Thursday, 6 May 2021

Indian aesthetics within a Western tradition

Howard Hodgkin

For many years the artist Howard Hodgkin collected Indian painting. If you look at the way he  composed his paintings within frames of colour and compare this pictorial device to the way brightly coloured Indian paintings are often framed within painted frames, you can see the influence. 

Habiballah of Sava, "A Stallion" (c. 1601-1606), 

The painting above used to be in Hodgkin's personal collection and you can see how when perspective is flattened, colour and shape become more important, a lesson Hodgkin no doubt found reinforced in his contact with the aesthetics of Indian painting. 

I have posted previously on Indian aesthetics but not really taken a look at any individual artist in any depth, so perhaps it is time to remedy that. 

Rembrandt and Bichitr. 

Shah Jahan and his Son, about 1656–61 Rembrandt copy of a Bichitr original

Shah Jahan and Dara ShikohRembrandt copy of a Bichitr original

Oval Portrait of Shah Jahan, about 1630: Bichitr

Rembrandt is accepted as one of the masters of Western art and in particular his drawings are picked out as being exemplary. However it is sometimes forgotten that Rembrandt was fascinated by Indian Art and by one artist in particular; Bichitr. 

Bichitr was a court painter for two Mughal Emperors, Muhammad Salīm, who called himself Jahangir “Conqueror of the World” and Jahān Shāh and we have work from Bichitr dating from about 1615, so we are talking about an artist with a career lasting over 40 years and the complexity of his images rivals Rembrandt's, but because he was working in India most of us have never heard of him. 

Bichitr: The emperor Jahangir preferring a Sufi shaikh to kings

In the image above the emperor Jahangir is seated as if receiving homage from a variety of people of both religious and secular power; they are stacked visually in order of his preference. Sufi Shaikh is a Muslim holy man, an Ottoman Sultan appears just below him, then King James of England, (an interesting pre-colonial period turnaround) and then below King James, Bichitr himself wearing a red turban that was a sign of his Hindu faith. An interesting issue here is that it was a Muslim court, Bichitr by inserting his own image as a Hindu, reminding us that some historical periods and civilisations were very tolerant of other religions. He presents a miniature to Jahangir of an elephant, two horses and a man bending over, perhaps suggesting that both men and animals owe allegiance to Jahangir. 

Bichitr presenting a painting to the emperor Jahangir

Bichitr produced technically refined portraiture, within a stylised hybrid of Indian iconography and European symbolism, a clear example of an artist developing a cross cultural practice. In order to see this hybridity at work, look at his painting of Shah Jahan with Asaf Khan. Looking carefully at the imagery in the clouds, you can see the influence of Italian Renaissance religious painting. I was particularly interested in Shah Jahan's halo and cone of religious power, a cosmic force that extends from his halo out into the clouds. The cross cultural nature of the halo and cosmic rays being something I had looked at before when thinking about the invisible power of a virus. 

Shah Jahan with Asaf Khan

Detail of very European angels

Bichitr was also an adept at constructing complex scenes involving a large collection of important people, something that Rembrandt was good at too. Both artists could orchestrate and compose a complex space with a variety of important people in it. Bichitr like Rembrandt is excellent at group portraiture, presenting his faces in side view and stacking the composition in such a way that the most important people are at the top. Rembrandt resolves a similar problem by a theatrical use of light and by putting the most important people at the front. 

 Shah Janan receives his three eldest sons and Asaf Khan during his accession ceremonies

Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq

I also find it interesting that they both made images of elephants. For Bichitr of course they would have been an everyday experience, but for Rembrandt the sight of one must have been an amazing thing, as if something from another world had arrived. 



