Monash University

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Nanocosm: A Studio Investigation into Algorithmic Worlds

posted on 2016-12-07, 23:32 authored by Gordon Peregrine Monro
This exegesis concerns the making of artworks that constitute artificial worlds of their own, that obey their own autonomous rules. The creative works produced from the studio investigation are generated by computer programs, so the rules they obey are specified in algorithms, which are then expressed in programs; the resulting works can be classed as generative art. The ability to make works that are the result of autonomously unfolding processes depends on the ability of the computer to carry out very complicated processes autonomously. This radical autonomy of the computer has no real precedent among human artefacts and gives the computer a transhuman character in the original sense of the word, that is a character that is above or beyond the human. The main example of the transhuman is the natural world as understood by modern science; the computer, with its transhuman generative power, stands in an oblique relationship to both the world of usual human artefacts and the natural world.
   The works discussed in the exegesis are a form of abstract art, and further are generated by computer: a machine for manipulating abstract entities, uninterpreted patterns of bits. The exegesis discusses abstraction in mathematics and computer science and argues that uninterpreted patterns of bits acquire meaning largely through metaphor, as defined by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. The role of metaphor is examined in selected works of computer-based generative art; the metaphors and associations of the visual appearance of the work may be quite different from those of the (usually hidden) generative process in the computer.
   The idea that the artworks obey laws of their own suggests the involvement of mathematics. The mathematics of form is discussed, with particular reference to art; the use of mathematics is one aspect of what can be called the constructivist drive, the desire to construct artworks by adopting a systematic and logical approach. The works discussed in the exegesis are products of this drive.
   The generating process used in the studio works are largely inspired at their highest levels by biological metaphors of evolution and growth; the details for a particular work are more driven by the exigencies of that work than by the overall metaphor. The visual appearance is variously inclined towards biomorphic or geometric, in general with a strong formal character. The later works make use of a hexagonal grid, which is elaborated into a multi-level hexagonal grid. In the large-scale real-time work Nanocosm this multi-level grid becomes a powerful element in the generating process as well as in the visual appearance of the work. A technically-oriented description of the computer program that generates Nanocosm is provided in an appendix.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Vince Dziekan

Additional supervisor 1

Jon McCormack

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Fine Art


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture