Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Son of Klee!

20080308, by Samuel Monnier, 2008 (Click for larger image)

Why? Because of the playful abstract shapes and the rich textured and detailed surfaces that one commonly finds in the work of both these talented artists. Their mutual connection with the land of Toblerone is just a coincidence, I'm sure.

Sorry. No more Swiss jokes.

Here's an online poster site for those of you who may want a quick refresher on the work of Paul Klee or a sudden introduction. Maybe you won't see any connection with the works there. That's okay. Not everyone has my gift.

I've just picked what I thought was the best example from Sam's Para-Mathematical Gallery, but there's many others there that are well worth looking at. This one is typical of the rich and varied, but subtle and subdued color combinations that Sam uses. It really shows how powerful a tool Ultra Fractal can be when used by someone who has technical as well as artistic ability.

Comparing one artist to another is maybe a little silly, especially in fractal art where the tools and techniques are so different, but many abstract artists like Klee were fascinated or even obsessed with geometric imagery and often produced imagery which had - in general appearance - characteristics which are quite similar to work like Sam's.

I have no doubt at all that many of those great artists like Klee would be working at least part-time with fractal programs if they were alive today. The creative process would be much different, in the way in which photography differs from oil painting, but the exotic imagery that fractal programs produce would be too enticing for them to leave to others to explore. They wouldn't produce exactly the same kind of work that they did with the traditional hand-made methods, just as Sam doesn't produce work exactly like Klee's, but fractal tools can produce work that is equally impressive, even if it lacks the hand-made touches like faces, trees and other realism that much of Klee's work incorporates in some way.

A work like Samuel Monnier's here would not look out of place in any modern art gallery in my opinion. Even in a classy, art-rich country like Switzerland - the chocolate headquarters of the world.

Monday, September 22, 2008

"I Don't Have to Show You Any Stinkin' Software"

Software?  We ain't got no software...

If you're the fractal police, where is your software?

Aaah, leave it to the cutting edge crowd over at Keith MacKay's idreamincolor forum to ask the big questions and come up with the big-headed answers.

Over a month ago, MacKay posited this head-scratcher:

Lately I have been wondering if we have seen everything that fractal art has to offer. Sometimes I wonder if there nothing new to be seen in a fractal. Is everything just a variation of something that has already been created?

In this thread I would like to see examples of what you consider to be new or unusual in fractal art. What do you think?

And the results poured in. Well, sort of. Two people answered. Apparently, the idea of actually doing something new -- or even finding something new -- never occurred to any of the other forum members.

The first responder found plenty of groundbreaking new work. In fact, he cited and linked to no less than fifteen images ... ten of which were his own. Talk about product placement. This reminds me of a certain somebody who was put in charge of a certain somebody else's vice-presidential exploration committee -- and ended up choosing himself.

The second responder never really addressed MacKay's question. She preferred instead to go on a tear against the "fractal police of dA [deviantART]" for not accepting her melded fractals with non-fractal materials (read: photos) into that community's fractal art repository.

The two responses, however, did have one thing in common -- of course. Ultra Fractal. Obviously, to them anyway, UF is the only option for pursuing the "new and unusual." The first responder cited its availability of new formulas (written by him?). The second responder swooned over the profound possibilities of UF5's image import feature. And there, Orbit Trappers, in a self-similar nutshell, lies the future of fractal art.

I could point out that new formulas are always being added to UF -- in much the same way new filters are always being created for Photoshop -- so this is really only an ongoing evolution of already existing features. I could further point out that graphics programs like Photoshop have allowed artists to import photos and layer them into fractals for at least over ten years -- that is, if one wanted to dirty one's artistic soul with the heinous offense of (dare we speak its name?) post-processing. I could even go so far as to point out that I argued in an earlier OT post that communities like deviantART and Renderosity should question whether "fractals" made with UF5 imported photos are actually mixed-media creations and should properly be placed in more appropriate galleries. I could point all of this out, but none of these observations would address the real question raised. That is: what, indeed, represents the shock of the new?

Like the Shadow, the respondents know. UF must the sole tool of the next new wave.

If so, all of us will soon nod out as we succumb to a mass theta state. Repeat after me: same as it ever was.

Seriously, if MacKay really wants to "think outside the box" as he says in a recent blog post, then he and his certain blogging friend might start by throwing that box away and getting rid of UF entirely. In fact, maybe both of them should try making fractal art without using any software at all.


As I pointed out in my last post, many artists are making some kind of "fractal art" without relying much, if at all, on using software. Rose Rushbrooke produces amazing fractal quilts -- as do other artists like Diana Venters and Elaine Ellison. Eleanor Kent's tools are fabric and photocopiers. Lesley Kice builds textile-based installations that demonstrate fractal characteristics. Fractal art should be broadened to include much more than images manufactured in a generator like UF. And, perhaps, such out-of-the-box examples might serve as a good place to start looking for something "new and unusual."

To try and include every example would be overwhelming, so, for the sake of discussion, I've decided to limit this post to a few cases that probably fall under the general area of sculpture.

Fractal Table

Fractal Table by Wertel Oberfell with Matthias Bär

This is an installation piece that grew out of studies of fractal growth patterns. It is extremely detailed. To see other views of the Fractal Table, including the intricate table top, go here. Does the concept of translating fractals into furniture have potential? I think so, although I'm holding out for a discount deep zoom sleeper sofa.


Neon 3D Hilbert Fractal from Perfectly Scientific

Why settle for a simple OPEN sign when you can have lit-up complex mathematics instead? I suspect true Hilbert neons would require an infinite amount of tubing, and, really, who has that much space in their rec room? Still, if you have a spare $500, you can own this:

Our sculpture is the level-2 Hilbert fractal, which for 3-dimensional space means 2^6 = 64 vertices. The neon run thus passes through 64 lattice points. Notice the beautiful properties that a) each short run of the Hilbert fractal is straight, b) each run goes in an ortho-direction (x, y, or z direction exclusively), and c) the fractal starts and ends at the sculpture's base, allowing for elegant mounting.

Now if they would just attach a beer logo to it...

Wind me up for hours of recursive action.

Variation-Fractal (2004) by David C. Roy

Roy makes wood-based kinetic sculptures put into motion by springs and pulleys. The one above, named by his daughter, certainly displays remarkable self-similarity -- especially when set into motion (see a flash animation here). This particular one will run for 16 hours and is limited to an edition of 9. It will only set you back $3200 -- plus the exertion of starting it. About the design, Roy notes:

The Variation series is the result of my continued exploration in the world of kinetic patterns created by 6 overlapping wheels that orbit a common center. Each orbiting form is designed to hold a particular orientation by rotating in the opposite direction from its orbital motion.

Although Roy states that he wasn't thinking about fractals when he made this piece, a surprising number of his sculptures seem very fractal in their designs.

Overcast with partial infinity?

Design Sketch for "Fractal Cloud" by Miguel Chevalier with Charlie Bové

"Fractal Cloud" is a massive sculpture slated for the dockland area of Marseille and created as part of a public commission. It consists of a complex web of optical fiber cables. The cables change color every hour and appear metallic in daylight. By night, however, the sculpture is illuminated with colored projectors and (according to the artist) "works as an astronomical clock." What makes it fractal-like? Chevalier explains:

The fractal cloud multiplies itself infinitely in a network and a play on scale that breaks with classical perspective and Euclidean geometry.

Look at the human figures in the picture above to try to imagine the scale of this piece. There are more images of the proposed installation here.

I'm all broken up about it.

Tetrahedron Man (2006) by Henry Segerman

Segerman created this object and scripted it to navigate through Second Life, the gigantic, multi-player, online world. In addition to this figurative sculpture, Segerman has created many other fractal objects for Second Life, including fractal trees, hypercubes, and (my favorite) a "Fibonacci Pinecone."

This is fractal art made for a world other than our own. So, to MacKay and his friends, I ask: Is this work outside the box enough for you?

This post covers only one software-less area of fractal art. I imagine I could just as easily put together a similar post in other areas like ceramics and fiber art. So, the next time someone tries to buffalo you by pointing out that a for-engineers-only program like UF is the end-all wave of the future, forcefully remind them that you don't need no stinkin' software.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

An Eniwetok Atoll of the Mind


In Mandelbrot's greatest scenes we seem to see
that stunning moment in which
mathematics became

They pour upon the monitor
dice roll symphonies
parameter powered
plutonium geraniums
perfect in dirtless reality

I have seen the brightest minds of my generation
mouse-click crawling
down the spiral streets at dawn
looking for that heavenly
something that isn't self-similar

The spiral twists and tricks
us into twisting along with it
mathematicians bail out here
but the artists ask why
why is it all the same?

