patternsthatconnect

abstract art, a systems view

Posts Tagged ‘Mary Yacoob

Generator Discussion

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On the final day of the Generator exhibition, Duncan Brennan from Kaleidoscope Gallery, posed a few questions for discussion by the artists. Here is an attempt at recovering some of the conversation from notes. I wasn’t actually there. Think of it as an exercise in constructed memory. I have also taken the liberty of adding some thoughts of my own. I think that the questions alone are generative enough to be worth a post.

DB: How would you define the type of work in this exhibition?

HH: It is work that is created by using a mathematical or logical system

CP (from the exhibition introduction): artwork that is by nature ‘generative’, created once an artist cedes control to an external system or set of rules. The artwork thus results not from the wholly instinctive decisions of the artist, but is formed by objective rules or logical instructions that shape its process or material outcome.

Andy Parkinson, Six Hexagons, acrylic on six canvases, total 77 x 79 cm

Andy Parkinson, Six Hexagons, 2015, acrylic on six canvases, total 77 x 79 cm

DB: Can you talk about some of the defining characteristics of generative work?

AP: In his 2010 paper Program, be Programmed or Fade Away: Computers and the Death of Constructivist Art, Richard Wright summarises Kenneth Martin’s division of systematic work into three types : 1) the completely predefined system which once set in motion can generate work independently of any further input from the artist. 2) a system that may be initially predefined but is then constantly altered through feedback, bringing into contact with other systems, the ‘program’ thereby being written in conjunction with the work itself. 3) the system which builds up from a primary act without any previous planning, like a self propelled aggregation of logical steps. The works in Generator may be closest to the first of these three definitions.

Charley Peters, Configuration #30,

Charley Peters, Configuration #30, 2014, acrylic on plywood, 25 x 50 x 3 cm

DB: What makes this different to other forms of abstraction, such as constructivism?

AP: I think it is situated within the Constructivist tradition, though that historical moment has passed. British Constructionist and Systems Group artists saw the need to abandon its utopianism and showed how art could be generated by a numerical or mathematical system. It is different from expressionism, which has been another strand within abstraction.

HH: Constructivism was /is a more political form of creation. Generative art has its own roots, the methodology and interpretatons are unique to the individual

Patrick Morrissey, Indeterminant

Patrick Morrissey, Indeterminant, 2011, Acrylic on linen, 6’ x 4’

DB: Would you agree that rules need to be constructive rather than restrictive?

HH: Everything in the world is generated by rules. Painting a landscape has rules that govern the outcome of what will be a recognisable presentation. Working in the constraints of rules or systems allows the artist to interpret data and input  in many ways. I use a system at work which plots the movement of the railways in graphic representation. I use the variations in the programme to generate  some of my own work, the patterns vary according to the input in spite of the fact that the system itself is governed or regulated by a computer.

Left Christina France, Right Hanz Hancock

Left Christina France, Equilibrium 1 and 2, pigment, archival digital print on German etching paper, 80 x 60 cm. Right Hanz Hancock, Untitled, 2015, mixed media, 51 x 51 cm

DB Can a computer make art?

HH: A computer can make extremely complex patterns/can create algorithmic sequences , it cannot make emotional decisions as to what looks good. That is down to human preference. I/we make sequences based on numerical systems, something working within the grid. Patrick created several works that generated themselves: a module was sent into rotation within a grid, in a concentric spiral and each module had a graphic relationship or difference to the positioning of the the other. However, because of the repetitive nature of the system, repeating aggregations became apparent, appearing almost at random within the matrix, i.e. the formation of pattern. This could then be sampled and magnified into groups and in turn, work was made from tha , a sort of generative mechanism or device to generate pattern.

JI: Yes, computers can make art but humans make computers. The computer is just a tool. An algorithm, performed by a computer, is just a mirror of a set of processes condensed in time and space. It is in this compression that the art lies.

AP: Your question reminds me of a story told by that great systems thinker Gregory Bateson, of a computer programmer in the days of big mainframe computing, who wanted to know about mind in his private large computer. He asked it, “Do you compute that you will ever think like a human being?” The machine then set to work to analyse its own computational habits. Finally, the machine printed the answer ticker tape style, as such machines used to do. The programmer ran to get the answer and found, neatly typed, the words: THAT REMINDS ME OF A STORY”.

