Computer generated art has the ability to leave spectators feeling disconnected with its cold and logical production. The connotations commonly associated with it are bound up in algorithms and technical jargon. William Latham’s exhibition, titled Mutator 2 challenges these stereotypes by combining the human body and the machine in an interactive approach.
The VRC’s Centerspace, has been set up so that the space is divided by a large printed curtain made specifically for the event (Curtain, 2014), which acts as divider between two time periods. Latham’s work from the late eighties is on one side, including early drawings, prints and a computer animation; on the other side is his more recent work, the focal piece, Mutator 2 Triptych (2013). The latter allows the visitor to interact with it. The viewer is presented with three touch screens and motion sensors, as well as three large-scale connected projections. When the software is launched the computer image begins as a simple horn shaped structure, which over time mutates and becomes vastly more complex with each modification. The structures that are generated connect the viewer to the studies of science and microbiology, with the use of colour and form that is similar to the 3d modelling used in mapping proteins within DNA and so on.
Such juxtapositions can be at first daunting, but once the viewer approaches the work and experiments with the software, Mutator 2 Triptych appears to be like any other form of art. It still allows the viewer to engage with thoughts of composition, framing and evaluation of aesthetics. Motion sensors enable the body to control the movement of the digital structures. By pushing the limits of how the body can affect the shape and tempo of the form, the interactive work opens up space for both human connection and an appreciation of how machine and human can coincide and work well together.
Latham himself emphasises the idea of fusing the natural and the synthetic, in his artist talk last month (13th November) where he describes how he combines the two ideas:
…ultimately I’m thinking as a sculptor, I try to harness what computers are good at, to explore this vast space, with aesthetic possibilities. And the idea is that out of the darkness comes strange bizarre forms that reference the natural world, because I am using spirals, branching structures and rib cages…
The inclusion of early drawings and prints allows the viewer to visualise the journey of computer art from the eighties and compare it with how far we have come now. It also highlights the primal processes of evolutionary concepts. The drawings are a space where the generation of a form grows ever more complex with the addition and breeding of new forms through a rule based method. The result resembles a family tree, starting with the most basic geometric forms at the top, to complex organic offspring at the bottom. Latham highlights the use of his drawings as a platform to the work he makes today; “…the 2D page is a launch pad that the structures would grow out of.”
Overall this work appears to act as a retrospective not only for Latham’s work but for society’s attitudes towards the computer arts. I believe that society is at a stage where these types of visuals can coexist and function in the art world and this coexistence feels less alien than it may have done in the past.
Latham’s work opens a dialogue not only about the machine-human collaboration but also about the relationship of process and product within art making, questioning what is valued more within creative constructs. Latham himself believes that had his images been formed by accidental means, they would have quickly been discarded. Mutator 2 emphasises that it is the process that holds the viewer’s interest and we should look to the making of art to find greater creative potential.