also openly reaping rewards. BMFAC is a rich "field of dreams" for them. Apparently, if you build an arrogant publicity stunt, they (sadly) will come.

Fractal artists everywhere should be outraged at such transparent ploys.

Instead, though, a few supporters of the BMFAC judges continue flamethrowing me emails insisting I apologize for pointing out our fractal emperors have no clothes.


Image made with Fractal ViZion. Post-processed until even vampires wouldn't come near it.

Rooms with a View
Blog with a View

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Beware of the Anti-Fractal

I know this will probably crack some folks up at first, but bear with me as I tell you about something that came to mind just recently while browsing the big page of "winners" at the 2007 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest site.

First, let me draw your attention to the "anti-" thing. I am referring to anti in the sense of "Anti-Christ", a term which most people will be familiar with, mostly from the popular media, I suspect, which is why I want to clarify its meaning.

Anti-Christ has two accepted meanings. The first is the more common and obvious one, "opposed or against Christ". The second is a similar, but slightly different meaning of "substitute or alternate Christ". That's the meaning I'm referring to when I speak of "Anti-Fractal" - a substitution for, or replacement for Fractals. Much more insidious than the first one.

A horrifying mutation is about to be born

So I'm looking at the winners' page last week because I read a short blog posting about the 2007 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest and I wanted to double check which of the many "species" of winners the reviewer's three favorites came from. There's an interesting comment there, but let's stick to the Anti-Fractal.

While browsing down the winners' (that's plural) page I was struck by the suddenly different style of three of the judges' works.

Well, Ultra Fractal has a lot of processing options so it shouldn't be a surprise to see some pretty unusual looking fractals. But it made me think, "Are they bored with fractals and trying to make artwork that looks as little like fractals as possible?"

I'm referring to the wispy, melting, flowing style of image. It's not the usual crisp, structured, patterned type of fractal image that has traditionally been associated with fractals. It's something new and different and in the art world that's always a good thing.

But this is not the art world, this is the fractal art world and I say, "BRETHEREN! BEWARE THE ANTI-FRACTAL!"

Now, I'm sure the artists can produce plenty of fractal formulas and other scientific evidence to easily prove by way of parameter files that those images are as fractal as any other fractal image, but just different-looking than the usual old-fashioned fractals because these new flowing-style fractals have been created with cutting-edge Ultra Fractal techniques.

I think these judges are leading the way in leaving the little world of fractal art and heading out into the larger and more creative realm of Digital Art in general. And by corollary I would say that Ultra Fractal is a tool primarily designed for this purpose: Anti-Fractals - making fractals that don't look like fractals but can still be easily called fractals because you didn't use Photoshop, you only used Ultra-Fractal.

In other words, Ultra Fractal is being used to mask post-processing and conceal the the true label of "Digital Art" under layers of fractal formulas!

Don't we all want something good for Fractal Art to come out of the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contests? Yes! And now it has. The judges have shown us that Fractal Art is Dead and Boring and it needs to be cooked a little.

No more spirals - behold the un-spiral! Want your crisp frozen curves to look more relaxed and flowing? Enroll in the Mississippi School of Anti-Fractal Art. But be forewarned: only the good ship Ultra Fractal can take you down that river. You can't do this with your small fractal crafts.

Unless of course you've got the guts to be a Pirate and use Photoshop.

I'll stop now. I'm meandering.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Words in the Ice

Algorithmic Art (art made by machines) is a lot like digital frost.

I think almost every photography book has a picture of frost on a window pane. Frost is a mechanical process and is quite well understood but the imagery it produces never seems to lose it's allure.

There's no Jack Frost or any deliberating influence involved, it's just a simple, natural process of water crystalizing (freezing) on window glass. The frost patterns develop as more water vapour adheres to the edges of the growing formation.

The ingredients of frost are simple. The ingredients of algorithmic art are fairly simple too. Although some algorithms may be difficult to construct, they're simple to run. Similarly, water molecules wouldn't exactly be easy to make oneself, but once made, they run themselves.

Like the mundane process that creates frost patterns, these images were made with the block wave distortion filter in KDE's Showfoto (part of the Digikam project).

It's just a distortion effect and probably not anywhere near as fascinating as fractals, which seem to occupy a whole separate realm of digital art (and mathematics too). Distortion filters ought to be much less interesting than fractals, one would think.

