[WMC_4] Computational Thinking in Existing Art Forms

Fall 2010

I believe individual artists should dictate the possibilities of their chosen media, and not leave it to the Adobes and Macromedias of the marketplace. The notion of artists creating their own tools is as old as art itself. For centuries, artists ground their own pigments, plucked pig hairs to make their own brushes, and primed their own canvases with glue made from boiled rabbits. Instead of distracting artists from their true purpose, these crafts actually tightened artists’ connections to their materials and processes.”

-- Golan Levin, “Designing with Code: One Artist’s Journey”






Classical art was sustained in part by a strong sense of craft. This craft element was rooted in the artist’s awareness of the intrinsic posibilities and limitations of their tools. Digital artists, however, sometimes use commercial software packages (such as Photoshop or Maya) whose internal operation is a mystery to them. Many digital art schools teach new media software but fail to teach computer programming and computer hardware. For this reason, art students often work without understanding the tools that they are using.

This situation discourages artists from exploring the full possibilities of computation. Computers have more capabilities than those of any individual package. Every commercial package predefines the range of possibilities for the user, and so limits what can be achieved. In light of this, the Writing Machine Collective – 4th edition (WMC_4) aims to present works in existing art forms to foreground the procedural operations embedded in computation. This exhibition will set an example to encourage artists to study digital tools in greater depth.


Project Objectives:

  • to promote programming literacy among artists

  • to treat technology as an “artistic medium” instead of a “tool”

  • to foreground the procedural operations embedded in computation

  • to support in-depth research and production of code-based generative art

  • to rediscover the generative/computational elements in existing art forms

  • to embrace interdisciplinary artistic research

  • to promote the appreciation of computational art among the general public


The Artists and their Works:

Both Kenny Chow Ka-nin’s Writing Visual Renku with a Computer and Told To Yip-san’s Visual Diary Generator create written texts through the visuals. The former generates Japanese Renku poems by procedurally arranging graphical tiles, while the latter writes visual diaries based on moving images shot in the city. Joao Vasco Paiva also uses image as an element in his Sea of Mountains, where instead of a piece of writing, a six-minute sound piece is generated.

The architecture of the computer is explored too. Hector Rodriguez’s DeadCode is a downloadable software application that foregrounds the linguistic nature of computer technologies. By searching java class files in the user’s computer, deleting certain statements and then replacing other statements in the files simultaneously, the piece extends the concept of nothingness, which played an important part in contemporary art, into the digital domain. Ip Yuk-yiu sees the computer as a huge database in his sound installation The Secret Garden, where he explores notions of personal narratives, virtual intimacy, choice making, and database aesthetics.

The permutational nature in computation is explored in Justin Wong Chiu-tat’s Generative Comics. A comic artist who regularly publishes on local newspapers and magazines, Wong gives new meanings to his comics by recombining them in different sequences, through the help of the computer.

Generative art is not necessarily digital. Yvonne Lau Mei-yin’s Mountainous Generations, for example, translates the two-dimensional Chinese Han characters into three-dimensional sculptures.

Linda Lai’s Scriptorium is a mixed media installation based on her on-going research on the history of the book and writing. A room with multiple writing functions, the proposed work is also a mini-collective as it will, in addition to involving visitors, engage a group of selected women artists who will at various points of the exhibition period show up in person to produce “texts.” Some of the book-making exercises in the scriptorium are based on generative principles which have informed many digital art and literature. The various installation pieces inside the room juxtapose the digital and manual modes of the same concepts to invite questions about the essential differences of the print and digital platform.

CHOW Ka-nin Kenny
Writing Visual Renku with a Computer
An interactive work that generates Renku poems from the graphics co-created by the user and the computer.
IP Yuk-yiu
The Secret Garden

An interactive sound installation that highlights database aesthetics through personal narratives.

Joao Vasco PAIVA
Sea of Mountains

An audio-visual installation where a video showing a part of the sea is used to generate a six-minute sound work.

Dead Code

A downloadable software application that foregrounds the linguistic nature of computer technologies.

TO Yip-sang Told
Visual Diary Generator

A digital “flipbook” that transforms video footages of city scenery into textual descriptions.

WONG Chiu-tat Justin
Generative Comics

A computer program that randomly generates new sequences out of the artist’s existing comic archive.

LAU Mei-yin Yvonne
Mountainous Generations

Sculptural works that are transformed from two-dimensional Chinese Han characters.

LAI Chiu-han Linda

A work-room where texts and books are produced, generated, retrieved, modified and used both digitally and manually


Project Supervisor: LAI Chiu-han Linda
Research Supervisor: Hector RODRIGUEZ
Art/Design Director: WONG Chiu-tat Justin

**This project has received supporting funds fromt the Hong Kong Arts Development Council (HK ADC).

Arts Development Council


return-to-event back to events page

  Copyright @ 2006-09 Writing Machine Collective. All rights reserved.