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Above: Evolving Form by William Latham.

Left: DNA Model
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It seems that there is a real problem with computer art, that does not reside in getting the new tool to perform old artistic tricks, but rather with a more profound identification of what new territories computers and art might inhabit in terms of the inherent nature of computational procedures.

The most promising approach, exemplified by the British sculptor, William Latham, is to set up programs on the basis of aesthetic choices in such a way that the parameters of style and content are established but the final form is not pre-determined. Rather, the evolutionary program gives rise to a new type of kinetic sculpture.

Latham, who spent six years as Research Fellow in the IBM Scientific Centre at Winchester, has developed programs with Stephen Todd - most notably a powerful design tool called ‘Mutator’ - in which sculptural forms are endowed with genetic properties which shape their growth. The program also provides rules through which the ‘life-forms’ are subject to processes of natural selection.

The results of such “Darwinian evolution driven by human aesthetics” are fantastical organisms whose morphologies metamorphose in a sequence of animated images. Working “like a ‘gardener’ or ‘farmer’, repeatedly picking, marrying and breeding, starting from a simple structure to evolve thousand of complex genetic variations”.

They are intricately wondrous in their compulsive convolutions, marrying a strange beauty with an air of predatory menace. Where Latham’s images are typical of images generated by computer is that they seem irredeemably to have a computerised ‘look’ about them. The visual feel of the rendering exhibits very characteristic qualities - just as the look of an oil painting is reliant on the properties of that particular medium.

Latham himself openly exploits these qualities, not least in relation to a certain kind of ‘Sci-fi’ aesthetic that owes more than a little to the imaginative visions of the best draftsmen in children’s comics and the designers of Hollywood films.

It is one of the characteristic visual modes of our age. But for the ‘art world’, such images still provoke general unease and meet with limited acceptance. Whether this is because of the art establishment’s conservatism or the lack of aesthetic longevity in computer art remains to be seen.

Text taken from ‘Latham’s Life-forms’ by Martin Kemp