No Talk of Art at Fractal Art Conference

Untitled by Alice Olive

Untitled by Alice Olive


And then you get an artist says he doesn’t want to paint at all
He takes an empty canvas and sticks it on the wall

–"In the Gallery," Dire Straits

I wrote last time about my concerns that most fractal "artists" are more accurately merely technicians using software manipulation to tease out mechanical reproductions rather than making art through creative self-expression. I pointed out that the

discrepancy between definitive believability for the technical aspects of fractals but sputtering generalities for the accomplishments of so-called "fractal artists" leads to an inescapable conclusion. Fractal art is near-universally seen as a technical rather than an artistic achievement.

Ironically, I often get the impression that the science-over-art viewpoint is broadly held by many fractal "artists" themselves. Before you quibble, consider this video dispatch from the International Fractal Art Symposium held last summer in San Sebastian, Spain. I believe that it serves to both witness and verify my hypothesis. Roll that tell-tale footage:


Technically Speaking…

Let me first say that I don’t have a problem with the people who attended or presented at the conference. They all seem like nice folks. Even Thomas Ludwig comes across as semi-human in marked contrast to his noxious troll online persona. What troubles me is the prevailing ideology on mass display.

And I have only the video snips to make judgments. I don’t know what grand metaphysical conversations occurred while the participants toured the town and chowed down on tapas. What is true is that the video is the face shown to the world. I can only react to the face that is disclosed. The rest remains behind a veil.

And make no mistake. This conference still has deep BMFAC roots. Javiar Barrallo is a former BMFAC co-director and consequently BMFAC exhibitions were always heavily rooted in Spain. Barrallo seems to have merely exchanged having a fractal contest with throwing a fractal BBQ. The program is heavily weighted with former BMFAC judges and winners, some carrying the baggage of long histories of self-promotion and scyophancy. My point? Consider the source(s).

The problem? The whole fractal hoedown has the feel of a science fair being put on in a sparse one-room schoolhouse. Most presentations seem overly professorial and highly technical — in fact, mirroring the warning on Wikipedia’s fractal entry, that the content of nearly every talk is "too technical for most listeners to understand." Programmer-speak rules. Formulas sketched on the chalkboard may as well be an alien language. Jargon abounds. Menger sponges digitally transform like infected blood cells. Software manipulation is the ruling aesthetic. And what is the prevailing term for what is created? An "object" — like a newly discovered virus or periodic element.

Drawing a Blank 

For some reason, I’m drawing a blank…

The word art is mentioned only once at this slim volume fractal art symposium. Jérémie Brune, discussing his 3D-printed fractals, notes that such things "can become a piece of art." Maybe. Some items do look cool. But his printed fractals, as well as Johan Andersson’s fractal jewelry, strike me less as art and more like artifacts that mimic lab creations or molded matter pulled out of a holodeck. They have a Franken-art vibe.

The only breaks from technological doublespeak occur when fractal grandparents, Kerry Mitchell and Janet Parke, turn up and talk recursively about themselves. But, inherent self-promotion aside, the confessional tone was kind of a nice break. I enjoyed what I heard of Mitchell’s fractal history lesson, and I wondered if Parke discussed in more depth the cross-disciplinary connections of fractal art to dance — an interesting subject, especially given her background.

I cringed, though, when addressing placing in an early fractal art contest, Parke notes that "had someone not had this vote of confidence in me" that she might not have continued fractal-exploring. There, in a microcosm, is the genesis of Fractalbook. A fusion engine of endless and mindless technical reproductions — impervious to good taste and honest criticism thanks to a steady injection of compliment inoculations. A snip of Parke’s video, "The Blues of You," is also shown and proves to be an archetype of the Ultrafractal style once described by Tim as "sheets in the wind and rings of gold."

And was any thought given to a remote audience? The audio is atrocious on the video. Without microphones, some presentations are terribly garbled or all but inaudible. Maybe that’s why I can’t figure out Mitchell’s NASA link to fractals. I can’t really make out what he is saying.

In the end, Barrallo’s BBQ is all about graphical technology. No one here seems even marginally interested in art — or in any work done by someone other than themselves (further demonstrated by the "print swap" mentioned in the program). Truly, if this bunch embodies our medium, then it’s no surprise that fractals are widely perceived as a technical attainment rather than as artistic self-expression.

One final thought. The video is just over 15 minutes long — the Warholian time frame of fame.

Maybe You Should Stop Calling Yourself a “Fractal Artist”

Oxford  Tire Pile 9b by Edward Burtynsky

Oxford Tire Pile 9b by Edward Burtynsky

[Click on images to see higher resolution renditions.]


Shut up and play your guitar.
Frank Zappa

Seriously. I mean it. Calling yourself a "fractal artist" could be damaging your fine artistic street cred.

On the Wikipedia Fractal entry, as Tim revealed in his last post, there’s plenty of credible authorities with advanced degrees talking in terms that are "too technical for most people to understand." Meanwhile, over on the more anorectic Wikipedia Fractal Art listing, the itemization of fractal artists is absolutely emaciated. Most of the listed artists fall into the Phase 2 category. Among the Phase 1 fractal software renderers, one has "appeared…on magazine covers" and another "specializes in fractal art." Hey. Don’t we all?

This discrepancy between definitive believability for the technical aspects of fractals but sputtering generalities for the accomplishments of so-called "fractal artists" leads to an inescapable conclusion. Fractal art is near-universally seen as a technical rather than an artistic achievement.

from Franciacorta by NeSpoon Polska 

from Franciacorta by NeSpoon Polska

As much as I’d like to blame the viral glut of dreck churned out on Fractalbook‘s assembly lines for the technician status of fractal art, I think it more adept to find fault with the self-promoters of the not-so-lamented Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest (BMFAC). The competition’s promoters insisted on entries that were technically pure and purely technical. The BMFAC rules page says that the contest wants artwork that is

uniquely fractal; artwork that uses fractal tools to produce less-fractal imagery is not as desirable (but is not disqualified). We want artwork that will look good when printed large (i.e. has lots of good, interesting fractal detail)

or it used to say that but no longer does because…

The Beacon by Ben Young 

The Beacon by Ben Young

The Beacon (Detail) by Ben Young 

The Beacon (Detail) by Ben Young

…because all of the BMFAC web pages are no longer online. That’s right, BMFAC celebs, the galleries showcasing your "award-winning" work are kaput. Nothing remains of the 2007, 2009, and 2011 web sites but a generic GoDaddy holding page. So, BMFAC victors, your 15 minutes (pixels?) of fame are up. From now on, I guess we’ll just have to take your word that you once placed in a BMFAC competition — or else check the archives of Orbit Trap.

However, as a silver lining, all of the showcased images of BMFAC’s judges, unethically grandfathered through the back door into being hung in some of the exhibitions as, in director Damien M. Jones’ phrase, "a hedge against insufficient quality," have also been expunged from cyberspace. How satisfyingly karmic.

Speaking of Jones, his Fractalus site also appears to be going or gone. Surfing there brings up an expired security certificate. Proceed at your own risk.

Now what was I saying before noting that BMFAC and Jones have gone off the grid? Oh. Yes. That…


Darth Vader Skywalker Hellwalker by Elisa Insua

…That BMFAC’s rules restricted entries to works created using fractal generating software — and, let’s nostalgically recall, primarily Ultra Fractal if one wished to better the odds of being accepted. These limitations, however, did all of us a disservice by suggesting that fractal art was circumscribed to software manipulation and sacrosanct parameter files. Unfortunately, to the sensibilities of the greater fine arts community, such boundaries relegated fractal art to a technical manufacturing rather than an artistic creation.

And it’s not like we didn’t try to warn you that it was in your best interests to expand your cultural horizons. Tim first explained the out-of-the-box concept of Phase Two fractal art in 2009 and noted that

Phase Two fractal art focuses on the image and not how it was made. Perhaps in Phase Two fractal art the word “fractal” is no longer relevant because the word fractal only has meaning if the artwork exhibits a fractal appearance. Images made from details of fractals or images processed with filters are really derivative works and whether one wants to call them fractal art is really a pointless matter and unresolvable argument. And Phase Two artists don’t care anyway how an image was made. Whether it has that parameter file pedigree or not isn’t as important as whether or not it’s…

Art. Yes, that’s where I see fractal art going. Taking an artistic approach and evaluating the image rather than the software that makes it, is an instinctive next step. It’s instinctive I think because that’s how art has always been viewed and evaluated. No serious critic ever categorized oil paintings by what kind of paint brushes they were made with or whether they were painted by men or women.

BMFAC’s regulations, of course, rejected such thinking as "not uniquely fractal" even though

Skull with Cigarette by Chris Jordan 

Skull with Cigarette by Chris Jordan

Skull with Cigarette (Detail) by Chris Jordan 

Skull with Cigarette (Detail) by Chris Jordan

Skull with Cigarette (More Detail) by Chris Jordan 

Skull with Cigarette (More Detail) by Chris Jordan

I urged BMFAC to accept Phase 2 submissions and even demonstrated what a more genuine fractal art exhibition might contain. I argued then that

If fractal art is art that has fractal characteristics like recursion and self-similarity, then the traditional mediums of the fine arts can be used for our genre just as easily as software. In fact, one could build the case that a true exhibition of fractal art would showcase art made using a variety of self-expressive tools — including painting, sculpture, ceramics, graphic design, and other recognized mediums. Software utilizing fractal algorithms to generate images would still be included, of course, but would merely be another component in the artistic arsenal.

and, of course, the art works that appear in this post illustrate that very premise.

Need to Sleep by Erdal Inci 

Need to Sleep by Erdal Inci

So dig this big crux. Stop calling yourself a fractal artist — unless you enjoy having the art world inherently viewing your work as just craft and reflexively judging you as a mere technician.

Your mantra should be: Less fractal. More art.

It’s not what the software can do. It’s what you can do beyond the constraints of the software.

Ceramic Crabs by Ai WeiWei 

He Xie by Ai WeiWei

If motivated, you can make the jump from craft to art. Tim showed you multiple methods for unbinding your fractal ties and liberating your inner artist earlier on OT in his "synthetic aesthetic" series — which, frankly, I consider the echt fractal manifesto. Tim concludes his series by examining the surrealists and ends with a suggestion I have been following for sixteen years:

The surrealists showed there’s artistic potential in the graphical synthesis of things like smoke, chopped up images, and scratched up canvases. Today’s photoshop filters and the persistent experimentation with cheap graphical effects continue the exploration of that vast, rut-less wilderness.

Bingo. The fractal had to be destroyed in order to save it…

…as art.

from Clourant by Cassandra Warner and Jeremy Floto 

from Clourant by Cassandra Warner and Jeremy Floto

None of the artists featured in today’s post refer to themselves as a "fractal artist." Yet, I’d argue that at least some of their art contains discernible fractal forms and/or properties.

If they don’t want to be reigned in and be pigeonholed by one aspect of their work, then why do you?

From the New World by Yang Yongliang 

From the New World by Yang Yongliang

From the New World (Detail) by Yang Yongliang

From the New World (Detail) by Yang Yongliang

Maybe you should stop calling yourself a "fractal artist." Maybe you should quit cramping your style and limiting your options. Don’t make it so easy for others to dismiss you as a technician who relies on the crutch of mathematical molds to stamp out mechanical reproductions.

Art does not have to be an adjective-noun combination. And neither do you.  


Fractal Stomping Grounds

Simon Beck Snow Art

Snow Art by Simon Beck

[Click to view images at higher resolution.]


The artwork improves the mountains. And the mountains improve the artwork.
–Simon Beck

I wrote last time about the ways snowflakes are more than just unique. They are also idiosyncratically fractal.

But their fractal utility does not end with their journey from sky to ground. A transformation occurs fusing singular parts into a monolithic whole. Each flake becomes a pixel in one of nature’s most versatile canvases.

Simon Beck Snow Art 

The fractal snowflakes that fell combine to make a background for this fractal snowflake, or

Simon Beck Snow Art 

this fractal snowflake, if 3D is your thing, and you prefer that 2D be best left out in the cold.

 Simon Beck Snow Art

Of course, Mother Nature and Old Man Winter need a helping hand (or foot), and that’s where artist Simon Beck literally steps in. He creates immense patterns in snow by walking across the terrain in briquette snow shoes in the mountain valleys and ski slopes near Mont Blanc. His tools are his feet.

Of interest, naturally, to OT readers is Beck’s admitted interest in creating mathematical imagery. Inhabitat observes that

Beck is a fan of producing mathematical patterns that have different effects when viewed from various vantage points in the changing light throughout the day. Preferring to achieve the 3D effects, he loves to snap his creations when the sun is at its highest point, causing the most contrast on the designs across the lake.

 Simon Beck Snow Art

Fractal forms and attributes are unmistakable in Beck’s work, and

Simon Beck Snow Art 

vantage point can indeed be critical. As we see above, the shade from a nearby mountain implicitly alters one’s viewpoint and turns the piece into a rising sun composed entirely of snow.

More critical than viewpoint, though, is the time frame in which to view the art. Beck’s work is decidedly ephemeral. Art attacks — ranging from rambunctious winds, to unhelpful sudden snowfalls, or including even errant skiers — could occur anytime during creation or after completion. Beck backs up his art with aerial photographs.

Simon Beck Snow Art 

Making art always involves some degree of finesse. After all, snow allows for no digital undo. Beck, fortunately, appears meticulous in his process. According to Colossal,

each work takes the 54-year-old artist anywhere between 6 hours and two days to complete, an impressive physical feat aided from years of competitive orienteering. The orienteering also helps him in the precise mapping process which often begins on a computer before he’s able to mark landmarks in the snow that guide his precise walking patterns.

Or sometimes he just sketches out a rough outline

Snow Art Design 

Beck’s plot for a design drawn on paper.

and then starts to walk. Beck says each snow drawing takes about ten hours to create. Like any physical artist, Beck has to overcome obstacles digital artists rarely face — like having to change out of damp clothes as the temperature drops. And there’s always a chance of a faulty render that no plugin or step backward can fix. Beck tells Metro that

the hardest part is avoiding a ‘stupid’ mistake, and the most frequent cause of those is a wrong aiming point (straight lines are made by aiming at a point in the distance but one can easily accidentally aim at the wrong point).

 Simon Beck Snow Art

The impermenence of Beck’s art can sometimes lead to déjà vu double exposures on a snow canvas as wide as six football fields. As the snow sculptures melt, a given piece sometimes thaws into earlier snow art iterations that bleed through like a natural film dissolve.

And then there’s the crop circle similarity. Those oh-so-fractal patterns stomped out with boards and rope by merry but often mathematical pranksters. Or are these geometric phenomenon instead cryptic messages afterburned into our green fields and tall crops by space invaders?

Snow Art by Simon Beck 

Although Beck does not care for the crop circle comparison and even points out that

A lot of people seem to call it snow crop circles, which I dislike as a lot of those who do crop drawings don’t ask permission and I don’t want to be associated with that sort of illegal activity.

he also has a sense of humor the size of a mountain valley about the issue:

Snow Art by Simon Beck 

All of Beck’s body (snowbank?) of work is worth viewing, but here are a few of my favorite pieces:

Simon Beck Snow Art 

How stunning. What is it? Evidence left by nature at the crime scene? Moiré patterns of the planet bleeding through and needing better anti-aliasing? The thumbprint of the Creator?

Simon Beck Snow Art 

Another vantage point reminder to remember. We are looking at photographs of the snow installations. The wide-angle shot here heightens the perception of depth to give a stylized sense of encroachment. The use of light is central to highlighting the various stretched oval shapes and to focusing attention on the locus point of the central flower form.

Simon Beck Snow Art 

This is my favorite piece. It is just sublime.




“Let It Iterate…Let It Iterate…Let It Iterate…”

Snowflake Photographs by Alexey Kljator

Photographs of Snowflakes by Alexey Kljator


Nothing better reveals the pervasiveness of underlying fractal patterns that lie beyond the scrim of our sensory perceptions than microphotography. The medium digs gold mines for fractal treasure hunters.

 Photographs of Snowflakes by Alexey Kljator

Snowflake Photographs by Alexey Kljator 

We claim to understand that no two snowflakes are alike. We have even calculated the parameter files of nature’s iterations. We know diversity is produced by each snowflake undergoing numerous minute alterations in temperature and humidity as it journeys from sky to ground. We realize the symmetry of snowflakes is six-sided because ice’s crystalline composition is also hexagonal.

 Snowflake Photograph be Alexey Kljator

Snowflake Photograph be Alexey Kljator 

Russian photographer Alexey Kljator created a home-made rig using old camera parts, boards, screws, glass, and tape. According to Lost in E Minor, Kljator

usually stands on his open balcony and captures snowflakes with a glass surface. He then uses an LED flashlight to illuminate the opposite side of the glass, and wool for background.

Kljator says the snowflake shots are taken right outside of his house and shot on a "dark woolly fabric" (explaining the fibers seen in some photos) in the natural light of usually (no surprise, given the subject) a cloudy day with grey sky.

Snowflake Photograph be Alexey Kljator

Snowflake Photograph be Alexey Kljator

As always, OT readers will witness the obvious fractal patterning in nature’s handiwork — especially its prisms, plates, dendrites, columns, and crystals.

Snowflake Photograph be Alexey Kljator

Snowflake Photograph be Alexey Kljator

Kljator admits on his blog that he often imports his snowflake shots into Photoshop for sharpening and noise removal. He also confesses that the originals sometimes do not look "appealing," so he occasionally adds artificial colors.

That’s the holiday spirit. Here’s hoping even the fractal purists will have a white and very post-processed Christmas.


I see months have passed since I last posted to OT. Blogging, of course, is a labor of love for both Tim and me. We write when we have the luxury of free time and the fortunate gift of an idea from the fractal muse. Orbit Trap is ads-free, which means it’s also income-free, so those pesky full lives we lead sometimes take precedence over blogging.

In my case, I started a new job with a steep learning curve last summer. I have about ten posts swimming in my head I’d love to write about but too few open time slots for creative playtime. Eventually, the dust from whirlwind change will settle, and I’ll be reporting in more regularly.






Present-Shocked Self-Similar Trash

Shoes by Barry Rosenthal

Shoes by Barry Rosenthal

[Click to view images at higher resolution on source sites.]


Trash has given us an appetite for art.
Pauline Kael

Today’s post is a quasi-photoblog entry that knocks together two disparate sources in order to see what washes up on the beach and then sticks to the digital gallery wall.

Item one is from "Found in Nature," a series of photographs by New York artist Barry Rosenthal. One man’s eyesore is another man’s fine art. Although his main interests are photographing plants and other natural objects, he began collecting "colorful stuff" he found washed up on beaches. According to Slate:

Rosenthal said by arranging individual pieces of garbage into intricate collages, he’s able to give common objects more value. And though he said there are obvious associations to be made between his series and environmental issues of waste and pollution, it’s not necessarily his mission to bring these concerns to viewers’ attention.

This is a very pure example of found art. Obviously, Rosenthal can only utilize "materials" he chances upon while beachcombing. As he notes: "It’s not like going to Wal-Mart. I take what comes up."

Orbit Trap readers, as usual, will find fractal self-similarity littered throughout Rosenthal’s work. Moreover, the varying sizes of the alike forms in each piece call to mind recursive patterning.

Item two are scattered quotes lifted from Present Shock by Douglass Rushkoff. The author argues we have moved far beyond "future shock," the title of Alvin Toffler’s seminal 1970 book that dissected a world where people were no longer able to keep up with the pace of ever rapid change. Present shock, in contrast, is the result of that change — a world drowning in a digital tsunami of the always-on "now." The Berkman Center for Internet and Culture at Harvard University asserts that "present shock"

has altered our relationship to culture, media, news, politics, economics, and power. We are living in a digital temporal landscape, but instead of exploiting its asynchronous biases, we are misguidedly attempting to extend the time-is-money agenda of the Industrial Age into the current era. The result is a disorienting and dehumanizing mess, where the zombie apocalypse is more comforting to imagine than more of the same.

Again, OT readers will be especially drawn to a chapter entitled "Fractalnoia" — a term Rushkoff uses to describe how people try to process present shock where everything is connected and reflects something or reminds us of something else. The world is a "holographic" universe where each separate piece represents the whole. Here is a key passage:

There is a dual nature to fractals. They orient us while at the same time challenging our sense of scale and appropriateness. They offer us access to the underlying patterns of complex systems while at the same time tempting us to look for patterns where none exist. This makes them a terrific icon for the sort of pattern recognition associated with present shock — a syndrome we’ll call "fractalnoia." Like the robots on "Mystery Science Theater 3000," we engage by relating one thing to another, even when the relationship is forced or imagined.

What I’ve done here, and just for fun, is to rip excepts specifically pertaining to fractals from Rushkoff’s book and place them reconstituted into an artistic rather cultural/political context. And why not? According to Rushkoff: "We can’t create context in time, so we create it through links." So, I link this to that. The result? Present-shocked self-similar trash.


Green Containers by Barry Rosenthal 

Green Containers by Barry Rosenthal

Plastic Puzzle by Barry Rosenthal 

Plastic Puzzle by Barry Rosenthal

Ocean Blue by Barry Rosenthal 

Ocean Blue by Barry Rosenthal

"The repeating patterns in fractals also seem to convey a logic or at least a pattern underlying the chaos. On the other hand, once you zoom into a fractal, you have no way of knowing which level you are on. The details of one level of magnification may be the same as on any other. Once you dive in a few levels, you are forever lost. Like a dream within a dream within a dream (as in the movie ‘Inception’), figuring out which level you are on can be a challenge, or even futile."
–Douglas Rushkoff, "Present Shock," pp. 200-201.

Tiparillos by Barry Rosenthal 

Tiparillos by Barry Rosenthal

Straws by Barry Rosenthal 

Straws by Barry Rosenthal

Toy Soldiers by Barry Rosenthal 

Toy Soldiers by Barry Rosenthal

"Since fractals were successfully applied by IBM’s Benoit Mandelbrot to the problem of seemingly random, intermittent interference on phone lines, fractals have been used to identify underlying patterns in weather systems, computer files, and bacteria cultures. Sometimes fractal enthusiasts go a bit too far, however, using these nonlinear equations to mine for patterns in systems where none exist. Applied to the stock market or consumer behavior, fractals may tell us less about those systems than about the people searching for patterns within them."
–Douglas Rushkoff, "Present Shock," p. 201.

Brown and Clear Glass Bottles and Jars by Barry Rosenthal 

Brown and Clear Glass Bottles and Jars by Barry Rosenthal

Forks Knives Spoons by Barry Rosenthal 

Forks Knives Spoons by Barry Rosenthal

Clear Glass Jars and Bottles by Barry Rosenthal 

Clear Glass Jars and Bottles by Barry Rosenthal

"You know that feeling when you’re holding a microphone and the speakers suddenly screech, and you don’t know which way to move to make it stop?…Deep inside that screech is the equivalent of one of the cyclical, seemingly repetitive Philip Glass orchestral compositions. We just don’t have the faculties to hear it. Computers, on the other hand, work fast enough that they have time to parse and iterate the equation. Like a kid drawing seemingly random circles with a Spirograph, computers track the subtle differences between each feedback loop as it comes around, until they have rendered the utterly beautiful tapestries that evoke coral reefs, forest floors, or sand dunes, which are themselves the products of cyclical iterations in the natural world. The fractal is the beautiful, reassuring face of this otherwise terrifying beast of instantaneous feedback."
–Douglas Ruskoff, "Present Tense," p. 206.

Shotgun Shells, Redlands by Barry Rosenthal 

Shotgun Shells, Redlands by Barry Rosenthal

Disposable Lighters by Barry Rosenthal 

Disposable Lighters by Barry Rosenthal

 Shotgun Shells, Pinelands by Barry Rosenthal

Shotgun Shells, Pinelands by Barry Rosenthal

"The fractal is less threatening when its shapes are coming from the inside out. Instead of futilely trying to recognize and keep up with the patterns within the screech — which usually only leads to paranoia — the best organizations create the patterns and enjoy the ripples. Think of Apple or Google as innovators…Of Lady Gaga or Christopher Nolen as generating pop culture memes. They generate the shapes we begin to see everywhere."
–Douglas Rushkoff, "Present Shock," p. 218.

Balls by Barry Rosenthal 

Balls by Barry Rosenthal

Bailing Wire by Barry Rosenthal 

Bailing Wire by Barry Rosenthal

 No Vanishing Point by Barry Rosenthal

No Vanishing Point by Barry Rosenthal

"The fractal acts like a truth serum: the only one who never has to worry about being caught is the one who never lied to begin with."
–Douglas Rushkoff, "Present Shock," p. 219.


To see some larger renditions of Rosenthal’s work, surf to this page on Slate.


More on Making Prints — and on Remixing

Two Prints: "Geisha Remix" and "Cleopatra Remix"

Two Prints: Geisha Remix (2012, Left) and Cleopatra Worries Remix (2012, Right).


I’ve written before about making prints. I don’t want to rehash what I said previously. However, my thinking has "evolved" a bit since I last opined on the subject in 2009.

The photo above shows two prints I recently made to be displayed in my office. Four years ago, I advocated producing paper prints over canvas prints — mostly, even after examining the advantages and disadvantages of each material, because museums seemed to prefer fine art paper Giclee prints over canvas ones. That bias suited me. As someone with a weakness for texture, I find that canvas preserves color better than paper but hammers down texture.

But time and age once again prove to be inevitable. As the computers I use to make art have become increasingly powerful, and as the original sizes I use to make art have become progressively larger, I now prefer making canvas prints for two reasons.



The prints above were created on canvas, mounted to one-inch wooden stretcher bars, and then gallery wrapped (meaning, the edges of the prints were wrapped around the frames on all four sides). From a practical standpoint, if these images had been printed at the same size on paper, they would have been far too heavy to hang. You can get a sense of the scale of the prints by comparing their size to that of the light switches located below each print at the lower right.

Canvas prints are just more durable, too. Paper prints, by contrast, are staggeringly fragile and must be first encased under glass and then framed. True, one could always play the odds and pin a paper print to a wall. I admit that tack-up print will not be arduous to hang. But caveat emptor. Any trace of liquid is a paper print’s baneful enemy, and an inconvenient nearby sneeze immediately and permanently rearranges your print’s composition (and medium?) — and, by extension, its aesthetic and/or monetary value.

Now back to the problem of acute heaviness. Size matters says popular culture. Working bigger and bigger with better computers meant that I wanted to make larger and larger prints. Supermassive glassed and framed paper prints increasingly run the risk of pulling a wall down and throwing out my senior citizen back. Canvas prints, however, especially when unframed, are more often lighter than the smallest framed-under-glass paper print. Moreover, I like the added perceptual sense of the illusion of an endless horizon (both horizontally, as the term implies, but also vertically) brought forth by the technique of gallery wrapping.

I’d like to stress again, just as I did earlier on this blog, that I see prints as just one of several paths for displaying fractal/digital art — not necessarily a superior alternative to screen viewing. My dream, and one I will not likely live to see, would be to soak up digital art on Total Recall wall-sized scifi-ultimate high definition screens. Even now, I prefer looking at digital art galleries as well as OT and other art blogs on my Galaxy Note tablet. Digital art genuinely pops in high def, and a quick turn auto-adjusts vertically/horizontally allowing one to more distinctly study pieces whether rendered in portrait or landscape.

Still, living with an image is a far different experience than seeing one recreated in pixels on a screen or stamped using ink into a book. Prints occupy physical space and become integrated into the metaphysical fabric of our everyday lives. Hanging a print instantly changes a room — and changes the experience of everyone who wanders into that room.

Making prints of or drawn from fractal art still seems as close as I’ll ever get to practicing alchemy. Presto. Digital into physical.


You go to war with the army you have — not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.
Donald Rumsfeld

Cleopatra Worries 

Cleopatra Worries (2002)

[Click image to view at full size].

 Cleopatra Worries Remix

Cleopatra Worries Remix (2012)

[Click image to view at half of full size.]

One beef I’ve always had with digital art is the fundamental lack of a one-of-a-kind physical object, as well as the difficulties inherent due to its subsequent near-perfect duplication. A digital master is easily twinned with no discernible loss of quality. The lack of a unique original is digital art’s biggest bummer. Shouldn’t there be some kind of trade-off? Isn’t there something digital art can do and be that is patently beyond the seemingly unparalleled capabilities of physical objects?

Digital musicians already heard this clarion call years ago. Digital objects can always be remixed.

Both prints above are from a remix series I undertook last summer. Both images (and numbering over 100 others in the remix project) were orginally created ten+ years ago on far more primitive tower computers. The master images usually measured only 800×600 pixels. Using Blow Up, a plugin from Alien Skin, I expanded the originals to ten times their original measurements before digitally post-processing some sweetenings to light/shadow, clarity, noise, and background detail. And all for one primary purpose: to display the works at a much larger scale.

And now originals that once would barely fill the space of a cell phone can now replete walls and occupy high-def flat screens.

This particular project was deliberately designed to essentially retain the compositional likenesses of the originals. But I haven’t always been so fastidious about preserving the constituent features of original digital works. I worked for several years on a series of 402 images called "Energy Vampires" that I described on my web site as

made by piling many layers over a "found" base image — like fractal art by other artists, advertising images found on the Web, and my own (mostly discarded) art. The result: these "energy vampires" came to exist by completely draining the source images of their original content.

and later elaborated on my blog that

I kept no record of whose images I bit in their beds — or which of my own were seduced and sucked to a husk. I deliberately did not want to remember. The process itself was all that mattered — just as the vampire is driven to feed off others with myopic need. The artist as leech. The artist as tapeworm.

The "Energy Vampire" series was admittedly closer to a dub remix than to an enhancement exercise. Each (r)evamped piece got seriously scrambled before being forcefully reconstituted. Still, the largest dimension any work in the series ever grew to was 1000×1000 pixels. So what would happen, I wondered, if I also blew up a few of those remixed vampires, too? Could they daywalk afresh — or would they combust in the new light of the sun?

Energy Vampire 383 Remix 

Energy Vampire 383 Remix (2012)

[Click image to view at half of full size.]

Remixing the remixes. Digital art’s ace in the hole of cyberspace.

So you can take your physical object and stick it where the digital image don’t dub.

Earthscapes: Bottom Row


Earthscapes. United States Postal Service (2012)

[Click on images to view at higher resolution.]


The last of three posts about postage. You can skip the short context-setting intro section if you’ve already DVRed this series. If you’ve just wandered in, you might want to bounce back to the previous posts to view the top row and the middle row. The U. S. Postal Service, as part of National Stamp Month, issued a series of Forever stamps entitled Earthscapes. Three rows of five are displayed in the stamp pane seen above. Here’s the aesthetic big picture from the USPS publicity page:

The Earthscapes Forever stamps allow customers an opportunity to see the world in a new way. This stamp pane presents examples of three categories of earthscapes: natural, agricultural, and urban. The photographs were all cre­ated high above the planet’s surface, either snapped by “eyes in the sky” — satellites orbiting the Earth — or carefully composed by photographers in aircraft.

As always, for readers of this blog, the axiomatic fractal aspects of these aerial views are the central concern. I believe these stunning shots not only decidedly make the cut for high and snooty art, but also, for fractal art enthusiasts, must be considered just the coolest stamps ever.

I thought it best to look at the stamps in the order they appear on the pane.


Row Three: Urban Earthscapes

The bottom row discloses the intricacies of urban landscapes. This world — here reduced to the scale of a miniaturized movie model — is so familiar that we have become nearly benumbed to its beauty. These earthscapes are man-made and thus seem more consciously engineered. They also, to my eyes, look more overtly mathematical.

Residential Subdivision 

Residential Subdivision

And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look the same

–Malvina Reynolds, "Little Boxes"

Let the heathens rage over suburban generia. Lovers of fractal art, in contrast, should dig the much maligned replication of suburbia’s self-similar forms. At first glimpse, this is a still life tinted in beige and tar. Fairly straight lines predominate: the flat and dark arterial roadways vs. the sloped depth of the lighter and rectangular roofs. Rounded forms, being more scarce, jump out. Cul-de-sacs, resembling abstract planaria, dead end in a head shape. The softer and irregular forms of swimming pools, not uncommon for a desert development in Nevada, provide a bright and counterpunching splash of aquamarine.

This photograph reminds me of the iconic shot I showcased earlier on OT of yellow taxi cabs left soggy and stranded in a parking lot by Hurricane Sandy.

One often hears the expression of being "cocooned" in suburbia. This aerial snap suggests a hive is likely the more apt metaphor. Workers, whether bees or ants, build their naturally fractal receptacles. Why would we assume human workers would not follow a similar, standardized instinct?

Barge Fleeting 

Barge Fleeting

The USPS handily provides the parameter files for this iteration:

A pair of towboats “wrangle” commercial barges in the Old River barge fleeting area near the Houston Ship Channel in Texas. The channel allows access from the Gulf of Mexico to the Port of Houston, a major industrial center.

This is the most colorful stamp. It is also the most intensely angular one. Recursion is evident as rectangles iterate from top deck to bottom (or bottom to top if you prefer 3D). The height of the shot turns the barges into massive circuit boards that remind me of the work of e-waste artist Chris Jordan.

The extruding tubes and rectangle box forms on the green barge in the upper right remind me of some of Jock Cooper‘s "mechanicals" series. The brown barge in the upper left looks like the mother of all harmonicas or two pieces of a Kit Kat bar — that fractally self-similar chocolate-covered biscuit bar food substance.

By the way, the top vertical boat is named Apollo and the bottom horizontal boat is named Taurus. Despite the mixed mythologies, the god of light and the disguised god of the sky, working together, become emblazoned barge parking lot attendants.

Railroad Roundhouse 

Railroad Roundhouse

The USPD tells us what we are viewing:

Early 20th-century steam locomotives undergo maintenance inside the restored railroad roundhouse and museum. A turntable turns locomotives around and provides access to the roundhouse service stalls.

This imprecise Escher fractal is a DJ’s dream. I get a massive scale sense of something being repaired — everything from a immense, circular piano to the saucer section of the starship Enterprise. If a piano, the once mighty locomotives now serve as keys strung to especially intricate wiring. If the Enterprise, then Scotty looks to have patched her in the lower right with duct tape. I bet shields are down. Better set phasers to fractal.

It just struck me. The locomotives look like tinier versions of the barges seen in the last stamp — a rare sighting of cross-postage recursion.

Skyscraper Apartments 

Skyscraper Apartments

Iterations of windows and balconies constellate the Manhattan cityscape. The photographer’s post-processed compression of two towers into one adds significantly to depth of field and compacts perspective into even greater Escheresque recursiveness.

This stamp seems the most aesthetically industrial and engineered from a source code drawn directly from algorithms. Could it be the great-great grandparent of many a Mandelbulb 3D fractalscape?

Mandelbulb's Green City by Marcos Napier 

Mandelbulb’s Green City by Marcos Napier

Tim has earlier blogged about this artist and has convincingly illustrated numerous times, most recently here and here, the ostensible visual connections between 3D fractal imagery and urban land/sky/earthscapes.

William Carlos Williams once said that "the pure products of America [modernization? urbanization?] go crazy." I think they go fractal and use self-similarity to hide in plain sight becoming pastiches of the fractalized clutter of contemporary life. Brick walls. Privacy fences. Venetian blinds.

Not all of the fractal clutter shuts us out though. The best iterations always let us in. Books arranged in bookshelves. Frames of film. Poetic meter. Computer coding. Pixels filling everything everywhere.

Even stamp panes that enable us to see a fever dream of the organized chaos of apartment buildings.

Highway Interchange 

Highway Interchange

But when the suppers are planned
And the freeways are crammed…
Will I finally be heard by you?

Neil Young, "L.A."

An urban crossroads shot of Interstate highways 95 and 395 converging in Miami. Such complex interchanges, like the less convoluted cloverleaf variant, were once all but an archetype for what W. H. Auden called the "Age of Anxiety."

The sun provides convenient natural shadowing here and renders additional depth to the multiple structural levels. Is it ironic that this particular stamp chances upon the most skillful use of earth tones?

Here is another iterated variation of a circulatory system. More boxy barge shapes are found, too, but this time on tires rather than on water. Hot Wheels-sized cars creep like blood clots through corkscrewing concrete veins and arteries. Blame modernity for this paradigm of self-inflicted road rage.


Earthscapes: Middle Row


Earthscapes. United States Postal Service (2012)

[Click on images to view at higher resolution.]


The second of three posts about postage. You can skip the short context-setting intro section if you’ve already DVRed this series. If you’ve just wandered in, you might want to bounce back to the first post to view the top row.

The U. S. Postal Service, as part of National Stamp Month, issued a series of Forever stamps entitled Earthscapes. Three rows of five are displayed in the stamp pane seen above. Here’s the aesthetic big picture from the USPS publicity page:

The Earthscapes Forever stamps allow customers an opportunity to see the world in a new way. This stamp pane presents examples of three categories of earthscapes: natural, agricultural, and urban. The photographs were all cre­ated high above the planet’s surface, either snapped by “eyes in the sky” — satellites orbiting the Earth — or carefully composed by photographers in aircraft.

As always, for readers of this blog, the axiomatic fractal aspects of these aerial views are the central concern. I believe these stunning shots not only decidedly make the cut for high and snooty art, but also, for fractal art enthusiasts, must be considered just the coolest stamps ever.

I thought it best to look at the stamps in the order they appear on the pane.


Row Two: Agricultural Earthscapes

The center row takes an unheralded turn toward abstract expressionism. That’s ironic, since five highly realistic products — salt, timber, grain, cherries, and cranberries — are exhibited being grown or gathered or harvested.

Salt Evaporation Ponds 

Salt Evaporation Ponds

Why does Mother Nature paint the ponds with such resplendent colors? Evaporation causes salinity levels to spike and change concentrations of algae and other microorganisms.

I’ve seen similar Lyapunov forms when tinkering with fractal software made by Stephen C. Ferguson and Terry W. Gintz. One bullet train, atop a tall trestle, blazes in and out of the frame in the upper right. Another set of tracks intersect beneath the bridge. But why, gentle readers, are the rice paddies filled with blood? There’s something anatomical or arterial about this shot. Tissue can be seen clotted and torn. Veins are empty from corrosion but somehow surface areas are substantially inflamed.

This is America’s wounded infrastructure. Or an icon for some past and now abstract massacre.

Log Rafts on Way to Sawmill 

Log Rafts on Way to Sawmill

This mode of transporting lumber in now nearly antedeluvian. Few highway encounters are as memorably nerve-rattling as being compacted behind a large lumber truck.

Fractal art lovers should moon over those reality-level 3Dish high def fern forms seen at the far right. The coastline replicates a natural dividing line of terrain vs. absent space similar to the dichotomy seen in the earlier foggy butte shot. The wood forms, frozen by photography, become islands. The self-similar replication of wood reminds me of some of Ai WeiWei‘s more fractal-influenced work.

The middle log bundle is just a long patio for the raft that rests at its top. I wonder what Huck Finn would say if he could see us now?

 Center-Pivot Irrigation

Center-Pivot Irrigation

How does this earthscape get its unnerving modern art vibe? From the USPS:

Circular patterns on Kansas cropland show center-pivot sprinkler systems have been at work. Red circles indicate healthy, irrigated crops; lighter circles represent harvested crops.

My favorite stamp in the series prompts thoughts of Kandinsky‘s work but is much more geometrically and fractally organized. The iterative replications of moon phases remind me of aesthetic aspects I admire in the art of Tina Oloyede. Circle and squares compete aggressively for canvas space. It’s the coin collection of a giant. Or are the gods of Olympus playing dominoes?

This shot from NASA’s Landsat 7 satellite is a crop circle to aliens from us. It reads: Let us take you to our artists.

 Cherry Orchard

Cherry Orchard

Fractal recursion at its best as cherry trees transform back into dandelions. This stamp is arguably the most minimalistic. Inky shadow lines from the trees intersect opposing lines of the green and embossed mown surfaces. The subsequent collisions produce a muted but natural plaid background. Taking a deeper zoom stroll through this fractal orchard reveals its location: the L-system.

Dust bunnies. Asterisks. A freak snow settling on a field of yucca.

 Cranberry Harvest

Cranberry Harvest

USPS shares the parameter files:

A Massachusetts cranberry bog holds a bounty of ripe red fruit. During the fall harvest, growers flood bogs, then mechanically churn the water to dislodge cranberries from their low-lying vines. They round up the floating fruit with booms.

I hope, probably because I live within a fifteen minute drive from the Mayflower pipeline spill, the booms, like a chain of white bamboo, perform better than similar boom forms used for (alleged) oil spill containment.

This stamp marks the only appearance of visible human beings (and their Negative Man shadows) in the stamp series. In this shot, the people, Jonah-like, and who seem oddly unnatural and thus obtrusive in these earthscapes, become parasites ensnared inside a Peptol-Bismol-coated-stomach ad.

Xtreme blood farming? Or an open bar for hardcore drinkers of Kool-Aid?


Up next in the series: Urban Earthscapes.

Earthscapes: Top Row


Earthscapes. United States Postal Service (2012)

[Click on images to view at higher resolution.]


This is the first of three posts about postage.

The U. S. Postal Service, as part of National Stamp Month, issued a series of Forever stamps entitled Earthscapes. Three rows of five are displayed in the stamp pane seen above. Here’s the aesthetic big picture from the USPS publicity page:

The Earthscapes Forever stamps allow customers an opportunity to see the world in a new way. This stamp pane presents examples of three categories of earthscapes: natural, agricultural, and urban. The photographs were all cre­ated high above the planet’s surface, either snapped by “eyes in the sky” — satellites orbiting the Earth — or carefully composed by photographers in aircraft.

As always, for readers of this blog, the axiomatic fractal aspects of these aerial views are the central concern. I believe these stunning shots not only decidedly make the cut for high and snooty art, but also, for fractal art enthusiasts, must be considered just the coolest stamps ever.

I thought it best to look at the stamps in the order they appear on the pane. Originally, I’d planned to write about all three rows in one post but came to quietly realize each row deserved a separate blog entry.

Row One: Natural Earthscapes

Glacier and Icebergs 

Glacier and Icebergs

In the top row, we have a window seat for selected renders from America’s dazzling wilderness. The Alaskan glacier above, described as a "conveyer belt of ice" on the USPS page, looks more to me like partly a highway but mostly a bird wing. The fractal feathering can be seen covering the lower right of the "wing" and even seems blasted by uttermost force into the surrounding land forms. The scattered icebergs resemble glass shards. The ensemble reminds me of a planetary ring that was either destroyed or that collapsed into numerous satellite particles trapped within a gravitational field.

Notice the dividing line in the lower left where the mountain range splits into tributary and peak/crater forms. Although we know the large blue area to be water, the blue field also suggests the sky and even the expanse of outer space where larger icebergs are asteroids and smaller ones are stars.

Volcanic Crater 

Volcanic Crater

We are looking at some seriously hard raw material here. Intemperate rock and desiccated lava. Yet the image is surprisingly floral with the texture of an impressionistic oil painting of a moonflower. The green landscape takes on a resemblance to background vegetation. Or is this image a representation of the world’s worst beer foam spill? No hazmat suits will be needed to clean up this disaster. Just enough volunteers who have that common Western bar malady of "a powerful thirst."

And, for fresh insights, save this image and turn it upside down (180 degrees). Behold fresh revelations. Is it a religious commission capturing something like The Pentecost of Gill Man or a rare glimpse of the not-yet-seen Lord of Light from HBO’s Game of Thrones?

 Geothermal Springs

Geothermal Spring

I’ve seen similar formal structures to these render up in fractal software I used in the early 1990s. This has a watercolor feel everywhere except for the fluidity of the spring pool. It’s ironic that the spring looks more circumscribed by flowing lava than does the volcano. A face shape finger-painted with fire. And do I see the white blind bottom-feeding eyes of a murderous catfish deep in the upper blue waters?

Or maybe the old gods should not be mocked. This is the face of Poseidon.

Or, if not the face, then maybe

Butte in Early Morning Fog 

Butte in Early Morning Fog

Seldom has space been so decisively divided. On the left are fractal clouds desiring to touch the earth. On the right is sea blue void. The left space is obscured and wispy and damp. The right space is all crystal nothing. The grandest natural "Great Wall" tears the "canvas" in half. A scar on a mountain. Castle remnants. The broken crown of Odin.

The left wall is erased — chipped at by time and now marred with holes. The right is enhanced by shadowy snow — used here as texture.

 Inland Marsh

Inland Marsh

A preponderance of moss and mold saturate this entire field. Marsh patterns do indeed seem as snake-like as river formations. This image is a feast for admirers of fractal coastlines where matter molecules combined to form uneven structures. What, apparently, looks so inviting and comfy to a duck might strike human beings as a staph infection waiting to happen. Or could this be a panorama of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as seen by a drone’s eyes?

The dinosaur forms are the genuine Jurassic Park. Follow Jim Morrison’s advice. Ride the snake.


Up next in the series: Agricultural Earthscapes.


Uploading = Publishing?

You Just Published That!

I created. I uploaded. I published.

[Image seen here.]


The so-called "little magazine," or more generic mainstream literary/art journal, has long been a tried-and-true avenue for artists and writers to distribute their work while insuring professional respectability. Why are such publications seen as more artistically credible? Since such journals/magazines are juried (screened or solicited by editors), these publications presumably bypass the stigma of the "vanity press," better known as self-publishing. After all, anyone calling themselves an artist can upload their own art to Flikr. Not every artist can be tapped to appear in Juxtapoz Magazine.

As print publishing becomes progressively expensive and environmentally unfriendly, more and more literary/art journals have and will move their operations online. But doing so has not changed the expectations of what editors want for submissions: first shot at publishing works of art and/or creative writing. In other words, only work that has not been previously published would be considered. In the dark ages of pre-WWW print-only culture, this meant any work that had not yet appeared "in print." The division was usually clear — even if sometimes hard to police. I mean, realistically, how could every or even most editors know that a poem or art work had previously appeared in a little magazine with a print run of one-hundred copies?

But, increasingly, the editors of online literary/art magazines are refusing to consider any work that has previously appeared online and is publicly accessible on the Internet. In their cyberspaced eyes, if you upload a creative work to a public online space, you have just published it. And, unlike their relatively blind print forebearers, cyber-editors have the means to enforce their criteria. They have Google.

Google says this one has 142 strings... 

Google says this piece’s made the rounds on deviantART, boys. Toss it on the reject pile.

[Image seen here.]

Here’s the quandary for OT’s readers. If you upload an image to any of the public Fractabook sites (deviantART, Fractal Forums, etc.) — or, worse, even to your own web site or blog, literary/art magazines can and often will consider such work to be already published. Simply by the act of uploading, you may, in fact, have slammed the door for future dissemination of that art work in other online professional art circles.

My question is: How do you feel about this development? I suspect your answer might depend on whether you are an artist or an editor. I’ve been both, so, sadly, I can see both sides.

