Artware4: Generative Art
Umberto Roncoroni

The stream of complexity and computer science have created new scientific topics -fractals, chaos, artificial life- and recovered the holistic approach that, like in the Renaissance, tries to link science, art and technology. On the other hand, thanks to improved software applications and programming languages, information technologies are considered a quite popular artistic medium and tool between artists, architects, industrial designers and musicians. So technology and new sciences have generated the spring off of different artistic experiences; between them, generative art could be considered the most interesting, because its deep interdisciplinary philosophy, its questioning and exploration of technology and for its implicit aesthetic criticism.
Usually generative means a process that uses, depends on, or interacts with any dynamics -natural or artificial, organic or inorganic, chemical or mechanical- that can perform autonomously some kind of order or aesthetically significant forms. [Galanter, 2000]. But, in order to be considered truly generative, a process should be emergent and indeterministic, in the sense that the formal order or the structures that it produces should not be established as a starting point or as a framework, but should arise spontaneously from the free interaction of the elements of the system, such as materials, natural elements, technologies, algorithms, users, etcetera. In the first place, we have to remember that emergence is not a property that depends on some specific technology (say, computers). Generative techniques have always been used in decorative arts and by different kind of craftsmanship (the marbled papers of Florence) and are not unknown in contemporary art as well, as can testify Fluxus, Conceptual Art, some instances of Op and Kinetic Art, or some exponents of Land Art, like Andy Goldsworthy, who includes in his artistic process the action of natural forces like the wind, the rain or the effects of temperature changes.
Nevertheless, digital tools and computers offer to generative artists the most efficient and adequate technological platform, for many reasons: interactivity, the ability to model and mathematically simulate natural or artificial processes, multimedia and multitasking. The digital format makes easier the interaction with natural processes and their scientific foundations, the concoction of different knowledge and techniques (the genetic approach, evolution, artificial intelligence) and is the engine that moves with speed and efficiency what in the natural domain or with any analogical technology could need hours, days or months to be developed. Digits, moreover, offer to generative art the best communication and distribution medium. In the form of freeware, or applet, or algorithm, the digital format allows a broad variety of applications and approaches that matches perfectly the multiple layers of meaning that is a typical characteristic of emergent and complex processes. And interactive interfaces, hypertexts, distributed programming, and the communication networks are in many ways reshaping the art system and its hierarchies: following the lesson of netArt, thanks to new communications networks and media, generative art seems not too much jeopardized nor concerned by the uninterested attitude of the mainstream of the art system.
Anyway, the best part of generative art is the open, emergent and interactive creative philosophy, that is powering an holistic and systemic approach to the problems and challenges of art and creativity. This option lets integrate, in a proficient way, the complexities that belongs to the different contexts and counterparts that contemporary art has necessarily to deal with. For instances, speaking of architecture, we could consider a broad variety of previous elements that exist in any kind of design: pre-existent aesthetic issues, urban or ecologic constraints, social and cultural factors can be included and more easily evaluated and integrated in the design process just because information technologies. On the second hand, generative tools link design with natural processes, in the engineering and construction of artefacts (bio mimicry, bio architecture) and in the formal and aesthetic domain. In these cases simulations and mathematical models let creativity to be enriched with the complexity and beauty of biology, botany or geology, widening the creative horizons of the artist and starting a new discourse about the epistemology of art and the new kind of knowledge that can be recovered. Science and interdisciplinary knowledge are of great importance for generative art, because, playing with natural, scientific or technologic processes, it necessarily needs to handle the underlying knowledge system. So a knowledge that is not arbitrary or individually sustained enters into the artistic process and links it again with the commitment with truth and the objective values that are the starting conditions of a true artwork.
But generative art still has to solve some theoretical problems whose importance is often misjudged. These problems concern some of the most interesting topics of the contemporary cultural debate: the intersections between scientific and humanistic/artistic thought, science' epistemology (the truth of simulations and models), technological constraints and limitations and the limits of the mainstream' aesthetics. First, it is the same idea of generative that seems to be fuzzy: it could be said that the truly open and free processes are only a product of alive systems, artificial or inorganic systems, on the contrary, can be unpredictable only in the sense that complexity can be grasped only at a final stage of the process (as it happens with fractals). So, artificial generative processes are only capable of apparent emergence, indeterminism and openness, and I fact they have to substitute the variety and liberty of nature with random functions.
