Transition 5 – Machine Sketches: Carl Gregg

The Customs House, South Shields
3-18 June 2015

Transition is a special exhibition slot created to specifically show new work by recent graduates, experimental work, temporary interventions or thematic shows by emerging and early career artists.  Now in its 5th year and as part of drawing?, Carl Gregg, a PhD researcher based at The Design Centre, University of Sunderland, whose practice and research has investigated the interplay between code, machine and output in graphic communication presented a series of new drawings, some of which were generated on site during the course of the exhibition.

Having previously focused on design that has a traditional digital output (via screen and print), his current explorations consider alternate ways of outputting via drawing machines. Unlike processes typical in digital reproduction, these drawing machines are inherently imperfect in their design and will produce different results each time they are run. It is the physicality in the production the drawings and the ability to have a direct connection between code and output that he finds most intriguing about working with the machines.

The drawings in this exhibition took several hours or even days to produce. This is contrary to the way we typically look to machines and computers to speed up a process. The slowly emerging patterns give time to consider the drawings at various stages of complexity and the final result may be much different than expected.

The Drawings:

Machine Sketches – Drawing Noise

This series of drawings explore patterns generated from algorithms. A computer program created a series of circular paths and then distorted coordinates to be drawn by adding Perlin noise. This type of “noise” was developed by Ken Perlin in the 1980’s to produce computer generated patterns with a more natural appearance and is still used extensively in special effects to produce computer generated clouds, for example. The marks in these drawings could have been made by hand except for occasional single straight lines that appear in some drawings (connecting the start and end points) that are unmistakably machine made.

Strave Sketches – Drawing Data

Taking GPS data that users have uploaded to Strava (an online tool that allows runners, cyclists and walkers to record their activities), this series of drawings explores routes that cyclists have followed rides around Whitley Bay. The drawings use the riders’ location and velocity at regular intervals throughout their journey to form abstract patterns.

This work was part of an investigation into ways that data could be represented as more abstract forms. This is contrary to the typical role of information graphics i.e. to make data more accessible or understandable.

Shoah – Drawing Memories

These drawings connect the names of 2776 individuals who were killed during the Holocaust. The names are taken from the Yad Vashem organization’s and United States Holocaust Museum’s databases and are offered for use in Name Reading Ceremonies.

Drawings may take several days to complete with the pen in constant motion during that time. The pace of the drawing is deliberately slower than a person could read list and it is the intention that the work has a meditative quality.

When preparing the device, it was the intention that the list would be drawn with a single, unbroken line but due to the uneven surface of the paper gaps appeared. Although this was not intended, it resonates with the gaps in the lists of those who were lost.

There are over six hundred thousand movements stored in the memory of the machine to complete the drawing but even this figure is only a fraction of the total people lost during the Holocaust.

“An active line on a walk, moving freely, without goal…”
The initial programs used to control the drawing machines that were used in an earlier part of this PhD research produced drawings with a much looser style. These early drawings were created entirely randomly within the circuitry of the machine itself with no pattern or coordination of movements. As development progressed, it became necessary to gain greater control of the machines to enable very specific output. During this process, the marks have lost some of their expressive qualities and the next stage of this research will be to attempt to distil the qualities of these early drawings.

The drawings produced by this machine during the exhibition are the first steps in this process. The artist Paul Klee wrote extensively about the dynamic principles of mark making and drawing in his books The Pedagogical Sketchbook (1925) and The Thinking Eye (1956). Both of these texts were produced from Klee’s notes from his teachings at the Bauhaus and give a wonderful insight into drawing. Philosophies suggested in these texts will underpin systems that will be developed to produce further drawings.

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