Aesthetically Endangered Forests

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Dorian Koehring A10317052

Title: Aesthetically Endangered Forests

VIS 159/ICAM 150 Final Project, Winter 2015

TA: Stephanie Sherman

Completion Date: 03/17/15

Place of Creation: Computer

Style: Audio-Visual (Musical Electronic Composition + virtual desktop recording feedback-looped Graphics recorded directly from desktop.)

Technique: Audio component created via Ableton Live. Visual component created by virtual feedback looping of my desktop using ManyCam and CamTwist.

Material: Soundscapes both recorded by self and found through the web, various found-sounds recorded around house, synthesizer, violin, GIFs found on web and edited via Photoshop.

Link to documentation of piece:

         For my final project, I decided to combine complimenting forms of media (music as well as video) in order to create a more in-depth piece than my midterm. Touching on an array of topics, “Aesthetically Endangered Forests” attempts to demonstrate how beauty stemming from complexity and self-repetition is seen in a plethora of naturally occurring systems.

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Indeed, the visual component of my piece attempts to convey the fractal nature of forests and other systems virtually by taking advantage of feedback loops and the positive aesthetic effects caused via its self-repeating nature. Similarly to the way in which one can create a visual feed-back loop by connecting a video camera to a TV and pointing it at the screen, the fractal nature of the tree-themed graphics in my piece were created in a parallel, modernized fashion: using two desktop-recording programs simultaneously so that one records a selected area of my desktop while the other records the output of the first program. Furthermore, by beginning with a lush, bird-filled soundscape and transitioning to a harsher, barren soundscape of a forest being demolished at the end of my composition, the musical component intends to exemplify how deforestation by humans not only endangers life’s complexity and biodiversity, but also endangers beauty itself. Ultimately, I hope my piece manages to instill a deeper and fuller understanding and appreciation of the innate fractal nature of our universe and the essential bond shared between complexity/self-repetition and aesthetics.

Inherent to a diverse array of fields, including music, visual art, ecology, geology, physics, astronomy, mathematics, computing, even psychedelia, fractals are no-doubt some of the most gorgeous phenomenon of our universe.

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– Dorian Koehring


Aerial Art & Controversiality

Makoto Azuma’s Floral Arrangements

Last July, the first botanical art installation was launched into the stratosphere by a Japanese artist, aided by ten assistants, in collaboration with a volunteer-run group space program based in California. The objects launched comprised of a white pine bonsai and a bouquet of several varieties of flowers. The bonsai was rigged into a cube-shaped metal frame to support it while the bouquet was twined into rods from which it dangled. The pieces were accompanied by cameras to record their journey to and from earth, as well as tracking devices with which to record the length and duration of their travels. Following their launch, the journey into the stratosphere and the fall back down to earth took about two hours.

While a common tenant of contemporary artwork is to do something “different” with the piece (displaying it in an uncommon location, using an unusual medium or object with which to make a statement, etc), not many artists can say that their piece was displayed up in the atmosphere. I think the location of this piece was really what the piece was about; not so much the beauty of the bonsai or the aesthetic value of the bouquet.

I feel as though at this moment in the vast community of artists and various types of creation, “art” is a very broad term for a myriad category of forms of expression. I feel as though shock value plays a bigger part in “art” than it used to and that there is oftentimes a controversial tinge involved in the particular work of art. Perhaps this is because so many pieces contend with others for the attention of the public. The controversial element to a piece is intended to grab the attention of a viewer who otherwise might not be interested in the piece.

In this case, that tinge would be the fact that the bonsai’s suspended in the stratosphere as opposed to sitting in a garden or gallery.

(On this same note, I found it mildly amusing that the author of one New York Times article who reported on Azuma Makoto’s aerial art gave the story the title of A Japanese Artist Launches Plants into Space. The author of the article notes that of the two pieces the installation is comprised of, one piece floated 91,800 feet into the air and the other travelled to 87,000 feet before their balloons burst and the riggings for the art fell back to earth. The peak of the plants’ voyage was within the stratosphere, the second layer of the atmosphere, which isn’t exactly “space” as the average person would think of it. I think to most people, the title of the article would assert that the plants were launched to the layers that spacecrafts and satellites inhabit (which is the highest layer; the exosphere).

– Dorian Koehring


Week 7 – Jon McCormack’s “Bloom”

Jon McCormack’s “bloom” displayed above Kelvin Grove Road in Queensland, Australia.

Out of the artworks presented in this week’s readings, Electronic Media Artist Jon McCormack’s piece, bloom, specifically intrigued me. Commissioned for the QUT Kelvin Grove Road Creative Industries Precinct’s 45 meter billboard in Queensland Australia, bloom is a large-scale software-generated digital image that depicts mutated and crossbred synthesized virtual representations of native Australian flora.

bunya: form 4 mutation 228

Completed in June 2006, McCormack created these images utilizing his own software that emulates the natural growth processes of plant life, utilizing digital ‘genes’ that can be manipulated, mutated, and cross-bred by the artist. This represents a shift in the traditional role of the artist, as McCormack did not specifically design the organisms represented in his piece but rather he manipulated the way in which the organisms evolved into the final synthesized species. In order to do this, Jon began with representations of native Australian plant species and the genetic information that governs their growth, behavior, and appearance in the virtual environment. With this information, McCormack then had these genes undergo mutations and various selection processes (“breeding”).