What does that say? It says that art is stupid. It says that our eyes care little for the origins of the imagery they look at, although they can be easily influenced, temporarily, by a nice frame or a famous name ...or a price tag.

A fractal on the computer screen is a fish out of water - dead - just another piece of visual meat to be devoured by our eyes. Fractal math is just an interesting anectdote and bit of trivia that people like to package with their fractal images like the phrase,"Sparkling Natural Mineral Water" that you see on the labels of bottled water.

"Post-processing", the use of filter effects, lays bare the inner workings of digital images. Before long it becomes pretty obvious that "fractals" are just another photoshop filter. Add in the use of layering, one of the strongest and most common graphical effects, and the mighty label, "Fractal" starts to look a little transparent.

Yeah. It's true. I know it. I speak the language of the ice. I can read it.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Journey to Mercury

In the spirit of Sindbad, I went on a voyage and just recently, returned. It was a digital voyage. Not really a voyage I guess, but I left where I was and out of curiosity went somewhere different and then here I am again.

I journeyed to the edges of minimalist window managers and desktop environments in Linux. While doing so, I often experienced a completely black screen (call it a desktop) from which I was only able to send messages to the system by way of a run dialog opened with the keystroke alt+F2.

Like a sailor whose map is the stars and navigates better at night than in the day, I found that a simple run dialog was often more efficient (and certainly much simpler) than desktop icons or menus. Better still was the boolean search feature in Thunar which would allow you to access any icon in the /usr/applications directory.

As I continue with my tale from strange lands, I discovered the near ability of the Opera browser to replace all the functions of my operating system with the exception of the ability to run Opera itself. In addition to browsing the internet I could read my email and RSS feeds and also browse (in a primitive way) my hard drive and even write postings via it's onboard notes feature.

I loaded a widget that completely replaced the calendar, clock and appointment manager that normally requires a taskbar and system bar and was able to switch from application to application via something so incredibly simple as alt+TAB.

The greatest moment of all was discovering this stunning image of the planet Mercury which, like my empty, minimalist desktop (no taskbar, no icons, no clock, no right-click menu...) fitted in quite well with my floating in space desktop environment. I splurged with 8MB of RAM and launched xfdesktop and dropped this image of the planet Mercury into my desktop, which now was a completely black screen with only Mercury on it.

Mercury, from the Wikipedia

I don't know if Windows will allow you to work with just a black screen and a few simple keystroke combinations, but I heartily recommend giving it a try if only for the brief feeling of drifting in space.

The thrill of Linux isn't something as trivial as merely escaping the orbit of Micro$oft Windows. It's about forgetting all about that old planet Earth and floating through space on a Journey to Mercury.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

It's Here

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Planes, Birds and Fish

Back in the early 90's, I went through a 3 year phase when I wanted to become an airplane pilot. In addition to taking flight training in Ontario, Canada (where I live) I also "studied" in Phoenix, Arizona and Hoxie, Kansas where I took some cropdusting lessons.

During this time I became acquainted with some of the aviation "culture" including the juvenile, false bravado and machismo attitude of many pilots (particularly new ones). Aviation culture also included the habit of using the metaphor of birds to refer to airplanes.

I was never really comfortable with this bird analogy for planes, although, like birds, planes fly and planes have wings. Birds however, incorporate a lot of movement into flight unlike planes which are extremely rigid and also extremely smooth and streamlined -- more like fish, fins and swimming than birds, wings and flying.

In fact, one sunny morning at the Scottsdale airport in Phoenix (it's always sunny in Phoenix) I was doing my required "walk around" of the training aircraft and I decided to take a look at the underneath of the tail of the airplane. It was much like the smooth, curved underside to a fish, I thought. Isn't an airplane really more like a fish or boat with wings?

In fact, "flying boat" amphibious aircraft require very little design modification to transfom them from what is a typical aircraft design. I suppose, of course, one could say the same thing about a duck -- a floating bird -- but that just emphasizes my point that aircraft are more like water creatures than air creatures (more like ducks than eagles).

Anyhow, I'm sure the bird metaphor for airplanes lives on, just as the James Bond mentality of many pilots probably does too, even though they're both just as unnatural and out of place in the real world.

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