It is salutary to compare these two 17th century artists. Rembrandt's reputation has at times wavered and it has only been cemented into place as being as high as it is, because certain ideals in our society are directly reflected in the way he made images. His 'touch' is almost seismic, when he draws the life of his line seems to re-enact the drawing's making every time you look at it. This expressive liveliness in the handling is very modern and it can be easily associated with individual expressiveness and expressionism, things that are highly valued in our society. Rembrandt is also concerned to communicate the humane qualities of life, his sitters always, including himself, appear to open themselves to his gaze. However these attributes have not always been what a society values. Bichitr's more formal approach suits a more stratified society. His portraits are though still very sensitive, but at the same time they are also able to reflect the rigid pictorial conventions of his period, which themselves further reflect a very ordered society.
Both artists reward close study and by comparing them perhaps we begin to realise that the way that artists are immersed into their time, their culture and their geography is as much a part of their value and meaning to us as is their individual approach to making art. Artists are like other people, plants, rocks and everything else, embedded into a situation that they are totally entangled into. The images we see are yes partly a result of human effort, but they are also a reflection of the lives of various elephants that were encountered, of social values and of geographical location as well as the various technologies of image making. They are now of course all enmeshed in our lives as we experience them through our screens. 

The entanglement of the British Isles and the Indian sub-continent of course continues. The artist Desmond Lazaro now based in Pondicherry, grew up within an Indian family in England, had a fine art degree and was at one time working in Leeds and teaching alongside myself. He was a young man at that time and still searching for his roots and so he decided to go to India to re-train as an artist using traditional Indian working methods. After several years of dedicated learning he was able to return to an individual practice, this time based in India, his vision now transformed, he was beginning to be able to look at both cultures from a uniquely informed viewpoint. 
Desmond Lazaro: Ten objects or more: Post box - Scotland / Pondicherry 2011
Pigment paint on 19th Century handmade paper 

I realise I have by a sort of roundabout route arrived at post-colonialism. If you need to dig somewhat further into these issues the writings of Frantz Fanon are a good place to start. In books such as 'Wretched of the Earth' Fanon analysed the effects of colonialism and decolonisation and the role of class, race, national culture and violence in the struggle for national liberation. Homi K. Bhabha has also written extensively on these issues, his book, 'The Location of Culture' being essential reading for anyone interested in the hybrid nature of artwork that emerges out of situations whereby cultures collide or otherwise become entangled. 

See also: 

Saturday, 1 May 2021

Collage and copyright law

Lynn Goldsmith: Prince

I have been asked several times about copyright and collage, so I thought it best to try and set out my own understanding as an artist, not as a legal expert.

After looking at few websites and copying what they suggest and summing up the findings, these are what I think are the key points. 

  •  General issues that relate to whether or not I can use materials in a blog that is used to support my teaching. 

Non-commercial use of visual art works for the purposes of research and private study are permitted, so long as the original author is credited. Researchers wanting to use images from libraries must provide the libraries with a written (now including electronic) declaration confirming they will be using the work for non-commercial research or private study purposes.

Teachers and lecturers will be permitted to use digital copies of copyright material for the purposes of teaching, so long as such use is non-commercial fair dealing; (this is why you wont find any commercial links on this blog) and students are permitted to make notes digitally including copying of digital material supplied to them. Consistent with ethical academic practice, such digital teaching and learning must include credit/acknowledgement of original authors. 

You can use digital technology to create new works that sample and/or remix elements of other artists’ works. You can use other's work for the purposes of caricature, parody, pastiche, or quotation, so long as these works are judged by courts to be fair dealing. 

  • Copyright and Collage

When using collage in relation to the appropriation of elements of other artist's copyright works, it is important to stress that only limited and moderate amounts are allowed to be used without permission. In other words, not whole or substantial parts of others’ works can be used. However fragments can be ‘cut and pasted’ to create a new collaged or assembled work and this may include text, recorded sound, film, video and broadcast material. It is important is to stress that such appropriations are permissible only if the use of the new work is fair.

So what is fair? Typical collages that use many different materials put together to create new visuals and meanings, are seen as transformative works. A work is “transformative” when the copyrighted material is “transformed in the creation of new information, new aesthetics, new insights and understanding.” In contrast, a work is not transformative if it merely uses the copyrighted material in the same way or with the same effect as the original work. 

  • So how does this work?

The photographer Lynn Goldsmith on realising Warhol had used her photograph for a screen-print of the musician Prince registered the photograph at issue with the Copyright Office as an unpublished work. The following April, the Warhol Foundation sued Goldsmith and her agency for a declaratory judgment of non-infringement or fair use. Goldsmith countersued for copyright infringement. The district court granted summary judgment for the Foundation on its fair use claim, finding in particular that the Prince Series was “transformative” because, while Goldsmith’s photograph portrayed Prince as “not a comfortable person” and a “vulnerable human being,” the Prince Screen-print Series portrayed him as an “iconic, larger-than-life figure.”

The Court began by clarifying its 2013 decision in Cariou v. Prince, which rejected the proposition that a secondary work must comment on the original in order to qualify as fair use. There, the Court had observed that the appropriation artist Richard Prince had incorporated Cariou’s “serene and deliberately composed portraits and landscape photographs” into his own “crude and jarring works . . . [that] incorporate[d] color, feature[d] distorted human and other forms and settings, and measure[d] between ten and nearly a hundred times the size of the photographs.” The Court concluded that these works “used [Cariou’s photographs] as raw material, transformed in the creation of new information, new aesthetics, new insights and understanding,” and were transformative.

Cariou / Prince

This is how the foundation described the transformative nature of Warhol's work. “In all but one of the works, Prince’s torso is removed and his face and a small portion of his neckline are brought to the forefront. The details of Prince’s bone structure that appear crisply in the photograph, which Goldsmith sought to emphasise, are softened in several of the Prince Series works and outlined or shaded in the others. Prince appears as a flat, two-dimensional figure in Warhol’s works, rather than the detailed, three-dimensional being in Goldsmith’s photograph. Moreover, many of Warhol’s Prince Series works contain loud, unnatural colours, in stark contrast with the black-and-white original photograph. And Warhol’s few colourless works appear as rough sketches in which Prince’s expression is almost entirely lost from the original.” 

Andy Warhol: Prince

In the logic of the “transformative use” test, any creation of a derivative work which under the law should require a license, instantly becomes a “transformative use” and now “fair use,” which does not require a license, if, as the judge stated, “These alterations result in an aesthetic and character different from the original". "The Prince Series works can reasonably be perceived to have transformed Prince from a vulnerable, uncomfortable person to an iconic, larger-than-life figure. The humanity Prince embodies in Goldsmith’s photograph is gone. Moreover, each Prince Series work is immediately recognizsable as a ‘Warhol’ rather than as a photograph of Prince – in the same way that Warhol’s famous representations of Marilyn Monroe and Mao are recognisable as ‘Warhols,’ not as realistic photographs of those persons.”

Goldsmith however won on appeal. Warhol's work was seen as of a commercial nature and not transformative enough to be of fair use. I.e. this is very subjective and it depends how good your lawyers are.

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the 2019 ruling, agreeing with Goldsmith's argument that the Warhol artworks were not a transformative use of her image.
This time the judge stated, “The Prince Series works are substantially similar to the Goldsmith Photograph as a matter of law.” They were therefore legally derivative, because both artworks serve the same function as a portrait of the singer. It was an error, the judge further stated, to maintain that the Warhol images were fair use because they transformed a “vulnerable, uncomfortable person” in Goldsmith’s original photograph into “an iconic, larger-than-life figure.” He went on to criticise the original judge, “The district judge should not assume the role of art critic and seek to ascertain the intent behind or meaning of the works at issue.” To be a transformative use, he added, the new work must offer “something more than the imposition of another artist’s style on the primary work.”

Another aspect is whether or not the new work is commercial. “Commercial” does not merely mean that you make money from your work. Generally, works of fine art are not considered commercial even if they sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Courts are more likely to consider artwork commercial if it is sold as decoration on merchandise, such as mugs or t-shirts. In that case it looks more like you are using the artwork to sell consumer merchandise, rather than selling the artwork itself. However, the courts are not consistent in this approach. Some courts have held that sales of fine art prints are commercial. Others have found that sales of merchandise by museum gift shops are not commercial.

The nature of the original work is very important, the courts would look at whether the copyrighted material you’ve used in the collage is more factual or newsworthy in nature, rather than highly creative. There is more leeway to use materials like news photographs, for example, than an illustration. News photographs are usually included because of the factual content of the photograph rather than to exploit the artistic authorship protected by the copyright.
A court will look at how much of the original work was used in your collage. For most collages, this factor should weigh in favour of fair use. However, it could be problematic if the main focus of your collage is one copyrighted work, e.g., a central image to which a decorative border has been added, or if the collage uses the entire work rather than just a portion.

While all of these factors should be considered, the courts are clear that whether the new work is transformative is the most important. The more transformative a work is, the less significant the other factors will be. Indeed, works have been held to be fair use even when all three other factors technically weigh against it.

Collages that have one or more of the following characteristics are more likely to qualify as fair use:

Your collage incorporates many different materials from many different sources.
The materials are juxtaposed or arranged in ways that create new visual and conceptual effects, the more different from the effect of the original materials, the better.
Your collage does not feature a copyrighted work as the central focus or dominant image.
Only portions of copyrighted materials are used, rather than the entire image
Your collage is a one-of-a-kind piece of fine art, or published in a limited edition of fine art prints.

This is of course very interesting in relation to Andy Warhol, whose work it was argued created new conceptual effects, i.e. the images were no longer for instance news worthy or about the individual who was being photographed, it was now a statement about the media itself, about society and about what art is and what could be art. 

UK courts decide whether a dealing is fair on a case by case basis, which makes it impossible to advise would-be appropriation artists what courts are likely to permit: key factors UK courts take into account include how a ‘fair-minded and honest person’ would deal with the work and the nature and extent of the appropriation. They also take into account any commercial damage the activity may have done to the borrowed work’s market value. It's also important to know that you can't escape liability by simply crediting/acknowledging the source of the original material.

The new UK Regulations do not define the meaning of ‘caricature, parody or pastiche’, we are simply given information that these are reasonable grounds for 'fair' use. UK courts will have to decide on a case by case basis not only whether a use is fair, but also whether that fair use amounts to caricature or parody or pastiche.  

Caricature, parody or pastiche?

If you are making a parody or a caricature, you will need to define your position. The standard dictionary definition of parody is that it imitates a work for humorous or satirical effect, commenting on the original work, its subject, author, style, or some other target; pastiche is a work of art made up of selections from various sources or one that imitates the style of another artist or period; caricature portrays its subject in a simplified or exaggerated way, which may be insulting or complimentary and may serve a political purpose or be solely for entertainment.

I'm always deeply conflicted by these issues. Jean-Jacques Rousseau I feel would have understood my mental conflict, he stated: "The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying 'This is mine', and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody." I believe that ideas are like the earth, they should be freely distributed and a gift. By parcelling up the planet and selling it off for profit we have destroyed the very home we live on and by arguing over who thought of what idea first we forget that ideas are always collective. Warhol didn't invent the photographic silk-screen and Goldsmith's image of Prince is a collaborative venture between herself and Prince, who would have worked for hours on his image, long before Goldsmith came along to photograph him. Should not the makers of the camera be given credit for their part in the whole affair or the producers of the line film that was used to break down Goldsmith's photograph into black and white so that it could be made ready for screen? Everything we do is the result of a collaboration, the idea of the unique individual who produces a patentable idea is a necessary function of capitalism, whereby everything has to have a for sale value, even ideas. But art might not have to always be driven by market forces. Perhaps it can be used to open a different doorway, to illuminate an at present hard to see path that leads away from art markets and art as a form of investment. In this time of social unrest, the continuing human degradation of the earth's resources, mass animal extinction's and climate change, perhaps we should not be laying down laws about possession but instead be thinking about how we offer the world itself some legal protection.

See also:

The etymological root of art 

Drawing and permaculture

Drawing from photographs


Tuesday, 27 April 2021

The camera and the body

This one hundred year old camera has darkroom procedures embedded into itself and as its owner takes a photograph you begin to see the magic of drawing with light revealed all over again. Occasionally we need to remind ourselves how things work and how equipment that we take for granted is actually made. As we do so perhaps we will become aware that many of these devices are actually extensions of our own bodies. The stomach of this light machine being recycled plastic bottles, that now hold the developer and fix. The body of the camera is just that, a body. But it is also a room, a camera obscura or 'dark chamber', a room that morphs in size, so that when a hand enters into it, it compacts down to form a chest, but when looked at through the viewfinder that sits in its ceiling, it becomes the size of an art gallery. Its legs are adjustable, it can kneel as well as stand upright, tilting in sympathy with what it gazes at. As the photographer's hand enters the camera's side through a many times repaired flexible tube, we are confirmed in our awareness that this camera is the body's extension; the man and the camera becoming one. They are in effect folded into each other. Haji Meerzaman 'wears' his camera like a second skin. 

The eye of this camera is based on the ones in our heads and as it opens itself to its user it reveals all the traces of their life long intimate connection. A clothes peg becomes a second pair of fingers to hold an extension in place, a black and white patterned fabric a second skin to envelop the hybrid animal as it transforms into the 'cameraman'.  

A red filter is used so that the inside of the camera is lit with a red safety light, as any normal darkroom would be, but it also reminds us that our insides too are red. 

Haji Meerzaman tilts the camera in order to get a better composition. 

The developer and fix sit in the bowels of the camera

This sliding attachment is used to mount the photographic paper and to move it forwards and backwards in order to focus the image on the paper surface.

Haji Meerzaman's hand feels as old as his camera. We can just see the red glow of the safety filter light to the left. 

Two cardboard inserts are used to hold the bottom of the photographic paper in place, one of many repairs and adjustments that have been made to the camera over the years.

A many times repaired flexible tube emerges from the side of the camera. Haji Meerzaman's arm is fully covered as he feels his way into the dark enclosure of the camera, so that he can position the photographic paper and after his shot is taken, he will again snake his arm through into the camera's belly, this time to develop the paper negative. 

The side of the camera is opened to show how the hand emerges into the operating space 

Haji Meerzaman checks the focus while sliding the paper holder backwards and forwards.

As you pick up your digital camera or mobile phone, perhaps you can sense a similar thing happening. You are in effect extended into your device, a coupling of animate and inanimate beings creating a new hybrid.  This is a form of contemporary animism, on old idea that has been with us for thousands of years, but which perhaps now requires revisiting. This man and his camera have grown old together. As the camera has broken through the normal wear and tear of use, he has repaired it over and over again. The popularity of BBC One's 'Repair Shop' testifies to the fact that we recognise the need to preserve things and that the life of things is deeply entwined with our own. As artists and makers everything we produce is similarly an extension of ourselves into inanimate matter, each artwork 'speaking' for us and continuing to speak for us even as we return back into the earth from which we came. The participants in 'the Repair Shop' often speak of their objects as family, as if their grandmother or grandfather in some way remains alive in the object brought in for repair. This is of course about love. If we are to value the world beyond ourselves, we need to be able to develop affection for all those things that are not us; trees, birds, streams, pebbles, pigs, landscapes and clouds, as well as old cameras and our mobile phones. 

Drew Binsky's account of meeting Haji Meerzaman

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Deer teeth, perception and symbolic language

The Canadian paleoanthropologist and rock art researcher Genevieve von Petzinger's recent writings directed my attention to some etched deer teeth. The teeth form a necklace which was found in the grave of a young woman who died some 16,000 years ago in Saint-Germain-de-la-Rivière, in south-west France. Many of the teeth had basic designs carved into them.  This necklace now resides in the Canadian National Museum of Prehistory in Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, and you instinctively know that these signs carved on these teeth must have conveyed something important to the person wearing the necklace.  

Deer teeth necklace

The necklace reminded me that as humans we continue to wear bracelets and necklaces and that having symbolic items so close to us, touching our skin, was a very special thing and as a means of communication was as close to 'ingesting' an idea as we could get. Only if we began swallowing these things would we be able to get closer in touch with them. This wanting to be 'in touch' or interconnected with the object of meaning has made me realise that the drawings I have been making of 'somatic' images; drawings of pains, feelings and itches that emanate from inside my body, perhaps need to be made more physical and more 'own-able' or touchable. Could it be that I need to be designing jewellery? The more I look back into prehistory, the more I see possible future uses for my ideas in a time of secularism. 

The charm bracelet

If we look at a typical charm bracelet it brings together in one place a range of objects that are all 'out of their size'. I.e. whatever their original nature they are now all reduced to the same size. In this instance there is an image of the Eiffel Tower, a house, a letter and what looks like a kidney bean, all brought together into the same world. We also have a heart symbol, a motorcycle, a human being, a guitar and a fish, a situation not that unlike the one where the poet Lautréamont describes a young boy as being "beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella".  Andre Breton often used this line as an example of Surrealist dislocation but it could also be used to describe the beauty of a charm bracelet. 
I'm very interested in this idea of a common everyday item of jewellery containing within it mysterious and enigmatic objects that have been dislocated from where they came from and which are now intimately worn around someone's wrist or ankle. It could be the prefect solution in terms of a vehicle for my somatic images of visualised inner body sensations. From pains, to feelings of joy or sorrow, or everyday sensations such as itching, or a need to go to the toilet, sleepiness or arousal, these are all very personal experiences. Therefore these tiny relief sculptures might fit into an environment where people are already happy to combine images of kidney beans with fish and motorcycles. In this situation, each object has at some point in someone's life been of meaning to them. It could be argued that in some ways a charm bracelet can be a sort of physical autobiography. Therefore objects designed in response to their inner sensations ought to be at home in that sort of company. 

Designs for metal charms based on drawings of inner body sensations

I'm aware that I like to feel the coins in my pocket, I can sort them into sizes and imagine their look from the way they feel. Touching and looking are very intimately connected, so perhaps making things to slip into the pocket is what I should be doing? We shall see, the computer visualisations above are yet another aspect of the idea, they are designed to 'fool' the eye into thinking they look a little like metal. Am I actually just fooling myself, being puzzled is perhaps where everyone ends up when thinking about perception.  

I'm using the diagram below as a visual guide to my thinking about how interoception can become exteroception at the moment. Perhaps in relation the wider issue of 'why use drawing', it's an example of changing mode. In this case using drawing's ability to clarify an idea by diagram, rather than using its ability to communicate feeling tone by expressive mark quality, surface appearance by observational drawing or metaphorical association by image construction. But if you begin to push a diagram formally, very quickly the other drawing methodologies begin to come back into play. 

Diagram of interoception linked to exteroception via a topological space based on a Möbius strip intersecting a Klein Bottle 

See also:

Monday, 12 April 2021

Michael Hansmeyer and computational architecture

I'm looking at mathematics again, so apologies for this, but in an attempt to maintain a holistic approach to aesthetic thinking, every now and again I try to dip my toes into waters I'm deeply frightened of. In this case it's the work of Michael Hansmeyer that I'd like to highlight. This is work that uses layer upon layer of flat drawings, that when cut out of card and stacked one above the other make complex three dimensional shapes that bridge the gap between sculptural form and drawing.  

Hansmeyer often uses a finite subdivision rule as a way of repeatedly dividing a two-dimensional shape into smaller and smaller pieces. Subdivision rules in a sense are generalisations of regular geometric fractals, but instead of repeating exactly the same design over and over, they have slight variations in each stage, and this makes for a much richer structure while still maintaining an overall harmonisation of forms. These subdivision rules are often found in biologic entities, which is why structures using this way of constructing themselves remind you of natural forms. 

finite subdivision rule applied to a polygon

Using flat forms to construct three dimensional models

As you divide regular geometric forms and you move away from symmetry you begin to achieve a nature like complexity, a complexity that can be stabilised formally by reintroducing bi-lateral symmetry.  

Two symmetrical rotations of 'time' section above

A complex made of four quadrilaterals subdivided twice.

Our lungs obey a similar principle, and the reason I've become more interested in these things is that I've been thinking more about how to envisage the things we don't normally see, such as the insides of our bodies. 

Grotesque columns based on Doric forms

Hansmeyer applies these types of rules to create variations on regular patterns. In the case of his columns above, an abstracted doric column was used as the input data to the subdivision processes.  The ornamentation is developed by controlled subdivision put together as a continuous flow. The complexity of each column is a result of changing focus on different aspects of the data input. For instance one section might be a response to the dimensions of the indentations that surround the capital, and the adjoining section could be a response to the change from a circular cross section to a square one. 

A Doric Column capital

Once the flow of change has been established, drawings are made of each move and these are then used to drive a laser cutter.

Cutting and building a column out of cardboard sheets.

I have mentioned Michael Hansmeyer's work before, but have been returning to it, to think about its generative processes of arrival and how my own process of making variations of form relates to it. Generative mathematical form does seem to be a powerful tool and has a deep connection with the way many forms in nature are generated with slight variations, such as human beings. In order to see if there was an entry point for someone as mathematically challenged as myself I have done a little research and it would seem that 'Grasshopper' is the best software to begin with. It requires no knowledge of programming or scripting, and it can help you as an artist beginning to look at this area to build your own form generators.  So if you are interested in this area, don't be put off by its apparent complexity, like most complex things, it is built from simple units. You do however need to understand what a Rhino environment is. Rhino 3D is a free form surface modeller that uses a modelling by curves technique or NURBS (Which I did look at a little while ago) The fact that it is still free to download does mean you can make a start on this without having to buy expensive software. 

More recently Hansmeyer has been using these design principles to create set designs for opera. His grotto for Mozart's Magic Flute, being a particularly successful transfer of his more sculptural ideas into operatic stage design. Not long ago I put up a post on artists, such as David Hockney, using their skills to create grand dramatic and expressionist spaces, in this case a sculptural principle now becomes a shaper of environments and it also further illustrates a point that I have been making more and more recently. Visual thinkers can move between being seen as artists, biologists, architects, or stage designers, because essentially they are problem solvers. Fine art students are just as capable of solving visual problems as students from any other discipline, with the added bonus that as an artist the problems that you set for yourself are just that, self set problems, arriving out of issues and interests that you are fascinated by. 

Michael Hansmeyer's set for the Magic Flute

This work is a form of digital morphogenesis, a type of generative art in which complex shape development is enabled by computation. Perhaps the most interesting issue is though that you can find the same formal principles of shape morphogenesis in biology, geology and geomorphology, which for myself raises an issue about the divide between organic and inorganic matter. The more that I am drawn to animism as a way of acknowledging the rest of the world that isn't me, the more I see similarities between the way matter morphs into form and the way life forms are shaped, it is perhaps more an issue of one taking longer than the other to become what it becomes. I am making a series of drawings that are meant to sit visually in that space between the organic and the inorganic, that are images of inner body sensations, feelings and awarenesses and I am thinking about how to explore their formal possibilities further, which is also why I'm personally becoming interested in shape morphogenesis.

On becoming aware of loss

The smell of fear

See also Begin here if you want to learn how to do this