James Irwin, Silicon Binary Progression (ii), 2014, HD video, monitor, media player, dexuob speed frame, MDF, 4 mins 15 secs

James Irwin, Silicon Binary Progression (ii), 2014, HD video, monitor, media player, dexuob speed frame, MDF, 4 mins 15 secs

DB: Has the computer changed the focus of generative art? Is the computer to generative art what the camera was to representational art?

JI: Good question and there’s probably the same analogue relationship between the computer and generative work, and the camera’s photographic image. It’s not that simple though. Using the computer is just one way of working generatively. It isn’t definitive of generative art.

HH: Human beings create programs by which the computer will create images, but the camera can only record the image which can then be manipulated both outside of the camera and electronically inside. The human brain has always generated images and pattern forming/art. The computers is a tool not a focus, as is the camera for human imagination.

AP: I have my doubts about that little word  “just”, as much as I do also about the idea of the computer as a tool. It seems to me that the computer, and indeed technology more generally, gets characterised as just a tool to make it seem smaller than us and in our control, like a spanner, a hammer or a paint brush, when in fact, as a system it obeys its own rules, and incorporates us into its usage. Nevertheless, in Generator it is the contemporary analogue, rather than digital, ‘programmatic’ that is being explored. The computer programme is often used as a metaphor for the human processes of thinking/doing, so we might wonder what the programme is for activities like walking, or breathing, or even attempt to codify neuro-linguistic programmes for performance excellence in any particularly field. In this exhibition the systems that generates the artwork are thought of as analogue programmes, which have clearly been around a lot longer than have computer programmes, but only now that we have the computer are we able to utilise the metaphor for thinking about thinking. I like the circularity of it.

Left, Mary Yacoob, Right Katrina Blannin

Left, Mary Yacoob, Modular Hakka House, 2014, ink and graphite on paper, 50.8 x 40.6 cm, Right, Katrina Blannin, blackgreyblackgreyblackwhiteblackwhiteblackwhite-orange 50, 2015, acrylic on linen, 70 x 70 cm

DB: What characterises good generative art? Is it necessary to be either or both conceptually and aesthetically strong?

AP: I think Natalie Dower and Jeffrey Steele answer this best. Here’s Dower in an interview with Patrick Morrissey: “If the input that has generated the idea does not translate into valid visual terms I do not accept it.  I have had intellectually interesting ideas that I have had to abandon for that reason”. And here’s Steele in an interview with Katrina Blannin: “…something has good Gestalt or bad Gestalt — has it got a clear shape to it? I can look at one of my paintings and see whether it has good Gestalt or bad, and this has happened occasionally. A clear process of abstract thinking should lead to a satisfying visual Gestalt. I don’t necessarily “reject” or stop working on a project when this is not happening, but it bothers me, and I want to know what is going wrong”.

DB: Are you looking to formalise the human aesthetic?

JI: A human aesthetic is wide reaching and all encompassing. Defining a human aesthetic as work that shows signs of ‘the hand’if that’s what the question suggests, is too limiting”

AP: Maybe formal logic and formal linguistics, abstract languages, like mathematics, all pertinent to computer programming, have close connections to the formal ‘language’ of abstract painting.

DB: Does any of your work explore any of the hypotheses, the rules and processes of the scientist? Do you think generative art work like this can inform scientific study?

AP: I was going to say that whilst likely to have been informed by scientific study, the relationship is unlikely to be reciprocal, but then I remembered that some of the truly fascinating discoveries made in the last few decades in the science of visual cognition was discovered by map makers in the seventeenth century, so I guess you never know!

Generator print by MuirMcNeil (2015), edition of 400

Generator print by MuirMcNeil (2015), edition of 400

Generator: Systems Logic and the Analogue Art of Programming, at Kaleidoscope Gallery from 11 June to 11 July 2015, included work by Katrina Blannin, Christina France, Hanz Hancock, James Irwin, Patrick Morrissey,  Andy Parkinson, Charley Peters and Mary Yacoob.
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Generator: Systems Logic and the Analogue Art of Programming

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Generator, curated by Saturation Point Projects, on show at Kaleidoscope Gallery presents a selection of artworks that are automatically generated, in that control of the artistic process and/or outcome is transferred from the artist to a system or set of rules. However, the programmatic here is decidedly analogue as opposed to the digital programming associated with “computer art”. 

