Soft as art / SurprizingFacts

Interview with Casey Rias about procedural art and design, the development of digital tools and how software has become a new expressive medium for artists. Rias is one of the creators of Processing, Professor UCLA, media artist, author of three books on programming and visual media. His works were exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Whitney Museum of American Art.


© Casey Reas, reas. Com

Due to the variety of platforms and approaches, Processing is often perceived solely as a tool for media art. On Wikipedia, a long discussion was held about what Processing is: some call it a programming language, others call it a set of libraries with IDEs, others – just a framework. In my work, Processing is in a special place, because it allows you to go beyond the familiar tool designers in the environment. Traditional software is limited to universal methods of working with images – for example, scaling, filters and color correction – and additional features are provided by plug-ins, which, as a rule, have only one specific task. For me, Processing removes any limitations of work with both vector and raster graphics. Using it in a graphic design, say, for image generation, I can quickly create a large number of parametrizable sketches and test non-standard algorithms for working with graphics.

Every year, it becomes more and more obvious: Processing is an example of a new (and, as it turned out to be largely forgotten, old) approach to solving design problems. By analogy with "game design", software can be not so much an instrument as a result of work. The object of design can be the program itself, which by a number of parameters creates the final product: video, image or the final layout. If we look even wider, Processing is a reflection of the global phenomenon of "democratization" of technologies and a good example of what flexible opportunities for working with data and images the digital environment provides. In March of this year, between the Casey Rias workshops for students of the New Normal Institute of the Strelka Institute, I managed to ask him some questions about his approach and experience with software.

What topics and ideas are Basic for your research?

It all started with autonomous painting systems and fundamental concepts related to science. Then all this turned into a kind of combination of various forms of "media", for example, television and various types of photography. After I started working with the software. Until recently, I only created abstract works and pursued the idea of ​​ambiguity.


© Casey Reas, reas.com
] MicroImage – a series of works that are based on the ideas of the neuronatom Valentino Breitenberg.

Process Compedium is one of your key and longest series of works. How did you come up with the idea of ​​this project? What inspired you from the beginning?

The Process series began with a small study of Sol Levitt's work in the context of software as an art. The idea was to provoke a dialogue about the relationship between conceptual art and software in the context of the former. This project launched the Whitney Museum of American Art and last summer restored it. The truth of the work of the Process series is different from the work of Levitt – they describe the system in constant motion, rather than a set of tools for a static image.


Reproduction of Eric Doeringer
© Eric Doeringer, ericdoeringer.com

One of the main directions of the conceptualist Saul Levitt was a set of instructions for creating works, available to anyone who wants to implement them – this had nothing to do with software. This is a logical continuation of the idea of ​​Levitt: we create from the set of instructions a program that is itself a set of instructions, simply performed by its computer, not by the artist.

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© Casey Reas, Flickr

All the work of the Process Compendium series was created with Using combinations of two forms – the line and the circle – and the 7 behavior patterns that the object follows. Images are frames of a dynamic system that is in constant motion and follows simple instructions.

Another component of the Process project is the phenomenon of "emergence". Images in the Process series are "grown", appearing from a small set of simple shapes. I was very much influenced by studies of the issues of artificial life in the late 90s, so I decided to combine them with autonomous painting systems.

In my opinion, one of your most unusual collaborations is the book 10 PRINT CHR $ (205.5 + RND (1)) ;: GOTO 10. Tell a little about her story.

The book was an experiment. Can ten people write a book together as one author? Can we write a whole book about the program in one line? The project was initiated by Nick Monfort, Associate Professor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, researcher and writer … The title of the book is a program consisting of one line of code written in the BASIC language and appeared in the manual for the Commodore 64 in 1982.


© Casey Reas, Flickr

The Commodore 64 is a legendary home computer released by Commodore International In 1982. According to the Guinness Book of Records, this model still remains the best-selling in history. The computer's widespread prevalence has led to the fact that many global ideas related to creative programming were formed precisely thanks to the Commodore 64. In the book 10 PRINT, one line of code to the Commodore 64 is regarded as a cultural artifact and considers different ways of how, in principle, one can think about code And the programming.

