In 1995 a group of SIGGRAPH artists formed an informal group, the Algorists. One of their members, Jean-Pierre Hebert, coined the term “algorist” to describe artists who wrote their own algorithms to produce their creative work. The members worked with computer algorithms – writing code to produce typically print-based computer graphic work – but they were keen to acknowledge that algorithmic composition has a long cultural heritage. It is evident, for instance, in the combinatory systems of Raymond Llull (1232-1315) and Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680), the proto-computing machines of Gottfied Leibniz (1646-1716), the mathematically guided compositions of Johan Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), the permutative poetry of Stephane Mallarme (1842-1898), the formal constraints of the Ou Li Po (founded in 1960), and the rule-based conceptual art work of Sol LeWitt (1928-2007). It would be easy, furthermore, to describe a much wider context, pointing to all manner of cultural practices that are based on clearly articulated procedures. Although I think this effort to trace wider associations is valuable, it is worth noting some key and closely interrelated features that characterise formal computational algorithmic practice:

  1. All terms must be amenable to mathematical representation and processing.
  2. Algorithms are composed in formal languages which mediate between concept and electronic process.
  3. The emphasis is upon defining generic algorithms, conceiving procedures in the most abstract terms.
  4. Computational algorism occurs in a restricted space. It is circumscribed materially and symbolically.
  5. Processes proceed in an automatic, necessary fashion.

I mention these features less to neatly distinguish computer-based algorithmic practice from the wider algorithmic context than to resist any temptation to regard computational algorism as the logical summit of the overall field. The latter represents a highly delineated space that does well to think through the implications of its limitations, which represent both dimensions of possibility and dimensions – possibly – to be overcome.

This entry was posted in Exhibitions. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *