IASLonline NetArt: Theory
History of Computer Art
IV. Images in Motion
IV.3 Evolutionary Art
In the case of movie sequences
the "synthetic realism" 1 of computer animation
(see chap. IV.2.1.3 and IV.2.1.4) is a result of compositions with three-dimensional
programmed objects in movable perspectival views. The animators follow
visions presented in the drawings of a storyboard: Although the perspectival
views of the three-dimensional elements are calculated and their transformations
follow the algorithms of the animation program, these elements are reworked
by the animators with an attention to details fulfilling the requirements
of the drawings being parts of the storyboard.
This patchwork character use William
Latham and Karl Sims (see chap.
IV.3.2) in another manner than the movie animators: With the film´s
storyline the cinematigraphic function of the storyboard is cancelled,
too. The storyline is substituted by algorithmically structured generations
of the computer animation.
From the biologic concepts of the evolution of cells and living beings
Latham and Sims derive the limitations of possible generations by environmental
factors. Their animation programs contain evolution possibilities and
humans the artist or observers can replace the environmental
conditions by selecting values influencing the computing processes enfolding
the programmed evolution in generations. Instead of hiding the character
to be composited behind cinematographic "reality effects" 2
Latham and Sims develop their three-dimensional image worlds by intervening
into the programmed generation. An interplay between generative processes
and artists´ interventions substitutes the interplay between biologic
evolutions and environmental factors.
For their Evolutionary Art Latham and Sims found suggestions
in biological research: Scientists use in theoretical biology models presenting
concepts of the evolution as computer programs. The conceptualisation
of the biologic evolutions´ possibilities is preferred over laboratory
tests with real cells. 3
In the third chapter of "The
Blind Watchmaker" (1986) Richard Dawkins presents a computer simulation
of branching processes building "trees". In the case of repeated
symmetric branches Dawkins reduces the amount of codes resp. the "genes"
containing the elements for the branching program. "Biomorphs"
with forms similar to plants and animals grow out of combinations and
repetitions of these genes. 4 Dawkins takes up the term
"biomorph" of the English coologist and artist Desmond Morris.
As "biomorphs" Morris designated the animal-like figures of
his late surrealistic paintings that were influenced by Yves Tanguy. 5
Dawkins, Richard: The Blind Watchmaker, 1986, examples
of a model for the "evolution game" (Dawkins: Watchmaker 1986,
Dawkins´ model shows the
relation between genotypic codes ("genes") and phenotypic features
("biomorphs") realised by these codes in recursive procedures.
The biologic developments proceed "bottom up" without a superior
goal. From the "cumulative selection" 6 over
generations arise context-sensitive reactions between simultaneous developments.
This sensitivity is exclusively "locally determined". 7
On the one hand there is an "evolution
game" with development rules contained in the "genes" producing
elements that vary by mutation, on the other hand a "human selector"
8 can influence the development and is able to reduce
a multilinear plurality to a certain development line. 9
Dawkins highlights the difference between an unguided
development in Artificial Life and the computer games simulating worlds.
He distinguishes "computer games" from "evolution games":
The former are "designed by a human programmer", meanwhile in
the latter case "the monsters that one encounters are undesigned
and unpredictable." 10 For Dawkins "evolution
games" consist of the relation between development rules and pseudo-random
IV.3.2 Evolution and Processing
In 1992 William Latham and Stephen
Todd presented their creative work on and with a program for the generation
of biomorphic forms. At the IBM United Kingdom Scientific Centres in Winchester
Todd developed the program for an IBM
3081 Mainframe Computer (since 1980) with IBM
5080 (since 1983) and 6090 Graphics Systems. 11
For William Latham Todd´s editors simplified the selection of three-dimensional
elements and their possible combinations. The editors made it easier for
Latham to concentrate himself on the best ways to use the properties of
the software. The artistic selection takes place in phases and the program
offers new possibilities for further creative phases. The editors offer
schemes with lines marking the limits and edges of objects. Later on,
colors, surface properties and shadows are added. With a "three space
tracker" Latham can move the virtual object in the image space. 12
Latham, William: Form Synth, 1989, detail of a drawing,
10 meter long (Todd/Latham: Evolutionary Art 1992, p.5, fig.1.6).
Todd developed the software "Form Growth" with the "ESME
(Extensible Solid Model Editor) programming tool" then he reconstructed
characteristics of Latham´s "evolutionary trees". In 1989
Latham presented these drawings of the series "Form
Synth". 13 "Form Synth" furnishes
a vocabulary with three-dimensional elements being indicated by the CSG
(Constructive Solid Geometry) program as line drawings. 14
There are elements that can be combined as "horns". Via input
to the editor Latham can determine the quantity and the combination manner
of the elements. 15 The element combinations in turn
can build groups that are presented in the series "Mutations"
(1991-92) in random order next to and beneath each other. "Continuous
evolutions" can lead to "gene banks" for further selection
phases and to animations with "life cycles" determining how
long "genes" will reappear in an animation. 16
Latham, William: Horns, structure mutation with the
software Mutator (Todd/Latham: Evolutionary Art 1992, p.99, fig.5.26).
Latham and Todd explain the development of their animations:
In our earliest animation, "The Conquest of Form"  , the view of the rigid forms moved but the forms themselves did not change so called `view animation´. Later in "A Sequence from the Evolution of Form"  the forms metamorphosed using a technique called "gene interpolation" 17, but only a single form was visible at any one time. Our latest animation "Mutations" [1991-92] illustrates the process of a surreal evolution, involving breeding and growth, with many forms animating with complex interactions. 18
Latham, William: Mutations, film, 1992
(Todd/Latham: Evolutionary Art 1992, unpaginated, fig.31).
In Todd´s program Latham
takes on the function of a "human selector" (see chap. IV.3.1).
Latham describes himself as an "artist
gardener" creating his "parody" of Artificial Life
science by following aesthetic criteria. 19 The processing
of forms in Latham´s and Todd´s "Evolutionary Art"
doesn´t take care about biologic criteria. This indifference can
be understood as a "parody" of the problems of the theoretical
biology to design computer simulations as reconstructions of the laws
of the natural cells´ development (see chap. IV.3.1). "Form
Synth" already demonstrates with its selection of basic elements
and their combinations that it is not a biological model. Instead it only
follows sugestions by "biological forms": "Our systems...often
bear no relation to biological reality." 20
Sims, Karl: Panspermia,
In 1990 Karl Sims presents in the short film "Panspermia"
an artificial world of biological forms as an autonomous cosmos with recurring
parallels to the evolution of geology and fauna on earth. For the program
Particle Systems Sims finds after the short film "Particle Dreams"
(1988, see chap. IV.188.8.131.52) with the artificial world of "Panspermia"
a new adaptation of three-dimensional bodies in processes of de- and reconfiguration.
The film sequences show the "artificial evolution" of recurring
branchings and mutations of three-dimensional elements with stem- and
leaflike forms. In the framework created by Sims´ software for Thinking
Machines Corporation´s Connection Machine CM-2 the human selection
determines the progress of the artificial selection. From the functions
offered by the program the artist chooses a sufficient complex amount.
These functions determine the constructions of two-dimensional elements
(x- and y-axes). To these elements a third axis (z-axis) with spatial
depth is added for shading and textures.
"Genetic cross dissolves" use different properties of similar
images as a basis for further evolutions. Images with different genetic
origins are used to construct third images connecting both branches. External
image sources can be integrated into these procedures and submitted to
the general transformation processes.
Sims, Karl: Primordial
Dance, film, 1991.
