We spoke to Thomas Lin Pedersen about his inspirations, working process and nuanced approach to geometry within digital art, exemplified by the work he submitted for our online exhibition, Building Blocks.
Pedersen’s durational work Detachment has an innovative relationship to geometry, referencing Bauhaus and Suprematist movements. This work, which appears static but is in a constant state of flux, challenges the boundaries between static and dynamic art. This piece does not wait for the viewer, but instead constantly changes, questioning the nature of digital art as a static, constant entity, and rather connecting it to history, time and evolution.
UL: How do you navigate the relationship between mathematics, generative code and geometric aesthetics?
I think coming from data science and data visualisation means that I have a very good grip on all three parts. As mentioned above, I started out with a very formal divide between the aesthetics and the underlying data. The data part was very akin to the workflow in data science with the exception that you are not bound by any notion of usefulness or truth in how you mould the data — the only obligation was to somehow create an interesting dataset out of nothing (which is harder than it sounds). The aesthetic part was conversely linked to how I usually thought about data visualisation except my only goal was to communicate beauty, rather than any insight into the dataset. In many ways, my earliest generative artworks were a means to escape the rigidity and constraints of classic programming, data science, and data visualisation. It was only intended as an outlet for myself and as a way to have fun.
As I have matured as a generative artist I think my relationship with the underlying mathematical and programmatic parts of the artwork has become much more based on intuition. My guess is that this happens as artists become more accustomed to their tools and begin to wield them more instinctively.
UL: Are there any specific artists who influence your work /practice?
The world of generative art has exploded over the last couple of years and it can be difficult to keep track of all the inputs you get. There are no longer other artists where I look at their work and think “I want to make what they are making”. This is mostly due to a stronger sense of intent and direction which I’ve developed over the last couple of years.
With all that being said, I do feel a kinship to some other artists and I believe we influence each other in various ways. Artists such as Emily Xie, Ben Kovach, Tyler Hobbs, and Melissa Wiederrecht share some of the same affinities as me and one could say that our art is in ongoing conversation, albeit indirectly. It can be hard to put a finger on what we share, and I’m not even sure it is reciprocal — maybe it has something to do with a certain kind of simplicity and a superficial clarity of the underlying systems.
Looking further back it is hard to escape the ghosts of Kandinsky and Malevich, partly because they had such a huge influence on early abstract art to the point that it can be difficult to think of without seeing their pieces before your eyes. Some of the ideas of Malevich have been especially influential. He discussed how simplicity could serve to enhance the most diminutive feature and let the viewer absorb the essence of what’s on display. In many ways a lot of recent work has embraced this at its core.
While not purely abstract, I also find a lot of inspiration in the work of cubist artists such as Delaunay, Metzinger, and, of course, Picasso. While having yet to dive deep into it, I’m constantly enticed by how they straddle the divide between two and three dimensions. The ideas they were exploring have an obvious potential within generative art as showcased beautifully by Ben Kovach’s 100 PRINT collection.
UL: Do your explorations in generative pattern have any underlying political or social significance, or do you prefer to focus on the aesthetic qualities of the work?
I have long held the strong belief that my quest is a search for beauty, i.e. aesthetics as the prime goal, and a feeling of beauty as the central feeling to evoke. Over the last couple years I have begun to modulate that belief somewhat. I still feel there is a place for (generative) art that solely intends to evoke beauty, but as I have had more time to reflect on my practice I’ve become aware of the superficiality of aesthetics for the sake of aesthetics. As an artist I’m much more focused on the intent behind my art now than before — it has to have something to say, and the aesthetics should be linked to that. Part of this shift is my maturation as an artist, but it has also come from my involvement in Web3 and the deep connections I have forged with some of my collectors. Having such a direct line of communication with your collectors means that you quickly become aware that they are more than capable of absorbing and appreciating highly complex work with meaning and implications not directly communicated.
With all that being said, I don’t consider myself a political artist or ascribe clear social commentary to my work. I’m a person that is acutely aware of my place in the world and the privilege that has put me there and I do my best to act accordingly. However the themes I explore in my art are on a more personal level, revolving around identity and the nature of beauty.
However, participating in the Web3 movement through my art is a political and social statement. I see it as a way to liberate art and ensure my art is open to everyone who cares about it. In this day and age it can feel like an unreasonable value is put on technical processes at the expense of humanistic values and that is detrimental to humanity as a whole. Art has a central position in all this and ensuring the freedom for all to tune their artistic sensibility through free access to contemporary art is a very deliberate stance on my side.
Lastly, I think the act of creating generative art has societal relevance. It touches on the interface between humans and machines, between chance and predetermination and provokes the spectator to question where human control ends and algorithmic autonomy begins.
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Thomas Lin Pedersen is a generative artist based in Denmark. His art merges the digital precision of computer-based art with an organic feel, exploring the tension between perfection, flaws, digital and analogue. He achieves this tension either by combining his algorithmic pieces with classic reproduction approaches or by letting the algorithm be inspired by the feel and flaws of analogue approaches. Pedersen’s work has been featured on Art Blocks as part of their curated collection and on Bright Moments, as well as being exhibited internationally in cities including Venice, London, and New York.
UL: Can you tell us a bit about your background and journey into creative coding?
I have had a very indirect journey towards where I am right now. I’m a food scientist by training specialising in microbiology and bioinformatics. During my master’s and PhD I began to focus more and more on developing tools for the analysis of biological data along with dabbling in creating or contributing to tools for data analysis. After a few short years working as a bioinformatician and data scientist, while doing open source development on the side I was approached by my current employer, Posit (former RStudio), about doing open source work full time and I jumped at that.