The mathematicians come and go
talking of something I don't know

Johnny Appleseeds
virtually respected
plant the same formula
in every forum they pass
and quickly link away

The threads have strange usernames
tweak holes in digital doilies
clamp chaos in cuff-links
the uninformed in uniform
with engines
that devour our bandwidth

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Image Of The Week: 20080224-01

Hey, that's the name Paul DeCelle gave to it. I kind of like the serial number, date-stamp theme. Didn't many of the great classical composers give their works names like, "Symphony #4 in A minor"?

This recent work by Paul DeCelle (Feb. 24th, 2008, maybe?) is exceptional in many ways. First off, it's a nice piece of Fractal Art, which makes it an exception in the great wasteland of what the genre seems to be coming to. I see most artists simply producing variations of the same old themes, but since I've been following Paul's work for about three years now, I've noticed a steady progression and refinement of old styles and a perennial interest in creating new ones in his work.

20080224-01 by Paul DeCelle, 2008. (Click for larger image)

I've criticized layering because it's often used in a crude way to reinvigorate cliche types of imagery and thereby attempt to compensate for what can only be achieved through pursuing new ideas -- recycling vs. experimentation. Which brings me to the second exceptional quality of this work here: Exceptional use of layering.

Notice how the background layer looks like a background layer and compliments the rest of the picture and doesn't interfere with it? Secondly, the colors go together well and set each other off. There's a variety of clear solids (the black) and also detailed areas which display the other layers in various ways (i.e. interesting, not predictable).

I was told once in high school art class that a good design could be measured by how long it held your interest. The image should make you curious enough to want to examine it more. Good layering can do this and unlike most fractal artists, Paul knows how to do it well.

In fact, I think layering is the trap of most Ultra Fractal artists. It's easy to do, but it's not easy to do -- well. The challenge is to create a composite image that doesn't look like it's a composite image. They should fit together like pieces of a puzzle. Think "symphony" not "tossed salad".

Fractal Art is a shrinking genre. Right now I think it's evolving from what started as a scientific novelty which attracted a crowd of curiosity seekers. There's still a steady but much smaller stream of curiosity seekers today who pick it up for a while and then move on when playing with fractals no longer thrills them.

But there is a small number of people who have made the jump from "imitating the heroes" to getting creative with fractals. They don't all choose the same software, but the software they use -- they use creatively -- they do new things with it and make new things with it. That's why they make art and the rest make calendar decorations.

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Guerrilla Fractals?

Bee Pole by the Jafagirls

Bee Pole by The Jafagirls

No review this week. But will you settle for a meditation instead?

If we assume that fractal art is indeed a legitimate fine art form -- and I do -- then every facet of fine art must be open to fractal art. I've argued in a previous OT post that fractal art can be used for political expression. Guido Cavalcante, in another early OT post, advocated using fractals for social commentary and for "making the hidden visible." And Tim has shown, in a meta sense, that digital art can even be utilized to hold a mirror up to the fractal community.

But can fractal art max out with perfect subversiveness? Can fractals be used for guerrilla art?

Lenin with Mittens

Lenin with Mittens

[Photo by majorbonnet.]

Some artistic genres that were once perceived as more suited for the craft section of the remaindered bin have come out swinging. The knitting community, in particular, has long showed a penchant for creating and displaying art using guerrilla tactics. Rose White, who lectures on the history of guerilla knitting, summarizes her talk as follows:

Contemporary knitters feel very clever for coming up with edgy language to describe their knitting, but the truth is that for decades there have been knitters and other textile artists who are at least as punk rock as today's needle-wielders.

Knit Tank by Mariann Joergensen

Knit Tank by Marianne Joergensen (and 1000 volunteers)

Any artistic movement faces certain struggles and some internal criticism when being born. Apparently, according to a post on 24c3 entitled "The History of Guerrilla Knitting," the crucial turning point for knitters came at the close of the 1960s:

Another schism happened at the end of the '60s and beginning '70s. Then enters our heroine: Elizabeth Zimmermann. She was commissioned to make a sweater. She gave it to the company but they re-wrote the patterns using a proprietary system. Disgusted by the process, she started her own company and she'd invite knitters to be the boss of their knitting, distinguishing the "blind followers" from the "thinking knitters." The point was to put the control of what was going on back into the hands of the knitter. It's like Linux versus Windows.