Through this process, the artist was able to synthesize an end product that contains both elements of the familiar and the bizarre. As this work was displayed on the large 45 meter Kelvin Grove screen on the side of a road, McCormack hopes to bring focus to the proposition that synthetic fauna might one day replace natural ecology in urban areas as more and more species become threatened by humanity.

– Dorian Koehring

Prosaic Drones – Midterm Project

Title: Prosaic Drones

Artist: Dorian Koehring

Completion Date: 2/17/15

Place of Creation: Front yard/bedroom

Style: Musical Composition

Genre: Experimental/Electronic

Technique: Digital Audio Workstation (Ableton Live), Programming (Pure Data)

Material: Built in laptop microphone, sound.

Length: 4:54

By recording and manipulating sounds from in and around my house, I wanted to capture the hidden qualities of noise pollution. Utilizing the simple built-in microphone in my laptop, this piece intends to put into focus the perpetual audible drone associated with everyday life caused by the machines, natural forces, and life around us. Best heard with headphones, the listener must pay close attention in order to fully grasp the nuances/emotions of the complete soundscape presented. The sounds comprised in this composition include field recordings of my front yard at night and in the morning, assorted sounds associated with different rooms of my house, plucking my violin, as well as a few synthesized drum-hits/synth for embellishment and aesthetic. The use of my laptop’s mic as my recording device is to exemplify how audible the sounds that we usually block out of our perception are. The majority of processing/mixing/production of this piece was done through Ableton Live. In addition, I created a type of sampler in Pure Data (Pd) that chops and loops my recordings in a rhythmic yet loose way.

With this piece, I hope to compel listeners to be more conscious of the constant droning that prevails in our daily lives and to question how such noise might influence our affective state.

– Dorian Koehring A10317052

Screenshot of composition in Ableton Live and sampler in Pd.
Screenshot of composition in Ableton Live and sampler in Pd.

Natural Phenomenon—Visualizing and Interpreting the Physical World Through Art

With regards to the pursuit of truth and heightened understanding, science and art converge in the sense that both subjects simultaneously act as guides to better understanding our world. Particularly, when it comes to interpreting and appreciating natural phenomenon, artists modeling such physical systems are able to capture the staggering beauty of our pattern-drenched world while also forging a deeper understanding in both the viewer and the creator.

One artist devoted to representing and understanding the complexity of the physical world is Ned Kahn. Inspired by atmospheric physics, geology, fluid motion, and utilizing elements such as fog, fire, water, and sand, Kahn strives to create artworks that allow viewers to interact and observe natural processes. One such work, presented in 2011 at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago IL, is entitled Avalanche. A sculpture powered by a large engine, Avalanche consists of a rotating steel plate 20 feet in diameter filled with glass beads and garnet sand. This rotation causes the sand to naturally fall and create ever-changing stunning patterns. Furthermore, viewers are able to actively change the nature of these patterns by controlling the speed of the rotation. By allowing interactivity in a science-based piece such as this, Kahn further manages to interest and engross the spectator in the naturally occurring phenomenon depicted. Although this particular artwork evokes awareness and awe with regards to the fluid-like nature of falling granules, nearly all of Kahn’s art focuses on pulling the attention of the viewers to the complexity and beauty of the elements.

One other such piece by Kahn is titled The Sonic Pool, encourages children and their parents to focus on the ways in which sound/vibration influences water, being installed in the Children’s Garden of the Huntington Beach Botanical Garden in San Marino, California (2004). Made up of a 5 foot in diameter steel bowl filled with water and an air-powered oscillator, visitors can see and feel how different vibrations affect the surface of the water.

As seen in the video, Sound Garden effectively conjures deep curiosity and enjoyment in the happy children surrounding it.

Lastly, artwork dealing in natural phenomenon and the nature of the physical world seem to hold a special role. Indeed, such installations try to and are capable of instilling in the viewer a fascination and deeper understanding of the natural world. With only simple materials, such art also appears to be able of doing this to the public in a digestible and simple manner. As not everyone is old enough nor has the patience to research natural phenomenon by reading articles in a scientific journal, art like that of Ned Kahn is integral in promoting interest and awareness in science to the general public.

– Dorian Koehring

Week 4 Response –Blood Selfie

One project I recently read about that caught my attention is a multi-media work entitled Ghost In The Machine (blood robot selfie), by Ted Lawson, a 45-year-old artist residing in Brooklyn. Using a naked picture of his body as his starting point, Lawson set out to create a life-size self-portrait of himself using blood as his “ink”, utilizing a CNC machine, computer software, a needle, and a tube with which to pump his blood through in order to “draw” the original photo. Lawson didn’t collaborate with anyone else nor were there any institutional partners or funding involved in his artistic endeavor.