As an Artist

This is an unreasonable situation. The Internet is the primary venue in which my art work can be seen. How am I supposed to promote my art if not through personal sites/blogs or online communities? Are there workable alternate means to "stand out amid the clutter" of other artists? How else can I build a reputation — or even be noticed enough to be solicited for work from a reputable lit-art magazine — if my work is not openly online and available for all to see? What a Catch-22. Besides, is posting a rough draft of a piece on deviantART, in the hopes that it will be critiqued (or, more likely, boisterously praised), really the same as actually publishing what should rightly be considered only a work in progress? That’s more like an online workshop than like a publishing act. How sorry.

As a Editor

This is a reasonable situation. When I’ve worked as an editor or associate editor, like with the now defunct Exquisite Corpse Annual, I was adamant about considering only unpublished (meaning: previously unseen) work. My readers/viewers expect and demand fresh writing and art. Why would I accept something posted on a personal site or blog that’s already indexed into Google — or something with a hefty hit count and lengthy comment thread on deviantART? By standing out from the clutter on search engines, your work can now be seen as damaged goods. Perhaps potential readers/viewers have already seen it. Magazines have reputations to build, too. The best course for doing so is to publish the new and avoid the old. If your work already shows up on Google, then it’s moth-eaten. Sorry.

Since I have dogs in both hunts, I don’t have an easy answer to this dilemma. I would, however, as always, welcome any insights from OT’s readers.

I can speculate on one thing though. If you don’t care about this issue at all, well…

…well, then, you might not be a professional. You just might be a hobbyist.


This heaven gives me migraine
Gang of Four, "Natural’s Not In It"

I’ve argued several times on OT, like in 2008 and more recently, that the model for Fractalbook infrastructure is the high school clique. Gina Barreca, another believer, recently spoke up in the Hartford Courant:

Social networking sites — from Facebook to Pinterest to StumbleUpon [to deviantART] — are very much like high school: As conducive as they are to the creation of community, they are simultaneously the cause of anxiety, bizarre competitions and weirdly contorted definitions of success.

Have a great weekend!!!!!!


I loved Tim’s post about fractal sculptures being made using 3D printing. You’d expect fractal images to be printed but would you have foreseen prints of food or weapons? And let’s not forget the gun porn videos.


Danger: High Voltage

Fractal Fun with Plywood

A Shocking Fractal


I have previously written about both fractal fields of lighting and about shocking flowers, but here is an experiment that merges the two topics.

A Pratt Institute student, Melanie Hoff, attached cables carrying 15,000 volts to what looks like plywood planks. One would expect the wood to immediately catch fire or burn a circle. Instead, the contact area snakes outward in tendril forms like those seen in DLA (Diffusion Limited Aggregation) patterns.

I found the fractally wood-lightning demonstration on Colossal, a site that says it’s dedicated to "art and visual ingenuity." I just thought OT’s readers would find this particular scientific foray to be cool.

The video below allows you to watch the process dramatically unfold in slow motion.


More Microscopy

Mosquito Eyes

Mosquito eyes. Microscopy courtesy of Oliver Meckes.


I first wrote about microscopy on OT back in September of 2009 when discussing Luke Jerram‘s glass sculptures. I said then that microscopy "frequently reveals fractal characteristics in the microcosmic world." Was I ever right.

The image gallery at FEI, a company producing high end microscopes, is a treasure trove of state-of-the-art microscopy. According to the Microscopy Society of America, microscopy

refers to the study of objects that are too small to be easily viewed by the unaided human eye. Viewing objects that range in size from millimeters down to as small as nanometers (1 nm ~ 0.00000004" = 40 billionths of an inch)

and Wikipedia digs into more specifics by explaining that

optical and electron microscopy involve the diffraction, reflection, or refraction of electromagnetic radiation/electron beams interacting with the specimen, and the subsequent collection of this scattered radiation or another signal in order to create an image. This process may be carried out by wide-field irradiation of the sample…or by scanning of a fine beam over the sample

using microscopes utilizing diverse illumination sources: light, electrons, ions, x-rays, and mechanical probes.

Of interest here, as usual, is to marvel at the range of fractal properties seen in the inner space of both nature and matter. Self-similar and recursive designs systematically appear again and again in this particular area of microphotography. I would even argue microscopy reveals that fractal patterns are innate in nature and encoded into matter.

The mosquito in the image above has a serious unibrow problem. Do the tail-like strands between the eyes shield them? We know insect eyes are compound from that iconic fly-eye POV shot of the screaming wife in the original film version of The Fly, but who would have thought a mosquito’s eyes would resemble foam rubber, upholstery cushioning, or the ball pits in bounce houses? And that nose bridge looks Darwinian — simian and angry.

The image is a fractal tile of mirrored structures with self-similarity seen in the hairs, eye components, nostril shapes, and antennae forms.


Moss hosting methane-eating bacteria. Microscopy courtesy of Michal Rawsi.

[Click on images to view at higher resolution on source sites.]

The mold here looks knitted with origins in the fiber arts — shaped into a plush toy creature holding a small log. The bacteria resembles rope or hose or macaroni. Don’t overlook the strange embossing in the background, especially the eclipsed skull shape in the lower right corner.

It’s not surprising that a shot of mold would be filled with dark, absent spaces, but the vanishing point seen at the left-center is a surprise, as are the illuminated light lines and pools found on the main form’s right "head" and "torso."


Dandelions. Microscopy courtesy of Gerald Poirier.

Each dandelion contains galaxies all simultaneously going nova. Starbursts. Fireflies. Moths drawn to their own light.

The fractal patterns in this image jibe with those of the very first image found in OT’s Fractal Art Collection: an albino peacock.

Ground coffee 

Ground coffee. Microscopy courtesy Maria Carbajo.

This looks like an empty hornet’s nest — like something insectoid made with secreting mandibles. It’s a hive for coffee’s caffeinated sting.

This feels very Mandelbulbish. Of all the microscopy images I viewed, this piece most closely evokes a 3D sense impression.

 Bumble Bee Antenna

Bumble bee antenna. Microscopy courtesy of Sharon Lackie.

Is it a near-frozen ripple of frost glazing a pond? Or an inexplicable still of a nuclear blast wave? Or is this what the marines found covering the walls under the power station during their mission to free the colonists in the film Aliens?

Recursion is quite evident here and is easily seen in the holes, hairs, and rings.


Caterpillar. Microscopy courtesy of Ken Bart.

"Who are you," said the Caterpillar.
–Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Lesson learned. Accept no free mushrooms from bugs. If you do, be prepared to perceive your first dragon.

The segmentation in this image is decidedly fractal. Compare the forms in it to this image of mine from 1999.

 Mouse kidney

Mouse kidney — fractured to show podocytes. Microscopy courtesy of Matt Sharp.

I think I’m having a flashback from that previously mentioned mushroom. This is positively psychedelic — a fitting backdrop for Grateful Dead jams. Why does this piece also feel remote — even a bit troubling? Is it the plasticity of the forms, as if one were viewing the dissection of a Barbie doll? Or is it instead the hardness and sharpness of a coral reef?

Self-similarity can be seen as the "foot projections" of the podocytes wrap around capillaries. It’s well known that nervous and circulatory systems exhibit fractal patterns. Is it possible that such patterns also extend to the intricacies of internal organs?

Wireless array 

Wireless neural electrode array. Microscopy courtesy of Rohit Sharma.

Just what exactly is this? From the notes:

The image shows a 10*10, 1.5mm long, 400 micron pitch Utah Neural Wireless Electrode array for communicating with individual neurons from the brain. The substrate consists of machined crisscross channels which are 500 μm deep, filled with glass frits (insulator between each electrode), with backside metallization (not visible in the picture) using microfabricaion techniques for integration with the electronics. The frontside of the array is machined into 100 electrodes on a wafer level followed by acid etching of the columns to form pointed needles with fine surface texture. The tips of all the electrodes are coated with Iridium oxide in order to communicate with neurons during the stimulation and recording from the brain.

Electronics is one of the more captivating categories of microscopic imagery at FEI. Surfing around, one finds deep zooms into subjects like flash memory, tungsten filament, and a slap-up shot of nickle nanowires that could be mistaken for an arresting flame fractal.

Note the stark contrast in self-similar forms: block vs. needle.

Penicillium fungus of bread 

Penicillium fungus of bread. Microscopy courtesy of Wadah Mahmoud.

One certainly gets a sense of something growing in this shot. The string-like forms remind me of live oak blooms. Depth works exceptionally well here and is achieved by the gradation and coloring of shadows that fill the (bread?) blue background.

There’s plenty of replication, too. Fractal patterns like banana clusters. If they were pipe cleaners instead of bananas. And floated in India ink pools instead of grew on trees.

Tomato leaf 

Surface of a tomato leaf. Microscopy coutesy of Ken Bart.

What an unnerving alien landscape. But it also has a horny toad feel. The thorns are worse than those of roses. But it also has a zippered Godzilla suit feel.

Note self-similar shapes in the bark, the barbs, and the blooms.

Embedded tick 

Tick embedded in dog skin. Microscopy courtesy of Valerie Lynch-Holm.

I know. This one falls into the more-information-than-I-really-needed category. The best dream of Dracula is also Fido’s nightmare. I’d scratch that monster, too. And are those siphoning tubes located near the creature’s head for transfusions?

I like how everything flows in this work (says the blogger trying to keep a straight face).

And how many times do I have to confess my shame for my soft spot for texture? Molting skin. Chalky cave walls. Teeth like walrus tusks. This is texture heaven.

ZnO nanoparticles 

ZnO nanoparticles. Microscopy courtesy of Francisco Rangel.

From the notes:

ZnO nanoparticles obtained by hydrothermal synthesis using microwave heating.

Inner space imitates Monet. It’s just as I always suspected. The world is made of flowers.




Name! That! Comment! OT “Biggest Fans” Edition!

Welcome back, readers, once again to the home edition of the Fractalbook Network’s much idolized game show: Name! That! Comment!

Tonight, due to the panic of sweeps week and the fear of ratings slippage, we’ve cobbled together a most prodigious presentation.

Our crackhead team of scientologists has scoured cyberspace (and beyond!) to seek out only the purest and surest OT buffs — only the truly obsessed OT devotees — only the utterly braindead OT rooters.

And, for one night only, we’ve gathered all these obstructionistic opposers together on the same staged page for your enjoyment at their expense. Please welcome OT’s fave haters in Name! That! Comment!: OT "Biggest Fans" Edition!

Remember how we play? A questionably artistic, allegedly fractal-type image is first displayed and subjected to your critical scrutiny. Then, you are provided with four comments. Three are imposters. To score, you must correctly select the one comment that was actually posted to the purported art object.

Round One features work and chat from this anti-OT foul nest on deviantART. Here, the hating is raw, the minds are numb, and the facts are beside the point. Ad hominem is not kept to a minimum. Each correct answer is worth 200 points.

[Click on images to view at higher resolution on source sites.]

 Coral Rift by lyc

Coral Rift by lyc

The correct comment is:
(a)_____ Remember, kids, if yr art looks like this then please delete it ASAP.
(b)_____ Remember, kids, if yr poop looks like this go to the docter ASAP.
(c)_____ Remember, kids, you’ll catch more flies with honey than with yr own poop.
(d)_____ Remember, kids, yr should always find excretion metaphors befitting for this artist. :poo:

 Endless dreams of deep by IDeviant

Endless dreams of deep by IDeviant

The correct comment is:
(a)_____ Reminds me of microphotography of gastrointestinal bile.
(b)_____ Reminds me of metastasized photosynthesis in poison oak.
(c)_____ Reminds me of the inside of the cathedral in Albi.
(d)_____ Will construction on the new cloverleaf interchange ever be finished?

 The Wall by Esintu

The Wall by esintu

The correct comment is:
(a)_____ Looks to me like a weird broken view of high-rise offices. I swear I can see people in some of the windows. :D
(b)_____ Looks to me like a refracted eclipse of a parking garage. I swear I can see oil stains on the cement floors. :clap:
(c)_____ Looks to me like a flashback glimpse of Aztec ruins. I swear I can see the bloody human hearts still beating. :thumbsup:
(d)_____ I find these new traffic cones to be somewhat distracting. :)

 Red Winds by Platinus

Red Winds by platinus

The correct comment is:
(a)_____ The drift of a fish hook floating languidly in liquid mercury. One of my outré first impressions!
(b)_____ The sensuality of an innocent "J" resisting halfheartedly its bed restraints. One of my freaky first impressions!
(c)_____ The flourish of an ear listening closely to beloved skin. One of my off-the-wall first impressions!
(d)_____ Mommy, why does the man with all the face tattoos have his mustache pierced through his earlobe?

 Smile by Milleniumsentry

Smile by milleniumsentry

The correct comment is:
(a)_____ I still think that smiley faces in a fractal is a "masterpiece," especially if a person has a sense of humor.
(b)_____ I will assert that smiley faces in a fractal is an "abomination to artists everywhere," especially if a person has a scrap of culture and taste.
(c)_____ If there ever was an archetype for a negative example of a fractal art masterpiece, this would decidedly be it.
(d)_____ [OT reader now viewing image above and then suddenly forced into the POV of the young cocooned boy in the film Aliens]: "Kill me. Please. Kill me."

Okay, players. Please mark your ballots and don’t touch that dial. We’ll be right back after this important message.

Public Service Announcement
Hello again, kids. I’m David X. Machina, former Compliment-O pitchman and empty suit who plays a blogger on this blog. I’d like to speak with you today about a creeping and pervasive public mental health contagion. Fractalbook Derangement Syndrome (FDS).

Although your host, Mr. Animal, relies upon "low" comic devices like satire and sarcasm to lampoon the foibles of online art community confabbing, the long term effects of Fractalbook exposure can indeed lead to real life maladies like delusions of grandeur and in-a-bubble cognitive dissonance. In advanced stages, the worst manifestation of FDS can lead to the psychotic belief that one is actually an artist who is actually making art.

And what is the root of this perfidious illness? It’s caused by the lack of something rarely ever found on Fractalbook: honest and critical feedback.

In fact, Fractalbook actively discourages reliable art criticism. This construct is self-evident if one references what many consider to be the equivalent of a Fractalbook Bible: The "Play Nice Policy". This Big Brotherish document is housed on Redbubble, an online enclave that describes itself "as a respectful, supportive and encouraging community of people who are passionate about art and creativity." Here’s a snip of their policy:

We ask that you are mature, respectful and considerate in your interactions with others. If you disagree with something you see on Redbubble, please be mindful that it’s not ok to target other artists, write personal or hurtful comments about them or use them as negative examples. Such actions are considered a breach of our community guidelines on acceptable behavior and can result in account closure.

Since when did having an honest reaction to a work of art become immature? No doubt, a response like this is much more indicative of adulthood:

Hugz xoxoxo 

I think WOW someone should give you a misspelled award for this superb cutting edge mind-blowingly amazing superb fave of faves!!!!!! Have a great weekend!!!!!!

And isn’t any response other than a sycophantic compliment potentially "hurtful"? And can’t artists learn something about both their art and their craft from so-called "negative examples"?

Let’s take a hypothetical situation. You’ve enrolled in a creative writing workshop. Every time your poem or story or play comes up to be critiqued by your peers, each workshop member gives you a variation of this response:


Another Masterpiece!!!!!! I could read it allll day!!!!!!

What do you think is your potential to grow as an artist in such an environment? And would you begin to suspect that your peers were being less than dependable in their assessment of your work? Might you start to speculate that their responses were complete bullshit and designed only to have you reciprocate to their work with similar saccharine backslaps?

If you think the compliments you receive daily on sites like Redbubble and devianART are on the level and come with no ulterior motives, I suggest you never leave your Fractalbook bubble, and I would not recommend you send your "art" out to a juried gallery, exhibition, or art magazine. You could be in for a severe reality check.

Working professionals in the fine arts face the possibility of rejection as a constant fact of life. Over time, such professionals are forced to develop thick skins. They also undergo frequent critical reappraisals of their own work.

Can you be circumspect about your art if everything you produce is exuberantly praised? No. Your artistic growth will be stifled if you never leave your sealed Fractalbook biodome. In fact, you’ll stagnate — surrounded by daily doses of mediocrity and the illusion that what you create is widely and unremittingly beloved.

But, truth be known, you don’t want a cure for FDS, do you? You like being told everyday that "you are really great." Besides, being cured of FDS would require an epiphany that your online art community really has absolutely nothing to do with art. It’s just another online social club modeled after a high school clique. You might indeed be the most popular kid in the cafeteria, the chosen one with the most faves and hugs and smileys exuding floating hearts and popping kisses, but it’s questionable that you’re ever going to be a working professional artist.

So, I wonder, why do you bother coming to this blog in the first place? Is it, in spite of what you perceive as its many faults and cheeky tone, an oasis — a kind of refuge — the one place in the fractal art community where you are treated like an adult and will not be pro forma falsely flattered coupled with the unavoidable expectation that you must repay the favor in kind?

Thanks for listening. Oh, and have a nice weekend!!!!!!

Public Service Announcement

Welcome back to the show that never dies but wants to: Name! That! Comment! Round Two features work and chat selected by random lottery to represent the "biggest fans" of OT. Here the hating is pretentious, the minds are scrambled, and the facts are wholly unconsidered. Fallacies frolic like animated gifs of sickeningly cutesy unicorns. Each correct answer is worth 400 points.

 Bug Monster Wearing Robe by Hal Tenny

Bug Monster Wearing Robe by HalTenny

The correct comment is:
(a)_____ Whoa! I’m taking a potent antacid!
(b)_____ Damn! I’m having a salvia flashback!
(c)_____ Yo! I’m awaiting some artistic prowess!
(d)_____ Those Shaolin monks are sure getting more worldly.

 121010-B by Pasternek

121010-B by pasternek

The correct comment is:
(a)_____ This is your brain on bad art.
(b)_____ [Serious doctor voice]: "I’m very sorry, Mr. Pasternek. It appears that your kidneys are having an affair."
(c)_____ Honey, are these reishi mushrooms in the crisper still good?
(d)_____ No comments have been added yet.

 Pokeballs by Jimpan1973

Pokeballs by jimpan1973

The correct comment is:
(a)_____ With that many Pokeballs, you’ll catch them all for sure.
(b)_____ Note to self about this guy’s work: Gotta avoid it all.
(c)_____ Meanwhile, inside the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant…
(d)_____ This looks familiar. Is this a still from a Lifetime movie about an explosion at the North Pole? I seem to recall that Santa Claus was playing chess with Rybka when suddenly a dirty gel bomb filled with steel ball bearings blew up, and oodles of perfectly replicated spherical bits of Santa covered several continents. The lead investigator, Officer Jenny, speculated that a sleeper cell of disgruntled elves was likely behind the attack. But, of course, that was a false trail. What actually happened was that Cindy Lou Who had gone rogue. I have a still from that film, too. See:

Cindy Lou Who Goes Rogue 

Don’t forget the Grinch Santa. I know he’s mean and hairy and smelly.

 Big Heart by Fiery-Fire

big heART by fiery-fire

The correct comment is:
(a)_____ I is soooooooooooo happy!!! Whenever I see your pieces I want to just stare at them alllll day!!!
(b)_____ I is soooooooooooo crazy!!! Whenever I see your pieces I want to just jam a power drill into my eye sockets alllll day!!!:chainsaw:
(c)_____ I is soooooooooooo stoned!!! Whenever I see your pieces I want to just blot out the resulting unbearable pain with medical marijuana alllll day!!!
(d)_____ Honey, why did you DVR Apocalypto again?

 Klimt Crowns the Cliteri by LMarkoya

Klimt Crowns the Cliteri by LMarkoya

The correct comment is:
(a)_____ It looks like an abstract lady bits.
(b)_____ If you vajazzle your fractals, does that count as post-processing?
(c)_____ Although this piece is worth little as art, perhaps you can still get something for it on the scrap gold market.
(d)_____ Meanwhile, inside the Large Hadron Collider

Thank you for playing the home edition of Name! That! Comment! Once you have marked your examination sheet, you can then self-check your scores and status using the grids below.

Moreover, the management here at OT urges our readers to make liberal use of the comments section below in order to add their own creative comment options. Feel free to use the designator (e) for any of the images featured in today’s special edition game show spoof post. Here would be an example:

5. (e)_____ Perhaps my Oxycontin dosage needs to be cut in half.

Until next time…

Scoring Grid:
500 points: Obviously Truckle Challenged
1000 points: Better Hire an Ass-Kissing Tutor
1500 points: Passing from Fawning to Kowtowing
2000 points: Servile to an Extraordinary Extent
2500 points: Cringing with True Submissiveness
3000 points: Bubbly Babs Lifetime Achievement Award

Answer Grid:
1. here
2. here
3. here
4. here
5. here
6. here
7. here
8. here
9. here
10. here

Blocked Drones and Shocked Flowers

Dronestagram Trinity

Death from Above

[Click on images to view at higher resolution on source sites.]


"New aesthetic" visionary James Bridle‘s latest project is Dronestagram –an Instagram feed that posts satellite images tied to U.S. drone strikes in the Middle East and Asia. The feed, according to Bridle, shares a similar purpose with Josh Begley’s Drones+, an app banned by Apple that sends alerts when drone strikes are reported. Dronestagram, says Bridle, makes "these locations just a little bit more versatile, a little closer. A little more real."

According to The Verge, Bridle’s Instagram feed

finds and filters images of drone strike locations using satellite data from Google Maps, adding contextual information from a variety of news sources, including the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Each feed comes accompanied with data like date, location, and causalities (including civilians). Bridle points out that we daily use military technology, like GPS and Kinect, for business and pleasure, but maintains that same technology can also be used, with little visibility and from ever greater distances, to kill and maim human targets. Bridle notes that Dronestagram

does allow us to see these landscapes, should we choose to go there. These technologies are not just for “organising” information, they are also for revealing it, for telling us something new about the world around us, rendering it more clearly.

 Target Acquired

Buhland Khil, Pakistan. October 11, 2012. 16-26 reported killed. Possible civilian casualties.

and Bridle, insisting on being able to use, for his own purposes, the same space that Apple denied to Begley, goes on to say

History, like space, is coproduced by us and our technologies: those technologies include satellite mapping, social photo sharing from handheld devices, and fleets of flying death robots. We should engage with them at every level. These are just images of foreign landscapes, still; yet we have got better at immediacy and intimacy online: perhaps we can be better at empathy too.

 Target Destroyed

Tappi Village, Pakistan. October 24, 2012. 3-5 reported killed. 1 civilian reported killed.

The obvious fractalness of the images is the reason I’m sharing them and their feed on OT. I observed in a recent post that "the repeating fractal patterns of city blocks and rural fields" are easily seen during airplane flights. In both images above, the recursive rectangular forms clash in their angular sharpness with both the rounded forms of fields and rivers, as well as the depth produced by the height fields of the mountains.

Begley’s Drones+ was rejected by Apple because it "contains content that many audiences would find objectionable." How sadly ironic. I find weaponized drone strikes and their "content" to be objectionable — and immoral — and abhorrent.

And here’s more unsettling news from rallblog to shock the conscience:

The Pentagon has ordered $531 million in new drones. Also, the FAA has greenlit 10,000 police drones over the U.S. over the next five years.

It certainly sounds like the number of posts on Dronestagram will soon be rising, but, regrettably, not as quickly or steeply as flying robot death stats.


Composite Photograph by Robert Buelteman 

A composite of photographs by Robert Buelteman

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.

