By Matt Kane
Painting as Database
When I make a painting with my custom software, the painting is preserved as a database. It is like sheet music, written to be reinterpreted. The resulting JPG is merely the first visualization of this database; the first proof of work. I consider pixels to be metadata of math, code, intention, and expression. The database is a record of every keystroke, design choice, and movement of my wrist. If I were financially and biologically capable of having an MRI machine scan my brain while I work, I’d record every axis there too. But I can’t, so I settle for every interaction made with my software.
Complementing the painting as database are systems of interpretation, capable of reading the database and creating an output. One of these interpreters is a piece of software I wrote which can perfectly recreate any of my paintings to near infinite scale. If the database is like sheet music, think of this interpreter software as a finely tuned player piano; a machine which runs by mechanical design the same way software is run on code.
Having invented a record keeping system for my paintings more akin to music than visual art, I thought more about how music could influence my work. Because I had a piece of software which operated like a player piano, how would it sound different if I begin kicking the underside of its keys while it operated? Or poured honey on its valves? How would the music be altered if I yanked on the music roll as it was fed into the player piano? As I imagined these outcomes, I simultaneously visualized the potential for my database paintings.
When I write an algorithm, my goal is that it’s 100% replicable each time. The trick is feeding it different data and identifying the variables suitable for reading this data in order to change the result. This is a simplified way of thinking about how I bring principles of generative design into my practice. The source of this data is often what I find most meaningful.
Enter the Blackhole
In April 2019, within an hour of first seeing the M87 Blackhole visualized by the Event Horizon Telescope, I was at work creating a painting inspired by it. Seeing a blackhole for the first time was a very moving experience for me. As a child, I was fascinated by blackholes, both destroyer and transporter. As an adult, I saw blackholes as metaphors for life changing events; entering a dark portal to some alternate dimension that squeezes and warps all who enter its path. I wanted to visualize this by creating deconstructions of this M87 Blackhole painting.
Using a crude object tracking algorithm tuned to a bright red sticker on my forehead, a camera captured me as I shut my eyes and let myself become consumed by self-reflection. I meditated on the tragic loss of a friend years before and all that spiraled out from that. For me, that loss was the moment I diverged from the path I was on, entering my own blackhole. My movements recorded as data, I allowed my body to make random gyrations, an animalistic expression of grief, sorrow, regret, and anger. After having my fill of that, I swayed myself back into the present, lit by my own glowing optimism for the creative process. It was an intense and raw moment, but I wanted the data collected to be informed by these deep and personal experiences I reflected on. It couldn’t just be random perlin noise. I wanted to transform my ugly feelings into something beautiful. I wanted to find that on the other side of the blackhole I’d entered in the Summer of 2013 could be something at least equally as promising as the path I originally intended.
But for chaos, my interpreter software is capable of perfectly recreating the original painting. Each of the 556,252 unique shapes which make up that painting begin knowing their intended targets, only to be rerouted by this generative system fed by data. These works investigating the aesthetics that result from diverged paths suggest all that goes wrong is sometimes right; that the design choices I made in the original painting can survive outside the rigidity of its original data structure. In these, I am searching for the best wrongs; the wrongs that cause change in ways we couldn’t have planned, but couldn’t imagine now being without.
These became the first works I’d mint as NFTs.