As part of our ongoing WeTransfer collaborative series, we speak to Jonathan McCabe about his melding of the biological with the digital
Intricate patterns create optical illusions, as suggestive of biological specimens under the microscope as they are of an immense rainforest seen from above. Organic and almost quivering with life, these images are infused with psychedelic shades, or rendered in sharply monochrome tones . These are the digitally created formations of generative artist Jonathan McCabe. Inspired by the structures of chemical and cellular interactions and reactions, McCabe imbues his computer generative algorithms with the independent impulses of the natural world, leaving them to create their own designs. The resulting morphogenetic images create order amidst chaos.
Much like the cellular interactions that oscillate between their properties, McCabe’s programme undergoes a process of change, developing numbers into pixels and shapes until they reach their desired form. Landscapes in high contrast pinks, blues, greens and purples create delicately mapped impressions, animating the digital with the vivid energy of our own biology.
POSTmatter: What is your background, training and approach?
Jonathan McCabe: I consider myself to be a generative artist, but my background was more to do with a general interest in science rather than art. I am particularly interested in theories of spontaneous pattern formation in natural systems, simulating them on the computer, and calling the results art. We are a result of a homogenous cloud of hydrogen gas being left around for too long, and the processes that lead to all that we see are pretty interesting.
PM: Could you discuss the main themes that you deal with in your work?
JM: Reconciling the large with the small; what conditions allow the generation of structure from randomness; the role of memory in generative systems; biomimicry of pattern forming processes; pixels as agents; frustrated configurations; local minima entropy; and what can an image know about itself.
I am particularly interested in theories of spontaneous pattern formation in natural systems, simulating them on the computer, and calling the results art.
PM: How do you make use of physical and digital media or materials?
JM: My material is C programs, which are text files that a compiler turns into computer code that is then run and the results examined. The output is an image file, or a series for animations. I try to understand the relationship between the text that I write and the generated images. The relationship goes both ways and, if I work at it for too long at a time, sometimes I see an image and get a synaesthetic impression of the text of the algorithm that generated it, even if I'm just looking at a tree in the yard or dot paintings at the gallery.
PM: How do you see the place of digital art in the evolving digital landscape?
JM: I see the digital landscape developing as a result of the falling prices of capable hardware and software such as mobile phones. The increased accessibility and the network effect of having so many people involved is allowing digital art to flourish. "Art" is a conceptual bucket where the weird stuff is placed. I can see art algorithms escaping into the wider digital landscape and thriving if they can prove their worth.
PM: What future projects do you have lined up?
JM: I was very pleased to be able to contribute to the World Expo in Dubai 2020 and I'd like to pursue the use of biomimetic surface design in architecture. I'd like to investigate Integrated Information Theory, which is a theory of consciousness, and how those ideas might relate to the pattern forming algorithms I have been using—in that consciousness might be a result of a particular form of information processing in the brain. The appearance of very high-resolution video walls is exciting, and I'd like to make content for them. I'm also looking to do some larger works in the future: I have some examples on Gigapan.
For more information on Jonathan McCabe's work, click here.