Behind the Scenes: The Intersection of Art and Technology
By: KSENIYA GALPER & LUKE PAXTON | February 1, 2022
FCAT’s Luke Paxton and Kseniya Galper are responsible for the unique artwork accompanying this year’s Priorities Report, created using digital and physical techniques. The results of their collaboration will be included in a set of limited edition NFTs which will serve as prizes for the winners of a Play&Learn game based on the report. Visit the NFT Experiment to learn more!
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Q: What is your role in FCAT and what outside interests do you bring to your day job?

Kseniya: I’ve been with FCAT for almost three years, my current role is a User Experience Design Director. Outside of Fidelity I’m also an artist, a painter specializing in contemporary realism and portraiture.

Luke: I also have been with FCAT for almost three years, my current role is best summed up as a Creative Developer. Outside of Fidelity I’m a maker, a designer, and a builder; working with CNC machines, laser cutters and 3D printers.

Q: What kind of art did you produce for the 2022 edition of the Priorities Report? How do you describe it?

Kseniya: I would call it an experiment at the intersection of art and technology. We have created a series of 10 hybrid abstract artworks that attempt to reconcile code-based generative art compositions with handmade experiments comprised of color, texture, and opacity. The plan was to use the artworks in this year’s FCAT Priorities Report and mint them as NFTs.

The concept behind the series is the increasingly blurred lines of physical and digital worlds. We are also both fascinated by generative art and the hype around the NFT art phenomenon, so we were curious to learn more about these topics as a part of this project.

Luke: Abstract and generative art styles are quite similar, essentially creating a visual language of shape and form to create a composition. With the handmade abstract art Kseniya created, I was able to generate a set of natural language rules using mostly P5JS and Processing. The code had a degree of autonomy which contributed to the way the generative art is realized. The visual looks like it was created simultaneously as the code was processed, something I’m really proud of.

Q: Why was it important to use both physical and digital inputs to create the art? You could have just created a purely digital or generative piece of art. Wouldn’t that have been simpler?

Kseniya: Early in the process we met with the FCAT researchers writing the chapters, to make sure we understood the overarching themes of this year’s Report, which helped us define the creative direction. We decided that it was important for us to try to bridge that gap between the digital and analog in our own process. I know it sounds complex, but since this is FCAT we just tried to see if something was possible, how far we could push it, and what we might learn from it.

Also, since we were turning the final images into NFTs, we wanted to understand if there were any “rules” that define NFT art. There aren’t, other than the technology behind them, but there are certain repeating themes. A lot of NFT artists refer to their artwork as “projects” rather than “pieces” and often release them in series. Many popular projects use generative and AI-based art and there is often a built-in game component.

Luke: Creating a purely digital or physical piece at the start would have been the easy way out. I love a good challenge. We had an opportunity to learn something new, on top of a process we were already amazed by, so I could not wait to push myself out of my comfort zone. We both knew we needed both physical and generative art to really make this idea work.

Q: What was the creative process like?

Kseniya: This is very different from the type of art that I usually create or the type of coding that Luke normally does. This was more of a Proof of Concept, when you start with a conceptual idea, but don’t really know where you’re going to end up ...which I love. Luke had quite a bit of learning to do for this. I was experimenting with the effects of different inks and paints in my art studio, anything from painting color washes on canvas to dipping shapes cut out of acetate film into transparent ink. And honestly, at the beginning it was rather messy and a little discouraging. But then eventually we both got a little better at what we were doing and started finding interesting combinations of the physical and digital layers.

Luke: It’s all about the experiment: pick up a new program, learn the basics, and then hope for the best. I needed to go back and relearn some trigonometry and get my head 100% into JavaScript mindset. It was kind of a two-pronged approach where Kseniya was doing the experimenting with paint and different materials and I was doing the digital side. My paint was code in the form of Looping JavaScript expressions and my canvas was Processing and/or P5JS programs.

From that, when we had some stuff that started to look good, we started merging files together and then from there… it worked.

Kseniya: A lot of it was happy accidents of “plus this divided by that”…yeah, curious.

Luke: It was interesting because there wasn’t a lot of control on anything. There was a general idea and direction that we pushed with naturalism in the way that the paint ran on the canvas to the way the code came out. We intentionally wanted to give the digital part the same development characteristics as the physical part, where you are completely at the mercy of what happens in the moment. By adding those random variables into the code, it had some of the same effect. It would generate a different piece every single time.

What was challenging about this project?

Kseniya: How we would collaborate and when. We haven’t actually worked together in person so we would do separate experiments and then exchange.

Luke: There would be times where it’d be one or two in the morning and I’d just feel lost, and you say to yourself “I’ve gotta go to bed because I’m going to get up and do this again”. I was obsessed with wanting to do it all the time. I was so into it I did not want to stop. Because every time you touch it, it’s something different, and it’s crazy watching it morph. I’m addicted to it.

Q: What takeaways do you have from this project?

Luke: Doing this exercise has generated a laundry list of project ideas that I want to explore. The takeaways are simple things like refining my JavaScript skills, to relearning trigonometry, to really going back to school on a lot of this stuff. It’s been pretty eye-opening.

Kseniya: You can look at something very simple, like, “Oh I’m looking at a pattern, there’s nothing special about it.” And as you start digging into it you realize, “Oh, there’s a whole process and experiment behind it. And there’s a technology that’s tied to it.” The idea of digging beyond the visible, is kind of awesome.

The interviewer is FCAT’s Kristin Kanders.

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