Ted Lawson’s robotic painting machine that uses blood as ink.

With regards to the materials and technologies involved, Lawson utilized a CNC machine (Computer Numerical Control machine), the graphic design software Illustrator, computer-aided design software Rhino3D, a syringe, and a medical tube.

Lawson IV’d to the CNC machine

Lawson’s process of creating the “blood selfie” entailed using the program Illustrator to transform a nude photograph of himself into vectors (which, when zoomed in on, are not pixelated) so that the Rhino 3D software could translate this photo into thousands of lines of coding the CNC machine would be able to read and consequently “draw” the final self-portrait with. He used a needle to draw blood from his arm that was channeled through a tube connected to the CNC machine that recreated the original naked photo of himself—in blood. Finally, Rhino 3D’s coding of the vectored picture from Illustrator allowed for the CNC machine to print the final portrait via a robot arm with a small brush in its hand.

Lawson, Ted – Ghost in the Machine. 2014. Blood on paper

A widely known colloquialism within the social context of the “Thumb Generation”, a “selfie” is a photographic self-portrait. Lawson never made any statements about the piece implying he intended it to have any deeper meaning than the piece’s face-value (a self-portrait rendered with blood using machinery and computer software).

There are no statements from Lawson asserting he had hopes his “blood selfie” would serve any purpose for the scientific or artistic communities, yet it doesn’t seem Lawson intended the piece to be one solely created for its shock value. He was quoted as saying that he hopes to “find the intersection between technology and existential human experience” with his artwork. One could argue that the “selfie” is an extension of the self and by creating one in one’s own blood, the resultant piece is quite literally an extension of the self.

Ghost In The Machine is an example of where art and technology can fuse together for one ultimate purpose, and both those fields are a central focus of our class discussions. The piece and the process in which it was rendered challenged me personally to think about how I could be more dynamic with my own artwork and to “think outside the box” regarding what counts as a medium for my art and the tools involved in creating art, whatever the form—writing, paintings, music, etc. Lawson’s “blood selfie” seems a prime example for what experimental art is. Quantifying what counts as art is open to interpretation but I believe whatever is created for the purpose of expression can be regarded as art.

Dorian Koehring

Week 3 Response: Bioart and Ethics

Bioart, as defined by the notes in class, encompasses living organisms as a medium for art. The discussion surrounding Alba the transgenic rabbit’s creation caused me to recall a photographer I’ve been interested in for several years. Joel Peter Witkin is one good example of an artist who primarily worked with living organisms as the medium for his experimental photography, but a number of the organisms used for subjects for his photos were deceased. Much of his opus is evocative of life, death, sensuality, and the human body (though Witkin also used animals—living and dead, whole and dismembered). As with the engineering of Alba the rabbit, Witkin’s photography has received scathing criticism from some who question the ethics of using living (or once-living) organisms as subjects for art, be they rabbits or corpses. Witkin’s answer to his critics was that the deceased subjects of his photographs (or, in some cases, limbs of the deceased) were all unclaimed bodies of prisoners in Mexican morgues—while unwanted by society, still useful to him. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Ethics often come into play where animals (as art subjects or experimental subjects) are involved. It’s fair to say that living humans involved as subjects in art or experiments chose of their own volition to participate so there’s no real discussion to be raised about their choices, but the deceased can’t speak for themselves—or so Witkin’s naysayers would claim.

Witkins – “The Kiss” 

While Witkin is a contemporary example of an artist using deceased biological entities for his subjects, he definitely wasn’t the first. It might be prudent to mention that taxidermy seems a distant cousin to Witkin’s photographs, although the practice of taxidermy itself precedes Witkin’s work by around one hundred fifty to two hundred years. Taxidermy’s peak of popularity came around the mid-nineteenth century when it was vogue in England during Queen Victoria’s rule. Walter Potter is a prime example of one of the most well-known taxidermists who used his subjects to portray scenes were his animal subjects were posed in human scenarios. One scene, for example, shows a group of kittens in ruffled dresses sitting at a table having a tea party. Interestingly, there was far less controversy surrounding Potter and his recreations than compared to the criticisms mounted against Witkin and the Kac-Houdebine transgenic rabbit. (Some questions were raised against the ethics and conditions of Potter’s subjects, but that wasn’t until many years after he had become widely-known.)

Potter’s “Kittens’ Tea Party”

Are ethics really the concern here, or are advocates against biological entities as subjects for bioart mainly concerned about the matter of consent from the participants? Ethics being defined as “moral principles” that rule a person’s deeds, it seems fair to say that ethics are only conceptual and not real codes to govern art or science (and bioart). Barring cruel and unusual treatment of animals or deceased subjects and ruling out subjecting them to harsh treatment, why can’t an artist or scientist (or both together) create freely without fingers being pointed and cries of “cruelty” or “ethics” being raised?

Dorian Koehring

(P.S. I’d like to present on week 6’s topic, science fiction, on week 7)