After the success of autoRAD – it became a decently real question to ask myself: “well, what do I really need?” Sometimes questions like that get pushed to the back of your mind, because dwelling too much on what you need or want means you don’t have pressing things that present themselves as your real needs in the meantime. You know what I mean – Maslow’s hierarchy or something. I think we’ve kind of forgotten that the hierarchy of needs was meant to illustrate something: that the higher-order needs are still needs, not that they’re irrelevant compared to more basic needs like food and water and shelter. We get caught up (and justifiably so) in remembering that not everyone has the base layers attended to – and we start to consider the upper levels something like “first world problems.” The thing is – once I have some shelter and food and water, and I do have those things, if I don’t move to higher order needs I just end up rearranging these bottom layers in more or less pleasing arrangements and wonder why it feels empty.
I haven’t really been making art this whole time for some other reason than that I needed to make the art. There’s probably a nice edgy Bukowski quote about that somewhere. So after autoRAD I kept at it. After doing less glitch art for a while, I returned to experimenting with that again and hiding some early glitch work in opensea collections and stuff like that – just kind of comforting to go back and remember what went by so fast at the time. When I found a new look that I really wanted to pursue – it was a look that came about when exploring how ASDF (the classic Kim Asendorf pixel sorting script) creates gradients on accident sometimes rather than just dripping pixels. Maybe gradients are the intention? I don’t know – but if you set the parameters right and choose your images and colors carefully and don’t mind using some scaling tricks to make things unreasonably huge – you can use ASDF just to make gradients. You can use ASDF to explore.
“Surely, though – you can just make gradients? Isn’t that kind of a roundabout way to get a simple gradient?” This is the thing I often need: I need a collaborator via machine or found object or algorithm to surprise me – to surprise me in exploration when I know I didn’t just make the thing myself.
I was always fascinated that in The Republic (which I believe is mean to be a meditation on statecraft AND how we govern ourselves) Plato’s Socrates begins by saying that it’s only when we go beyond necessity that we find destruction. The longing for luxuries, giving into feverish unsatisfiable desires – this is where war, pain, and suffering ultimately comes from. So maybe it’s a good thing to figure out what it is that you actually need, to cast an eye forwards and try to avoid that destruction. When you start to strip away all the things you don’t really need, or maybe you have some of the basic things you want – at some point you have to ask “what do I really need?” I was thinking on this subject and making compositions around concepts of what I need: a place to be, just left alone, and something transcendent. Those are needs in the most true and basic sense. Uncluttered by all the detail of getting from A to B, the reality of dealing with cleaning and eating and all the paperwork it takes to exist – not those things.
These are what I need, I think – at the very core of it. A place, some time, and something to pursue into infinity.
These are explorations of geometric compositions with glitched textures being used mostly for their colors and for their gradients rather than for texture. I needed the colors, mostly. The idea is that by scaling and reducing what are actually very complex glitch patterns – mostly using ASDF by Kim Asendorf – these are taking the very most basic elements of it and making them the focus. Taking the very most basic elements of life, and trying to focus on those.
The colors and gradients in this piece use a palette I’ve called “fantasy.” It makes me think of breaking out of confining spaces, makes me think of the dream of simply “being” as a reasonable explanation for why we’re here. The brightness of these colors is offset by the lack of neon-contrast, meaning the need here is for the ASDF to provide structure in patterns as well.
One of the things I’ve decided that I absolutely need is a place to be. Obviously I don’t just mean a physical space: you can be in a cubicle or at a register or even in your own living room and you are there existing not to be but to do some kind of work, or function as a certain kind of presence. That is – even though a cubicle is a place to be – when I’m there I am not myself but I am working in the role that I’m paid to do, doing some *thing*. All corporate hand-waving insisting they are trying to treat us as human beings seems to me to mostly just be an elaborate way of making us more productive at that thing by *feeling* like we are being treated as something other than a living breathing tool.
I always liked the way that Virginia Woolf explained the necessity of a place to be for creative work: “…webs are not spun in mid-air by incorporeal creatures, but are the work of suffering human beings, and are attached to grossly material things, like health and money and the houses we live in.” I need some space where I am meant simply to exist – to be – and if work comes it comes. I think it’s telling that we have so many men and women creating at home their little “man caves” or “woman caves” (as I’ve heard lately) who simply don’t include their home mentally as a place to be. I think a part of that is the influence of social pressure (not to say social media) to have your home be a presentation to the world and a hosting space rather a place meant for you to exist.