Charley Paters, Configuration #33, 2015, acylic on plywood, 40cm x 50cm x 5cm

Charley Paters, Configuration #33, 2015, acylic on plywood, 40cm x 50cm x 5cm. My photo

Charley Peters Configuration #33 is unmistakeably a painting, even though there is only trace evidence of facture in terms of brush strokes or painterly gesture. It is a new kind of materiality, one that is informed by the experience of looking at screens or monitors, abstraction in HD perhaps. A gridded pattern of repeated triangles in blue green and pink, the subtle changes are to colour and tone but not to structure, leading to my reading it as a tilted spatial plane over which light falls. Yet I am finding no representational object, other than what might appear to be a wall, or more accurately simply this painting, a representation of itself in three dimensions, slanting backwards from the right hand edge. I am tempted to suggest that there is information here but that it is information about information.

Andy Parkinson, Six Hexagons, 2015, acrylic on six canvases, 77cm x 79cm

Andy Parkinson, Six Hexagons, 2015, acrylic on six canvases, 77cm x 79cm

My own painting here is a sequence of six identical hexagonal canvases. Each one is divided into two triangles and two parallelograms described by opposing sets of coloured stripes, more or less tonally matched. The stripes are themselves arranged sequentially, a light blue stripe, for example always meeting a yellow ochre one, dark blue always meeting black etc. and ordered according to the pattern ABACADAEBCBDBECDCEDEABCDE.

Christina France, Equilibrium 1, pigment, archival digital print on German etching paper, 80 x60cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Christina France, Equilibrium 1, pigment, archival digital print on German etching paper, 80 x 60cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Christina France’s Equilibrium is an ongoing series of screen prints and etchings, and here pigment rich,digital prints, developed from initial works on paper, made in response to notions of balance and counterbalance within a quadrilateral form. In the artists words: “Determined by size and colour, the 50:50 ratio of the square is altered and reconstructed within the initial format and without, employing chance operations to assign colours and placement within the square”.

Hanz Hancock, Untitled, 2015, mixed media, 51cm x 51cm

Hanz Hancock, Untitled, 2015, mixed media, 51cm x 51cm. My photo

In Hanz Hancock’s Untitled, rows of till-rolls in blue white and black are pressed into a square frame, and organised according to a specific procedural system, or analogue programme, in which certain rolls are pushed upwards in the framework in a particular order. I think that the puzzling out of the structure is an essential experience in relation to this piece, as indeed with the other works on show here. It might even be the case that this is a mode of viewing unique to the systems aesthetic. Other artistic traditions have contained elements of puzzle, think for example of a history painting, a biblical narrative or a mythical allegory. Identifying the actors and figuring out what’s being enacted is part of the enjoyment. Counting twelve people, for example, might cue recognition of the twelve disciples, or three female figures might indicate the three graces. However, in such instances interpretation, and number even, is about content, whereas here it is entirely at the level of process. Just as in mathematics, twelve, or three, are of interest in their own right, the language being abstract, tautological, rather than representational. There’s also something happening here to do with foundness and materiality, the till-roles being ready made and having more physicality than paint. The work is abstract in the sense of the word that is opposite to its usual meaning: it is concrete. But the system is abstract in the more usual sense of “removed from reality”. However, though abstract in the second sense used here, a system or procedure also has something of a ready-made quality.

Patrick Morrissey, Goodbye Ploy 2, 2015, video

Patrick Morrissey, Goodbye Ploy 2, 2015, video. My photo

Patrick Morrissey’s video Goodbye Ploy is an animation of a painting, the materially existent becomes material for video. Here we have a process of abstraction in a number of self reflexive moves: the abstract analogue programme is realised in a physical painting, which is then transformed into information, into animated image, not quite immaterial, but certainly more abstract than the painted object. James Irwin’s video based work Silicon Binary Progression (ii) seems to explore similar terrain, alternating between abstract code and perceptual image, and all contained within work station hardware. In Mary Yacoob’s intricate ink and graphite drawing, resembling an architectural plan, Modular Hakka House, abstract map, lacking any referent, has become abstract territory.

