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Metacreation is a
very interesting book. It provides a survey of how a number of artists in the
1990's used the technologies that grew out of various scientific disciplines
that have been studying the processes of life by simulating them on computers.
Rather than study nature, these studies study artificial life, or a-life.
A-life is a part of a significant and controversial extension of
the scientific method. Since Newton science has used sophisticated mathematics
to create simplified models of reality; models that are simple enough to be understood
because they strip away irrelevant detail. For instance, Newton came to
understand orbital mechanics by reducing whole planets to "centers of
gravity" whose trajectories could be predicted by his calculus. This
approach has an undoubted power; and yet it has its limits. Many natural
processes, from the turbulence in a river to the processes of life cannot be
modeled with such mathematical tools -- no matter how sophisticated.
The advent of computers opened a new way of creating sophisticated
models. Computer programs could be written that simulated the behavior of
systems that could not be modeled by calculus. For instance, the processes of
evolution and genetics could be simulated in this way. It was from these roots
that studies of a-life grew.
The techniques of a-life generate endless supplies of visual
material. This visual material has
caught the attention of many artists. The material is not only visual in the
sense of images on a computer screen.
A-life lends itself as well to robotic implementation that is of
interest to both sculptors and installation artists. Metacreation
provides a survey of the work of a number of artists who have been inspired by
The work surveyed covers a broad range. Some of the artists are
concerned with generating works on paper. Others are interested in creating
interactive video environments. Rooms full of networked robotic arms hanging
from the ceiling that interact with each other and viewers are discussed. So
are tickling machines.
Whitelaw provides a wide-ranging survey of a-life art. He
discusses many artists, and also presents a survey of critical thinking in this
area. The reader is warned though that
the language of this book is artspeak with horns on. Artspeak is the jargon of
academic art criticism and analysis. It is often difficult to understand.
Regrettably, the resultant obscurity is often used to disguise very shallow
thinking. Many of the artists that
Whitelaw discusses seem to have this flaw -- they seek to validate pretty
unengaging work with essays of profound seeming obscurity. Your reviewer is
pleased to report that Whitelaw himself seems not to share this flaw. Whenever
his more difficult passages have been parsed, dictionary in hand, Whitelaw has
always made sense.
© 2004 Martin Hunt
Martin Hunt is an artist living
and working in Vancouver, Canada. His work is inspired by math and science.
Lately he's been indulging an interest in evolutionary theory and its relation
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