Monday, April 28, 2014

The art of Jonathan McCabe and cellular automata

Art is everywhere in nature.

We've all seen the standby examples of snowflakes, conch shells, and the like.  Alan Turing, best known as the mathematician who greatly advanced computer science and offered "The Turing Test," said that these natural patterns, such as stripes and shapes in animal fur, could be the result of random slates of cells.

Now, artist Jonathan McCabe is creating his own art by applying this principle to pixels.  Wired describes the process thusly:

"Each pixel gets a random value, usually a number between -1 and 1, which is represented in the final image by a color. Then, McCabe applies a set of rules that dictate how each pixel’s value shifts in response to the ones around it. As the program progresses, pixel values change, creating clusters of shapes that begin to emerge from the originally random mix of numbers. In the end, McCabe’s digital canvases sometimes take on a startlingly biological appearance, resembling everything from mitochondria, to spots and stripes, to a cross section of leaf tissue you might study under a microscope."

The outcomes are exactly as the article headline describes: hypnotic.  They appear as these splashy combinations of Pollack techniques with the kind of trippy, psychedelic/LSD art that was so fashionable back in the late 60s and early 70s.  Stare at it long enough and you do sort of start to see patterns emerge.  Sometimes they are spiky, gear-like cogs and others are pluvial streaks.  That might simply be pareidolia or my tendency to always want to find meaning in art and I agree that the latter can be detrimental to my thought process in matters such as these.  After all, the rendering of a canvas need not always have meaning and sometimes you simply need to let art wash over you.

That is exactly what I advise you to do with the McCabe video at the Wired link.  Just watch and see what rises out of the random.  Then check out McCabe at his website.  Anybody who touts that they are "Finally in a book with Yoko Ono and Richard Dawkins" is just fine by me.

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