art, design and algorithm

conference and projects on the use of algorithms in art and design

I was contacted last december to give a talk at ESAG Penninghen, a design school based in Paris. The topic of the conference was left for me to decide, so I took it as an opportunity to expand upon what I started at HETIC a few weeks before and adapt my presentation from a programer’s to a designer’s perspective.

specifics of the format

I was invited by Bernard Baissait, a graphic design teacher to fourth year students studying in the visual arts program. As a former graphic design student, I was aware of what to expect: a very wide variety of profiles, with different backgrounds and various interests. That was something important to consider when writing the conference.

But this was even more important to consider since I was to give out a topic. The students would then spend 2 months working on a project that I would rate at the end, so the theme that they would work on had to be accommodating enough for all of them to find a direction that would motivate them. I had gotten the book Conditional Design a few months before, and was interested in the original approach to design that it developed. Conditional Design advocates for designing the process and the system without aiming for a result. There is not a single solution but a panel of possible outputs within a constrained system. For graphic designers, this is a very strong echo to what the web allows: graphic designers tend to want to control a webpage as they would the page of a book, but that is clearly not what the medium is about. The webpage is about flowing content and adaptive layout, customizing experiences and involving readers.

To do that, designers need to let go and embrace the moving page, and leave the pixel-perfect mentality behind. It’s all about restraints, that is, adding to the original challenges of a project one’s own limitations and self-imposed rules. I got the chance to interview Jessica Walsh last November and she talked a bit about constraints and restraints in Sameister & Walsh’s studio works. From another interview online:

You would think that having no constraints would be a dream, but in reality, it’s much harder to come up with a solution when there are no boundaries or guidelines,” she explained. “I think creativity thrives off constraints. When I have limitations, it does make it much better. So when I’m given open briefs, I end up making my own constraints and rules up, so that it can help guide me to my concept. The conference touched on various arts and design movements, including the Swiss style, conceptual art and the algorists to show examples of disciplines and movements that have accepted constraints and restraints as catalysts for their creations.

Thus, the exercice was to create an algorithm (as in, a sequence of instructions) for drawing, acting, playing, talking, etc. The algorithm had to be tested by other persons or groups, and the range of possible outputs that it could create would have to be designed. Possible misappropriations and bugs were considered features and were usually the most interesting outputs.

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