Dylan Thomas

And speaking of shocking…

The latest Somewhat recent work from Robert Buelteman, an artist from San Francisco, is a series of electrocuted flower/plant photographs. Each one is created without using either a camera or computer manipulation but produced by annexing a method of photography known as Kirlian — and by inflaming his subjects with 80,000 volts.

Designboom explains Buetleman’s technique as

a high-voltage photogram process which gained popularity in the 1930s — is considered highly dangerous and painstaking to the point where very few people will attempt it. Buelteman will begin the arduous process by meticulously whittling down foliage such as flowers, twigs and plants with a scalpel until they are almost transparent. He then lays each sample on color transparency film and covers it with a diffusion screen which is positioned on a piece of sheet metal sandwiched between plexiglas, floating in liquid silicone. Buelteman zaps everything with an electric pulse and the electrons jump from the sheet metal, through the silicone and the flower while leaving the jumper cables. The result is hand-painted with white light shining through an optical fiber the width of a human hair — a process so tricky each image can take up to 150 attempts.

I’m sure OT’s readers realize that flower and plant forms are inherently fractal, but Buetleman’s shock treatments really let us see these self-similar forms literally in a new light.

Maidenhair Fern by Robert Buetleman 

Maidenhair Fern by Robert Buetleman

Stalks and bubbles formulae got nothing on the fern above. The fractal connection to arterial and circulatory systems is disclosed. The radiating fronds seem like individual cells and begin to resemble grape clusters. But Buetleman’s flower shots are among the most astounding

Mule's Ear by Robert Buetleman 

Mule’s Ear by Robert Buetleman

because the petal and stem forms appear hyper-saturated as if shellacked by a metallic/acrylic film. Buetleman’s flowers sometimes seem like a hybrid cross-pollination of water lilies and enameled molars and

Buckeye Leaves by Robery Buelteman 

Buckeye Leaves by Robert Buelteman

his leaves glow eerily as if astrally projected from a spirit realm or alternate universe. The fractal forms appear spectrally like an apparition and jump off individual leaves like zebra stripes or woven crosshatch. Different leaves in Buetleman’s photos even seem to display idiosyncratic coloring gradient adjustments

Rainbox Chard by Robert Buetleman 

Rainbox Chard by Robert Buetleman

as if they’d received a good digital tweaking in Ultra Fractal. The image above looks silk-screened as it undergoes a Warhol-like replication with fine-tuned color variations. It morphs into iterations of a river’s mouth. Or maybe gradations of summer trees on fire near Malibu. Or maybe questionably digestible spinach grown near Chernobyl. Or maybe the entire physiology of the subject collapses into a flame fractal

Fallen Lichen by Robert Buetleman 

Fallen Lichen by Robert Buetleman

after falling prey to an insidious Apo hack or being irradiated by a dozen algorithmic Photoshop filters. Or do like your fractal art more masked and layered and impressionistic? Didn’t I read somewhere that Jackson Pollack’s drip paintings might display fractal properties? Well,

Indian Mustard by Robert Buelteman 

Indian Mustard by Robert Buelteman

no one can action paint quite like Mother Nature. Squint, and the image above could pass for a de Kooning painting. Or a random color adjustment for an image rendered in fractal software like Vchira.

I suppose these electroshocked flowers fascinate me because I imagine them all being supercharged with fractal lightning. I wonder why I have such a crazy notion?


Hiya, kids. Reddy Kilowatt here. Remember. Never stick a fork in the toaster.

Oh. Right. My earliest, ill-formed memory of electrical current was this guy, and I suspect he’s been on a serious Kirlian workout regimen. How else could he have developed that finely toned fractal physique?


UPDATE: Correction. Buetleman’s series of shockable flowers, Through the Green Fuse, was made in 2001.

The Physical Clouds

Photograph by Rüdiger Nehmzow 

Such perfect fractal clouds are too perfect to be real.

Photograph by Rüdiger Nehmzow

[Click on images to view at higher resolution on source sites.]


I wrote recently about Google opening their data centers to writers and photographers and thus revealing how fractal the digital cloud looks. Let’s not forget, though, that physical clouds are equally impressive as natural fractals. Lamentably, our ground-level view of clouds feels restricted to 2D appreciation. We can only see one side as we peer up. The dark side of the clouds eludes us, shrouded behind a scrim. We need to be cloud-level in order to glimpse those water droplet and ice crystal forms with 3D glasses. If we could settle into just the right position and perspective, then the 3D panorama of cloud fractalness might align and blossom out.

Fortunately, German photographer Rüdiger Nehmzow figured out a way for all of us to see more eye to eye with clouds. According to My Modern Met:

This must be what heaven looks like. Photojournalist Rüdiger Nehmzow took to the skies in his Cloud Collection series to photograph some beautiful cloud formations. After being strapped in, the committed photographer, equipped with two cameras and an oxygen mask, went 6,000 meters (approximately 4 miles) high in an airplane with the doors wide open to snap his shots.

The result? Nehmzow’s cloud shots reveal astonishing dimensions in fully realized fractalscapes.

Is a front moving in?

I decided to collide clouds myself by captioning these photographs of physical clouds with digital snips of text found in search strings of a Google search of "fractal clouds." The original source, in every instance, is linked to the specific search phrase.

Is a storm flaring up?

Buckle in. Enjoy the flight. I hope you don’t mind if we leave the doors open.

Photograph by Rüdiger Nehmzow 

There are those who do not see these standard Fourier clouds as fractal clouds as the algorithm is not iterative.

Photograph by Rüdiger Nehmzow

Photograph by Rüdiger Nehmzow 

Realistic images are generated by interpolating the extremely coarse weather simulation data grid and enhancing the result using fractal clouds.

Photograph by Rüdiger Nehmzow

Photograph by Rüdiger Nehmzow 

Draw a large white rectangle and give it a fractal clouds fill. Now, yes, you are still looking at a large white rectangle.

Photograph by Rüdiger Nehmzow

 Photograph by Rüdiger Nehmzow

A fraction of dark matter may be in the form of cold, primordial fractal clouds

Photograph by Rüdiger Nehmzow

 Photograph by Rüdiger Nehmzow

Fractal clouds are generally less reflective than plane-parallel clouds that have the same total cloud liquid water…

Photograph by Rüdiger Nehmzow

 Photograph by Rüdiger Nehmzow

Download royalty free fractal clouds forming heart shape, isolated over white, just copy and paste it over your favourite background ;-)

Photograph by Rüdiger Nehmzow

 Photograph by Rüdiger Nehmzow

Discrete angle radiative transfer: 2. Renormalization approach for homogeneous and fractal clouds

Photograph by Rüdiger Nehmzow

 Photograph by Rüdiger Nehmzow

The Fractal Clouds is similar to the fire and brimstone effects, except that is almost solely used to create different types of clouds…

Photograph by Rüdiger Nehmzow

 Photograph by Rüdiger Nehmzow

Title: Collisional H I versus Annihilating Cold Fractal Clouds.

Photograph by Rüdiger Nehmzow


Nehmzow, who really does have his head in the clouds, also has a video of the artist at work:


Iterations of Hurricane Sandy

HS Formula 1

Hurricane Sandy’s Fractalscape Renders


But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
T. S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

A pervasive side effect of working with fractal art is that one begins to develop a heightened sense of fractal pattern recognition. Self-similar forms and recursive elements seem to oftentimes loiter around the margins of one’s visual experience. Without warning, recursive replications of oneself emerge suddenly in the three-fold mirror at a clothing store. Or a glimpse out the window, after opening the shade on a cold winter’s morning, discloses a grove of frost-encrusted trees. Or a metal bicycle rack glinting with sunlight in peripheral vision. Or those half-circles of filtered light unabashedly dancing under a tree during an eclipse.

You can’t take a airplane flight and not notice the repeating fractal patterns of city blocks and rural fields — of rippling light pools in parking lots at night. In my last post, examining a post-processed photo of Mars, I noticed the fern shapes gouged out of a crater by antediluvian flowing water. This week, I saw plenty of coursing water in the deluge of photos soaking the Internet as Hurricane Sandy made landfall on the eastern coast of the United States. I felt the familiar nagging jolts of fractal pattern recognition as I scanned wave after wave of photographic evidence of the storm’s destructive power. The more I deep zoomed by seeking out newer photos — photos swamping the Web from numerous cell phones or news feeds and photo floodgates opened from the digital immediacy of Facebook and Twitter — the more I found fractal designs in the storm pics became unmistakable, almost algorithmic.

Fractal forms are no surprise in nature; they are instead an everyday experience. Trees. Clouds. Lightning. Mountains. Even our own nervous system, as Prufrock notes. But I was really surprised by how many fractals embedded in photos I witnessed in the aftermath of this particular force of nature. For all her bluster and cruelty, Hurricane Sandy was a gifted fractal artist. You can see an astonishing attention to fractal-like detail in many of her annihilative iterations.

Just a posting note before we start our flyover of the fractalized damage. I found all of these images on Google Image searches of "hurricane sandy photos." Some of the photos were not of an appreciably higher resolution than what you see here on OT. Quite a few others washed in for a few brief hours, then receded from listings as the surging digital tide went back out. I have linked some images to sources when, while surfing in my private rescue boat, I was able to re-locate them. Many, however, have been swept away in cyberspace ether. If overly curious, I guess you will have to go on a hunting and gathering expedition on your own time.

"Let us go then, you and I..".


The photo above of a fleet of taxi cabs in a flooded parking lot is one of the most striking, most breathtaking shots. Here it is again from another angle

HS Formula 2 

and the fractal tropes really sally out. The self-similarity of the yellow cabs is hard to miss. Recursion occurs not only in the lines of cabs, but also because of the depth at which they are submerged in water. Indeed, this combination of repeated forms integrated with the varied level of flood waters creates a detectable fractal tension in many of these photos. Another noticeable trait in physical world fractals is the relative mix of straight (hard) and rounded (soft) lines. Arguably, hard lines tend to be predominating in much computer-generated fractal imagery, although (increasingly) there are exceptions. Quaternion and Mandelbulb renders, for example, can indeed produce softer rounded and curved shapes. Here, in the cab shots, the soft lines are evident in the car bodies, the hoods and windshields, and are also discernible in the water currents — especially where the oily film is washing in like tired breakers. In contrast, the hard lines are most detectable at the car-door sides of the taxis — particularly in the spaces or aisles between the parked queues of cabs. Here is another variation of the same theme

HS Formula 3 

but, in this shot from New York, the aisles are far wider and both recursive queues move away from our POV. Hard fractal forms/lines fill both the foreground (buildings) and the background (skyline). Note the many self-similar replications of light in this photo — the exterior building lights at the upper left, the twin mini-novas of streetlamps, the blurred checkerboard of lit windows in distant skyscrapers, and even the dark taillights of the stranded cabs. Softer forms are more indistinct: the curve of a lone streetlight pole or the reflected light from the lamp squiggling in the swift current. Here is yet another variation

HS Formula 4 

only using buses. There’s less tension and more loneliness suggested in this shot, perhaps because the water is calmer and the chassis of the buses are leaner and longer. To make matters spookier, the spectral, self-similar reflectivity of the buses suggest an afterimage residue or a ghostly phantasm. And if you found the reflected light at night from the previous NYC cab photo stirring, you’ll likely dig this photo

HS Formula 5 

where the foreground lights diffuse into a glob of soft mist nearly blotting out the hard square starlight twinkling in skyscrapers. The reflected light is more acute since the rushing water gives the illusion of recursive rapids. Straight line borders clearly frame the lit proscenium. Like the structures holding the street signs moving recursively to the left out of the frame. Like the twin wooden boardwalks until recently bookending the flooded street until the water’s rage uprooted the right boardwalk turning it into a makeshift retaining wall. In the end, though, maybe the most beguiling photo of half submerged fractally suggestible waterlogged cars was this one

HS Formula 6 

where differences in the degree of the vehicles’ immersion suggest recursion at increasing smaller scales. The SUV "bodies" are more visibly rounded than the earlier cars and buses and the iceberg effect of underwater tincture of the SUV at the far right adds substantial depth. Depth is further enhanced by the primarily hard lines of the rectangular floating (mostly wooden ) debris, including the odd recursive forms aligning like vertebrae in the shot’s lower right. What are they? Reflective oddities? Lens flare glints? Digitally funky pixel break-ups? Fog spots on the camera lens? Or, chillingly, dabs of Sandy’s artistically placed debris. Note how a few hard long lines slash through the photo — especially the sunlit area in the lower left and the wall/dock and railing/gate structures in the upper background. To up the fractility, here’s another twisted, M. C. Esherish alluvial snapshot

HS Formula 7 

of a flooded NYC subway station where the hard lines of the railing (left) and the rectangular mirrored wall/windows (right) recede from our POV. Conversely, to utterly skew perception and depth, the twin escalator/stair shapes seem to move towards us only to be deflected and elongated at the waterline by the duel distorting properties of water and light. And let’s not overlook the multiple reflections of that magnificent fractal tree dominating one-third of the image. The tree forms also bend at the waterline as well as around a background curve in the back wall.

Then again, some of Hurricane Sandy’s iterations were more idiosyncratic and unparalleled. Like this one

HS Formula 8 

where, weirdly, the rounder and softer forms are found in the furiously slamming sand. The straighter and harder lines are seen in the twin piers (or stairwells). Both soft and hard forms evidently display self-similarity and draw back recursively into the vanishing point of the beach house. Then there’s this

HS Formula 9 

showing even more retreating recursion than the previous pic with hard lines visible in its walkway, its railings (if that’s what they are), and its string of light posts (so incredibly self-similar). But it’s the snow, with its repetitive soft/round forms, that dominates the image to the point of near obliteration. The only other round forms are the string of three lights in the background. Oh. Yes. And the oddly intrusive human form — which kind of "ruins" the fractalness of the shot for me. Maybe I should have manipulated Mother Nature and Photoshopped the encroacher out of the pic. But would that be unsporting or even unnatural? Is it my place to post-process Sandy’s iterative handiwork?

I was exceedingly struck by how many torii (torus?) forms appear in photos of the storm’s devastation. Usually, Hurricane Sandy sculpted these gateway tatters from the blasted remnants of elevated highways or piers. Here

HS Formula 10 

the gateways, despite a furious assault, are still holding the line and carrying the weight of the pier on their sturdy shoulders. But other torii forms

 HS Formula 11

are battered and bruised and leave the battlefield with shoulders slumped in defeat, while others

HS Formula 12 

stand surefooted and remain defiant even as they continue to come under bombardment at the beachhead, while still others

HS Formula 13 

are spotted marching in a Trail of Tears formation along the clobbered coastline.

Finally, there was one particularly surreal and dramatic shot

HS Formula 14 

that definitively captured the adrenaline-charged, hold-on-for-dear-life, fractally meandering roller coaster ride rendered by the iterations of Hurricane Sandy.


These photos show much more than nature’s penchant for rendering fractalscapes using an Act of God for tools. The toll in lost lives and property from the storm is astronomic. By some estimates, the hurricane has left 17 million people in FEMA disaster areas and repair costs are predicted to be as much as 50 billion dollars. Here, if so inclined, are some ways you can help.



The Fractal Cloud

Google Data Center

Inside a Google Data Center

[Click on images to view at higher resolution on source sites.]


They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the internet. And again, the internet is not something you just dump something on. It’s not a truck. It’s a series of tubes.
Ted Stevens, Former United States Senator from Alaska

Google has been photographing more than your house lately — everything from penguins to barrier reefs. But the company really took snapshots to the next level last week when it released a video, Street View maps, and a series of still images from photographer Connie Zhou.

Generally, Google is mum about its immense warehouses lodging servers and fiber optic cables that enable search queries, Gmailing, video streaming, and virtual storage.

And what was my first thought upon seeing these data center images? The cloud looks very fractal.

More Google Data Center 

The Real Information Hallway

Google invited Stephen Levy from Wired to take a tour of its facility in Lenoir, North Carolina. And here’s what Levy saw:

This is what makes Google Google: its physical network, its thousands of fiber miles, and those many thousands of servers that, in aggregate, add up to the mother of all clouds.

And that mother — whose root origin is matrix — definitely displays fractalesque properties of self-similarity and recursion.

Still More Google Data Center 

Heaven’s Gate?

Even theoretical infinity, that most abstract and (physically) unproveable of fractal properties, could be suggested by the physical trappings of the cloud. Levy notes:

Blue lights twinkle, indicating … what? A web search? Someone’s Gmail message? A Glass calendar event floating in front of Sergey’s eyeball? It could be anything.

The glimpse is temporary. In many of these data center shots, recursive forms promptly recede from the viewer’s POV and disappear to a vanishing point.

And Still More Google Data Center 

Mandelbulb Made Physical?

Others of these shots correspond with the 3D fractal work at FractalForums. Compare the photo above, formally anyway, with an image Tim featured last year:

 GPS Required by RCPage

GPS Required by RCPage

Or maybe you’d prefer sauntering through the cloud’s front door and taking a Street View tour. Think of it as a deep zoom walk.


Meanwhile, not to be outdone by stuff sort of tangentially in digital/virtual space, physical space had this ace up its black hole sleeve:

I think the cell tower is out. 

You. Are. Here.

And I thought the Large Hadron Collider was a big fractal-honking thing. But. Whoa. This. This is a deeeeep zoom walk.

Listen to the tour guide. From

Using a whopping nine-gigapixel image from the VISTA infrared survey telescope at ESO’s Paranal Observatory, an international team of astronomers has created a catalogue of more than 84 million stars in the central parts of the Milky Way. This gigantic dataset contains more than ten times more stars than previous studies and is a major step forward for the understanding of our home galaxy. The image gives viewers an incredible, zoomable view of the central part of our galaxy. It is so large that, if printed with the resolution of a typical book, it would be 9 metres long and 7 metres tall.

Nine-gigapixel. That’s, carry the 7, around 9 billion pixels. Stars make up 84 million of the image’s 173 million different celestial (and fractal) objects. That’s agogging.

Meanwhile, closer to home:

Emboss me, baby.  All Martian night long. 

Mars Needs Embossing

Where’s my meds? I’m seeing fractal ferns again. NASA says this image of Mars fuses orbital imagery with 3D modeling. Whatever possessed some wonderful artistic freak at NASA to post-process water flow patterns on a Martian crater? All I know is I reeeeeeally dig it. Except for a persistent creeeeeepy feeling. About an angry red planet. And an ongoing unsettling feeling I get each year around Halloweeeeeen. I’m sure I’m just being paranoid. I’m sure nothing could squaaaaaack heeeeeek aaaaaack aaaaaaaaaaaack. Buffering

We come in peace.  We come in peeeeeeace. 

While. Blogger. Rambles. On. Insipidly. Voltron. Will. Once. Again. Borrow. This. Object. From. Blogger’s. Home.



On Style 7

Surfing Squirrel by Maria K. Lemming

Surfing Squirrel by Maria K. Lemming


I Know What I Like — Or Do I? Part Three:

I may not always know why I like a given work of art, but I can usually tell when a given piece makes me simultaneously smile and think.

So, I’m on more sure footing on this outing. In the two previous posts, reflecting on work by Jennifer Stewart and Tina Oloyede, I was travelling in dim light without much of a trustworthy, critical GPS. I knew I didn’t much like the road fractal art is currently on: creating beautiful objects for their own sakes and systematizing such empty eyecandy as the apotheosis of fractal art through both Fractalbook high-schoolish clique commentary and the mostly prettified gunk factory-made by "winners" of the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest.

The fractal art I find exciting is often consciously processed in the direction of representation and can, broadly speaking, be "read" as a visual text — usually through the avenues of perceiving a narrative structure or through aesthetics via close scrutiny of how the piece utilizes design elements.

But there’s another puzzle piece crucial to today’s post, and it takes the form of a simple question. Why is fractal art ordinarily so humorless? Seriously. I mean, if it’s not bludgeoning viewers with strum und drang, it’s drably overreaching for profundity by being saddled with befogging titles that sound heavy but are merely an unfathomable or obscure lexicon. This predilection for sobriety and graveness also extends to the work of many new wave 3D fractal artists as well. Why do so many 3D affictionados seem content to staidly rebuild the halls of Montezuma or plumb the mecha-guts of steampunk machinery? Buoy up, boys.

Writer Anne Lamott once noted that "laughter is carbonated holiness." I think it’s time to pop the top and get real gone — somewhere past giggly but just outside spiritual.


I’ve been a smiling fan of Maria K. Lemming‘s fractal art since I first chanced upon it on Usenet in the late 1990s. No one else currently working in the discipline possesses a comparable and keen sense of recherché whimsicality. If, as Lenny Bruce once claimed, that laughter is "the only honest art form," then Lemming might be our purest genius.

Take Surfing Squirrel above (please!). The addition of a googly eye to the rodent form should come off like digital quackery; our own eyes should roll in response. Instead, the laugh lines around my eyes crater even deeper. The resulting transformation is beyond silly. It’s become somehow archetypal with the staying power and viral qualities of an Internet meme


which, of course, it is (even if the furry dude is technically water-skiing).

While you’re chuckling, you might overlook the precision of the piece’s composition. There’s energy everywhere. Note how the motion lines lift the tail off the board. Note how the waves, resembling the harmonic squiggles of voice recognition software, suggest a capricious sense of shooting the tube. The interwoven white threads in the "wave" evoke the froth of breaking whitecaps. The taut, horizontal lines rippling on the squirrel’s "fur" hint at both speed and tensity. Lastly, the fragmentized frame gives the entire piece a tilt-a-whirl, off-kilter ambiance that insinuates a gnawer wipe out is assuredly imminent.

Shy Sumo Wrestler by Maria K. Lemming 

Shy Sumo Wrestler by Maria K. Lemming

This work begins its rising mirth with the oxymoron of its title. What sport revels more in fleshly close encounters than sumo wrestling? How could any bashful athlete in this particular profession ever be competitive? There’s no hidey holes or panic room on a sumo mat. The two competitors are staggeringly exposed.

And in more ways than one. Those mawashis (the loincloth belts worn by the wrestlers) leave little to the imagination. In fact, the sport enjoys assaulting the eyes with plump, dueling buttocks (now there’s a phrase I don’t think I’ve ever had occasion to use before) and bashing barrel chests. Given the high degree of body friction involved, the image could have easily veered off in a more titillating direction — perhaps something like the erotically-charged work of Karen Jones. But Lemming is more interested in a kind of enamored gleefulness. Her soft, rounded, feminine forms are not intended for arousal but are subtly used to suggest the girth and grace of the wrestlers.

Shy Sumo Wrestler shows that fractal art does not have to be intemperately processed to trigger a leap from abstraction to representation. What we have here is a cubist cut-up of a trial of strength by combat with ancient origins in ritual dance. Remarkably, the piece feels like a still life that’s fully in motion. It’s all backs and buttsguts and belts — beef and brawn. And, what’s most awe-inspiring, is that it’s grounded in the wry notion of one timid warrior misplaced in a world where vulnerability is terra incognita.

Lonely Girl and the Ship by Maria K. Lemming 

Lonely Girl and the Ship by Maria K. Lemming

Lonely Girl, a solitudinarian, who made her first appearance near the turn of the century, may be Lemming’s most enduring achievement — a fractal character who is every(wo)man. She’s endearing because she carries on in the midst of adversity. She’s courageous, faces her fears, and hangs in. But she has no companions to give her good cheer and boost her spirits. In the end, she discovers what we all know but fear to admit: we’re alone. In other words, she’s us.

Lonely Girl is trapped in an absurd existence of being inexplicably transported from one Fringe event to the next. No pattern for her ongoing transferrals is apparent. No explanation is provided as to the purpose of her reoccurring time-slip travels. Worst of all, she is forced to journey solo without the benefit of any comrades. No wonder she’s so lonely.

Here’s Lonely Girl considering a fresh fractal landscape. Zap. Here’s Lonely Girl on a Framed Road. Whoosh. Here’s Lonely Girl incarcerated in a lollipop. Zing. Here, in a personal favorite, is Lonely Girl meeting the New World. Bam. Here’s Lonely Girl confined in the Haunted House. Scared…and, as always, alone.

But the loneliest Lonely Girl of all is Lonely Girl and the Ship. Adrift without a life raft. Forced to tread water with only brots for arms. Doomed to bob atop the waterline while she waits for the welcome companionship of passing sharks. Poor thing. She can’t even go down with the ship. Even drowned company is better than none.

And that dingy, white-yellowish, nuclear flash sky is hardly reassuring. Even worse, the background could be a black hole of digital absence. The grim nothingness of empty pixels. Ultimate solitary.

Yes, Lonely Girl and the Ship would be the most lonesome, most melancholic fractal ever made…except…

…except Lemming, in her artistic wisdom and human kindness, made certain that Lonely Girl will never truly be completely lonely because…

…because you are spending time with her right now. Every viewer becomes her yokefellow.

She has us.


Next up in the series: Nothing.

On Style 6

FaeryRing by Jennifer Stewart

FaeryRing by Jennifer Stewart

[Click on images to view full-size.]


I Know What I Like — Or Do I? Part Two:

I began recent entries in this series outlining with some certainty why I like certain fractal artists and then admitting my trepidations for being less sure as to why I’m drawn to the work of others. I acknowledged being drawn to fractals that can be “read” — that is, work transcending the commonly mass-produced style so prevalent in most fractal art: a beautiful but self-contained object.

However, like some literary texts, some visual texts are not easily decoded. How, exactly, does one go about “reading” them? Are there discernable, even multiple implied narratives undergirding a piece? Or is a work’s splendor ambiguous and slowly divulged through a scrutiny of aesthetical pleasures? Either way, one reads such images more with the mind than with the eye — until the mists burn off, the veil parts, or the curtain lifts.


As with Tina Oloyede, whose work I reviewed last time, much of the early art of Jennifer Stewart (jennyfnf on Renderosity) typifies mainstream Ultra Fractal sugary treats — “sheets in the wind, and rings of gold” to use Tim’s ever serviceable metaphors. But many of her more recent works, especially those using Talis variation formulas in Fractal Explorer, are terrific — commoving and arresting. In fact, the more Stewart steps out of her comfort zone, the more mesmeric her work becomes.

FaeryRing (above) is exquisitely composed and suggests multiple narratives. The most easily observable connection is to a literal fairy ring (aka elf circle or pixie circle) — a naturally occurring circular arc of mushrooms. In European folklore, fairy rings serve as entryways to elfin kingdoms (so don’t be suckered by those drop-down cemetery doorways in True Blood). An appearance of a fairy, pixie, or elf causes such rings to appear, but they last for only five days. However, if an observer is stealthful and patient, he or she may be able to capture a fae creature upon its return to the ring.

Stewart shows us only part of the ring, but the mushroom forms are clearly identifiable and aligned in a manner consistent with imagining the unseen completion of the circle. The fungal hues and striations impart further verisimiltude. The half-lit sky implies mushroom-finding prime time: dawn. Additionally, the grayish granules seen at the base of the mushroom stalks could suggest the dead or dying grass trenches sometimes found marking fairy rings. A viewer could, of course, stop at this juncture and be content to appreciate the piece as a lovely landscape-like rendition of a natural phenomenon.

There’s more, though. Upon closer examination, the fairies themselves appear in the ring. The mushroom sprouts modify into wings, and the stalks morph into gossamer gowns. The lead fairy stands sideways at the far right and faces a line of fairies placed with their backs to us. She holds a candle, and, by inference, so do the other fairies in the line. Note how carefully Stewart controls light and shadow; the illumination seems to flicker in all of the proper places — the upper tips of the wings, the bottoms of the dresses (especially nicely done on the lead fairy), and the uppermost layer of the ground.

And there’s still more. FaeryRing pulsates with observances of nature’s fertility — its organic vitality. The poet Dylan Thomas described this process in the title of one of his most famous poems as “The Force That Drives the Green Fuse Drives the Flower.” The sturdy, thick root form growing downward from the far left fairy cluster and running horizontally underground embodies such natural dynamism. Moreover, the root structure apparently also functions as a passageway from the elfin realm to our own. Now, click on the image, open it to full screen, and lean in a little closer to your monitor. Do you see several of the wee folk making their way through the tunnel?

A few Fractalbook commenters describe FaeryRing as magical, and, on this occasion, they’re not being hyperbolic. It is truly enchanting.

AllSaints by Jennifer Stewart

AllSaints by Jennifer Stewart

The overall composition of this piece dovetails nicely with its title. The texture mirrors the intricacies of stained glass, and the coloring (lush purples and browns but muted greens and yellows) is consistent with much classical religious iconography. Other design elements converge to nudge the work toward representation — tiled formations become ornate robes, circular backlit forms over head shapes suggest halos, and the downward points of inverted rhomboid forms even suggest hands folded in prayer.

The entire work brims with barely containable tension and frenetic activity as the various saints appear to struggle to break free from gravity’s restraints and begin their mass ascension into the heavenly “clouds” lining the top of the image. I’d like to imagine the two smaller forms near the upper-right corner are abstract cherubim assigned to escort the saints on their skyward trip to the Pearly Gates.

AllSaints is a wonderful ensemble of light, form, and color resulting in something rare: a truly spiritual fractal.

It'sALLLies by Jennifer Stewart

It’sALLLies by Jennifer Stewart

The Fractalbook comments on this piece gush over the soft lines and soothing pastels. One viewer even remarks: “It reminds me of gentle mists.”

It reminds me of the grotesque and malformed body horrors one commonly reads in the fiction of H. P. Lovecraft and sees in the films of David Cronenberg. Have the eyecandied assembly lines pumped so much saccharine slop into Fractalbooker’s lobes that they can no longer recognize the cognitive dissonance between a work’s title and its execution?

I’d argue Stewart has made a magnificent meta-fractal here. It has all the visually ornamental trappings of a rubber-stamped Fractalbook crowd-pleaser. Diffused focus. Chromatic color. Rounded, feminine forms. Stewart could have even slapped a sonorous-sounding but nonsensical Janet Parkeish title on this piece, and it would seem immediately fraught with weighty (but hollow) obscurities and certain to be a probable contender in the next BMFAC exhibition of candied concoctions.

But Stewart deliberately chose a title that cuts against the grain of the artwork’s style. Don’t be fooled, she seems to be saying. These gummi bear fractals polluting Fractalbook galleries like some sugar-glazed kudzu are ALL lies. They say nothing about the challenges and realities of our “meat lives,” as the cyberpunks like to say. Our bodies are beautiful, yes, but they eventually betray us. They cruelly turn on us. The vigor of youth decays steadily, incrementally. Our bodies — the ultimate epic fail.

Trust me. There’s something very wrong in Stewart’s pretty picture. A feminist reading might see this piece as a Rorschach for breast cancer. The shadings so admired by the commenters could well be lumps. The praised soft focus rounded forms could be emblematic of swelling. The attractive, vibrating, dark line accents could suggest the bombardment of radiation during chemotherapy.

If art is indeed in the eye of the beholder, then such is what I behold. Maybe Orbit Trap’s detractors are right when they’ve suggested in the past that I’m a despicably cynical person with an ugly personality. Of course, he’d see such negativity they’ll tell you.

Whatever. The terrifying beauty of It’sALLLies makes me very sad. And its beauty springs from its human condition subject matter and not from its mathematical mastery or algorithmic precision.

I once argued on this blog that beauty is not enough to push fractal art to the next level. I still believe that one function of fine art is to show us what we’d rather not see and feel changed enough ourselves to actively work for change in our own lives and surroundings.

Stewart’s image moves me more than any Race for the Cure ever will.


Up next in the series: Art by Maria K. Lemming.

On Style 5

Fly Me to the Moon by Tina Oloyede

Fly Me to the Moon by Tina Oloyede


I Know What I Like — Or Do I? Part One:

Last time, I was on surer footing as I attempted to explain why I know what I like when viewing fractal art. I admitted my bias for the painterly over the photographic, as well as my preference for work that strives to be about something more substantive than attractive decoration.

My complaint with most fractal art is that it cannot generally be "read" — that is, it suggests no levels of meaning beyond being (usually) lovely art for art’s sake. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with such art, nor do I assume it is necessarily easy to create. It’s just that I find a steady diet of such fractal dulcification eventually leads to a kind of aesthetical diabetes. The preeminence of such eyecandied confections in our community has resulted in what Tim once labeled "the fractal craft guild." If our discipline’s "best artists" have no higher aim than continuing to churn out beautiful but meaningless objects, whether in 2D or 3D, then I fear fractal art will continue to be broadly viewed as fancified kitsch rather than purposeful fine art.

The fact that exhibitions like the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest (BMFAC) further codify the belief that beauty is an end in itself and continue selecting decoration over substance makes the drought of meaningful fractal art linger longer. And never think outside the well-adorned, prettified box on Fractalbook, or you’ll face the likelihood that your comment stream of effusive kudos will shrivel and mummify like a shrunken head.

Naturally, I feel fractal art’s finest practitioners typically strive for a meatier meaning that surpasses ornamentation. But how does one go about "reading" that meaning — especially since visual art, like text, can be read in numerous ways, including through the divergent filters of narration and aesthetics?

I expect to find myself stumbling around in a darkened cave over the next several posts. Why? Sometimes I don’t know why I like certain artworks or artists. There’s a difficult-to-define something in certain works that somehow affects me — that when experiencing them "I feel physically as if the top of my head had been taken off," as Emily Dickinson once described how she recognized poetry.

Here is the first of three artists who sometimes lifts my scalp and tickles my brain.


Tina Oloyede

Of the many artists who initially coalesced around the (primarily) Ultra Fractal-using contests and eventually settled into a circle spear-headed by Damien Jones and his Fractalus site, I always thought the most promising, if not most gifted were Alice Kelley and Tina Oloyede. Although much of Oloyede’s work stays true to a decorative style pioneered by Linda Allison, Oloyede sometimes wanders afield with spectacular results.

Fly Me to the Moon, above, is a good example of Oloyede in a more experimental mode. The piece is actually three works melded together to form a triptych. The title, a song most famously sung by Frank Sinatra, and a metaphor for being carried away with love’s rapturous abandon where one can "swing among the stars," here offers a more stable romance with the promise of multiple bliss trips. I find it comforting that ecstasy transportation comes thrice.

The lush, deep tones and modernist composition suit Oloyede’s work well. The cut-up technique becomes near-cubist in nature, as the recursive moon forms fall in and out of shadow or undergo various phases and eclipses. The textural patterns embedded on many forms often suggest the pockmarked lunar surface ravaged by meteor scarring — or, in the lower section of the middle image, geological surface features of the earth being orbited by its lone circular planetary satellite.

And I love how Oloyede uses space (no pun) in this piece. The forms seem to pulsate with motion and whiz in and out of the frame of our telescopic view. Plus, the white spaces formed by the triptych function like the gutters in sequential art and capture the sensation of watching time-lapse photography as the viewer scans the entire composition from left to right.

Although we are unable to hear the music of the spheres, it seems Oloyde has provided us a glimpse of a live performance.

Pond Life by Tina Oloyede 

Pond Life by Tina Oloyede

Fractal forms made with software often mirror their natural counterparts — like ferns and trees and flowers. But it takes both craft and talent to skillfully fuse the natural world with a digital composition, as Oloyede does with Pond Life. Absent narrative, the piece primarily relies on the aesthetic pleasures of a landscape or still life. The black background provides a sense of depth for the muted browns and yellows — which, in turn, call attention to the varied shades of green found in the living vegetation. The grey forms, however, suggest nature in decay, although the similarly colored lines running through the work could be interpreted as nourishing veins.

Upon closer inspection, considerable textural detail can be seen on individual leaves. Color variance provides contrast, too — even among forms of ostensibly the same color. The painted quality of Pond Life intentionally distorts the high-def clarity of nature, and, in a Brechtian sense, gently reminds us that the "snapshot" is constructed — is a made object. Finally, the entire work is filled with a feeling of distorted motion. Everything seems to be caught in the frozen moment of upward movement, thus adding even more depth as the forms appear to be extruding out from the darker background and seeming almost tactile enough to touch.

I’ve seen many natural forms make their way into fractal images, but very few are as aesthetically successful and creatively arranged as this piece.

Crackerjack 003 by Tina Oloyede 

Crackerjack 003 by Tina Oloyede

This is another non-narrative piece that relies on its design features for impact, although I enjoyed reading comments on Renderosity comparing the image to flags and hanging laundry. The interplay of shadows and light is certainly efficacious. The vertical and perpendicular forms establish a formal pattern which is then forcibly chopped by the cut up but near-self-similar arrangements seen on the top and bottom. The fracturing achieved by hacking formalist traits creates the sizeable tension this piece exudes.

Further adding to the sense of unsettling discombobulation are the seemingly random horizontal squiggly lines compartmentalizing the piano key-like rows and rendering them even tauter. The addition of scattered, faded forms, which function as shadows drained of their once potent energy, supply both perspective and depth and imply a level of intensity that risks blow out.

My one complaint with the piece is that I find the tacked-on frame to be unnecessary and distracting, although one might argue that its shadows add to the illusion of depth. To be fair, I admit to a general dislike of the use of digital frames. They nearly always seem contrived to me — and, if they cannot be cleanly removed, can ruin printmaking possibilities.

Crackerjack 003 lives up to its name. This piece pulses with an unnerving, abstract energy. I see this artwork was submitted to last year’s BMFAC — and did not make the cut. Considering some of over-embellished schlock that won — like this and this — all I can say is, well, Tina wuz robbed!


Up next in the series: Art by Jennifer Stewart.


On Style 4

The Listening Heaven by Elizabeth Mansco

The Listening Heaven by Elizabeth Mansco


I Know What I Like

My aesthetic sensibilities apparently run counter to the prevailing grain when it comes to my personal taste in fractal art. Photography, especially the digital variety, naturally appears to be a closer cousin with fractal art than does painting. Both digital photography and (software-based) fractal art rely more heavily on the filters of technology — technical adjustments — "tweaking" in the UF List parlance — or perhaps the metaphors of pushed buttons and turned dials that Tim has used so strikingly.

Painting, on the other hand, is a more physical procedure grounded in gesture and controlled motion — and I don’t think mouse-clicking, however emphatic, is in any way comparable. And, I confess, despite the similarities of sharing violent figurative language, I prefer art that is dabbed and splattered over art that is shot or captured.

I elaborated on my predilection for painting in a 2005 cover article about my work that appeared in IEEE Computer Graphics magazine. Gary Singh noted

[Wright] says he took a painting class as an undergraduate, but the professor told him he had no talent, so Wright dropped the class. “It was true that I had no feel for a brush and canvas, nor could I manipulate the tools to my satisfaction,” he explained. “Still, I had always longed to paint. Computers finally gave me the opportunity—and I found I could use them to replicate what I saw in my head.”

Some of OT’s gentle readers might feel that I’m still waiting for my talent bank to receive its first decent deposit (and that’s cool). I only mention the article to show my penchant for admiring painting(s) is longstanding.

At any rate, there’s no question about the talent of the artists I want to discuss in this and in my next post.


Elizabeth Mansco is unquestionably one of my favorite fractal-digital artists. I suppose it helps that she actually holds a degree in Visual Arts, but I am most attracted to what she describes as her "digital paintings." Tim argued last year that one primary way that fractal art could reboot itself is by stopping thumbing its nose at the idea of post-processing, although the phrase he used was "graphical experimentation." Mansco heard this clarion call years ago, and her decision to color outside the lines has served her well. She has moved beyond the abstract-decorative tar pit that bogs down so much current fractal art and leaves it so non-resonating — little more than mute eye candy. Instead, she uses graphic processing tools like paint layers on a canvas to push our discipline ever closer towards representation. By doing so, Mansco opens up fractal art to near-infinite "rivers of suggestion," as Michael Stipe of REM once said.

In The Listening Heaven above, the improved arsenal of artistic weaponry made immediately available by post-processing is on full display. The "fractal trees," designed in most fractal art to show a technical (and static) link between an algorithm and nature, are here literally placed in a natural context — the blue space heaven found between land and sky. The paper (looking) moon, either a direct multimedia touch or a suggestion of such (with the same effect either way), solidifies the main theme. And look carefully at how the elements of design suddenly come into play as well — light and depth and texture, yes, but especially the startling visual disarray due to the work’s cut-up, collaged perspective. I find this an arresting work filled with both beauty and power.

Sailing by Elizabeth Mansco 

Sailing by Elizabeth Mansco

Here, Mansco manipulates a photograph of harbor ships by adding fractal imagery — and the result is much more moving than either the photo or the fractal(s) would ever be on their own. Again, the result transcends ornamentation and becomes hyperreal scenery. The fractal imagery reveals both a sunset and that sunset reflected in the water of the harbor. The swirling appearance of the fractal imagery isn’t merely present to more decoratively illustrate its parameter file; it now means something. It mirrors the motion of water — but only because of Mansco’s vision and composition. It is, as I once argued about Jock Cooper’s "Mechanicals" series, about something.

Notice, too, the use of lines and depth in Sailing. The ships’ masts rise into the sky but also bend and twist downward when reflected. The dark brown shadow-chunks of the boats also drip downward — like oil slicks. And the bands of lines in the sky, whether blue or yellow-red, further suggest the vagaries of natural elements — like wind or the refractions of atmospheric particles.

Latest Fashion Trends by Elizabeth Mansco 

Latest Fashion Trends by Elizabeth Mansco

Even in works that don’t appear to be heavily post-processed, Mansco’s gift for intimating representation pays off. In the piece above, she is able to broach an area few fractal artists, too busy perfecting their self-similar embellishment, ever reach: social and cultural criticism. The female forms, headless as mannequins, show the fickleness of style with stylistic aplomb. While the main "model" spends her 15 minutes of fame being ogled by the viewer at the end of the pageant ramp, a seemingly endless recursion of clones, eager to show off even newer trends, wait behind her in the wings. Meanwhile, wandering off stage right is another interminable parade of discarded models, green with envy, who remain garbed in the hand-me-down clothes that have quickly become outdated and blasé. Ironically, these superannuated models appear to be marching off into a fiery underworld. The once highlighted fashion icons now pose in clothes that are nostalgic — or, worse, untrendy and suitable only for thrift stores. Note, too, in another subtle social critique, how the patterns in each past-present-future fashion trend are slight variations of a similar print.

Can you show me even one winner in last year’s Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest that speaks as satirically and devastatingly on the state of culture as Mansco does in this piece?

 Lost Between the Electric Posts by Elizabeth Mansco

Lost Between the Electric Posts by Elizabeth Mansco

Although this image is extremely busy, it feels serene because all its elements work seamlessly together — whether light or dark hues or hard or rounded lines. The background has the texture of fabric, even complete with folds, but comes pockmarked with confusion, with disassociation — black holes, fraying cables, hints of aerial views of urban landscapes. I think we all got our wires crossed somewhere. What gets lost between the electric posts (and cell phone towers) is our ability to truly communicate. We babble and tweet and text and even post to blogs. But what we say and mean gets tangled up in the electrical grid and is soon mislaid inside the abyss of cyberspace.


Tim wrote recently about the travails of excessive watermarking. If I have one complaint with Mansco, it’s that she doesn’t make it easy to view her work. Given its many attractions, I can understand if she has more of a problem with piracy than most fractal artists. Still, so much of her online art is buried under thick protective signatures/titles and disquieting watermarks and heavy-handed copyright symbols. Worst of all, at least in her Renderosity gallery, she’s begun leaving cat tracks and even washing out half of entire images — as in this (what I imagine to be a) stunning piece. I do think there’s a reasonable line between taking cautious steps for copyright protection and deliberately defacing one’s own work. After all, if I go to a museum to see an exhibition by Rodin, I assume the sculptor hasn’t taken a pick-ax to his work before I can get through the gallery door.

Next Time: "But Maybe I Don’t Know Why I Like What I Like." Thoughts on work by Tina Oloyede, Jennifer Stewart, and Maria K. Lemming.

Phase Two: Byte 2

Three Gravity Stools by Jólan van der Wiel

Three Gravity Stools by Jólan van der Wiel

[Click on images to view full size.]


Tim’s third eye opened (again) and recently puzzled out the mysteries of fractal art’s Phase Three. But I’m still mired in the cryptic borders and physical parameters not found in strictly digital renders but made possible only in Phase Two. Physical space, I argued recently, cannot capture the sensation of recursive infinity as easily and as forcefully as does digitally-made fractal art. RL spaces, however, provide more tangible avenues of nuance and suggestion and absence than is generally found in digital expressions. In the continuing hope of opening doors for embracing the worth of fractal constructions created using mediums found in the fine arts, here’s what I’ve bookmarked lately…


Purple Gravity Stool by Jólan van der Wiel 

Purple Gravity Stool by Jólan van der Wiel

Amsterdam-based artist Jólan van der Wiel is the brainchild behind these Alice in Wonderlandish "gravity stools." The shapes found in his sculptures remind me of quaternion forms I’ve seen often in fractal programs like Terry W. Gintz‘s remarkable Quasz. Randi Greenberg, writing on Co.Design, sketches out van der Wiel’s process:

Van der Wiel created a machine–something of an anti-vise–with magnets situated opposite each other. To build a stool, he inserts a concoction of plastics and iron filings (more than 13 pounds per stool!) in the machine’s mold. Then, he slowly draws back the upper portion of the machine. As the material stretches with the magnetic pull, fractal patterns (think: Superman’s Fortress of Solitude) emerge in what become the legs of the stool. The overall shape of the chair is determined by where Van der Wiel places the magnets. Each piece takes about 20 minutes.

Van der Wiel is also able to create other forms, like bowls and candlelabra, and hopes to soon enlarge his machine to make dandier designs like tables.

Jólan van der Wiel at work. 

In the studio with Jólan van der Wiel.

Van der Wiel has recontextualized nature and tells Co.Design that "this is a departure from the idea that everything is influenced by gravity." These pieces certainly float my tanker.


I wrote about Chinese artist and dissident Ai WeiWei last time and referenced a sculpture of his entitled Bicycles. I see he’s upped the recursive ante in his most recent piece.

Forever Bicyles by Ai Wei Wei 

Forever Bicyles by Ai WeiWei

I think we all better start pedaling faster.


Fractal Pecan Pie 

Anyone up for some fractal pecan pie left over from the holidays?

Seen on Indestructibles.

Baker Turkey Tek says his objective for baking this giant Koch Snowflake pecan pie for Thanksgiving in 2004 was "bringing technology to this traditional celebration of excess." Apparently, shaping a metalwork of a 768-sided pie pan using handtools like a shear and a nibbler can prove hazardous. Tek explains:

The thing they don’t tell you about fractals is just how sharp and dangerous they are. I mean, you think you have a pretty good grasp of the mathematical analysis but until a piece of metal with a very high perimeter to surface area ratio tears into your flesh, you’re really missing intuitive appreciation for objects that lack continuous derivatives almost everywhere.

 Baking a fractal pecan pie.

Bake infinitely. Serve.

To better prevent kitchen accidents be sure to always enshroud your fractal pecan pie in a nuclear plant containment building. That way your pie filling won’t burn to uttermost over-recursion and become fissionable.