Sound familiar? Fractal art is waiting for a similar transformational break. The prevailing monarchy -- with its de rigueur software (UF) and its corrupt, self-serving contests (BMFAC, the FUC) -- constitute our comparable "proprietary system." These Fractal CEOs create competitions designed to first and foremost highlight their own art, then claim in subsequent publicity materials to be showcasing "high quality works by the most important fractal artists in the world." Even OT disliker Ken Childress catapulted such propaganda again last week on his blog (no link):

UF is the program of choice for many of those who are the most respected fractal artists today.

And Childress proves this claim by ... simply making the claim -- as if saying so makes any utterance true, just like judging a fractal contest that includes your own work makes you respectable and "important." Meanwhile, Childress gets to hang out with the self-selected Kewl Kidz in the Fractal McMansion. Why rock the boat when you're sitting on a velvet cushion in it?

So, it looks like we are at a crossroads. And here's the question of the hour. Are you a "blind follower"? Or are you a "thinking" fractal artist?

Cosies for Anchors 1Cosies for Anchors

Cosies for Anchors by Maskerade

In many ways, the textile and fiber arts have a head start, but there are encouraging signs. Rose Rushbrooke continues to break new ground with her fractal quilts. Eleanor Kent uses knitting needles and photocopiers for her fractal-laced textile creations. Other fiber artists, like Lesley Kice, create installations exhibiting fractal properties like self-similarity. And if you prefer wearing your art, Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories will gladly show you how to make your own fractal earrings.

Knitting Machine by Dave Cole

Knitting Machine by Dave Cole

Can fractal artists push the guerrilla envelope? Do we have our own Banksy? And what forms will these fractal guerrilla excursions take? Hacking websites to insert fractal art pop-ups? Quats made with Play-Doh left conspicuously in daycare centers? Wearing cauliflower buds in our suit lapels instead of carnations?

Who in our community will step up? Or is someone already mining this territory? And, please, you won't convince me the many CafePress commercialistic offerings of fractal thongs can be called erotic sorties into the battleground of guerrilla foreplay.

Back with another more review-type post soon. In the meantime, how about a little music?

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Fractal Art is Worthless

Why? Because you can't sell it!

Why not? Because Fractal Art, like all digital art, is easily reproduced, that is, displayed on a monitor or printed out -- again and again!

Need some more explanation? Digital Art is really a computer file. An oil painting is really -- an oil painting!

That's not enough? Here's another way to look at it: If I put on a beret and picked up a wooden palette with paints on it and took a brush and painted a fractal on a canvas, I could then turn around and sell that piece of fractal art. The person who bought it could say they own that piece of fractal art now and display it with confidence knowing that while talented forgers or even myself could make apparently similar works, they own "the original".

Okay. Here's more: If I make a fractal on my computer, the end result is actually an image file, or a parameter file which will reproduce the image on my monitor. That image file can spawn milllions of millions of identical images on computer monitors or in the out-tray of millions of millions of printers. In short: in digital art there is no original.

Consequently, there is nothing to sell or possess in the same way that one can sell or possess an oil painting or sculpture. Fractal Art is intangible. Which is to say, Fractal Art is simply digital.

It's actually a good thing from the perspective of viewers who can easily view digital imagery via the internet or buy a copy (but only a "copy"). But for collectors who like to possess a piece of artwork wholesale, digital art repels them.

Of course there are other art forms that "suffer" from this lack of possessability: Printmaking, Photography. Printmakers often number each print indicating the total number and then destroy the plate. Photographers could do something similar and then destroy the negative. But how many fractal artists will print out a limited amount, or just one copy, number each one like a print maker would, and then delete the image file that made it?

The reproducibility of digital art forms (don't forget music too, mp3s, Napster...) is just part of the nature of the genre and "copy-ability" is what defines it as much as anything else. And the only way to sell it in the way that traditional art forms are sold is to destroy it's digital-ness.

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