You may notice one little detail in this one – one of the glitch textures actually crosses over into being a structural element. In my early work I did a lot of this, feeling that I needed the kind of destruction that glitch could provide to tear down my certainty. Geometry is a kind of certainty – and sometimes when we present (for example) just a circle, it feels like we’ve neglected that this circle is just an approximation using some rounding, that our idea of it – even if it were perfect – couldn’t be matched by any real-world object composed of atoms and molecules. I needed the ASDF imperfections and pixels in this to relieve me of the responsibility of showing you shapes that I could pretend were real, or that I understood as they really are.
It’s interesting that when we consider the most basic of needs – and here I’m thinking about our “place to be” that we find we need – what do we need that place to be like? The indulgent little places we feel we can really be ourselves in now are for – what? – showcasing collections and large televisions? We are encouraged to imagine ourselves as larger-than-life consumers, as a giant audience member in an impossibly cushy chair, that in the place where we are most ourselves we are consuming the most gourmet delicacies, the most indulgent and copious snacks, the strongest and most rarified drinks, and maybe invite a friend to wallow with us. Does that sound awfully judgmental? I’m like that too, maybe – but there’s also the place we are in our workshop, in our studio, our sun room with plants we’ve grown or the garden we’ve nurtured – we have strong vibrant places that we feel we exist, too. When we don’t have any of those things, I think we start to depersonalize, we lose our embodied presence, instead floating from work to home to bed skittering across glass surfaces and networks and feeds like gnats that don’t even know what to do with a bright screen once they’ve lit on it. I think – at least for myself – I need a place to be. A place to just be.
I couldn’t resist keeping a couple of the pixelsort patterns from ASDF in this piece. All the same, what I needed and kept was mostly the gradients, the colors. In a certain sense – it’s much harder to be an artist when you have total and complete freedom. To make whatever you want is freeing, but at the same time it’s a great leveler: everything seems equally brilliant or stupid and all mashes together into one undifferentiated “but why that?” mass. I needed the ASDF algorithm here to give me some things I could and could not use. I especially like using it on images that I would absolutely refuse to use if they were recognizable, and so it forces me to use the unrecognizable, the zoomed-to-the-point-of-primitives, the bare colors and distance between them. That kind of structure forces the artist to take what they have and the need to arrange them aesthetically presents itself.
Sometimes I think we all find that our work, our life in general is just taken up by other people. I don’t think you have to be an “introvert” to need a moment to yourself just to function sometimes. You have to build networks of trust to have this. Maybe your work will leave you alone if they trust you value what you’re doing for them, that you do that thing because you respect both their schedule and yours. Moving away from in-person office life means this value is being explored again in earnest for the first time in a while. By that same token I think all of us, to one degree or another, need at least a little time to be left to our own devices: to work at our own pace on whatever project we feel needs attention. For most of my life this has been difficult precisely because there’s an assumption that during working hours you are working on the *thing* you do for work, or that when you’re home you have to arrange to have that time to yourself. It’s my own fault that I find it hard to negotiate self-care – because the truth of the matter is that negotiated self-care makes me conscious of the arrangement and then less free to be alone, as if you’re only truly alone when no one is aware that you’re alone. Is that a neurotic feeling? Probably, but that doesn’t make it less of a need.
Is the square in this piece needed? It seems overly formal, and yet – as a part of the whole series it needed to be something other than another composition that ultimately rested on a triangle. Squares represent human places and things and tools, and so the need was to fill and escape this square, or maybe just to fill it with something meaningful. What I needed was a reason to contrast certain colors with others, and to have some kind of focal point to dissolve into – and ASDF provided that. This is one of the more textured pieces from the series too – and I think that the plainness of the framing square is offset by the complexity of the circle. Again, what it came down to was thinking “what do I need” while making the art, and thinking.
I have always loved May Sarton’s “Journal of a Solitude” – and loneliness and being alone is the running theme. She says, “when it comes to the important things one is always alone … the way in which one handles this absolute aloneness is the way in which one grows up, is the great psychic journey of everyman.” This thought by itself has shaped my thought in a lot of ways. So much of what we talk about today is in terms of community and our communal values – and I think it’s very much almost a given that these should be foremost in our practical life – but we are not a community when we are by ourselves. We do not simply take the community consensus when we think about why we are here, or why we do any particular thing. Sometimes we do things for the sake of community, but to totally abstract myself into being a member of a community and nothing more will make all the experiences that happen to *me* and the choices that *I* have to make and the suffering or joy that *I* go through seem unreal, and if anything I want my life to feel more real than real rather than less. Sometimes I think I need to experience things alone. I need to do that in order to grow up.