 Large Hadron Collider

Look at this big fractal-honking thing.

The Large Hadron Collider.

Until I saw a photograph of the Large Hadron Collider, I had no idea how incredibly fractal it looked. The collider, a tunnel running eighteen miles and buried near the French-Swiss border, and one of the most expensive objects ever built, bashes proton beams together at nearly light speed, thus simulating conditions existing immediately after the Big Bang. The collider has been in the news lately for its assistance in ferreting out the Higgs boson, or so-called "God particle." Why is this discovery sort of a big scientific deal? Belle News provides the cosmic big picture:

The Higgs boson is regarded – by those who know about such things – as the key to understanding the universe. Its job is, apparently, to give the particles that make up atoms their mass.

Without this mass, these particles would zip though the cosmos at the speed of light, unable to bind together to form the atoms that make up everything in the universe, from planets to people.

The Higgs boson’s existence was predicted in 1964 by Edinburgh University physicist Peter Higgs. But it has eluded previous searchers – so much so that not all scientists believe in its existence.

The hunt for the Higgs boson was one of the LHC’s major tasks.

 Interior shot of Large Hadron Collider.

Let there be light.

Interior shot of the Large Hadron Collider.

I swear the image above could just as well come out of the Mandelbulb Renderings section over at FractalForums.


Day 3: Land and Sea by Alex Beattie 

Day 3: Land and Sea by Alex Beattie

Seen on Erman Tapestry.

I saw the image above standing out from the clutter of an ad seen in last week’s Newsweek. It comes from a needlepoint kit called The Creation Series designed by Alex Beattie. His ferns and leaves radiate a definite fractal vibe.

Best of all, you can purchase the kit for yourself and furiously stitch by numbers. Just think of it as a kind of batch render.


 Ruins by Talkdemonic.  Cover art by Tim Hodkinson.

Ruins by Talkdemonic. Cover art by Tim Hodkinson.

Tim’s had some good news on the art front lately, although he’s too humble to talk about it himself, so the task falls to me. Talkdemonic, an avant-instrumental band from Portland, Oregon, has chosen Tim’s artwork for the cover of their latest recording.

Even more impressive, the band has been projecting huge laser-renders of Tim’s Kandid genetic art IFS images as a collaged backdrop during their recent live shows. And they’ve been touring with the likes of Modest Mouse and The Flaming Lips. I probably don’t need to remind most of you that these latter bands are major recording artists. The Flaming Lips, especially, are well known for their musical experimentation and stunning stage shows. I’d posture a guess that Tim’s work was recently seen by more people than if it had been parked on the wall of a museum for fifty years.

Naturally, I find this turn of Tim’s work being blown up to extra large scale in real life to be just a tinge amusing. After all, he and I once had a back-and-forth debate (beginning here) about the relative merits of whether digital/fractal art is best seen on monitors or on walls. I made the argument for commencing to perceive fractal/digital art in what I called "wall mode," which I described as

working large from the start with the intention of eventually making a fine art print

and I just want to take this OT moment to softly remind Tim of what he said nearly two years ago:

The other thing is: I consider the computer monitor to be a adequate “canvas”. I guess that’s why I consider the parameter file, generated world, to be the only real zoom or exploration that counts. If someone was to print out my images and see something more, or less, than is visible on the computer screen, I’d say stop looking at prints and stick to what you see on your monitor — that’s the real thing.

so you can see why I find it ironic and amusive that Tim has leapfrogged over wall mode and landed squarely in mural mode.

And I couldn’t be happier for him. He decidedly deserves the recognition — and more.

And his experience shows that the options opening for projecting even small-scale digital work are becoming manageable. That curtain raising threshold eradication should excite all of us. Tim reminded me in an email that his projected originals only clocked in at 768X768 pixels jpegs and observed that Talkdemonic’s laser show is

a good example of how digital can be a real surprise; it’s the exact opposite kind of venue that I’d ever guess such strictly monitor images would ever appear in.  It was like they jumped off a cellphone and onto a building.

Tim’s artwork can be selectively glimpsed backing up the band in both of the following videos:


For years, gentle readers, Tim and I have listened to some of Orbit Trap’s detractors tell us that we’re nothing but whiners and complainers who do nothing but engage in empty talk and make art that sucks. The latest comments from the barren deviantART nest of Piranha (scroll here) are merely the latest iteration. Of course, anyone is free to openly dislike our work and within his or her rights to publicly and savagely criticize it. But I’d urge circumspection before assuming that either of us are somehow less than other working professional artists in our community — or before too hastily denigrating without scrutiny our mutual and imaginative passion for blogging, art criticism, and creative writing.


Phase Two: Byte 1

Fractal Alchemy (Detail) by Carl Scrase

Now that the decorative dust has settled from the most recent (and oftentimes lamest) iteration of the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest (BMFAC), I figure it’s time again to revisit the notion that the competition (and fractal art in general) ought to think outside the program and envision our discipline in broader and more encompassing terms. To this end, I decided why not begin a short series of OT posts dedicated to re-showcasing some possibilities and advantages of a Phase Two approach.

Tim first outlined the ramifications of Phase Two fractalness, and I followed up with some posts (like this and that) examining what a Phase Two exhibition of fractal art might include. To me, Phase Two reimagines fractal art as any art that utilizes fractal forms and/or exhibits fractal properties. Phase Two moves beyond the borders of computer-generated imagery and settles directly into the realm of fine art expressions like painting, sculpture, ceramics, collage, installations, architecture, and so forth. Phase Two is a new way of thinking about fractal art — a way of seeing the discipline with new eyes and incorporating new tools.

Too bad BMFAC decided to keep wearing its program-generated-or-nothing blinders. I question whether BMFAC will ever evolve beyond ornamental eye candy unless it a) allows more post-processing (Tim makes a case here), and b) permits fractal art entries made using Phase Two tools.

And, yes, I know BMFAC went out of its way to embrace fractal art’s (current) new wave: 3D fractals. But maybe we should pause in our oohing and awwing over Mandelbulb splendor to remember that reality also comes 3D-enabled and is rendered in very high-def — that is, to remember that Phase Two fractal art can often have a depth and tactility beyond what can be created using conventional fractal art software.

Why tell when one can instead show…


Bicycles by Ai Weiwei

Bicycles by Ai WeiWei

Ai WeiWei is a contemporary Chinese artist who works primarily in sculpture/installation/architecture and whose works often dovetail with social, political, or cultural criticism. Ai is probably best known for his collaborative work with architects Herzog and & de Meuron in designing the Beijing National Stadium (the “Bird’s Nest”) for the 2008 Olympics. Ai has been openly critical of Chinese human rights abuses, and for his outspokenness he has been both detained and beaten. Last January, his studio was destroyed without warning by local government authorities.

I’ve written before about the necessity of artistic witnessing and the possibilities of making political fractal art, to the chagrin of some (see several comments to the linked post), but Ai may be the best living example of an artist who convincingly can mix fractal forms with political commentary.

Mock Up Beijing by Ai WeiWei and Herzog & de Meuron

Mock Up Beijing by Ai WeiWei and Herzog & de Meuron

Mock Up Beijing (Detail) by Ai WeiWei and Herzog & de Meuron

Mock Up Beijing (Detail) by Ai WeiWei and Herzog & de Meuron

In December of 2008, Ai spearheaded an investigation into student casualties caused by the Sichuan earthquake. By mid-April of 2009, Ai’s list had amassed 5,385 names. Ai published the collected names as well as multiple documents substantiating his research on his blog until it was shut down by Chinese authorities in May of 2009.

The loss of the schoolchildren is suggested best in Mock Up Beijing. Absence pervades the piece as the empty chairs, suspended and tilted in space, impaled as if on public display to shame the government’s inaction on the children’s fate, remind us of ties to the lost and the missing. The emptiness left behind by the dead is shown by the vacant seats and the stark poles that map the connections of those who vanished to one another. The recursive forms undergirding the installation suggest the exponentially growing numbers of the disaster’s victims, as well as the still unrequited counting of loved ones who have disappeared.

BMFAC could sure use a little more of Ai’s aesthetic cure-all, and a lot less of bitter medicine like this.


Pepper-Spraying Cop (After Klimt)

Pepper Spraying Cop (After Klimt). Seen on Pepper Spraying Cop.

Satire has long been indispensible ammunition in the arsenal of political art weaponry, and the Internet has proven a dependable rapid-fire delivery system for political-digital salvos. Politically tinged gaffes or quirks can quickly go globally viral and gel into memes. Former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean uncomfortably discovered this truthiness when a blurted-out, overly enthusiastic “scream” was instantly mashed into pop parodies. More recently, after an evil eye worthy Newsweek cover, Republican presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann has seen her eyes digitally transplanted into numerous historical persons and icons.

The latest Internet meme centers around the now infamous “pepper spraying cop,” that is, John Pike, the police officer who pepper-sprayed a seated and seemingly non-violent group of protesters at the University of California at Davis. In the ever mediated now, any news event, no matter how much it stings the eyes or shrivels the soul, instantaneously becomes an amusing meme. Soon, faster than Windows Vista can reboot, the iconic officer was pepper-spraying his way throughout the ages. Fresh spraycan-in-action evidence was unearthed and ranges from pre-history to earlier social protests to art history classics like Wyeth’s Cristina’s World and Picasso’s Guernica (apparently, those writhing, firebombed wretches haven’t yet suffered enough).

Tim first made the connection between fractal art and Austrian Symbolist painter Gustav Klimt on OT back in 2007. The parody above of The Kiss faithfully captures Klimt’s idiosyncratic, self-similar features while adhering to BMFAC’s criteria of having “lots of good, interesting fractal detail.” Click on the image above for a high rez see-for-yourself testimonial.


Fractal Alchemy (Installation) by Carl Scrase

Fractal Alchemy (Installation) by Carl Scrase

In Fractal Alchemy, Australian artist Carl Scrase has chosen unusual readymade materials: binder clips arranged to replicate the self-similar patterns found in biomorphic forms. The result is an unsettling fractal origami using office supplies that brings to mind embedded, elemental, naturally found blueprints like genetic coding and the self-organized designs of living organisms.

Fractal Alchemy (installation) by Carl Scrase

Fractal Alchemy (Installation) by Carl Scrase

To some, of course, Scrase has made only a 3D doodle during a supply room coffee break while momentarily on leave from his cubicle. Dr. Marcus Bunyan, writing on Art Blart, prefers that his bulldog clips stay out of the gallery and keep firmly clasped on term papers where they belong. He says of Fractal Alchemy that

The wonder of this piece is short-lived. Unlike the ever magical repetition of fractal geometry with its inherent iteration of forms that constantly amaze here the shapes are not stretched far enough, the exposition not grounded in broken or fractured forms that invite alchemical awareness in the viewer.

I’d guess that many in our community would agree. The limitations of physical space could never be stretched enough to begin approximating the theoretical infinity one often senses and even sometimes sees unfurling in computer-made fractal imagery.

  Fractal Alchemy (Detail) by Carl Scrase

Fractal Alchemy (Detail) by Carl Scrase

Still, Scrase has tapped into some primal pattern recognition. Form, like the fractal conventions of life itself, does not necessarily follow function here. The recursion is evident but unsettling and eerie. Do I see suggestions of caterpillar-like segmentation in Scrase’s shapes and beings? With a little push, could they one day crawl their way into the BMFAC exhibition?

The 2011 BMFAC Winners Are Announced

 Maybe because you never seek a second opinion?

Why don’t I ever seem to get better, Dr. Jones?

[Image seen here.]

I feel strangely unmotivated to write about the 2011 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest (BMFAC) "winners" this go-around.  I’m tired of BMFAC as a topic — maybe because while the competition makes changes that should improve it, it never really improves.  BMFAC will always be sick at its core as long as Damien Jones is in charge.  Like the art form itself, as Tim recently so eloquently argued, the contest needs a complete reboot. Jones insists upon displaying only craft-based ornamentation, and his aesthetics strictly determine what kind of work gets submitted.  In fact, his rules are consciously designed to crimp off anything other than stale decoration because fractalness, not art, is valued. 

But it’s not an art contest if no art is exhibited.

I do believe a decent fractal art exhibition is possible — but not under Jones’ heavy-handed prognosis.  It’s true that 3D works got through the door this time and are proportionally represented.  One wonders if 3D fractals will do so well in the next iteration once the novelty has worn off.  We’ll see.  And how many of those 3D selections were chosen precisely because they seemed refreshing by comparison?  And how savvy are BMFAC’s judges if they can’t tell the visionaries like Johan Andersson and Jérémie Brunet from the coattails posers like Iwona Fido and Louis Markoya?

And until BMFAC sheds the notion that fractal art must spring from a computer for self-expression rather than embracing a broader fine arts “Phase Two” model, the contest will remain constricted and narrow-minded. 

What’s saddest of all to me is that the 3D artists who entered appear to have fully invested themselves in Jones’ pre-codified aesthetics.  If 3D images attempt nothing greater than to comply with Jones’ fractal art template and seek only to replicate Janet Parke’s ornamental embellishments using new forms, then the revolution is over before it even begins.

I liked only one piece — “Worn Out” by Therese Aasrud.  And not because I thought it was great art.  But because it wasn’t just another take on (supposedly) lovely organized imagery.  "Worn Out" wasn’t worn out — wasn’t “the fractal according to Damien Jones.”  The rest neither moved me nor made me think.  Ramon Pasternak’s piece is probably seen by many as innovative.  I thought it was simplistic and retro.  I saw more vivid tree-like, “river basin” imagery back in the late 90s while using Tiera-zon.  Frankly, some the winning work is as embarrassingly smaltzy as the gunk imagery that formerly polluted the Fractal Universe Calender (FUC).  And, candidly, once more propping up Janet Parke and her faux-Zen titled confections to a perfunctory, musty pedestal (throw in an Honorable Mention, too, why don’t you) borders on pathetic — a desperate maneuver to insure that Jones’ inner circle maintains its preeminence and relevance.  One hopes that even the most hardcore Fractalbooker can see through such a transparent ploy.

It’s true that BMFAC has made some improvements over the years, and OT has charted and even acknowledged the progress.  Anyone being fair will grant that such changes would never have been made without the pressure OT brought to bear on the contest.  Ironically, even though our patient (fractal art) is receiving better treatment, the prognosis for recovery never truly improves.  As long as Dr. Jones is the presiding physician, the patient will remain ill (if not comatose).  Fractal art desperately needs a second opinion.

The problem, I think, is that OT has affected BMFAC about as much as we can.  We helped clean up some of the jaw-dropping excesses — like overtly displaying judges beside contestants and the more obvious conflicts of interest — but, unfortunately, we can’t euthanize BMFAC like we did FUC.  Jones is nothing if not driven, and he consistently cobbles together the time and resources (but still no sponsors?) to bring off BMFAC.  Moreover, it seems the community remains blissfully content to let him get away with it — even to the point of presuming that placing in his “art contest” is somehow a meaningful achievement. 

My point is that Orbit Trap has pointed out all there is to point out.  We can continue to speak out if the contest regresses back into its previous bad habits, but we cannot wave a wand to magically mitigate Jones’ continuing stranglehold on our discipline.  Now, it’s up to you — you, the fractal artist currently shackled with BMFAC’s craft guild approved eye candy handcuffs. You have to be fed up with such arbitrary restrictions and find the resolve not to buy into Jones’ limited vision as to what your art should and must be.

If the fractal art community continues to accept Jones’ rubric of fractals as being merely decorative designs, then, in a self-fulfilling prophecy, we will all get the contest we deserve.  OT has already shown the community why such a road is a dead end — or, more accurately, is an unending stay in a hospice where one faces terminal illness without the option of either recovery or death. 

But like the proverbial horse that is led to water…

Hardwired Brain Fractals

Laugh it up, furball.

Who knew this was a documentary?

[Image seen here.]

It’s been a rather heavy week in science.

An international scientific team in Italy claims to have recorded sub-atomic particles traveling faster than the speed of light. And just when you were finally getting comfortable with the fabric of the universe. Rip up that old model — because, according to Reuters:

If confirmed, the discovery would undermine Albert Einstein’s 1905 theory of special relativity, which says that the speed of light is a "cosmic constant" and that nothing in the universe can travel faster.

That assertion, which has withstood over a century of testing, is one of the key elements of the so-called Standard Model of physics, which attempts to describe the way the universe and everything in it works.

Uh-oh. Somebody better call the Mending Apparatus from E. M. Forster’s The Machine Stops.

Einstein's advice for fractal artists: "Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater."  

But hyper-accelerated quantum shape-shifting particles exceeding the cosmic speed limit was (unbelievably) not the weirdest and most jaw-dropping geek achievement this week.

Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), scientists at Berkeley have successfully decoded the brain signals of three individuals and transformed those signals into watchable movies. Wearing those 3-D glasses is now more than just retro. You obviously need the latest flat screen feature: Telepathy.

Move the antenna.  Steve Martin is breaking up. 

The left clip is a segment of a Hollywood movie trailed that the subject viewed while in the magnet. The right clip shows the reconstruction of this segment from brain activity measured using fMRI.

To my eyes, some of these internally reconstructed images look muddy but still somehow recursive. Those elephants and birds appear neurally re-mapped into blotchy fractal landscapes. I think fractal tracking shots might be physiologically hardwired into our brains:


Naturally, I could be wrong. This post, like everything I write on OT, is only my opinion. You might see something else in these images of what could be considered the ultimate in cinema verite. You might instead think these skull screenings more closely resemble the tone of the surrealist, murderous, crawl-through-the-flat-screen film in The Ring.

All I know is that I signed up for the Berkely Brain Movies Low Residency Program*. And now, every time I surf over to deviantART, over to its Fractalbook Swamp of Mass Ornamentation, my brain consistently records the same reoccurring movie. This:


Yeah. I admit it. I pretty much identify with Ricky. I must like to picture myself in his place — pitting my hard skills against the soft skills of the Bad Hair Hulk wannabe better-off-as-sausage Fractalbookers. But hey. A man’s gotta dream. And, of course, record it.

*Fictional. For the sarcastically challenged.


In an unrelated matter, here’s a glimpse of Beyond Infinity, a massive installation by Serge Salat placed inside a mall in Shanghai. I was struck by the inherent correspondences to mandelbox forms in Salat’s piece. Imagine being able to reflectively stroll through such fractalscapes instead of the often less satisfying quick fly-bys and loopy deep zooms. How wondrous would that be:

More Manifesto Retorting

Some time has now passed since Tim posted his thoughts on "The Fractal Art Manifesto" — basically arguing that Kerry Mitchell’s document glorifies the artist’s role and downplays the computer’s contribution. Mitchell, in a cut-and-paste epic-length response, half of which was merely quoting Tim’s original post, rebutted — and then called in reinforcements from the Ultra Fractal Mailing List. A flash mob, virtual torches and pitchforks in hand, quickly gathered and — surprise!! — supported Mitchell en masse. Mitchell then claimed that I "lowered the discourse" in my follow-up post and wondered if OT would ever get around to addressing his "relevant points."

OT, of course, has no obligation to respond to comments. Comments, in fact, are responses to our "relevant points." Tim already said what he had to say about Mitchell’s manifesto, and Mitchell (and accomplices) had their chance to respond. OT’s readers, presumably, can now read both sets of views for themselves and draw their own conclusions.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking for over a week as to how I’d like to respond, and my views haven’t really changed from my last post when I said that

Very few of the protesters actually engage with Tim’s expressed observations. The gist of most of the comments fall into 1) I disagree without showing any supporting evidence, 2) You’re a fool (or variation of that insult), 3) I am an artist because see here’s my art I made stuck somewhere on Fractalbook, or 4) some variation of the “art is in the eye of the beholder” platitude (which apparently means that no one, especially Orbit Trap, can ever say anything about art at all).

Tim laid out, in a series of six posts, an exhaustive treatise on why fractal art needs a rigorous do-over. He was quite specific in his claims, questions, and examples. Among them:

–Why has fractal art failed to produce recognized masterworks, like the Mona Lisa, found in other artistic disciplines?
–Interacting with fractals is a more creative experience than is presenting them in a static format.
–What fractal "artists" produce are "really the results of publicly owned, mathematical formulas."
–You can’t make art with fractals because "fractals don’t tell stories because they don’t speak any of the visual languages, that being: the human form and gesture, or landscape."
–Fractals and photography cannot be seen a comparable art forms because "photography has the richly expressive world of real life to draw on and that makes all the difference."
–You cannot draw with fractals. You can only enhance them, and "the creative scope gained from such features doesn’t make up for the limitations that fractal imagery already imposes."
–Fractals are "parameter art" that is "rigidly deterministic and we interact with them only in those aspects of which the parameters are adjustable." Therefore, "working solely with parameters is also an aspect of fractal art that limits its creativity and homogenizes its style."
–Fractal artists have no identifiable styles. Why? "Because they don’t post-process their work [thus creating "pixel art"] and avail themselves of the thousands of weird and not so weird graphical effects and filters that transform images much differently than the standard ways fractal programs do."
–Consequently: "Pixel art is a natural extension of fractal art for the graphically creative, while parameter art is satisfying only to those who are technically creative."
–Unless you post-process, you are merely a technician. "Artists crave novelty and are inherently drawn to create; and ‘to create’ means to make new things, not polish the old stuff up or tweak to perfection imagery that lacked style in the first place and only possesses technical merit.  Fractal programs are the comfy home of the technical ‘artist’."
–Then Tim answers his opening question: "I believe the reason why fractal art has failed to attract any serious artists or art talent is because any reasonably skilled artist can see how rigidly deterministic the process of creating fractal art is."

There’s much more, of course, but I’ve encapsulated enough to make my point. Which is: Did any of the commenters ever get around to addressing any of these claims — addressing them and refuting them with the same breadth and depth that Tim argued them?

It is my belief that they did not.


So, what did they say? Here’s a sampling.

LadyGrey asks:

Isn’t everything we perceive a “geometric construction” from the macro right down to micro level?

To a physicist, maybe. To the rest of us, no. I’ve yet to see, say, a newborn infant that looks exactly like a Menger sponge.

Elaine makes a mistake common to many of the commenters who, incomprehensibly, believe that expressed feelings or stated opinions hold the same status as facts. She says:

Design and ornamentation are still art. Saying that someone is wrong for calling something art in their own perspective is the same as telling someone their opinion is wrong.

I put up an OT post two years ago explaining why lovely ornamentation is not automatically art. And is Elaine suggesting that no expressed opinion, however farfetched, can ever be considered wrong? So if I express an opinion that Sarah Palin rode dinosaurs sidesaddle 6,000 years ago when the earth was flat, no one can question my perspective because "opinions are in the eye of the beholder"?

Madelon Wilson says:

I love making my fractal flowers, and in that sense, I have mastered that form within the realm of fractals.

Tim already explained why such an accomplishment is more technical than artistic.

Paula Nyman says that

Yes, the computer does the rendering but the artist has to input so much to really make it an outstanding piece.

but without explaining away or accounting for Tim’s points about the deterministic nature of "parameter art" and its inherently homogenized style.

Buddha Kat wants to know if we’re artists and can she see some of our "works of art" (even though links for other sites of OT’s contributors have clearly been available on the blog since its beginning) and then proclaims that

but no one has the right to tell me I am wrong to describe/define what I consider to be art, art…


artists have feelings too…

although Buddha Kat doesn’t seem to mind hurting our feelings with the insults she sprinkles throughout her comments. Since she wants to see our art, let’s have a quick look at hers:

CrossdRoad by buddhakat9

CrossRoad by buddhakat9

Alelujah by buddhakat9

Alelujah by buddhakat9

Although, according to Buddha Kat, I have no right to "describe/define" anything at all, I’ll risk venturing an opinion (which Elaine claims is "in the eye of the beholder" anyways). The two images above, made with different programs (according to their creator), illustrate Tim’s claims about "parameter art" being prone to rigid determinism, if not exhaustion. Moreover, I do not think these particular works rise to the level of art. They are ornamentation — decorative (and common) fractal forms that, in my view, are not even especially well crafted.