The Pdf version of the book is available at 10print.org.

The result exceeded my expectations: the book covers a large volume of knowledge; I do not think that one of the authors could write it separately – this is an excellent example of academic cooperation.

Your works are associated with "generative art". Have you thought of a more general and broad term that would clearly describe what you are currently doing?

There are many different definitions of "generative art", and perhaps my definition – can be classified as very narrow and specific . I personally see this area mostly in the tradition of drawing and painting, but I can also associate it with photography and video. My work for the past six years has gone exactly this way. Now I am interested in expanding this definition so that it includes the history of working with the text and language of the cinema. I want to push the boundaries of generally accepted genres and expressive means. The history of games and video games, for example, can become part of this definition. I used the term "software" for many years and I do not think I ever used the term "generative art" in relation to my work. I would say that I'm working to strengthen the role and idea of ​​software in art than I really create any niches. Nevertheless, the term "software" works poorly because it does not bring this idea to the main audience, and causes bewilderment from the curators of the galleries (this format is not generally accepted and conditionally "legitimate" for supporters of "classical" art – painting, Sculpture, etc. – Authors).


© Casey Reas, reas.com

If the world of art still focuses on "traditional" works, what other difficulties are encountered in the art market by artists who exhibit p ? Bots by using a computer or by means of coding

I think there are a lot of niche art and the market – this is just one of them. Some curators and institutions closely follow media art and their number is growing, which is already inspiring. There were also collectors of media art, but their number is relatively small, of course. Works of this kind of art are more difficult to establish and maintain, but these problems also apply to individual works. According to my observations, over the past twenty years people have become more interested in media art. This is a good sign.

© Casey Reas, The Vimeo


How, in your opinion, will the tools for design and software develop?

This border seems to be important to me, although in order to work more effectively together, one needs knowledge of the other. I am entirely committed to the idea of ​​a "hybrid" specialist: deep knowledge in some less basic area (graphic design or architecture, for example) and sufficient programming experience. This combination will allow you to create truly unique products with the help of code. Computing systems have contributed to the transformation of biology and economics, and I think that they have every chance to influence visual arts. Soft has become a new expressive means for artistic search: art is the algorithm itself, not the object it creates. Take, for example, video games: this already well-established genre clearly illustrates this approach, but it is a very narrow way to represent all the possibilities that are hidden in it.


] © John Berens, reas.com

One can say that modern architecture is one of the most striking and illustrative examples of the "procedural" approach. Is it possible to correlate generative design and parametrism in architecture?

I think that both these names are close enough to each other. This is the idea of ​​meta-design, or creating a machine that explores, generates or improves design. This is about creating unique, flexible tools for a particular project. Some projects are suitable for a "generative" approach in almost any field of art, from choreography to lithography and weaving. Solita Levitt's often quoted phrase emphasizes the essence: "The idea becomes a machine that creates art."


© Claudia Uribe, reas.com

In my opinion, meta-design began in the 60's with people like Karl Gerstner. His book Designing Programs (the original name in German – Programm Entwerfen – author) was an excellent representation of the ideas of parametric design. There are even earlier examples, such as the Universe font of Adrian Frutiger. These ideas have long been used in patterns for illustrated manuscripts and religious architecture, for example, on the floor of the cathedral in Amiens (a city in the north of France – note author) . As for the future, I do not know what it is in itself. 1945 1945

Processing is supported and developed by the Processing Foundation.
The organization promotes new educational and development initiatives.

Project coordinators
Lauren McCarthy
Daniel Shiffman
Ben Fry (Ben Fry)
Casey Reas

p5.js (library and code editor for Javascript)
Lauren McCarthy – p5.js, library and Javascript code editor

Processing Integration in Raspberry Pi
Gottfried Haider

Processing for Android
Andres Colubri

Library and Instruments
Elie Zananiri

The OpenProcessing project
Sinan Aschioglu

About the author


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