Cover of Leonardo 54:3 (2021) featuring a computer-generated abstract artwork in purple, blue and yellow shapes evocative of disintegrating grids and blobs.
On the cover: Mutator VR (© William Latham, 2018)
ISSN: 
1071-4391

Leonardo, Volume 54, issue 3

June 2021

Contents

Editorial

Artists' Articles

  • Behavior Morphologies of Machine Learning Agents in Media Artworks
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    Since the 1950s, a range of artists have used artificial agents in their work, in parallel with scientific research in cybernetics, artificial intelligence (AI) and artificial life (AL). In particular, an increasing number of artists work with machine learning and other adaptive systems. Through the author's own engagement with such systems, an analysis of adaptive agents is provided within the broader context of behavior aesthetics. As a result, the author proposes an aesthetic framework for understanding behaviors that accounts for the observer as an adaptive perceiving agent, the unfathomable character of machine learning systems and the morphology of behaviors as a time-based phenomenon.

  • Exhibiting Mutator VR: Procedural Art Evolves to Virtual Reality
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    Organic Art (William Latham and Stephen Todd, 1987) was reincarnated by the same authors with programmer and artist Peter Todd as Mutator2 (2013); Mutator2 was transitioned into VR as Mutator VR (2016) with programmer and artist Lance Putnam. The authors describe the graphics and audio systems of these works, particularly the procedural generation and visual effects and the creative exploitation of these effects within an art installation. The authors mix “real” and “unreal” features and effects, inspired by surrealist art, to create highly immersive psychedelic organic experiences for the viewer-participant. Interface simplicity and discoverability is critical for VR exhibitions, as is the balance between an experience constrained by an artist's choices and a freer (but riskier) one with greater public choice. Public gallery installation of Mutator VRcreates special challenges.

  • Knowledge Discovery and the Aesthetics of Big Data Simulating the Herschel Observatory
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    The authors, an astrophysics student and a humanities researcher, developed a simulation of William Herschel's visual experience during his observational runs, bringing to life archival data produced by William and his sister Caroline Herschel, who are credited with having invented modern cosmology. From a media studies perspective, the use of intensive computational resources to produce boring, accurate, realtime simulations of William Herschel's observations helps us to confront our conflation of visual complexity with reality in the era of big data. At the intersection of data science, the history of science and media studies, the project proposes the aesthetics of boredom as a means of dwelling with the sense of big data as “big” relative to modes of knowledge production.

  • Visualizing the Invisible: Performing Chaos Theory
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    Edward Lorenz, a pioneering figure in the field of chaos theory, coined the phrase “butterfly effect” and posed the well-known question “Does the flap of a butterfly's wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?” In posing the question, Lorenz sought to highlight the intrinsic difficulty of predicting the long-term behavior of complex systems that are sensitive to initial conditions, for example, the weather and climate; these systems are often referred to as chaotic. Taking Lorenz's butterfly as a starting point, the author's science theater project Chaos Cabaret seeks to explore the nuances of chaos theory through performance and music.

General Article

  • Senster: Reactivation of a Cybernetic Sculpture
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    The turbulent history of Senster, a large cybernetic sculpture designed by Edward Ihnatowicz c. 1970, is divided in two periods: its creation and prematurely canceled display (1968–1974) and its recent reactivation (2017–2018). This article presents a comprehensive narrative of Senster's reactivation. It explains how the formulation of the conservation philosophy and methodology employed in the process was instrumental in delivering the solutions. Based on these observations, the authors propose a detailed strategy for the maintenance and reactivation of interactive embodied systems.

Technical Article

  • Fungal Pigments, Wood Coloring Technology and Their Applications in the Play The Blue Forest
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    Staining wood with fungal pigments has a long history in fine art, especially wood naturally stained blue-green by fungi from the genus Chlorociboria. Recent innovations have allowed for controlled application of extracted pigment for reinterpreting this old art form. This technology is showcased in objects created for a production of The Blue Forest by Louis Aubert, representing the power of nature and natural magic within the play.

