on infinite possibilities

The algorithms that I have been exploiting often have the potential to generate an enormous number of images.

When I was at The Slade, in a conversation with Malcolm Hughes I asked him how one can decide how to deal with a proposition that has innumerable iterations or generated patterns. His suggestion was to select archetypal instances that demonstrate fundamental aspects of the system and its results.

In the many years since that conversation, I have followed Malcolm’s advice.

clipping plane art

Persistence is Everything, detail

For quite a while now I have been making some images and animations by moving the graphic objects generated by my programs so that they appear to be being sliced through so we can see their interiors. It is another way that the shapes can be explored and leads to a visual effect that has something in common with the animation of images of the interior of the human body generated by medical scanners. We see inside something that would normally be hidden and what we can see changes as we move our viewpoint through it. Some of the outsides of the shape can also be seen, so it is also a bit like seeing a log of wood after it has been sliced through, or a salami, or in fact anything that has been sliced through. I once made some animations based upon microscopic views of slices through granite gathered from the Antarctic.

One way to understand how these images are made is to think about how the patterns on the surface of wood are created. Wood is made up of many cells joined together. If we cut through it along their length, we get one kind of pattern and sawing across the cells we get different patterns. They all reveal something of how the cells became arranged as the tree grew.

The forms in my work are made by trails or paths through space that are represented by shapes arranged along the routes. These markers can be considered as being a bit like the cells in wood. The algorithm that determines how to display the forms is made to ‘clip’ anything that gets within a certain distance of the viewpoint of the ‘virtual camera’. So, when the graphic display of the work is calculated it effectively slices through the forms, revealing the inside of the shapes and this creates the patterns that can be seen. It is as if the shapes have been sawn through at a certain distance from the viewer. As this view is continually recalculated as the program runs, as the viewpoint or the object move, or the distance at which the clipping is to take place is changed, the patterns also change.

Usually, where computer graphics is used to create images, in games or movies, this kind of clipping would be considered a ‘glitch’. Having a graphic object representing, say a human actor, sliced through, revealing how it is simply an illusion created using geometrical data and clever rendering techniques, is not desired as it interrupts the audiences willing suspension of disbelief. The effect is not always avoided as it can be exploited, for example to simulate the creation of an object via an advanced technology or magic.

These kinds of patterns can also be seen when 3D printers build up an object layer by layer.

[first published March 22 2022, edited July 25 2022]


Grid Explosion, 2 Predators, 98 Prey, Photograph from Screen 1985

I began developing the Smallworld suite of programs whilst Artist in Residence in the computing laboratory of The University of Kent at Canterbury from 1984 – 85.

Since then I have continued to use versions of the algorithm to produce work.

Smallworld uses algorithms based upon observations of animal and human social behaviour, including conflict and collaboration, and other interactive phenomena to generate computer graphic forms to interact with, animate and print.

More about my work can be seen at my older site: