Open Doors
  Who Is Who  

Amsterdam - 14, 15, 16 November 2002

Opening OpenDoors

Joshua Davis

The podium is so far away it’ll take 20 minutes to get up there. You know if they’d have asked me I’d have told them that their exposition minus equals their current exposition plus the destination times point five. It would have been kind of like this. But the only problem with that equation is that I’d never get to my lap-top, so we could be here a while.
OK. Can you see the Doors people sitting around thinking, ‘Yeah, we got this philosopher and who should we put on next?’
Anyway, so I’ve got 20 minutes and I’ve a bunch of stuff I want to show you which hopefully you’ll enjoy.
I just want to back up a little bit and talk about the space where I came from. I’m a formally trained oil-painter and I make my own oil paint and this is a painter that I really like, Marsmo Raal, but he’s dead, though a good painter nonetheless, though dead. Anyway this is the kind of work that I do and it was very like, intense, so I thought I would start setting my artwork on fire, so I started doing these paintings, well I bake them in my oven, if you’d like to try this, pre-heat your oven to 450 degrees, rotate the piece of paper each time, 7 minutes. So I started baking some of my art work and I found that theses 2 resins that I was using, on painting, , would separate and crack against each other, so I was very interested in creating these very literally things and then throwing them to accident and chance. So I started setting all my artwork on fire. (image) These are a few of them that I burned and hey, I have no idea what the fuck that says.
Anyway, I’m interested in this notion of accident. I went to Art School and I got into computers by accident. This is all true. Everything I’ve said to this point has been true. I haven’t lied to you.
So hey, one day I’m sitting in my living room and I’m eating this orange. I bought this really great bamboo table from pottery barn, which is like fantastic and it has this raised edge on the table and I’m eating this orange and I throw down this orange. The orange can roll around the table but it can’t fall off the table because it has this edge. So because I’m a geek, I wrote it, here we’re presented with the table and you can just basically move the orange around on the table and the orange minds the table. I’m a very busy guy (laughter) the interesting thing about this pattern is that if you write it in a way it doesn’t really matter how big the table is because the orange will always mind the table. It doesn’t matter how big the orange might be, the orange can be quite large on a smaller pottery barn bamboo table. You might have 4 oranges, and again I don’t have to change the program, I can just ask the oranges to mind the table and there’s this relationship between orange and table. And this is how I write a lot of my code. So I got to thinking about this. I went to Japan and I went to this robot store in Okiharbara and you can get these things called wonder boards and you can get these insects that you can program with game boys. And here I’m programming a little robot and it’s an orange so it can’t fall off the table. A little thing runs around and it can’t fall off. So in a sense I’ve programmed a canvas on which this little insect can run around on. But 1 was cool, but 2 was even better, because you could program one to have pheromones, (laughter), so it would try to chase, and try to have sex with the other robot insect. So this was a great inspiration. You can see we have the lovely red female, desperately trying to get away from the love-stricken ‘green dot’. And so the more she runs, the more he desperately ‘I love you, no I love you.’ He does! So then I was reading this book on physics and it said that the quantum mechanical view of reality is very bizarre, even to scientists. It’s not when we look at one thing, it’s when we look at 2 things and understand how they’re different. (laughter) So what that told me was that I didn’t care about the red dot, I didn’t care about the green dot, what I cared about was their relationship, or in this case, the distance between each dot. So as you can see, as the system moves, you might notice that the line between the 2 circles keeps changing. So that’s how they’re different. Fuck the dots! What we care about is their relationship, not that you really could. (laughter). So then I started thinking, what if I just keep watching the distance and how it changes and just let the system draw. Again in this system the 2 dots map the distance from each other and then the line draws. Unfortunately, I didn’t know this, because I went to art school and I don’t have a degree in computer science, that every time I draw a line I take a bite out of memory, so if this will run for a few hours I’ll crash a machine. Which is very conceptual, (laughter) ‘Thanks asshole! You just crashed my machine!’
So I had to fix it and interestingly enough, as long as I have a line that’s ‘born’ and then have it live for a little bit and then ‘kill’ it, the program seems OK with this. The fact that I would have to implement life and death, the memory that I take, I ultimately end up giving back.
So again the physics thing says we’re not really interested in the dots, we’re interested in how they’re different. So we can take the dots away. Even though they’re still there, they’re just not visible. I design these things. And when I’m done, I literally live with these things for months and months and months and try to come up with as many ideas to change this system.
So, for example I’ll just show you 4.
This one has sound, I think.
In the first one, I didn’t know about the memory problem, until people started yelling at me via the email, saying that they’d gone to lunch and I’d just crashed their machine. But interestingly enough, it was kind of like cloud-watching and I could just watch this thing for a few days, then I’d get an email from a guy who’d take a screen shot and say ‘Do you see the dump truck?’ and I’d be like, ‘Yes!’ (laughter)
Again, it’s a random system, it’s a chaotic system, but I’m somewhat controlling it. The table is still there, the oranges are still there, but we’ve just added a few components.
So I then tried to change the system, and this is the piece where I implement death. I’m slightly modifying the lie a bit. Can you see that? Barely. So in this piece I implement death and it seems to work out pretty much OK. Death is fine.
In this one, I had this like really horrible experience in Art School, where my teacher put this big plant on the table and said, ‘No, no, no, we’re going to draw ‘in between’ the plant!’ (laughter) I’m really damaged. In this piece, it draws the shapes grey on grey and right before the piece dies, it flashes white. What you’re seeing is the space between the shapes, so it’s thinking about negative space, it’s thinking about that f…g fern I had to draw in art class. I’m not bitter.
So then the 4th piece, again abandoning the line and just using different types of circles to create a sense of bacteria.
The thing that’s funny, I designed this system and then I did 4 projects and people thought I was busy. I just kept showing them the same thing over and over again. The system was fundamentally the same, all that changed was the colours and the assets that it used as the relationship between one dot and another. Even though the form looked completely different, it’s the same fundamental engine.
So we’re all back in Japan and I go an hour out to this place called Kama Kura which is where this big diabutsu is. It’s got like these big shoes, just in case it wants to go for a walk. And there was this rice paper store at the end of the hill and of course, I almost had a heart attack, because I figured I could write most of the paper in the store. So I bought up all this paper and I took it home and I started writing these algorithms to generate rice paper. And so you might notice that it’s changing colours of pink. Everything is sort of a variable. I’m a designer of systems, but the systems make the art.
So then I get a lot of people who ask me to do this kind of stuff for print work. Because my work is primarily vector, I basically run this stuff through postscript and I have a EPS. I have an illustrator file. So I write a lot of these systems and every time I press the space bar it says, ‘How about this?’ ‘How about that?’ ‘Maybe this?’ ‘Do you like that?’ (laughter)
Wow, I haven’t even got naked and set myself on fire yet!
You just wait.
So here’s, you can kind of imagine how I do it. I spend like 4 hours writing the program and then I sit up for like 3 days going ‘Jesus Christ! This is great!’ And so it’s kind of changed how I think about art and design. I’ve let got of some of the control and no the computer has the control and it generates these ideas or patterns that perhaps I never would have though of. So this is in a recent book called ‘US Coast to Coast’ about United States graphic designers. Even though I wouldn’t consider myself a graphic designer, so these are some of the four-spreads of ‘Moments in time that I deemed Beautiful’ that this algorithm generated.
So I even took this a step further and right now I’m writing up the proposal to do an installation at the, the Modern Something or Other in Tokyo. It is modern and it’s in Tokyo. Be there!. Where what happened is, that people can visit the museum, come in and take pictures of themselves with this camera, and then the algorithm would re-draw their portrait using a branch, leaf or a blossom, then once the museum closed, I would basically store all the data during the day and project it on the outside sidewalk, so it would show people’s photos and then draw their portraits. All during the night you’d get the people who had come in and taken pictures of themselves.
Still, everything is true. There’s my wife, she’s sexy as branches, isn’t she?
So just to force this down your throat a little bit more, here’s some other ones.
I went to school for illustration, these is a book that I picked up last time I was here in Amsterdam about Dutch crests and I ended up re-drawing some of the crests and there were a few people who saw this piece and said, ‘My god, I live in that town!’ So we Hi-Fived each other and went our separate ways. So again, using illustration in these systems, here’s another one. Again this is the whole space bar idea, that every time I press the space bar it will give me a different perception. Some of these assholes spend hours doing this. ‘I’ll just press the space bar!’ (He laughs manically!) Oh you stopped!
I also write a lot of 3-d engines. Thinking about putting things on 3-d engines and generating forms that way.
Clouds, using the same spacebar technology, registered trade-mark Joshua Davis.
So one thing that we really like to do, I collaborate with this other guy about sound and one day I go over to his house and he opens up the door with this power drill and I said ‘What are you doing?’ and he said ‘Come in and check this out,’ and we went in and he’d bought all these 2 by 4’s from Home Depo and he had all these screws, 3 inch screws and he’s like, ‘listen to this!’, and he took the power drill. And have you ever drilled into wood kind of slow? and he composed this whole song on ‘Drilling into wood’.
I’m very lonely.
Again, about me not wanting to have control. And a lot of these systems, like the one in the beginning, is an algorithm that I found on a hurricane, so I just modified this hurricane so it would spin up and spin down, and it’s interesting to look at some of these systems, like me eating an orange and throwing it on a bamboo table, or looking at these robots in the robot store. And I meet a lot of people who ask me, ‘Where do you get your inspiration from?’ And I don’t know if I really get inspiration, it’s not something like, ‘Oh there it is!’ I think it’s ways of seeing. Do you know what I mean? Does that make sense?
Like when I first moved to New York, I grew up in the mountains of Colorado, I was so totally excited that I got to ride an underground roller coaster to work everyday. I’m totally excited to have this ‘Whoooo!’ experience and everyone is asleep. So it’s only after a few months, I become a typical New Yorker, I’m asleep on the train and I’ve deemed that experience non-interesting any more. So I think inspiration is a form of complacency, it’s trying to look at the things that have fallen into the wayside,
So I think I finally want to close with this quote on Buddhism, from this one woman, that I won’t even attempt to say her name, because you’ll all laugh at me.

“Asking questions is healthy, it enables us to clarify doubts and gain new information. Life should be more about holding questions then finding answers. The act of seeking an answer comes from the wish to make life, which is basically fluid into something that is more certain and fixed. This often leads to rigidity, close-mindedness and intolerance.
On the other hand, holding a question, exploring its many facets over time, puts us in touch with the mystery of life. Holding questions accustoms us to the ungraspable nature of life and enables us to understand things from a range of perspectives.”

And I still don’t know what the hell I’m doing.



Recent interview with Joshua:

Interview with Joshua on Digital Web – old, but still good

Praystation Archive

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