As for Mitchell himself, let’s look at several "relevant points." Here he is on why all fractals look alike:

I don’t argue that there’s a lot of similarity in images created with the same program, but I do argue with the idea of that being inherent in the process. The application of paint to canvas is an inherently limited process, but yet, artists have found ways to communication thought and emotion through their paintings. Communication requires a receiver, so perhaps, over the hundreds of years that folks have been painting, viewers have learned how to become effective receivers of the messages that the painters were sending.

But Mitchell has turned around the process. Painters are free to put whatever visions their skills can transcribe to the canvas. The canvas itself does not restrict the painter to a limited number of visions. What Mitchell is describing is more analogous to Tim’s outline of "pixel art" — not to "parameter art." And did humans really need "hundreds of years" to receive the communications of cave paintings? Or did those stick figures with spears chasing an animal shape look like a hunt from the moment they dried? But, in contrast, what thought, exactly, is being received here

Untitled (Test 3) by Kerry Mitchell

Untitled (Test 3) by Kerry Mitchell

other than, at best, an aesthetic response to viewing a decorative object? Mitchell has yet to make a convincing case that the "organized imagery" of fractals can be just as meaningful as either painting or photography.

Mitchell goes on to equate fractals with photography because "artists" in both examples "capture a scene." But a scene captured by Ansel Adams (one of Mitchell’s favorite examples) is generally of a recognizable facet of nature. What, though, is the scene captured in Mitchell’s image above? That’s what Tim meant when he noted that Mitchell appropriated other disciplines, like painting and photography, and compared them to fractals "only in very general terms so that they will be broad enough to qualify fractals for membership." Mitchell has shown only spacious similarities (like "capturing a scene") but never demonstrates that fractals (parameter art) deliberately use the elements of design in ways that painting and photography (and pixel art) can and do.


Mitchell also accused me of "lowering the discourse" with an analogy that the UF troopers rushing in to prop up Mitchell were like dogs following the instructions of their master. He said:

What’s next? “Yo mama’s so fat…” Or maybe, you’ll reach the pinnacle of internet discussion and just call us all (Fractal)Nazis.

In the end, I think it was his side that went down that road. Here’s Cornelia Yoder bottoming out the discourse on the UF List:

Re: [ultrafractal] The Fractal Art Manifesto Revisited
From: Cornelia Yoder <>
To: Ultra Fractal Mailing List <>

Kerry, there is a certain class of people in this world who cannot create anything themselves, so they try to make themselves feel important by tearing down what others create. They can then feel more powerful than those who do the creating. Their value system behaves as if blowing up a building was of more value to the world than building it. Since they have no self-worth themselves, they have to try to destroy something to prove their power over those who can and do create.

People like that are not convincible of anything. Because they cannot create anything worthwhile, they have to destroy. Comments on that post only give them more to tear at. Ignoring them is (in my humble opinion) the most powerful thing you can do to shut people like that down – sort of like not giving terrorists free time on TV. Arguing with them only encourages them.

The Fractal Art Manifesto was a brilliant piece of writing that has stood the test of time, at least so far. It doesn’t need defense against idiots who (1) obviously don’t even understand it, and (2) distort carefully selected portions of it.

When someone who can create really good fractal art and sell it or get it hung in a serious art gallery critiques the FAM, I’ll read that person’s comments. But when someone who has never created anything worth looking at tries to drag others down to their level …. well ….

Everyone here should read the FAM, but imagine if no one ever read the OT blog, how long would they keep writing it?


That’s right. We’re worse than Nazis. We’re terrorists. Throw us in the same police line-up with Timothy McVeigh and Osama bin Laden. No difference.

We don’t create anything? Like establishing this blog, running it for five years, without advertising, without self-promoting our own work, and in the face of "lowered discourse" like this

The Orbit Trap bloggers are
(a) insane
(b) retards
(c) fucking morons
(d) terrorists

is not creating something worthwhile? Personally, I’m not…well…"convincible."


Oh. Incidentally. I’ve had a few shows in "serious art galleries" — for whatever that’s worth. And we both manage to find the time to create our own artwork, too — that is, in between escapades like dragging others down to our own level and blowing up buildings.

Speak, Fractalbookers!

I've got a .lot to say...that I can't remember now...

How dare you? Really, really, really…

[Image seen here.]

It seems a flash mob of Fractalbookers has lowered the drawbridge and surged out of their virtual fortress. Upon hearing Kerry Mitchell’s clarion call on the UF List to defend his sacred manifesto (and legacy?), they’ve amassed in OT’s basement to pour their burning oil on our blasphemies. It’s too bad they won’t light their own torches brightly enough to see what the rest of us can see. Those that have come forward to testify are the very people who are currently privileged by a status quo that favors Ultra Fractal and is actively engaged in codifying the aesthetics of the likes of Kerry Mitchell and Damien Jones and the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest (BMFAC). Of course, they will yowl in protest. They have the most to lose should Tim’s fractal rebooting and post-manifesto observations prove true.

One wonders why Mitchell wasn’t content to simply defend his manifesto on his own. Does anyone seriously believe an outcry to his friends and supporters at the safe house of the Ultra Fractal Mailing List would lead to a barrage of unbiased critical thinkers intent on objectively weighing both sides of the issue? No, Mitchell’s plea was a chickenshit move — a conscious attempt to drown out Tim’s post with a din of orchestrated outrage.

But outraged about what? Very few of the protesters actually engage with Tim’s expressed observations. The gist of most of the comments fall into 1) I disagree without showing any supporting evidence, 2) You’re a fool (or variation of that insult), 3) I am an artist because see here’s my art I made stuck somewhere on Fractalbook, or 4) some variation of the “art is in the eye of the beholder” platitude (which apparently means that no one, especially Orbit Trap, can ever say anything about art at all).

I’m sure Tim will have more to say about all of this, as will I. There are enough giant egos spewing hot gas in OT’s recent comments to take Jupiter’s place in the Solar System.

But, for starters, I’ll just take a request…


Louis Markoya has been quite vocal on OT lately, sometimes making sense and other times appearing confused. He left a string of remarks on my recent post about Jock Cooper. Markoya was critical, and that’s fine. It seemed like a we-agree-to-disagree thing. Then, on Tim’s last post, he added this:

PPS; I am still awaiting a retort to my On Style 3 comments

Are you? Why? Orbit Trap is a blog — a private publishing venture. We don’t have to respond to you or even publish you in the first place. This isn’t Usenet or a discussion forum. You aren’t inherently owed a rebuttal for the privilege of posting a comment.

And all the more so after the way you behaved. You burst into my home here at OT and scream in my face that Cooper’s work is NOTHING (and, by extension, that my post is worth NOTHING) and then turn around and demand “a retort”? What, exactly, do you want me to say — other than something like: I think you’re rude? What did you think would happen? You’d show up all huffy and puffy, and I’d wilt and stammer, “Gee, I guess you’re right.”

But, okay, since you asked so un-nicely…

First, do you even know who you’re talking to? It may have escaped you that Orbit Trap has two contributors. You say, at one point, that

You stated in a previus [sic] post you do not get the same feeling from a fractal as you do looking at the Mona Lisa…..and, that it will take post processing to personalize and make art of fractals.

No, actually, it was Tim who said that and not me. Although Tim and I agree on many things, we do not have identical brain wave patterns. In fact, we sometimes even openly disagree [start here and go forward] with one another. I notice that Cliff Tolputt made the same mistake addressing Tim in his last post as me. As Woody Allen once said: “Don’t you guys rehearse?”

Second, Orbit Trap is a niche blog about fractal art. My claims about Cooper’s series and my belief in its success and worth were made strictly within the context of the history of fractal art created with computer software. I never said that Copper’s “Mechanicals” were unique in all of art history. I’m very well aware that straight lines have been used by somebody somewhere at sometime (uh, Stonehenge anyone?). It was you who falsely blew my claims way out of their original context and applied them to all art ever made. I’d prefer you respond to what I actually said. If you can offer a better example of an artistic post-processed computer-created digital art series made using straight lines with fractals as its base before Cooper made his then bring it here and put up the link. Then, and only then, would you be responding to what I actually said.

Third, would anything I say really matter to you anyway? I get the impression that unless art is made by Salvadore Dali or connected to Dali in some way, you have little interest in it. It’s all just boring “pseudo-intellectualism and banality.” So what’s the point in arguing with you? I’m sure you’ll be returning to this thread soon to champion your superior credentials and inform me what a NOTHING I am compared to you.

This time, at least, hopefully, you won’t be laboring under the false assumption that I somehow owe you a retort.


Don Berendsen has also been commenting on OT with increasing regularity — if not with increasing clarity. Berendsen likes to paint himself as both a traditional artist and a fractal artist who doesn’t “notice the difference in my artistic process when going from one medium or subject to another” (which, of course, says absolutely nothing about the intrinsic artistic worth of either the physical or the digital work, but that’s another post). Berendsen, as are most of OT’s fresher-faced commenters, is not a disinterested party. He founded and manages the Ultrafractal Wiki on FractalForums, so he most certainly has a stake in seeing to it that UF’s rising star continues to rise. Here’s Berendsen’s remark to my recent post about BMFAC slogging on:

Enough talk already! Please, please organize a fractal art contest where artists can be free of egregious wrong-doings of that other nefarious one.

I suppose I could just as easily turn it around to read:

Enough talk already! Please, please join Orbit Trap in its campaign to convince our only fractal contest to cease its egregious wrong-doings…

but that would be too easy. This line of reasoning borders on the childish level of “I know I am but what are you?” I’m visualizing a film director who stands outside a screening of his or her film and greets unhappy audience members as they exit with a finger in each chest and an admonishment of “Stop frowning and just go make your own damn movie if you don’t like mine!”

Besides, we’ve heard all of this — this and the other endless, tired, BMFAC defenses — as well as the insults like those over on Chris Oldfield’s DA journal where a past BMFAC winner calls Tim and me “retards” and other similar gems of high discourse — we’ve heard it all before. In fact, I answered this same line of reasoning (if it can be called that) in 2008 on deviantArt when ever gentle WelshWench suggested I just make my own calendar instead of criticizing the Fractal Universe Calendar (FUC). What I said then applies to Berendsen’s remark now:

Why should I go to the trouble to reinvent the wheel by having to create and manage my own contest? Isn’t it just easier to fix the ones we have and run them fairly and professionally using conventional operating procedures?

Besides, I’ve already answered this question from you and others. I used the analogy of laws. Although I don’t write the laws, as I citizen I expect them to be fair — and, if they are unfair, I have the right to speak out. The same applies to these competitions. Although I did not create them, as a fractal artist I expect them to be fair — and when they are unfair, I have the right to say so.

And, in a reality check, are you really arguing that in order to offer any criticism of anything, one must also do the very thing one is criticizing? By this logic, before I can justifiably critique a presidential candidate, I must also run for president myself? I can’t complain about the food in a restaurant unless I’m willing to barge into the kitchen and cook the same meal? I can’t sue my neurosurgeon for a botched job unless I also take a crack at operating on my own brain? Is this your argument? Seriously?

Berendsen should try to keep up with semi-current events — or at least try to come up with more lively counter-arguments.

That’s enough to digest for now. I’ll be back soon to examine some of the illogic of the angry villagers currently storming OT’s ramparts — villagers who insist that a superannuated manifesto somehow can transform all of them into artists while they produce work that is merely decorative ornamentation.

BMFAC Slogs On

A BMFAC sponsor?

Hi there. I’m sponsoring BMFAC. Send appropriate entries accordingly.

[Image seen here.]

I guess the 2011 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest (BMFAC) slogs on. Here’s the latest scoops on what’s buzzworthy, overhyped, leaked out, historically revised, and outright laughable on the BMFAC front.

Contest Sponsors

As of this writing, and with less than a month until the contest deadline, BMFAC has still not announced its sponsors. No big whoop, you say. I guess that depends on how much bearing these so far faceless sponsors have on the outcome of the competition. Dave Makin, BMFAC judge and (un)official spokesperson, suggested that sponsors could indeed help shape the winner’s circle in a recent OT comment:

As sponsors and exhibitions are finalised (as many as possible to be arranged for the chosen works) one or two more names may be added to the panel or at least require some input in the judging process because they care what they pay for and/or what gets exhibited in their space [emphasis Makin’s].

Makin is suggesting that additional panel members could still be added — presumably from the ranks of as-of-yet unannounced BMFAC sponsors and/or exhibition space bigwigs. It is exactly this kind of overt influence that directly results from funding art contests by sponsorship(s) rather than by collecting entry fees. It’s worth remembering that BMFAC’s sponsors have allegedly flexed their muscles before. In 2006, BMFAC director Damien Jones claimed that the competition’s sponsors insisted work by the judging panel also be exhibited beside the winning entries "as a hedge against insufficient quality" — a stupefying claim that managed to insult everyone who entered. Even if you assume the statement was merely an excuse for something Jones planned to do all along (as I did), the drawbacks of using sponsors for fine arts competitions should be self-evident. Such seemingly philanthropic benefactors can too easily mutate from benevolent sugar daddies to either get-our-money’s-worth "meddling kids" or convenient fall guys.

Still, some historical revisionists have a different, more halcyon view of BMFAC’s misty mountain morning founding. Cliff Tolputt, whose OT comments are starting to surpass Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past in scope (and when your comments start to surpass blog posts in length, isn’t it really time to start your own blog?), presents this rosy scenario for your consideration:

Frankly, I consider Damien (if it was only Damien) was extremely careful to preserve the reputation of sponsors when the best known artists/selectors were specifically invited to include pictures of their own to form a substantial part of the first exhibitions. Quality was thus best assured in the face of uncertainty.

That bias has now been naturally discontinued as the general quality of the entries is recognised as of sufficient standard.

Well, that’s one take on the situation. The BMFAC director was selfless and egoless, shielding his noble sponsors from the scourge of presenting substandard art, even to the point of risking loss of potential sainthood by reluctantly agreeing to be used as "a hedge." But, off the top of my head, here’s another take. Compensating art competition screener/judges with one-half of the exhibition space for their own work and hanging it beside that of the contest winners (twice!) is universally seen as an unimpeachably unethical and unprofessional practice. Such an amateurish action strongly suggests the contest was instituted as a publicity stunt designed principally to enhance the director’s/judges’ careers and reputations. Moreover, there is every reason to believe that BMFAC would have continued to exhibit its own administrators had not a certain blog-that-shall-not-be-named put considerable public pressure on BMFAC to abandon the practice.

Oh, but I forgot that

BMFAC Is Not a Fine Art Contest

because, according to Dave Makin in another OT comment, it’s something else entirely:

As I’ve said before those organising the BMFAC are doing so on a 100% voluntary basis – comparing it to Fine Art contests is simply irrelevant as they are generally organised by folks being paid to do so.

Conversely, I’d argue that BMFAC not being run like nearly every other art contest is very relevant. BMFAC’s director has deliberately chosen not to follow standard protocols — guidelines established to ensure fairness and avoid conflicts of interest — so he can get away with doing things like this:

–displaying his and other judges’ work in the exhibition in 2006 and 2007
–having fractal software authors serve as judges thus creating conflicts of interest and allowing potential financial or personal gain
–not having stated policies in place to prevent teacher-judges from recommending past or present students
–stacking the judging panel with users who write for or advocate or professionally use a specific software
–rigging the entry requirement to favor that same software at the expense of excluding other programs and approaches

You see, if BMFAC was actually run like other competitions, its director would never be able to pull off such overt shenanigans. The very reason art contest guidelines have become so predominately standardized is to ensure that chicanery like the above mischief-makings do not occur in the first place.

So, BMFAC should be more like a fine art contest and could take the first step by having

An Entry Fee

but I know this suggestion will not be popular in our community. And I understand and sympathize with Paul N. Lee‘s impassioned plea in a recent OT comment that establishing an entry fee would "eliminate some really fine examples of fractal graphics created by those with a limited income." I believe Lee’s heart is in the right place. And, to be clear, I don’t advocate such a fee in hopes of weeding out supposedly less serious contestants or to keep BMFAC from being clogged with more decorative kitsch than your typical giggly deviantART Fractalbook socializing space (although, yes, that would be nice). But an entry fee would have a ripple effect that would help take crucial steps to professionalize BMFAC.

Believe me. I don’t like paying such fees. Nobody does — especially given the current world economy. And I’m sorry that art contest fees are among the most expensive in the fine arts — usually ranging three times the amount of, say, literary contest fees. But such fees are a shrug-it-off fact-of-life for working professional artists. And this is an art contest, right? And you’re an artist, correct? Not a hobbyist or a dilettante or an amateur? Then, if you’re a pro engaged in a professional profession, you’d do well to begin accepting that profession’s trappings.

I’m talking to you, too, BMFAC. Move up professionally. Swap out those cranky, unpredictable sponsors for a set entry fee.

Here’s what you’ll gain immediately:

–Your screeners/judges should not have to volunteer their time and deserve to be paid for their expertise. And not by being hung in the expo with those they’ve judged but with monetary compensation. Entry fees provide fair recompense for services rendered.

–You’ll have autonomy over your own contest — and that’s important. No longer will the sponsors or the exhibit hall curators or the printmakers or the International Congress of Mathematicians or the ghost of Benoit Mandelbrot be able to exert undue influence over the results of your competition. Entry fees will cover the expenses, and never again will any outside party insist on having a say about what kind of art you want to show.

Except for us here at Orbit Trap.

That was a joke.

Not a good one, I gather, by your profound silence, dear reader.

And, really, on some level, I can’t believe I’m actually advocating this position — especially since I waver between considering Damien Jones to be as filled with beatitude as Mother Teresa or considering him to be a stonyhearted, self-promoting megalomaniac. Yeah. What a great idea. Let’s give Jones even more control and power, so he can turn his megalo up to maximum.

Still, in the end, it’s the right move. Because, my fractal art sisters and brothers, you should get what you pay for. Instead of getting what you’re getting now. Which is. What you’re not paying for.

Ultimately, I suppose my advocacy of a BMFAC entry fee is beside the point. BMFAC wants free admission and boatloads of entries, so it can then subsequently turn around and claim it’s both popular and significant. Just like every other Fractalbook site that lets everybody and their fractal dog in.

Have I left anything out of today’s slog? Uh-huh. Yes. I wanted to say something about

Those Mammoth Entry Fee Sizes

There was a fun exchange recently in the FractalForum thread on the 2011 BMFAC. Thomas Ludwig (lyc), safe to say no big OT admirer, expressed trepidation about submitting work to BMFAC because

I’m discouraged from entering because of the strong (statistical) bias towards UltraFractal entries…

Huh. I wonder where he got that idea?

Fortunately, BMFAC judge and UF enthusiast extraordinaire Kerry Mitchell quickly showed up and used his considerable reasoning prowess to set Ludwig straight:

If Ultra Fractal entries tend to do well, maybe that’s related to UF’s popularity among fractal artists. If this were a general digital art contest, one might expect there to be a great many entries in which Photoshop had been used, but that wouldn’t mean that there was a PS bias.

 So what contest are we not entering tonight, Brain?

Egad, Kerry. Brilliant! Oh, wait, no, no…

[Image seen here.]

With all due respect, I’d argue that in order for Mitchell’s analogy to be credible the following variables would have to be factored into it:

–the judging panel for that digital art contest has been and is still filled with Photoshop users
–the judging panel twice took up half of that digital art contest’s expo space with their own Photoshop art
–the primary author and marketer of Photoshop twice served as a judge for that digital art contest
–the director of that digital art contest helps author and openly advocates using Photoshop
–several judges of that digital art contest have taught online courses on how to use Photoshop
–some students who took those judges’ Photoshop courses have won exhibition slots in that digital art contest
–the entry requirements for that digital art contest are manipulated to favor Photoshop and exclude other graphics programs

but, other than these few minor discrepancies, Mitchell’s analogy is flawless.

On Style 3

2766 by Jock Cooper

2766 by Jock Cooper

Create your own visual style…let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others.
Orson Welles

The premise of this post is quite straightforward. I assert that Jock Cooper’s "Mechanicals" series is the most skillful, satisfying, and stylistic fractal art series to date. And here’s why:

11010401aa by Jock Cooper 

11010401aa by Jock Cooper

875 by Jock Cooper 

875 by Jock Cooper

It’s About Something

The series has ambitions beyond simply creating ornate decoration. "Mechanicals" is, in fact, highly conceptual. Although the images are unquestionably technically proficient, exquisitely composed, and aesthetically pleasing, they are something more — something that most fractal art is not. They are meaningful.

I seem to recall someone once arguing that fractal art that was merely beautiful "was not enough." Oh. Wait. That was me — two years ago on this blog:

There’s nothing wrong with continuing to create and value visually pleasant works — unless it matters to you that our discipline move out of the craft fairs and into the museums. The prevailing aesthetic in our community is beauty, and nearly all fractal images currently made do not transcend to much more than decoration and ornamentation. Fractal art will never become a widely accepted fine art until more of us start making works of artistic expression and stop pretending that aesthetically pleasing works, however well crafted, rise to the level of art.


The problem in our community is that most of us seem to feel that making visually pleasing work is still “heroic” [Guido Cavalcante‘s term] and get defensive when some people, like Orbit Trap, find such a state of affairs to be questionable — even destructive. One reason I am “obsessed” with the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest is that it is a mirror of the state of our discipline. It has a stated objective of presenting to the world the very best in contemporary fractal art, but it actually showcases highly crafted work that is visually striking but little else. With several exceptions that I noted in my initial review of the 2009 BMFAC, nearly none of the winning images suggest any meaning beyond themselves. They say nothing to me about my life — or about life in general. They provoke no thought. They raise no ideas. They stir no emotions. They put no dreams in my head or my heart.

But Cooper’s "Mechanicals" do provoke, do raise, and do stir. They are technological Rorschachs for the 21st century. They lay out overhead maps of our urban environments and display blueprints of the circuitry that powers our homes, our industries, our governments, and our very civilization. They, in fact, create powerful engrams — memories of the motherboard structures that are the beating hearts of the artistic tools that allow each of us to pump out our fractal visions.

They are also prescient. I recall, upon first seeing Cooper’s "Mechanicals," marveling at the complex arrangements of straight lines in logarithmic patterns, especially when one considers that the bulk of fractal imagery (at least when Cooper first began the project) utilizes curved lines. If you doubt my claim, than take another peek at BMFAC’s 2009 winners. Only one image, Yvonne Mous’ "Round the Block," employs straight rather than curved or rounded lines. Like any true artist, Cooper is ahead of his time and seems to have foreseen the advent of the straight line fractal imagery that would later come out of the 3D new wave — like MarkJayBee‘s "PowerBloc" (also seen in OT’s "Fractal Art Collection").

 21261 by Jock Cooper

21261 by Jock Cooper

12352 by Jock Cooper 

12352 by Jock Cooper

It’s Post-Processed

Cooper’s "Mechanicals" series is a concrete demonstration of Tim’s recent thesis that Pixel Art offers more creative opportunities and possibilities for individualized style than Parameter Art. Why did Cooper’s series seem so striking when it first appeared? Because it did not spring from the limited warehouse stock footage of homogenized parameter files. It was heavily post-processed — even to the point of significantly altering the original base image. Can you not now still hear the fractal guardians of purity shouting Oh, the humanity — or, at least bemoaning the sacrilege?