While this career trajectory was going on, I was nurturing my creative side as a serious hobby photographer, spending countless hours outside capturing land and cityscapes, and countless hours inside in front of the computer editing the result. I was eager to merge my interest in computation with my creative endeavours. As I began to work more and more with data visualisation and the programming tools to create them, I became more aware of how creatively fulfilling such work could be, even though my main focus was still on tools to empower other users.
In 2013 I had my first child, and in 2015 another followed. As many parents can attest, having kids has a profound influence on your time planning and priorities. The amount of time I spent outside taking photos – and then editing them – was dwindling. While I kept scratching the technical itch of photography by taking pictures of my family, the pure creative side got lost to the point where I felt I did not have a creative outlet anymore. In 2017 Twitter set up a random encounter that would turn out to have a huge effect on my life. I stumbled upon a tweet by Anders Hoff (Inconvergent), a Norwegian generative artist, that opened my eyes to the art form. It just so happened that I was developing a tool at the same time that (while not intended) could be used for creating certain generative systems. Once it was done, the first thing I used it for was creating my first pieces of generative art.
During my early years I was very influenced by my training in data visualisation. I saw generative art as a way to make artistic data visualisations with made-up data. I often had a two-step approach to my art: First, defining a system that would somehow result in a lot of data; second, creating a visualisation of said data that I found visually pleasing. As time passed, these two steps began to merge and get more and more integrated up to the point where I no longer see any formal divide in my work.
UL: How did you formulate your dynamic and nuanced approach to geometry?
In my first couple of years as a generative artist I focused a lot on dynamic systems. I used flow fields in various ways to create an organic feel to the shapes in my pieces. A couple of different reasons made me look more into purely geometric compositions. First, Fidenza wowed the NFT world, and for better or worse, became synonymous with flow fields. It became sort of unbearable to do anything with this fundamental technique for a while and I had to look elsewhere. Second, I’d long wanted to work with a more gritty, textured look and it simply felt right to work with well-defined geometric shapes.
The nice thing about geometric elements is that they are so well-defined and ingrained into the mind of the spectator that one doesn’t need to spend much energy decoding the individual elements. This allows viewers to focus on other things, such as the overall composition, the texture, or the emergent interplay between subsets of shapes. However, this also poses a risk for the artist because there is very little to hide behind, the piece stands or falls depending on the effectiveness of the composition. The veneer of complex and involved aesthetics that generative art so often associates itself with have been stripped away. Thus, spending time creating purely geometric work has sharpened my sense of composition, partly out of necessity, and I now feel that it is one of the key parts of my generative explorations.
UL: Do any historical art movements resonate with you and your practice; Do you intentionally draw any parallels between your work and that of the past?
I draw a lot of inspiration from various movements in modern art. Some of the inspirations are purely aesthetic, but I tend to be more inspired by the thought processes that defined the movements. As my work tends to be non-figurative it is obvious that I cannot ignore all the battles fought during the 20th century to make abstract art accepted. Further, many of the concepts employed are interesting to think about from an algorithmic standpoint, e.g. automatism and action painting and how emergent forms were often accentuated as part of the process. The whole Abstract Expressionist movement is really a treasure trove for generative artists to look for inspiration, as is early abstract art with its emphasis on geometry and colour theory. However, as important as the various abstract movements have been, understanding how the pendulum swings back and forth between abstraction and realism also helps to contextualise your own work because it informs you about what kind of counter movement abstraction provoked.
My own work clearly references the past in its aesthetic. Part of the reason is that I want to put generative art in a historical context and reinvestigate some of the questions the masters of abstract art were posing, but in the context of generative systems. Another part is that I want to present generative art in such a way that newcomers to the form feel at home and better positioned to venture further into our world.
UL: Your work conjures a distinct materiality and texture, how do you achieve the impression of different materials within your digitally native work?
Giving something texture and materiality is really about inducing flaws. Perfection is smooth, and computers are masters of perfection, so digital generative artists have to do a lot of leg work to get what their analogue artist colleagues get for free.
However, I find that it is a balancing act. I strongly believe the best way to apply texture is to be inspired by, rather than trying to replicate the look of, classic prints and paintings. You can easily fall into the trap of making it all about the texture and how much it looks like an analogue piece that you forget what you wanted to say in the first place. I generally refrain from adding faux paper texture to my work for instance. This is partly because most of my work is intended for printing in the end and printing a fake paper texture onto real paper texture feels like blasphemy. For Detachment I added a subtle paper texture for the first time, but that was very much in line with the disconnect I was trying to achieve with this piece specifically.
UL: Some argue that generative art is hard to access since it requires a certain level of technical skill and expensive equipment. How do you respond to that and how do you ensure that your work is accessible to a wide audience?
I don’t see anything in generative art that requires either, honestly. Of course there is the odd piece that requires a very elaborate setup or a beefy computer to run properly, but the vast majority is as accessible as any other art form.
I guess there is a question about accessibility in terms of how easy it is to connect with and enjoy it. While I think there are many generative artworks that further open up once you understand some of the underlying mechanics of the system, I don’t think this is a requirement to appreciate the art in its own right. I personally strive to make art that can be enjoyed without the spectator knowing anything about its generative nature. But this is really not much different to any other art form. They all expand once you dive into the details and educate yourself.
Stay tuned for more exclusive artists interviews from all the groundbreaking generative artists featured in our exhibition!