Katrina Blannin, blackgreyblackgreyblackwhiteblackwhiteblackwhite-orange 50, 2015, acrylic on linen, 70cm x 70cm

Katrina Blannin, blackgreyblackgreyblackwhiteblackwhiteblackwhite-orange 50, 2015, acrylic on linen, 70cm x 70cm. My photo

I love the literal matter of fact-ness of Katrina Blannin’s title blackgreyblackgreyblackwhiteblackwhiteblackwhite-orange 50. We would be right to say that the painting does exactly what the title says it does, at least in terms of the programmatic order of rotated tone/colours within a set of tessellating mostly triangular forms on a lozenge shaped canvas. And we would also be wrong, because in viewing the painting, fact seems to give way to nuance, flat tiles become shifting spatial relationships. Perception is never simple, however reductive a work may be . Hence my attempt to describe it in a precise sentence fails. “The map is not the territory and the thing is not the thing named”. I think it is this slippage between map and territory, information and material, idea and object, procedure and outcome, generator and generated, that I am enjoying in Blannin and others’ work on show here.

Generator: Systems Logic and the Analogue Art of Programming, including work by Katrina Blannin, Christina France, Hanz Hancock, James Irwin, Patrick Morrissey,  Andy Parkinson, Charley Peters and Mary Yacoob is on show at Kaleidoscope Gallery until 11 July .

A limited edition print by MuirMcNeill with an essay by Laura Davidson accompanies the exhibition.

Crossing Lines @ &Model

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I arrive very late in the day (both literally and metaphorically) for the amazing exhibition Crossing Lines, at &Model in Leeds, and being my first visit to this venue I am immediately  impressed both by its central Leeds location, opposite the Art Gallery and Town Hall, and by the space itself, occupying all three floors of a 19th century building. Just looking through the window the work looks great and I am relieved that someone has waited for me so I can see the whole show.

I learn from the gallery notes that “The sixteen artists presented by Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hanz Hancock … all share reductive, formal, or non-objective approaches to image making”. It occurs to me that what we mean by labels like abstraction is as difficult to situate now as ever, and perhaps more so now because contemporary practitioners may well be doing something quite different than its early proponents. I usually hesitate to use the word “reductive”connoting, for me, a paring down to essentials, or a search for essence as well as a lessening, and I find myself unwilling to think of the concentration on process or form as in any way a lack. Seeing the work on show here, if ever I needed proof of the vitality of contemporary abstract/reductive/formal etc, approaches it is here in abundance.

Installation shot showing works by, from left to right, Patrick Morrisey, Andrew Harrison, David Riley, Patrick Morrissey

I am even tempted to propose the word additive, wondering if, contrary to a “paring down” we get instead a “building up”, adding new objects/images to the world, objects and images that continue to be as challenging and interesting as the abstraction of 100 years ago.

Drawing on the constructivist tradition, Morrisey and Hancock pursue a systems approach, as do others here like David Riley and possibly Giulia Ricci and  Andrew Harrison. Because I know that Morrisey’s paintings and videos (the video Four States, shown here is mesmerizing), are based on numerical systems, I attempt to work them out and fairly quickly reach the limit of my ability to do so without an external prompt. It’s one of the things that fascinates me about number in relation to images: attempting to “break the code”, is a specific mode of viewing, or state, that seems different to the one I engage in when I give up the attempt and simply look. And simply looking I appreciate the beauty of the image: I “get” the beauty of the abstract relations even without being able to translate them (back) into the numerical code. I think what’s going on here is akin to the pleasure I get from listening to Bach.

Patrick Morrissey, The Queen is Dead, 2011. Image by courtesy of the artist

Patrick Morrissey, The Queen is Dead, 2011. Image by courtesy of the artist

Looking at Tower, by Clive Hanz Hancock, I become unclear about what is image and what is object, I know it’s a relief, constructed from plastic tubing arranged in a vertical grid, yet it seems flat, I even begin to wonder whether the plastic tubing is a trompe l’oeil effect. What’s coming into question for me here is what I know, and how I know it: “how much of this construction is “out there” and how much of it is “in here” and realizing that it’s the interplay, that constitutes the art work. Here aesthetics and epistemology meet.

Clive Hanz Hancock, Tower, 2013. Image by courtesy of the artist

Clive Hanz Hancock, Tower, 2013. Image by courtesy of the artist

David Riley’s Code, is a series of digital images printed on sheets of paper, presented like brochures, and held together with plastic binding combs, the combs becoming part of the overall image. I read it as a painting, whilst simultaneously seeing printed digital material, and again I believe that the image is based on a numerical or alphabetical code that I struggle to decode. It’s the very act of looking that I think is being deconstructed in the process of viewing this piece.

David Riley, Code, 2013-14, multiple materials installation, 33 x 180 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

David Riley, Code, 2013-14, multiple materials installation, 33 x 180 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

There’s something architectural about Riley’s image, as there is in the works of Andrew Harrison (entitled Construction Project 3 and  Construction Project 4) and Clive Hanz Hancock. In these pieces it’s the boundary or extension of abstraction, that comes to mind, as it does in many of the paintings here that almost approach figuration as in Mary Yacoob‘s Doodle Drawings, and the painting Low Down by Daniel Sturgis from his Boulders series, where changes of scale seem to create vast spaces and where abstract image becomes slightly humorous, perhaps referencing the cartoon, a kind of abstract pop art?

Daniel Sturgis, Low Down, 2013

Daniel Sturgis, Low Down, 2013

Vincent Hawkins’ paintings and works on paper are probably the most provisional of the works on show here and possibly Tom McGlynn’s Signal the most minimal, if such labels are not too misleading. Likening Hancock’s and Morrissey’s sculptural pieces, colour intervals on wood strips leaned against the wall, to John McCraken‘s minimalist work is I am sure also misleading but a connection I find difficult not to make. There are sculptural pieces here also by Mick Frangou, Phill Hopkins and Andy Wicks, all that seem to at least quote minimalism whilst also expanding it, Hopkins ans Wicks exploring the border between the two and three dimensional as well the border between art and everyday objects and Frangou continuing his personal process of repeating a T shape symbol.

Marion Piper paintings here from her Free Man series are marvelous. I have the impression that her process in these paintings involves a dialectical pairing of opposing forces that are held together by overlaying one upon the other, as if something suggestive of the organic (wavy lines or soft free-flowing motifs) is overlaid with ‘harder’ geometric designs, resulting in a synthesis which is both and neither the other two, “transcending them” sounds too metaphysical, and “combining them” sounds too prosaic, but in viewing the paintings I enter a state in which these opposing positions seem to be held in stasis, not just visually, but also psychologically.

Installation shot, Left to right: Marion Piper, Free Man 3, Marion Piper, Free Man 4, Patrick Morrisey, Indirect Enquiry 2, Front: Mark Frangou, Tome

Installation shot, Left to right: Marion Piper, Free Man 3, Marion Piper, Free Man 4, Patrick Morrissey, Indirect Enquiry 2, Front: Mark Frangou, Tome

I think something similar takes place in relation to Giulia Ricci’s beautifully executed drawings where a carefully ordered design begins to break down, or a pattern is systematically interrupted, the tracing of which, by eye and mind, seems to create a shift of state. This mildly “calming” experience is repeated for me in many different ways in this show, Frixos Papantoniou appearing to suspend geometric (mostly triangular) shapes in a contemplative space, David Leapman getting close to psychedelia, and Mark Sengsbusch presenting dualisms that are entirely matter of fact, (he describes them as “two-color painting(s) where there is no background or foreground. No layering. All of the paint is equa-distant to your eye”),  yet the viewing of them is psychologically complex.

Installation shot, Mark Sengsbusch, Right: Comb 15 (Anaemic Shield), 2011, Left Comb 9 (Frozen Reel), 2011

Installation shot, Mark Sengsbusch, Left: Comb 15 (Anaemic Shield), 2011, Right: Comb 9 (Frozen Reel), 2011

And perhaps that’s what I want to say most about this exhibition of contemporary reductive art: there is nothing “reduced” in the action of seeing these works, I experience more of an “addition”, a “fulness”, an “abundance”.

Crossing Lines was on show at &Model from 23 January to 22 February 2014. I just wish I’d got there sooner!