Dance" (1991) features the transformation of face shapes at the
end of a film with an image vocabulary being in general lesser oriented
to biologic forms than "Panspermia" but more to abstract-organic
forms and oriented to a design of the whole image surface. Evidently Sims
is lesser interested to demonstrate 3D effects but rather to present continuously
changing structures with spatial depth characteristics being generated
by his program written in Lisp. In 1991 Sims explained in his article
"Artificial Evolution for Computer Graphics" his programming
method not without references to Richard Dawkins´ "biomorphs"
and their two-dimensional branches. 21
Sims, Karl: Genetic
Images", installation, Linz 1993.
This "artificial evolution"
is supported by the parallel processing Connection Machine CM-2 with 32
768 processors. It was developed by the Thinking Machines Corporation,
for whom Sims worked as an artist-in-residence. The installation "Genetic
Images" (1993) 22 demonstrates the capabilities
of this computer: 16 monitors present the evolutionary states of an image.
Pressure-sensitive sensors are placed before each one of the monitors
and make it possible for observers to choose the preferred state that
will be the origin for the parallel processing presented on all monitors.
The images on the screens change every 30 seconds. 23
Compared to Latham and Todd Sims
shifts the focus of the "human selector" (see above) to the
evolutions implemented by the software the "functions"
using the "genotypes" to compute the "phenotypes".
24 The "human selector" doesn´t act
like a sovereign creating "gardener" (William Latham, see above)
following criteria of visual perception, but as a selector of sequences
provided in the system. 25
In 1991 Scott Draves developed the "Fractal
Flame Algorithm" and published it in 1992 with the General Public
License (GPL), that
permits to develop the program further: Mark Townsend did it in 2004 by
translating Draves´ program from C to Delphi Pascal for his project
In 1999 Draves transformed his tool for image processing in the screensaver
into an ever changing animation: A network of computers generates new
fractals out of elder fractals. After having installed the screensaver
on their computers observers can choose fractals they like. Often selected
fractals survive longer within the network and will be presented for a
longer time. With the longer survival of the chosen fractals observers
influence further evolutions.
"Fractal Flames" is based on repetitions
of forms and generations by recursive "affine"
transformations. After these linear transformations follows a further
transformation phase with non-linear functions. In a third phase further
affine functions generate "a post transform". The image generating
process of a "flame" can be completed by a "final transform".
The "tone-mapping" is a "log-density
mapping": During the transformation each pixel is beset several times.
A "histogram" counts these fillings containing informations
about the "tone-mapping". In the third transformation phase
("post-transforms") a further coordinate is added for the attribution
of colours to functions. The transformations are stored in two-dimensional
caches until the image generation is finished. The two-dimensional image
generation provides three-dimensional optical effects. 28
Since 2001 a forth channel is added to the three
colour channels. This new channel prevents a too dark presentation of
dark parts of the image in the cathode ray tubes. Since 2003 the "flame"
manifestations are partially rearranged by symmetry effects and thus simplified
for the visual perception. 29
Draves, Scott: Electric
Sheep, internet-connected personal computers, screensaver, 1999.
Screenshot (March 2011) with user manual.
In "Electric Sheep" the computers with
installed screensavers receive fractal animations from a "distributed
system...with client/server architecture". Each of these "sheeps"
is constituted by 128 frames and "160 floating point numbers"
as its "genetic code". Observers can select preferred "sheeps"
with a click on the key marked with an arrow showing upward. The lifetime,
that a "sheep" can have in the system, depends from the amount
of votes. Draves mentions Karl Sims (see chap.IV.3.2) as an inspiring
example for the "fitness" by the observers´ choices. Draves
substitutes Sims´ supercomputer by a "distributed system"
built by internet-connected personal computers. 30
Draves, Scott: Electric
Sheep, internet-connected personal computers, screensaver, 1999.
Screenshots of two succesive phases (April 2012).
Since March 2004 net participants
can send self-designed "genomes" via "Apophysis" to
the server of "Electric Sheep". Then this server distributes
the "genomes" to "all active clients" (the computers
constituting "Electric Sheep´s" network). 31
The "clients" store the uploaded "sheeps". These "sheeps"
are transformed by the "clients" following the "genome
specifying a frame to render" received by the server. Then the "clients"
send their transformations to the server. The server integrates two machines.
One of them "runs the evolutionary algorithm, collects frames and
votes, compresses frames, and sends genomes to clients for rendering".
The other one sends the thus processed "MPEGs" via internet
to computers with installed screensavers. 32
Draves, Scott: Electric
Sheep, internet-connected personal computers, screensaver, 1999.
Screenshots of two succesive phases (March-April 2012).
Draves developed with "Electric Sheep" the former Evolutionary
Art for mainframe computers further into a networked system whose output
can be received via screensaver and can shape the everyday life and work
at personal computers: The times of computer standstills are the times
of "Electric Sheep´s" screen presentation. It can become
a habit during work breaks to select between transformation states of
"Electric Sheep". "Electric Sheep" offers a diversion
that may facilitate the return to concentrated work.
Peter Cariani differentiates in "Emergence and
Artificial Life" degrees of emergence. Cariani points to Gordon Pask´s
successful experiment from 1956 or 1957 with a solution of iron sulfide
and electrodes giving rise to formations of iron filings that become audio
sensitive. In this extreme form of emergence something new comes into
being. 33 The limits of Evolutionary Art´s systems
are below this extreme because their goal is not to develop capabilities
to adapt themselves to environmental conditions up to self transformation
but to use self contaminations by elements from different evolution lines
and states (via interpolation and crossover) to construct visual structures
integrating external selections by artists and observers. They restrict
the system´s possibilities to generate structures out of its own
Referring to Henri Focillon´s «La
vie des formes» Niklas Luhmann explains in "Art as a Social
System" the relationship between "system and evolution"
in the "art system" as an autopoietic differentiation of forms
as "a re-entry of the form into the form". 34
In Evolutionary Art the program installed on appropriate hardware is the
"system", the computing processes generate the "evolution"
and when the author or observer chooses one of the interim results then
he supplies the disturbance that causes reactions in the following evolutions
of the system.
explains the "autopoiesis" in a system as its development by
internal differentiations causing growing capabilities to react to external
disturbances 35, then he presupposes William Ross Ashby´s
"homeostasis" as a recreation of the system´s balance
via self-regulation reacting to external disturbances. Ashby features
in his "law of requisite variety" internal differentiations
as a fundamental capability of a system to be able to react to environmental
conditions resp. external disturbances. 36 Luhmann transforms
Ashby´s "homeostasis" based on "requisite variety"
into the "autopoiesis" of the system that includes the excluded
via "re-entry" if its internal differentiation is sufficiently
In "Art as a Social System" Luhmann defines
the "communication system art" as an autonomous system defining
itself by marking limits (resp. by excluding non-art) and including the
heteronomous elements via "re-entry". A disturbance doesn´t
cause a system´s revision but provokes decisions that can allow
the system to stand the test by evolution or by exclusion of the disturbances.
The observers as participants of the "communication system art"
can stimulate the system´s evolution with critical contributions
and provoke a shift of the border between art and the environment. 38
In Evolutionary Art the participant is integrated as a selector of forms
and is then involved in the discourse on this art form as an insider,
but as such he never transgresses the interface between external observation
and system-internal organization.
Evolutionary Art can be considered to be a plea for
autonomous art within the "communication system art". With reference
to exceedable technical limits Evolutionary Art can be understood as pointing
towards changeable characteristics. They offer new impulses for discourses
in the "communication system art". 39 Thereby,
questions concerning the self-demarcations of the system art are at disposal
for new discussions.
Dr. Thomas Dreher
with numerous articles on art history since the sixties, a. o. on Concept Art and Intermedia
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2012 (in German)/November 2013 (in English).
