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The Organic Artists
Organic artists are a vital new movement in the visual arts and
music. Recognizing the beauty in natural forms (as have all artists
down the ages) these artists seek to plumb the basic generative
rules behind forms in nature. Armed with tools like genetic algorithms,
L-systems, neural networks and automata, these artists can use
them both as a painter's palette and sculptor's tools to create
stunning organic art.
What role will organic artists play in the digital biota movement
and the emergence of the new Cyberspace? Darwin's system of natural
selection will apply to biota in Cyberspace as it does to life
forms in the world of atoms. If it is survival of the fittest,
then what defines fitness in digital ecosystem? Given that a digital
lifespace is very much an artificial world, inseparable (for the
moment) from the millions of users that feed and maintain it,
the success of digital biota will be closely tied to how users
value their presence. If a representative form of digital biota
(a biote) grabs our attention and encourages us to make a copy
and forward it to our friends (or enemies), then it has been reproductively
fit. If an organic artist crafts a biote that is aesthetically
pleasing or performs wondrous feats of animation, then the artist
has served as successful midwife. Of course organic artists as
a whole will help beautify and interpret all forms of the emerging
inhabited Cyberspace and we will owe a great deal to their talents.
The Grand Masters
The artists featured here take much of their inspiration from
grand masters who came before them. Perhaps the original digital
generative artist is Benoit Mandelbrot, who in the early 1980s
created a branch of mathematics called Fractal Geometry. In August
of 1984 I was on an assignment to IBM's T.J. Watson Research Center
and I remember being amazed by the images pinned onto Dr. Mandelbrot's
office door showing landscapes which seemed to grow on forever
and could be viewed at any level of detail. Fractal algorithms
are a cornerstone of the organic art movement and frequently used
in virtual worlds. Thousands of Web sites cover the work of Mandelbrot
and the field of fractals. Searching the Web for either of these
words will bring up these sites.
While visiting the Santa Fe Institute in August of 1994 I was
rendered speechless by another set of images, Karl Sims' creatures.
The Santa Fe folks had just installed software called Mosaic and
they were browsing this newfangled thing called the World Wide
Web and had happened upon Sims' first web page. They were playing
movie sequences of Sims' creatures, which were built up
out of blocks and exhibited lifelike swimming, flying and walking
behavior. Sims was a chief scientist at Thinking Machines in Cambridge
MA and used of one of their powerful multi-processor Connection
Machines to create moving creatures within worlds having the physics
of wind, gravity and friction. You too can play the original MPEG
movies of some of Karl Sims' Virtual Creatures at: http://www.biota.org/conf97/ksims.html,
they are great to watch! Sims created plenty of other "evolutionary
art", you can search the Web for this too.
Our featured artists
I am featuring four organic artists who I have come to know over
the last couple of years. It seems to me that these artists represent
an exciting vision for the future shape of Cyberspace.
Organic Art Gallery
The following gallery shows only a small sampling of the work
of these artists. Indeed there are perhaps dozens or even hundreds
more organic arts talents out there. For more images of organic
artists visit the home page of Biota.org at http://www.biota.org
and links of the companion book website at: http://www.digitalspace.com/avatars.
Following the gallery we will include short descriptions of featured
The Organic Sculpture of William Latham
Starting out at the Royal College of Arts in London and then working
at the IBM Scientific Centre in Winchester, U.K., artist William
Latham developed what he called his "evolutionary tree of
forms". Beginning from a fascination with horns, Latham worked
with a number of people to customize a solid modeling software
package to bring this tree of forms into reality.
Latham's style is inspired by stalactites, the art of the Baroque
period of and of Rene Magritte, and science fiction films such
as Aliens. Latham and his colleagues have produced some of the
most stunning organic sculpture I have ever seen. One sample from
the Virtual Garden is shown in our gallery.
Today, with their software tools in hand, users of Artworks products
generate thousands of pieces through the random mutations of the
basic genetic generative codes. In this way, a generative artist
becomes a creative gardener, selecting pleasing forms to propagate
and mutate further.
Download organic art screen savers and purchase virtual gardens
and art mutators on CD-ROM from Computer Artworks. Find the Computer
Artworks homepage at: http://www.artworks.co.uk.
The NanoWorlds of Charles Ostman
Charles Ostman is a real wonder of a "Professional Synergist"
from Berkeley, California. Ostman brings his years of experience
in building successively smaller and more complex electronics
at Lawrence Berkeley labs and intense interest in Nanotechnology
to bear through his organic art vision. Osman's works seek to
give us a reflection from a future "virtual terraform"
inhabited by "synthetic sentients". Ostman sees a time
in the future when Nanotechnology (the ability to make things
one atom at a time) renders all current economic systems obsolete
and transforms human lifestyles and our very perception of reality
Ostaman is science editor for Mondo 2000 and a frequent guest
on Art Bell's Coast to Coast all night radio show.
The basic inspirational building blocks of Ostman's art include
molecular machines, self assembling "nano lego" components,
nanobots and nanocritters, pseudo proteins, quasi viral components,
"artificial" organisms, and ubiquitous nano "foglettes".
Visit the NanoWorlds of Charles Ostman at Berkeley Designs' Web
site on Nanothinc: http://www.nanothinc.com/FractalWorld/nworld1.html.
Darrel Anderson's GroBot
GroBot is software being developed by artist Darrel Anderson to
give kids a fast, fun, intuitive 3D drawing environment that has
a distinctive biological feel. GroBot will allow kids to explore
the synergy between art and science. Anderson's entire project
owes a lot to Seymour Papert's programming language for kids called
LOGO and Papert's ideas about learning and thinking. Kids will
be able to enter LOGO-like commands and employ recursion, proximity,
touch, relative direction, attraction, repulsion, gravity and
other useful behaviors to starter shapes such as blobs or cells.
Anderson's mission to bring organic art to kids is noble and very
important for the development of biota in virtual worlds. After
all, kids will be the main 'genetic hackers/organic artists' shaping
the new 3D Cyberspace landscape!
Steven Rooke: Evolutionary Artist
Steven Rooke describes himself as an "evolutionary artist"
who selectively breeds images from a primordial soup of virtual
DNA. Rooke was inspired in a tradition started by evolutionary
art pioneer Karl Sims (mentioned earlier in this section). Rooke
does large runs of images, selects some for particular aesthetic
fitness, and then commands the population to spawn again. Reproduction
is accomplished by "sexual mixing" of virtual genes
mostly from the fittest parents, accompanied by occasional random
mutation. Particularly fit individuals survive intact and generate
a whole new mosaic of images.
Rooke terminates image evolution (a mass extinction except for
certain genes preserved in digital amber) and then begins a lengthy
process of fine-tuning the colors and regions. Most images saved
during the genetic run do not survive this further selection during
post-production. The final images are produced onto IRIS prints
or for filming on a film recorder.
The Evolutionary Art of Steven Rooke can be found at: http://www.concentric.net/~srooke/
with one of the best reference sections to the people, ideas and
further reading in this area of digital biota at: http://www.concentric.net/~srooke/references.html.