Words: David Mrugula & J.Scott Stratton
If you haven’t figured out where I am going with this, I am speaking about Code. The virtual languages that operate our entire digital lives. C+, C++, Java, Python, Perl – the list goes on, and new languages are in constant development.
These are, what I would like to call, indirect languages – because most of us don’t use them specifically to communicate. And because of this, we often think of them as purely functional – for those that even think of them at all. They are a necessary system for the operation of our daily lives. Devoid of creative expression.
This couldn’t be further from the truth, of course. For those that work with Code on a daily basis, they understand its full of creativity. There are rules like any other language, but there is flexibility for developing a style and signature – just as a poet or author would.
This is the case with German architect David Mrugula, who uses his knowledge of code to develop algorithms that will produce works that fall into a growing artist area called Generative Art – which is art that has been produced by an autonomous system.
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This field, Generative Art, is a widely speculated area in the industry because it again raises the age-old question of “What is Art?” Is code that creates an output devoid of a “human” artist what could be considered “creative expression?”
I became fascinated with this concept, and the use of languages reserved for function and output, for developing artwork. Mrugula’s current work Hate: In-Situ was of particular interest because of its combination of human communication and code to produce generative artwork, so I reached out to him to learn more about his work, research, and process.
The following text is our conversation:
There is so much to unpack with the work that you do, so tell me a little bit about your work as an artist and how you moved from architecture to creating artwork with code?
You are right, there is a lot to unpack, and it is quite a challenge for me to put it short here and give a satisfying answer. But personally, I wouldn’t call or hesitate to call myself an artist as in my view I have never moved away from architecture.
Architecture is actually more than the built environment or a physical manifestation of concepts and ideas. Above all, architecture is heavily based on sets of codes, whether it is the city zoning, the building code itself, or reoccurring social patterns. Moreover working as an architect requires comprehension and the use of digital tools that involve parametric methods and involve coding. Thus my interest in creating works with code is natural to me.
Due to some changes in my career and increased interest in digital media, I started a couple of years the platform thedotisblack when I have moved to Korea. thedotisblack became one of two creative outlets or platforms where I could channel my creativity while at the same time learning new coding languages and explore interactive and responsive methods. With time the platform evolved into a large archive of more than a thousand generative drawings that now serve me as a design library. It also gained a large follower base and various works have been bought, exhibited or published which in turn encouraged me to continue with it.
Perhaps most important though, thedotisblack is free of the conventions of architecture, and I am able to explore drawings freely, taking inspiration from everywhere and any field. Thus the question of whether it is art or design always occurs frequently.
You work with a lot of generative artforms. Can you explain what that is, and whether you think it blurs the lines between who is the artist and who is the medium?
That’s a very good question. In general, generative artforms are based on algorithms (set of rules) that can be written in various programming languages. The word generative describes here an iterative process that involves a program that can create an infinite number of outputs that meet certain constraints set by the artist who is the author of the program.
The outputs can be changed with values that are controlled either by the artist directly or indirectly by an input source, such as an audio file. In this sense, there is a clear line between the medium and the artist who writes the program, selects and refines the outcome. The medium is the algorithm or source code. However, the line between the medium and artist becomes blurred in interactive or responsive art. That’s when the input source is the artist himself, who in real-time is interacting and shaping the outcome and may become the medium himself.
To a degree, my Hate In-Situ series blurs this line since the visuals represent emotions and memories of actual people who serve as a medium for the emotions… Quite intriguing. I will need to think about it.
Your German, but you live and work in South Korea. How did that come to be?
Long story short. I always felt a desire for a great adventure… Before Korea, about ten years ago, I embarked on a journey across land and sea only, from Germany to Japan to India to Papua. It took me about two years, but along the way, I encountered plenty of opportunities which first made me stay and work as an architect in Ahmedabad/India and then in Bangkok/Thailand where I was offered to work in academia.
Eventually, through my work as an educator, I have been invited to Korea and since then never left. Korea never really was on my mind when I was traveling and living in Asia though. It has happened rather naturally, and for the past couple of years, I have been living here – currently due to my work at Keimyung University in Daegu.
I want to elaborate a little more on the research that you do through thedotisblack. You’ve written that it focuses “on the development of design knowledge through generative drawings with an emphasis on natural science studies, sound analysis, data visualization, and geometry.” Can you unravel that a little bit for me?
As I mentioned earlier, as an architect I am naturally interested in patterns, geometry, abstraction, and natural sciences – while thedotisblack is free of any conventions. In general, with thedotisblack, I focus on simple rules in code that utilize basic design principles that can be overlapped, merged or used for further development, especially in combination with natural science studies and architecture. In this context, geometry always plays an important role for me as it enables a circular argument that brings things together while providing direction and flexibility.
At the same time, coding itself does not only emphasize on the relationship among its parts but also enables the potential for a high and unexpected complexity of the whole that I cannot imagine with my mind but that I can control. With thedotisblack, I am exploring this complexity and control, while science studies and sound may add the visual narratives.
A simple yet very effective example of this process is the “20 to 20000 Hz Audiovisual Print”. It’s a 45 seconds long drawing that is based on a few simple rules and uses the human frequency range as a visual narrative.
Let’s dig into this recent work HATE: IN-SITU. How did that come to be?
This is a new series of audiovisuals I have developed this summer during (note:interview was conducted in 2019), for and in response to the Hate Festival in Korea where the effects of hate in contemporary media and culture was investigated. However, the concept behind HATE In-Situ is not exclusive to hate and anger only. I had it on my mind for some time, to explore the patterns, expressions, and aesthetics of emotions through audiovisuals.
The initial thought to the series came from Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, a 19th-century French printer and bookseller who was fascinated in ways of transcribing vocal sounds and eventually invented the phonautograph, of which “Au clair de la lune” is the earliest known recording of voice in existence from 9 April 1860. The phonautograph collected sounds and created visual images for investigation of sound with the objective to translate speech to text only.
Hate In-situ, on the other hand, attempts to explore and investigate, in a playful manner, the unique patterns and forms of vocal expressions through hate and anger. The works are audiovisuals and are based on 24 seconds audio recordings which were recorded in-situ during the Hate Festival 2018 in Korea. Each audiovisual is an isolated visual artifact of hate and critical to interpretation and, consequently, of the culture and the experiences of the people that formed it at that time. Each hate experience is arranged through an audio recording into a circular shape where the beginning and end disappear, and thus the experience of hate and anger becomes isolated into a single timeless shape – without beginning and end.
The circular shape, black and the range of grey tones emphasize and support the expression of each audiovisual and keep them as unified patterns. Interestingly, each hate and anger emotion has a very distinct pattern that repeats, and it becomes possible to read the visuals in relation to each other without the audio. So there is a lot more that can be said but it’s better to leave it to the viewer to explore.
I also would like to mention that Hate in-situ is a collaborative work with vocals by Jung Ho Ryong, Heo Won Young and Lee Hyeong Min who were patiently exploring with me various expressions of hate for a couple of days. The series will gain a counterpart in the next months: Love In-Situ.
I’m interested in this idea of using Code, not only as a language but also as a medium for artistic expression. What are your thoughts on this?
Code is definitely a medium for creative and artistic expression. It depends on how it is used though. Just like a hammer is a tool, but also a medium for artistic expression to a sculptor. Just like the English language is a tool to communicate, but also a medium for a poet. I could continue with such examples. However compared to a hammer or written English language, to many people coding is a foreign language that is not visible and mainly hidden in bits and bytes. We primarily experience code (algorithms) but don’t see it. Just like we experience emotions of hate and anger.
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