What people may not appreciate who haven’t explored glitch art very much is how thrilling it can be when you’re mid-process. The early stages is learning tools, finding raw material maybe, doing some code or soldering or something – brainstorming a new technique maybe. The middle stage is when you’ve found something new – you’ve discovered landscapes of pixels that no one has seen before – you’ve processed something that cranked out a warped stage that no one has walked on, no one has shared. The colors and the waves and pixels can be overwhelming, and you know that right in this moment at least no other eyes have ever seen what is on your screen right now. ASDF as an algorithm is interesting because while it gets more predictable the more you use it – it still surprises you when you input a certain color combination or a certain shape or noise complexity or something. Maybe that comes with barely grasping the inner workings of it (other sorting algorithms seem easier to get a handle on) – but it’s almost like emergent patterns that you try to seek out rather than plan. So what was provided that was needed here is, – for example – the staggered wave pattern on the circle. You can kind of predict how to drag values far enough into the red that it will produce totally bent waves, or how to keep the values safe enough it produces drifted pixels, but finding something like that where it almost feels like old-world marbling still feels surprising to me.
The need for something transcendent is probably one of the more controversial needs I think I have, that maybe other people share. Tolstoy pointed out in his later life that he was surprised learned people believe we can do away with transcendent ideas, that historically people had not lived that way in any place or time. I’m phrasing it this way on purpose too – “something transcendent” – since I believe that people everywhere may or may not believe in any particular purpose or overarching reality or transcendental like beauty or goodness, but that they cannot live as if those things don’t exist. I think people who find themselves in a vacuum will take whatever value sounds best (maybe freedom, or brotherhood, or equality) and make those into ideas that function essentially the same as religion did for people that came before them.
When I use “something transcendent” here, it’s a double reference to the artwork and to my actual needs. The artwork often needs the astonishing revelation of some new digital creation that I didn’t plan. Myself: I need to have some overarching transcendent purpose or value or reality, because living otherwise seems fit for animals (in the insulting sense, not in the literal “of course we are also animals and animals have rights” sense), but not for whatever human beings are. So what is that worthy thing? What is transcendent that seems worthwhile? That part might be beyond me, but I’m aware of the need.
The working title for this color palette has always been “metaphor.” I think if you were to ask “what is this art a metaphor for” the obvious answer is “hell if I know.” Expressionism in the sense of art that expresses an aesthetic idea rather than referencing some real world thing or even a concrete idea that you could otherwise put to words has always been interesting to me. It means that the art – if it has any deliberateness to it – is trying to express something that can’t be transmuted into any other medium and still mean what it’s meant to mean. The pixellated rifts in the rectangle aren’t meant to represent a mountain. The soft blue in the circle isn’t a sky. The orange and lavender washing into indigo and black inside the triangle isn’t a volcano or something, it’s a movement of pink to orange to purple to express the feeling of moving through those colors while balanced against three other lines and circles and patterns moving in different directions at the same time. I know it’s unfair to be annoyed when people look at something expressionistic and say “I see a camel here” or “looks like a bush just there” – but it’s an exercise in missing the point when you do that. Similarly, people who make “abstract” art and by that they just mean sort of abstract-ish representations of other things, it’s a different genre.
The last need, that transcendent thing – why? I can give one other reason why this is a need. It has no end. Every need that can be simply satisfied ends up meaning that you play a shell game for the rest of your life rearranging and shuffling the food or shelter or money you need and never ever lifting the shell to find anything beneath it. A need that has no tangible object, but that is something more like what Artistotle called a “final cause” is what I want. That kind of cause has been abused a lot historically, and it’s made fun of a lot in popular smart-people circles now. Those people believe there is no final cause that draws the world forth towards beauty or purpose or order – final causes are a superstition that mankind came up with before we understood the first causes, the things that move and build and grow or fall apart on their own to no other purpose and can be reduced back to their essential elements. Maybe I really am just a sum of those other simpler chemical causes, but the state I find myself in – when I’m free and exist in a place and have a moment to myself – I need some final cause, some luminous idea, some gratifying purpose or movement, I need some other thing – something transcendent.
Maybe I just need, in fact, to take myself less seriously. Maybe I need to come up with a silly name to make artwork under so that all these other needs seem less pretentious and less self-obsessed and puts me in a less exposed place in the world. Maybe I need a name like sgt_slaughtermelon, and I can lump my other needs under that first one.