In the second place, the true value and meaning of generative art and of any emergent process lays not only in the artwork or in the object produced by the system, but in the process itself. To appreciate a generative artwork we have to understand the interactions involved and its scientific, aesthetic and technological foundations. Here the key factor is knowledge and its transparency along the process' development; for this reason it is necessary to investigate what is interaction and which is the role of software and interfaces. It is very important to stress that software develops processes and transform data that users can't access, because they can see just what interfaces let flow. In many cases it can happen that interfaces overwhelm the true meaning of an artwork or, in the worst case, are used to hide the lack of original creativity or investigation. The risk is that generative art can be trapped and weakened inside what has been called the interface dimension: robots, sensors or any other electronic gadget that have nothing in common with true knowledge because they make confusion between information technology with electronics, the analog with the digital, special effects with original know how.
But the problems of generative art also depend on aesthetic issues, even if post-modern thinkers and artists declare -wrongly- that the definition of art is an obsolete problem or a linguistic trick. It happens that aesthetic freedom is only a dream and the theoretical anarchy that seems to shape the artistic debate nowadays is just a makeup, for the simple reason (between many others) that artistic creativity always needs a paradigm, even if the artist is actually pursuing freedom and indeterminism or questions his own role as an author. Under the surface, through the cultural mainstream, the romantic and modern paradigms are still at work in the art system (artists, curators, museums...) and are recycled and transmitted by education and the market. It is for these reasons that a generative or hipertextual aesthetic still needs to be found. The risk so far is that behind the revolutionary statements flourish many kinds of obsolete and authoritarian elements that destroy the creative freedom, innovation and emergence that the generative domain claims as its peculiar values and advantages.
Playing with technology, moreover, makes this risk even worst, because aesthetic weakness affects -for many reasons that it will be too long to discuss here- the aesthetic structures of software and interfaces. In this sense generative art can be considered the best aesthetic experimental environment because lets explore and develop these topics and their different possibilities and flavours. The creative capabilities of the digital medium, the relationship between creativity and method, art and science, mathematical models and algorithms, design and nature (a new kind of mimesis that is not imitation but empathy and interaction) are topics that can be of great interest even outside the small digital art community, because software and interfaces -digital culture- today shapes and controls avery economic, cultural and social aspect of our global life.
Artist enter these new dimensions following many different strategies: a very popular line of work tries to investigate the aesthetic power of any generative technique, something that could be seen as a new form of abstract formalism, an aesthetic that is easy confounded with decorative beauty or ornamentation; another path belongs to those artists that study the relationships between art and science, a topic that can be considered a constant in the short story of digital art, but that with the generative paradigm could be practically applied to a wider group of acitivities, such as architecture, industrial design, engineering, etc.; a third line of investigation deals directly with the theoretical and linguistic problems technology, especially of software and interfaces. Anyway, there is a common element that can be easily seen: it is the educational and pedagogic relevance of generative thought; this can be sustained quite simply because the emergent and indeterministic aesthetic is obviously deeply hermeneutical and mayeutical. Hermeneutics comes in because the generative process is open and interaction means a creative interpretative effort by the user and the interchange of information and knowledge; mayeutic because creativity (of the programmer and the user, of the author and the reader) is the main goal of the generative process, when it begins and when it ends.
Here software and interfaces must free and enhance the creativity of every component that forms the generative system during artistic creation, and must protect their original identities. Art and pedagogy seem to overlap, but certainly not in the negative flavour (moralistic and paternalistic already criticized by Hegel) of the emollit mores, nor in the Schiller' sense of aesthetic education, but, may be, in the deep epistemological sense that relies on the aesthetic of Heidegger and Gadamer. Possibly that's why the generative art paradigm is growing mainly inside universities (not only because universities do offer more facilities and laboratories...) while the interdisciplinary thinking, the intensive use of technology and the aesthetic questioning justify the leadership of faculties like computer science, industrial design or architecture in the investigation of generative topics and in the organization of conferences and workshops.
Artware4 exhibition seeks to present an up-to-date selection of international artists exploring the generative domains from the described points of view. I want to point out that the same issues are being approached also here in Peru, thanks to individuals and institutions that are at the cutting edge of technology, art and design, even outside the specific context of Latin America.