A Series Spotlighting Real-Life Examples of Art Meeting Code (Part 3 of 4)
Peter King has been experimenting with fractals since the mid-1980s. Many of his designs take their input from nature and from human interaction — in the form of video camera inputs or a “Spirograph” style user experience — rather than from a fixed mathematical starting point. He invented a process to create fractals purely from video camera feedback — no computer necessary!
Forms that exhibit scalar self-similarity, combined with the fact that in-folding greater detail increases the measure of the geometry: The more convoluted a (one dimensional) line gets, the more it approaches filling a two dimensional plane, so the line exists in a fractional dimension, hence, fractal. Romanesco and Buddabrot are among my favorites.
Growing up, I loved to draw from my imagination and from life. As a senior in High School (1982), I was seduced by computer graphics, and wrote little programs on Apple II written in Basic. There was no command for a circle, so found out how sine & cosine are used to draw a circle with a for loop. It was all Euclidean geometry: First spirals and spirographs, then wrote a 3D wireframe program in Basic. But with all that focus on euclidean geometry, my drawings were getting really geometric, and I began missing the organic feel of natural structures.
Then in college a friend sent me an article on fractals and the mandelbrot set, and I was attracted by the psychedelic appeal, but also liked how well they described organic structures algorithmically. My math skills weren’t apt for fractal math, so I would draw fractals to help myself understand them. Just out of college I watched a NOVA episode on fractals and chaos theory, which gave a very simple description of how to draw a Sierpinski triangle, so after watching I went to my Amiga and wrote a basic program to do it, and then began tweaking the variables to see how it changed the fractals.
A couple years later, I was experimenting with video feedback. I really liked observing how it behaved similarly to cellular automata: There was chaotic emergence guided by recursive rules. I think the universe creates in a similar way, so engaging in creative process this immediate and responsive manner feels to me like collaborating with nature. Well, in these explorations, I wondered what would happen if I split the camera signal and sent it to two monitors. While I set things up, I realized it would make fractals, which was a very exciting realization. I refined the video fractal process by putting one video monitor behind a window, with the reflection of the second monitor superimposed. This creates very specific IFS fractals, but they pulse and throb with color and texture. Truly simple shamanic interactive television 🙂
When digital desktop video arrived, I switched to that medium, making versions with Max/MSP, Quartz Composer, and Flash. When the iPhone came out, I built a multitouch table, where the fractal is directly manipulated with multitouch gestures on affine transforms.
What preparation/skills did you need to acquire for these projects?
Why create artwork that takes its inputs from outside phenomena (variables found in nature, interpolated by mathematical equations) rather than directly from the artist’s imagination?
I am fascinated by how nature designs, and by studying and imitating these processes, I feel like I am co-creating with nature.
Use the links below to check Peter King’s fractals — or make your own!