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1 Manovich: Realism 1992. back
2 Manovich: Realism 1992. back
3 Langton: Artificial Life 1993, chap. 1, p.25ss.; Reichle:
Kunst 2005, p.127,133. back
4 Dawkins: Watchmaker 1986, chap.3, p.43-74. back
5 Dawkins: Watchmaker 1986, p.55. back
6 Dawkins: Watchmaker 1986, p.45,49. back
7 Langton: Artificial Life 1993, chap. 4.2, p.40s. back
8 Dawkins: Watchmaker 1986, p.57,60. back
9 Dawkins: Watchmaker 1986, p.58, fig.4. back
10 Dawkins: Watchmaker 1986, p.60. back
11 Todd/Latham: Evolutionary Art 1992, p.167,169: Before
the IBM 5080 a Vector General 3300 was used. back
12 Todd/Latham: Evolutionary Art 1992, p.170s. back
13 Todd/Latham: Evolutionary Art 1992, p.2-6,33s.,37s.
14 Todd: Techniques 1990; Todd/Latham: Evolutionary
Art 1992, p.134-137,171-180. CSG is based on the WINSOM renderer developed
in 1983 by Peter Quarendon 1983. back
15 F.e. "Structure mutation": Todd/Latham:
Evolutionary Art 1992, p.99ss. back
16 Todd/Latham: Evolutionary Art 1992, p.102s. back
17 Annotation: "This is usually called `parameter
interpolation´, but `gene interpolation´ fits better with
our terminology." (Todd/Latham: Evolutionary Art 1992, p.109) back
18 Todd/Latham: Evolutionary Art 1992, p.109. back
19 "Artist gardener": Todd/Latham: Evolutionary
Art 1992, p.12,98,207,209.
"Parody": "We create computer sculptures using a parody
of genetic engineering." (Todd/Latham: Evolutionary Art 1992, p.208).
20 Todd/Latham: Evolutionary Art 1992, p.40. back
21 Sims: Evolution 1991. back
22 Sims: Evolution 1993; Sims: Bilder 1993, p.404s.
23 Whitelaw: Metacreation 2004, p.24.
On the technics of the Connection Machine: Langton: Artificial Life 1993,
chap. 7.7, p.61ss.
On the design of the Connection Machine: Thiel: Machina Cogitans 1993.
24 Sims: Evolution 1991, chap.2.1, 4.1. back
25 Sims: Bilder 1993. back
26 Draves/Draves: Flame 2010; Draves/Reckase: Flame
27 Draves/Reckase: Flame 2008, p.4ss. back
28 Draves/Reckase: Flame 2008, p.9. back
29 Draves/Reckase: Flame 2008, p.11. back
30 Draves: Electric Sheep 2005. back
31 Draves: Electric Sheep 2005, PDF p.1 (April 2012:
The mailing list Genetic-design
can be used to send contributions realised with Fractal
Flame editors to the list archive). back
32 The server is programmed with Perl, meanwhile the
clients are programmed with C, C++ and Objective-C. All codes are open
source (GPL. In: Draves:
Electric Sheep 2005, chap.2, PDF p.2s.). back
33 Cariani: Emergence 1991, p.789. Cf. Whitelaw: Metacreation
2004, p.222s. During the experiment Gordon Pask said to Stafford Beer:
"It´s growing an ear." (Pickering: Brain 2010, p.341s.)
Definitions of "emergence": Cariani: Emergence 1991, p.775s.;
McCormack/Dorin: Art 2001, PDF p.4. back
34 Luhmann: Art 2000, p.184 with ann.34.
Luhmann´s reference to Focillon (Focillon: Vie 1934): Luhmann: Art
2000, p.109 with ann.19, p.118 with ann.34. back
35 Luhmann: Art 2000, p. 49-52, 185, 203ss., 207. back
36 See chap. II.1.5 with ann.18 on Ashby´s "homeostasis";
Luhmann: Art 2000, p.298. back
37 Porr: Systemtheorie 2002, p.12s. back
38 Dreher: Kunstwerk 2008, p.57; Luhmann: Art 2000,
39 For observers Draves´ "Electric Sheep"
can be used at work as described at the end of chap. IV.3.3 and as a provocation
in discourses about the "communication system art". back
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