Extended Abstracts

Statement

  • Art as Refuge: The Symbolic Transformation of an Electronic Installation in the Midst of Chile’s Social Unrest
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    This position statement describes the transformation of an interactive installation from an instrumental piece of art and science pedagogy into a meaningful performative piece, which forced its creators to adopt a political stance in the light of a period of social unrest taking place in Chile beginning in October 2019. It describes how an apparently nonpartisan installation transitioned into a tool for political expression and refuge. It also allowed the artists to rethink their role in the community as facilitators of art spaces for self-dialogue.

Special Section: Art and Atoms

  • Making Sense of Variations in the Visual Depiction of DNA
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    Depictions of DNA span a variety of aesthetic choices for presenting the details of DNA. One important consideration is the didactic intent of the illustrator: What do they want the audience to know? Another issue to consider is change over time: Knowledge about DNA has become increasingly sophisticated over six decades, and this contributes to the variety of visual depictions. One way to make sense of these aesthetic decisions is to trace them historically through four phases.

Special Section: Environment 2.0

  • Collective Currents: Exploring Sustainability through a Collaborative and Interactive Installation
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    Water issues in the western United States include a long history of struggle, controversy and politics. Collaboration and compromise are required to achieve desirable outcomes in water quality and water rights. Collective Currents is an interactive art installation, developed collaboratively by a computer engineer and a multimedia artist, that explores the idea of cooperative experience in both literal and conceptual ways and creates an environment that makes reference to and engages the viewer to think about our ability to understand and solve environmental issues, specifically water quality and conservation, through collaboration.

Special Section: Music and Sound Art

  • Inner Rhythms: Vessels as a Sustained Brain-Body Performance Practice
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    Vessels is a brain-body performance practice that combines flute improvisation with live, sonified brain and body data. This article describes the genesis of this performance practice, which coevolved with the author’s brain-music interfacing and physiological data sonification methods. The author presents these novel interface designs and discusses how the affordances and constraints of these systems reflect onto her brain-body performance technique.

  • Graphical Data Sets as Compositional Structure: Sonification of Color Graphs in RGB for Clarinet and Piano
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    This article follows the methodology behind the composition of the author's piece RGB (2019) for clarinet and piano, a sonification of four color graphs generated from Jackson Pollock's Out of the Web (1949). The article demonstrates the process of “mapping” data to sound while creating allowances for compositional intuition. In this way, the author hopes to demonstrate the usefulness and flexibility of composing with this approach, as well as its future implications and potential improvements, while acknowledging that this is a specific example of such an approach rather than an all-encompassing taxonomy for any visual input

  • Composing with Multidimensional Timbre Representations
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    The author discusses her work and approach to timbre-based composition. Emergent in her works are a common theme and exploration of “timbre spaces” and “timbre in space.” She discusses two pieces: Ostiatim, for string quartet, and Occupied Spaces, for two pianos and percussion.

Special Section: Science and Art: Understanding the Cross-Disciplinary Dialogue

  • Understanding the Cross-Disciplinary Dialogue
  • Defining the Role of “Relational Producer” in Arts and-Health Collaborations in Hospitals: A Reflection on Catalysts and Partnerships
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    As the profile of the arts-and-health sector grows and interdisciplinary projects with public outcomes become more common, it is useful to explore roles and ways of working at the interface between different disciplines. The authors analyze the complex role of producer, likely to become increasingly relevant in this landscape. While incorporating aspects of existing roles (e.g. hospital arts manager, cultural venue participatory producer, independent creative producer, public engagement manager), the producer has a very specific raison d'être and could be defined as “relational producer.“ This role is not well understood and yet central to this field of practice.

  • Conversations in Caves
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    This article takes the form of a discussion between Flora Parrott (an artist) and Harriet Hawkins (a geographer), who first brought together their existing interests in caves and the underground in 2015. Gully Cave (southwest England), a site of their shared “fieldwork,” and two experimental workshops offer the context to reflect on their evolving work together. This exchange, edited from a series of emails, reflects the evolving, looping form their collaboration has taken, circling around key themes including the importance of time, failure and trust in the process of development, and discussions around expertise and experimentation.

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