Computer Art Image of the Month - July 2011

July 2011

Red to Come (thumbnail)

Click the image to enlarge

Still images of Red to come by Anne-Sarah Le Meur, 2011

Computer rendered

Copyright the artist, reproduced with permission

Light constructed by numbers

It was the early 1980s Disney film Tron that first introduced French painter Anne-Sarah Le Meur, when a child of only 12, to the world of computer art.

Thus began her desire to understand how emotional images could be created with mathematical process as she had always believed that art (representing sensitivity, subjectivity, the unconscious) and mathematics or programming (a question of logic and rationality) couldn’t go together.

But, as she says, ‘probably because I like absurdity, I needed to understand what kind of art was possible with this process, and if it could generate something new and interesting according to artistic criteria.’

Her work draws two aspects of art together - the visual, focusing on 3D light phenomena and the interactive. As Anne-Sarah puts it, ‘the way we look at things and especially how the way we look changes what we look at.’ Anne-Sarah terms herself an experimental 3D image maker.

Her research has dealt with the influence of 3D data processing on the imagination and demonstrated in her artworks (she received a PhD on this subject in 1999). Since then she has been working on real-time 3D images for an interactive, immersive virtual environment work, her aim being to reveal how the expression of the body can be transformed.

Our images this month are stills from a bigger project of ongoing research entitled Beyond-Round. This is an interactive, 360 degree cylindrical installation which explores the action of the viewer’s gaze, the sensitivity of the peripheral visual field and the resistance of an image to being seen.

To experience this work the viewer stands inside a cylindrical screen on which a luminous image appears, disappears and circulates around; the speed and colours varying according to the viewer’s behaviour and direction of his gaze. The images are generated in 3D in real-time. The image moves in and out of the peripheral visual field which is a very sensitive area for movement detection.

Micro-movements of the viewer’s head trigger a range of attributes in the lights such glaring, colour variation, contrast of light / dark and so on. The code is open enough to interact with the variables in real time and to change the appearance of the image.

Anne-Sarah believes that through her installation our ‘visual and kinaesthesic perceptions can be enhanced by a non-verbal colourful dialog in slowness, darkness, silence. They enrich the viewer’s awareness of reciprocal and respectful relationship, to space and duration and trigger psychic refocusing.’

The software and sensors are custom-made. She remarks that not being a professional programmer, her code which she describes as ‘very elementary, very simple’ does cause occasional programming difficulties. However ultimately this is a positive thing ‘because many of my ideas come from mistakes, or from my bad way of writing commands.’

Anne-Sarah’s inspirations include American light artist James Turrell and Samuel Beckett’s texts exploring darkness (notably Company / Compagnie). Her works address questions such as: How does light behave in a virtual space, constructed only by numbers? How do these numbers allow one to play, to disturb, to possibly twist physical laws of light, when one is not looking to simulate realistic phenomena?

She points out that vision also depends greatly on the amount of time the viewer gives it. If vision takes place for a period of time it deepens, it uncovers surprises, which one wouldn't have seen without this length of time. In our industrial society, with its speed and its desire for efficiency, these moments of observation are limited.

With these images she manages to create an ambivalence of space. The depth of the surface is uncertain; is it a flat surface or a deep space? We look inside this strange space, fearing we might be sucked in, searching for something unknown.

They are undoubtedly sensual, seen in both the forms and the colour. Anne Sarah says that the movement of the two opposed lights is based on power balance and on love balance: They move and look for each other, they come together and conjoin. But they also eat or swallow each other. Because of the organic aspect of the black area, some ephemeral compositions can evoke body orifices or breasts.

When seeing the work ‘live’, the undulations of the surface forms and the oscillations and slow variations of movement suggest breathing and lull the viewer, the feeling aided by the slowness and darkness of the enclosed environment. We have before us a fascinating unknown living system.

Her work certainly has parallels with minimalism but above all in the aesthetic of these images we can see her roots in abstract lyric painting. Anne-Sarah further comments, ‘the images are abstract but organic, metaphors of a world both cellular and cosmic, very carnal, so minimal that they become archaic, a sort of pre-semantic vision.’ Her love for painting gives her the freedom to use programming in an unexpected way; her images go beyond physical rules and are freed from realism.

This is what she is looking for in computer art - ‘A logic we can play with, distort and which can generate something unexpected. It is one of the strengths of writing code: to choose parameters, you are not dependant on ‘predetermined cursors’ in ‘predetermined tools windows’ which have fixed boundaries.’ Her advice? ‘Code yourself, don’t trust the documentation and always try the extreme limits of any function.’

Anne-Sarah continues her research into how to program colour and some of this can be seen and read on her website. Her images and animations have been exhibited in France, Germany, England, Brazil, Hong-Kong, South Korea and Japan. From the end of August, she will have work on view at the ZKM (Centre for Art and Media, Karlsruhe) Germany. Perhaps one for your summer holidays?

Catherine Mason is the author of A Computer in the Art Room: the origins of British computer arts 1950-80, published in 2008.

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