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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds Not surprisingly artists create systems that are subject to random interference from an external influence. The result of this interference means the work is no longer under the direct control and manipulation of the artist. Often artists employ randomness to escape the limits of logic to create a work that is unanticipated even to themselves. The randomness itself is just one feature of the system or structure. This means that randomness in art is not just a random feature of and in itself, randomness functions in a determined formal grammar. One of the founding members of the Dada movement French artist Jean Arp used chance to compose his collages.

Skip to 0 minutes and 47 seconds Arp would tear paper into pieces then drop them onto a larger sheet of paper he would then glue them where they fell. Other members of the Dadaist movement also used random selection as a foundation to their art practice. In 1920 Tristan Tzara wrote ‘To Make a Dadaist Poem’.

Skip to 1 minute and 10 seconds There are many other artists who used random processes in their work most notably John cage who was influenced by the ancient Chinese book the I Ching which is a text on changing events. The American artist Jackson Pollock also used a degree of randomness in his otherwise tightly controlled art-making process. Similar to Jean Arp, Pollock specifically used gravity as a force to intervene between the artist, the paint and the canvas to generate paintings that otherwise could not have been created by direct control. Tim Knowles creates work that makes visible the invisible. In his process oriented practice he relies on random environmental conditions to create the work.

Skip to 1 minute and 55 seconds In his Tree Drawing series Knowles attaches drawing implements to the tips of tree branches then places an easel with paper near the tips of the drawing implements. As wind affects the tree branches, the drawing apparatus records the signature and characteristics of each tree.

Skip to 2 minutes and 16 seconds One significant principle in generative art is the systematic application of mathematical randomness to generate variation in the formal art making system. The German artist Georg Nees, a contemporary of Frieder Nake who I spoke about in week one, had a very clear idea about the relationship between the formal system and random variation writing ‘The random generators add subject matter to the aesthetic structure or form. If the random generators were to rule alone, chaos would emerge. Because the aesthetic structure narrows down randomness by means of a computer programme it in-forms the chaos. Discernible aesthetic information is thus produced. The Hungarian artist Vera Molnar introduced randomness into her practice when she first started using computers in 1968.

Skip to 3 minutes and 7 seconds Molnar understood that it was incredibly difficult for humans to generate ‘real’ randomness in art without it looking repetitive so turned to computers to do so. For Molnar the ability to generate pure randomness in art does not appear to be a human trait. Not surprisingly randomness is also a major feature in Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing series, which I also spoke about in week one. Before generating these drawings LeWitt specifically created a series of instructions that featured random selection as part of the process. Other artists create interactive systems that draw on direct human intervention to generate randomness in their art.

Skip to 3 minutes and 48 seconds Lisa Autogena and Joshua Portway created the work Black Shoals, an artwork named after the famous formula of Fisher Black and Myron Scholes that for a time was able to fully predict and follow the complexity of the financial markets to benefit investors. The installation is exhibited in a dark room with a domed ceiling. The audience is immersed in what appears be a night-sky full of glowing stars. These stars are in fact a real-time visualisation of the top 4000 publicly traded stocks on the stock market. The trading in stocks causes the stars to glow as trading on the stock market unfolds. In other words the stars drift in response to the random walking that occurs in the marketplace.

Skip to 4 minutes and 37 seconds More recently, Maria Verstappen and Erwin Driessens inverted the concept of random selection and developed the work E-volver which is software that includes an unusual collaboration between an image-breeding-machine and a human gardener. In the interactive version of E-volver the user of the breeding-machine can devalue one of the four images on display by using a touch screen. Voting out the least exciting image devalues the particular image and, simultaneously, upgrades the three surviving pixel gardens. In this work the human performs the function of the random generator to create unexpected results. Both Black Shoals and E-volver are complex systems that draw from and explore theories from the domain of computer science and artificial life.

Skip to 5 minutes and 25 seconds My overly simple descriptions of them belies the projects more complex themes which investigate the modelling that occurs in economics, society and biological systems. We will discuss these themes in greater detail in week six.

Randomness and variation in art

Watch Mark Guglielmetti discuss randomness and variation in art. Using randomness to generate variation in art and music has been practiced for centuries. However, during the last 100 years the use of randomness to generate art has gained significant traction with many artists developing a variety of unique techniques that intervene in the art making process to function as random generators.

Artists who use randomness to create art develop unique formal systems then use randomness to explore the system. The relationship between the artist, the unique formal system and the random generators that explore the system are closely aligned often becoming inseparable from each other.

When you watch this video think about the how the artists incorporate randomness into their art making and how this approach becomes a unique style.

Learn more about randomness and variation in practice

The various artists all have different reasons for using randomness in their art so take time to explore the them.

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