Contributor’s notes on Cooper seen on note that his mechanical images are made by "blending fractal shapes with 3D modeling software." I don’t know how Cooper made the images, nor do I want to know. In fact, I wish more fractal artists like Cooper as well as the Fractalbook craftpersons masses would keep their secrets secret. Maybe then Fractalbook galleries would not be dumping grounds littered with countless variations on the same disposable parameters — nor would the "tweakers" on the Ultra Fractal Mailing List be so quick to find themselves crying Thief when the par files they so willingly posted to cyberspace are somehow "unfairly" altered.

The point is that Cooper could not have realized his particular vision without resorting to additional and I’d guess severe post-processing. The ornamental designs of the existing parameter variations were not expressive enough to produce the mechanically tinged imagery, replicate the series with continuing variety and style, and convey the broader technological themes suggested by fluctuations in composition.

In this particular case, at least, Cooper made a conscious decision to color outside the lines in order to see his vision realized. This bold move makes Cooper’s series more than a programming exercise or a technical accomplishment; "Mechanicals" is one of the best examples to date truly worthy of being called fractal art.

And you know what’s sad? None of these images would likely get out of the starting gate in the current BMFAC competition. For one thing, I wonder how many could be rendered in the supersized entry requirements — or, at least, without significant degradation of detail. For another, the "Mechanicals" are not the "style" BMFAC hopes to perpetuate and eventually codify. They’re distinctly anti-UF — no soft-layered swirlies, no sheets in the wind and rings of gold. The BMFAC rules page makes quite plain what they want: Work that is "uniquely fractal" (meaning don’t touch those post-processing knobs and dials*) and work that "has lots of good, interesting fractal detail" (or, as Tim calls it, "organized imagery").

Poor Jock. Some of his best work will likely never wind up in BMFAC’s traveling craft mall. And why? His work is, ironically, too chaotic. With apologies to Vietnam War paradoxes, Jock had to destroy the fractal…in order to save it…

….in order for it to evolve beyond decoration and embellishment…

…in order for it to be reborn as art.

 2151 by Jock Cooper

2151 by Jock Cooper

 02070502 by Jock Cooper

02070502 by Jock Cooper

It’s Meta

Meta, especially in art, is a term used to describe something that is characteristically self-referential. Think of the play within a play in Shakespeare’s Hamlet as an example. With "Mechanicals," Cooper creates his technological visions using the very technology he depicts. And, of additional interest, especially in this context, meta has another definition in the field of computer science: "It defines things that embrace more than the usual. For example, a metafile contains all types of data. Meta-data describes other data." "Mechanicals" definitely goes beyond what fractal art conventionally embraces.

Meta-art grew out of a cultural frustration that artistic expressions had become stagnant, sentimental, hackneyed, and landlocked. Does this sound familiar? It should, for it’s a dead ringer for the current fractal art landscape that Tim described so well in his recent Rebooting Fractal Art series. To see the correlation more clearly, let’s turn to philosopher Edward Feser, who, in a post called "Art and Meta Art," notes:

As Roger Scruton has emphasized in An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Modern Culture, aesthetic modernism was driven in large part by a desire to avoid kitsch, the banality and sentimentality that so often attends the mass-produced culture of modern, secularized consumerist society. Accordingly, Scruton tells us, “the first effect of modernism was to make high-culture difficult: to surround beauty with a wall of erudition” (p. 85). Old forms came to be seen as exhausted, no longer capable of expressing genuine feeling; new forms had to be created (so the argument went) so that truly high art could once again be possible.

If you want to see Scruton’s misanthropic conjectures about the impulses for modernism made flesh and rendered immediately visible, then open the Fractalbook fractal galleries at Renderosity or deviantART and drink in your fill of "the kitsch, the banality and sentimentality that so often attends mass-produced culture." But what can we do to rise above such stagnancy? Well, what did the modernists do? Feser continues:

The nature of art became itself a subject of art in a way it had not been before. Modernist works were as much statements about what art is and what it could be as they were statements about their purported subject matter – religion, everyday experience, and other traditional themes – and as experimentation with new forms progressed, the former theme started to crowd out the latter ones.

I understand that one might assert that a little meta goes a long way, and that, arguably, the postmodernist’s later obsession with frenzied self-referentiality could be taking the concept a bridge too far, as Feser eventually gets around to suggesting. But the touchstones of his observations nevertheless ring true and reflect our community’s current plight. Fractal imagery has come to an inescapable impasse. Presently, nearly all of it is crafty at best and kitschy at worst.

The modernists found a workable way out of their artistic morass: Make "new forms" so that "truly high art could once again be possible."

And isn’t that exactly what Tim is suggesting — and precisely what Jock Cooper has done so convincingly?

080604_1800rev by Jock Cooper 

080604_1800rev by Jock Cooper


*[over-caffeinated announcer voice]: Extreme graphic processing with Ultra Fractal is both highly recommended and of course considered perfectly uniquely fractal for BMFAC purposes other uniquely fractal suppositions include completing courses by BMFAC judges imitating the UF look of BMFAC past and present judging panelists wishing the UF author was still a judge making snide but oh certainly not sexist remarks in DA journals about the reasonable and understandable lack of a female judge not caring that the competition pushes the director’s self-serving aesthetic feeling fine about those Godzilla size entry requirements because you’re in good standing since a "friend" just sent you an invitation to join the UF Facebook page and prized above all public criticism of Orbit Trap like calling the bloggers retards and insinuating one is winkwink gay for using Barbie analogies all of which likely ups the odds of hanging around in BMFAC information hallways but has side effects like neural sluggishness discourse collapse viral fallacies critical thinking impairment irrational belief that Chris Oldfield possesses the wisdom of Diogenes and erectile dysfunction which of course is caused by everything.

Next time in the series: "I Know What I Like…or Do I?"

BMFAC Announces Its Judging Panel

BMFAC Boy's Club 

A symbolic representation of the BMFAC judging panel.

[Photograph seen here.]

The 2011 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest (BMFAC) finally got around to releasing the names of its judges. They are:

Honorary Presidents:

Michael Barnsley
Aliette Mandelbrot

Panel Members:

Don Archer
Javier Barrallo
Cory Ench
Damien Jones
David Makin
Kerry Mitchell
Samuel Monnier
Paul Nylander
Joseph Presley
Jonathan Wolfe

As usual with all doings of later iterations of BMFAC, the announcement should be met with mixed feelings by anyone who prefers our community’s only major fractal art competition be run fairly and professionally.

Waxing Stuff:

There are no (overt) fractal software authors on this year’s panel — like the two prominent judges-authors who refused to resign from the 2009 BMFAC panel. This change removes significant conflicts of interest from continuing to taint the competition. I applaud this major step to better ensure fairness.

There are more fractal artists on the panel and fewer strict mathematicians. This move is also commendable and displays hopeful cultural evolution.

The shake-up of the selection panel does have some discernable benefits and adds a little credence to BMFAC’s claim that some of the judges are "prestigious." Jonathan Wolfe, for example, is a welcome addition. Dr. Wolfe is an expert in visual neuroscience and an educator known for "teaching diverse audiences about the concepts of Chaos Theory and fractals." Wolfe is also the force behind the flying fractal art balloons seen at Sky Dyes. I mentioned Wolfe in an OT post two years ago about Phase Two fractal art. It is my hope that Wolfe’s presence will help nudge BMFAC into better integrating a broader view of fractal art — one that moves beyond digital creations and embraces all fine arts mediums as well.

Cory Ench is an accomplished artist. I especially like his fantasy art as exemplified by his science fiction book covers and posters like those for Burning Man. I find his fractal art fairly conventional, but at least he works with flame fractals rather than BMFAC’s prevailing Ultra Fractal layered aesthetic. Ench’s presence offers a bit more hope (idiotic huge file size requirements aside) for artists submitting entries made using Apophysis, although it should be said that Ench is no stranger to BMFAC’s winner’s circle.

Between Phases:

The addition of Don Archer is a mixed blessing. One the one hand, I have long respected Archer for his dedicated efforts to bring digital art into the fine arts fold through his stewardship of the Museum of Computer Art (MOCA). Archer is not only a highly skilled artist, but also an established museum curator — something long advocated on OT that BMFAC needed. On the other hand, Archer has some roots in BMFAC director Damien Jones’s (has he dropped the "M"?) early contest enterprises, and that might partially explain why MOCA’s juried fractal art selections (but not algorithmic art) often trended towards the BMFAC/UF camp and featured artists like former BMFAC judge Janet Parke and BMFAC-winner, multiple Donnie-winner Rick Spix. Then again, sad to say, MOCA isn’t as compelling as it used to be. With the advent of MOCA’s AutoGallery, literally anyone with a free membership and uploading skills can now display their very unjuried work. A museum that invites, accepts, and shows all artists without a process of critical appraisal should no longer call itself a museum. MOCA is now something else. It has become, in fact, just another wing of Fractalbook.

Joseph Presley is an innovative artist, and his expertise with Xenodream should insure that entries made with that program might get a fair hearing. Then again, Presley is no stranger to UF conclaves or to BMFAC. You might recall that his 2009 winning entry, Tribute to JP, was an homage to Janet Parke who was, at the time, serving as a BMFAC judge.

Waning Stuff:

The judging panel is, if anything, more UF-laden than ever. By my count, at least seven, possibly eight of BMFAC’s panel of ten have roots in the Ultra Fractal community and/or have a connection to Jones’s close-knit inner circle. One-third of the panel currently does or has done some authoring work for Ultra Fractal. Such continued clinging to UF oversaturation shows BMFAC needs more diversity of software choice. Who will be surprised given the UF-heavy jury, coupled with the UF-friendly entry size requirements, if Ultra Fractal entries once again win the majority of exhibition spots?

I suppose it was inevitable Dave Makin would become a BMFAC judge. He’s long been BMFAC’s de facto spokesperson and chief apologist. In fact, he’s been talking up and about BMFAC a blue streak lately (see his multiple comments in recent OT posts). I guess it’s not unethical for a judge to be so fulsome — probably just tacky. But Makin’s ego won’t be contained, and I now consider him to be the official PR organ and press secretary of BMFAC. As far as I’m concerned, Makin’s word is BMFAC law, unless Jones comes out of his undisclosed location and corrects any utterance of Makin’s public flaking. I suppose Makin’s judgeship is BMFAC’s nod to the 3D fractal new wave. Makin, of course, writes 3D formulas for UF, but I wonder how the 3D artists over on FractalForums feel about the implied suggestion being made that all new 3D work be filtered first through UF.

BMFAC still needs a public disclaimer on its Rules page that any judge who has taught fractal art courses will recuse himself or herself from in any way evaluating or making recommendations on their present or former students’ work. Without such a written statement, potential conflicts of interests could presumably arise. Two of the current BMFAC judges have taught or are teaching such courses at the Visual Arts Academy.

And there was one other thing about the judging panel I was going to mention. What was it? Oh. Now I remember:

The BMFAC jury is all Ken -- no Barbie... 

What I actually said was: "Math class is tough." See, Ken, you can’t trust the accuracy of anything you find on the Internet these days.

[Image seen here.]

Even if one accepts the premise that fractal art can be a highly technical field, it’s quite a stretch to believe that Jones and his yet undisclosed sponsors could not field a single woman for a slot on the BMFAC selection panel. There are, really, plenty of talented and insightful female fractal artists to tap for the panel. A number of likely candidates can be seen in OT’s own Fractal Art Collection. Without representation from half the world’s gender, who’s going to forcefully argue in BMFAC’s shortlisting sessions for a massively cool potential entry like this:

Math class is the bomb... 

Hear me, sisters. Math class rocks.

[Photograph by Ritwik Dey and seen here.]

Barbie quit advancing the women-are-bad-at-mathematics stereotype many years ago. BMFAC should definitely follow her lead.

Is the 2011 BMFAC Accepting Entries from All Artistic Mediums?

Y by Mark Wallinger

Was this object made with fractal hardware?

Y by Mark Wallinger. Photograph seen here.

Fractal art is a fractal look and doesn’t have to be something rendered from computing a fractal algorithm.
–Tim Hodkinson, Orbit Trap

Two remarks have caught my attention this week. The first was baffling but exhilarating. The second was risible and sadly without irony.

The first had its genesis in a phrase tucked away on the 2011 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest (BMFAC) Rules Page. Under Section 3.9 titled Content, the first sentence reads:

Artwork may be submitted that is created with any tools, software or hardware [emphasis mine].

This juicy tidbit led to the first of two remarks. Kali, over on FractalForums, shakes his head and wonders:

Any tools? software OR hardware? Does a hammer count as a hardware tool? can I build a menger sponge made of wood and then take a photo?

Yes, it certainly sounds like one can do such things and call them legitimate entries. Has BMFAC actually broadened its scope to include Phase Two fractal art? If so, this is unquestionably a major step in the right direction.

Regular OT readers will recall that we have been advocating that the prevailing definition of "fractal art" has too long been limited to works made by artists using computers and software. We have argued that fractal art can also be produced using non-fractal software and even conventional artistic tools — and have gone so far as to advocate that such art is a legitimate form of expression when considering what comprises fractal art.

Tim first defined Phase Two fractal art on OT back in early 2009. He notes:

Phase Two fractal art focuses on the image and not how it was made. Perhaps in Phase Two fractal art the word “fractal” is no longer relevant because the word fractal only has meaning if the artwork exhibits a fractal appearance. Images made from details of fractals or images processed with filters are really derivative works and whether one wants to call them fractal art is really a pointless matter and unresolvable argument. And Phase Two artists don’t care anyway how an image was made. Whether it has that parameter file pedigree or not isn’t as important as whether or not it’s…

Art. Yes, that’s where I see fractal art going. Taking an artistic approach and evaluating the image rather than the software that makes it, is an instinctive next step. It’s instinctive I think because that’s how art has always been viewed and evaluated. No serious critic ever categorized oil paintings by what kind of paint brushes they were made with or whether they were painted by men or women.

Tim then expands on this line of thinking again, in a prescient OT post entitled "Fractal Art without a Computer." He observes that

this could be the beginning in what could become the complete unraveling of fractal art as a genre. After this we will all see fractal art from a Visual Context instead of a Software Context. We will see that Fractal Art revolves around visual appearance and not around the software that made it. Fractal Art will be defined by visual criteria and not by its association (whether it’s noticeable or not) with fractal software.

In short, following such reasoning, fractal art becomes any art that somehow displays or utilizes fractal properties/characteristics. How that art was made is irrelevant and becomes more appropriate for a discussion of mediums. In other words, art made with computers is no more "fractal art" than art made with another more orthodox medium like, say, painting.

I followed up Tim’s hypothesis by demonstrating what Phase Two fractal exhibitions might look like (say, this and this and this). Moreover, in another post, I explicitly argue that traditional artistic mediums can and do create fractal art — and go on to contend that BMFAC, a competition showcasing such art, should broaden its content and accept entries other than those that are computer-generated. At the time, I said:

If fractal art is art that has fractal characteristics like recursion and self-similarity, then the traditional mediums of the fine arts can be used for our genre just as easily as software. In fact, one could build the case that a true exhibition of fractal art would showcase art made using a variety of self-expressive tools — including painting, sculpture, ceramics, graphics design, and other recognized mediums. Software utilizing fractal algorithms to generate images would still be included, of course, but would merely be another component in the artistic arsenal, and such imagery might be broken into distinctions like algorithmic art or digital art, depending on the amount of graphic processing an individual artist used. But fractal art would be a category of art, like abstract expressionism or cubism, and not winnowed down to be only the primarily Ultra Fractal images that will win this year’s BMFAC.

However, if Kali and I are reading the 2011 rules correctly, this year’s BMFAC has radically changed the playing field. Over the years, I have been one of BMFAC’s harshest critics. But I will be the first to commend BMFAC’s organizers if they are indeed accepting submissions of fractal art from all artistic mediums. I applaud such a bold and provocative action, for it surely marks a substantive leap in the evolution of fractal art as a bona fide discipline. I would even argue that such a broadening of fractal art content represents a paradigm shift of staggering proportions. None of us may ever again be able to look at fractal art through the narrow lens and exclusive mindset of art that is limited to images created with algorithms and computer software.


The BMFAC Star Chamber 

The "Prestigious" BMFAC Judging Panel

[Photograph seen here.]

I said when I started this post that I stumbled upon two attention-getting remarks this week. The second came from the furiously-pounded keyboard of Esin Turkakin as she chided Tim and his last post for "smearing" the BMFAC jury, for "questioning its ability to judge 3D," and, worst of all it seems, for

attacking the jury in the process with no ground…

Oh. It is to laugh. To the point where my sides hurt. Because:

a) It’s appropriate for Tim to speculate on the make-up of BMFAC’s 2011 selection panel since the names of said jurors have inexplicably not yet been released. It’s unprecedented, not to mention bizarre and amateurish, for any (serious) fine arts contest to announce and promote itself without simultaneously revealing its judges and funding sources. What’s stopping someone from prematurely entering the competition and then later being tapped as a judge? Presumably, such an entry would be disallowed, but, given that we’re talking about BMFAC, don’t expect to see such a circumstance (or much of anything else constituting ethical weirdness) officially barred in writing on the Rules page.

b) It’s appropriate for Tim to worry whether 3D images coming out of fractal art’s new wave will get a fair shake from BMFAC. All three past panels have been top-heavy with mathematicians (and nothing screams art expert like a mathematician) and director Damien M. Jones’s Ultra Fractal-using cronies. What are the usual suspects’ (Jones, Mitchell, Townsend, Parke, et. al.) qualifications concerning and comprehension skills about the latest 3D phenomenon that allow them to be placed in a position to judge such entries? Or, better yet, since BMFAC appears to have now embraced Phase Two entries, how much do these same UF users/software makers and math geeks know about painting, sculpture, ceramics, or mixed-media installations created using fiber? This year, it seems more imperative than ever that at least some members of the panel be versed not only in the newer 3D variations, but also in the more conventional artistic mediums.

c) And past BMFAC panels have given all of us "no ground" to fret or even attack them? Seriously? You mean, the same folks who two out of three times finagled their own art into the "contest" exhibitions — the same fractal-software-making folks who last year blew off clear conflicts of interest — the same for-educational-purposes-only folks who taught fractal art/software courses and later saw former students turn up the winner’s circle? Those same folks? Please, spare us your righteous indignation. Past juries haven’t exactly been paragons of ethical purity and models of moral goodness.

But…thanks, Esin. I always appreciate a good belly laugh.

BMFAC Slinks Back

Thank You Sir Can I Have Another?

Things More Pleasant Than Thinking About BMFAC Again

Dave Makin sent me a personal email to let me know the 2011 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest (BMFAC) has been announced.  I guess he wanted to be sure I got the good news.

If you read this blog regularly, you already know how we feel about this so-called competition.  If you aren’t an OT regular, then please search "BMFAC" and immerse yourself in the contest’s history of corruption, conflicted interests, unprofessionalism, hypocrisy, and insufferable self-promotion.

If you still support BMFAC after objectively examining all that we have painstakingly outlined, then nothing more I say will sway you.  You are obviously comfortable putting your own potential self-interests over everything else — including professional ethics, private morality, a sense of fair play, and the best interests of our art form.  In this regard, you will fit in nicely with the people who administer this contest.  Like you, their chief concern is to feather their own nests and further their own self-serving agenda.


But since Makin took the trouble to reach out, I might as well take a few general questions from the gathered crowd:

Why have the sponsors and the "selection panel" not yet been announced? 

I don’t know.  The directors of BMFAC are known for being highly secretive.  I guess they figure the less you know the better.  I do know that any fine arts competition that won’t tell you up-front its funding sources or who is judging the entries should be regarded as suspicious.  How can one best cater an entry while having no idea who will be reviewing it?  If the sponsors have not been finalized and the judges are not yet selected, then the contest should never have been publicly announced.  But BMFAC rarely operates under conventional or professional protocols.

Perhaps BMFAC director Damien M. Jones is just getting ahead of himself.  Or maybe he wants to deliberately delay the announcement of the judges for his own purposes.  Twice before he’s allowed BMFAC judges to show their work and gobble up half of the "contest" exhibition space.  Last year, when only the contest winners were hung, might have been less than satisfying for Jones and his crowd who had to swallow a bitter pill and forego their usual self-promotion spotlight.

Will the judging panel again be riddled with blatant conflicts of interest?

That depends.  Will Jones again allow software authors (like the creators of Ultra Fractal and Apophysis) to serve as judges thus setting up the potential for them to reap financial and/or personal benefits?  Last year, one such judge of good conscience sensibly resigned.  The remaining two who refused to leave in the face of such conflicts of interest are presumably more self-interested than sensible and cannot be shamed.

Will mathematicians again be used as judges?

Oh, no doubt.  Mathematicians, not artists, are fractal art’s celebrities.  Why bother with procuring the usual elitist snobs like museum curators or art historians?  It clearly makes more sense to have art contests peer-reviewed by people who know little or nothing about art.

Will the exhibition be better publicized than it was last time?

Maybe — but only if the judges’ work is again allowed into the exhibition, thus making such promotional efforts more beneficial to those who run the contest rather than those who actually win it.

Why does the contest insist that winning entries will have to be submitted at such massive sizes?

They’ll tell you the huge sizes are necessary to ensure "lots of good, interesting fractal detail" or other such nonsense.  It’s all bullshit.  Exhibitions of digital photographs are seldom exhibited at picture-window size, and photographs are filled with "interesting detail."  Last year’s "information hallway" BMFAC exhibit in India featured fairly small prints that could have been made at one-fourth the size BMFAC demands.  The size requirements are there for one reason only: to privilege Ultra Fractal because it scales images easily.  UF and its users have made up the majority of BMFAC’s winners — just as UF is the established program of choice for the directors and most of the artist-judges.  Please understand that the contest is just an excuse to better perpetuate the careers of the administrators and to further implement and maintain their prevailing aesthetics of fractal art.  It’s all a self-fulfilling cycle.  Most BMFAC prize-winning entries are conveniently made with UF and selected by self-proclaimed "prestigious" artists-judges who also just happen to predominately use UF.  Rinse.  Repeat.  A con is born.

What can I do to better insure my chances of winning a slot in the exhibition?  

Don’t be an ethical worrywart.  Have no moral scruples whatsoever.  Think only of yourself.  Use UF obviously and make the conventional layered monstrosities popularly associated with the program.  Ask yourself: what would Janet Parke do (WWJPD) and consciously imitate her work.  Better yet, have taken a UF course with her and submit images you created under her tutelage.  Hopefully, she’ll again be a judge, recognize your work, and show you favor.  Remember, BMFAC isn’t bound by those pesky rules most art contests have to follow — like having explicit clauses forcing judges to recuse themselves in compromising circumstances like the one I outlined above.

I’ll take one more question.  Yes.  You in the back.

Will Dave Makin win a fourth consecutive BMFAC exhibition slot thus pushing overt favoritism to even higher stratospheric levels?  

Makin is the competition’s chief apologist and has previously been well rewarded for his services as a willing propagandist.  There’s no reason to assume this year’s contest will be any different — on any level.

Name! That! Comment!

Welcome back, readers, to the home edition of the Fractalbook Network’s much loved game show: Name! That! Comment!

Now, finally, through the mystery of OT technology, you can continue honing your somewhat-fractal-related social networking skills and never miss a beat stroking your virtual artist-friends while sitting alone at home in a room by yourself.  Just as you do daily in assorted art communities.  Just as you might be doing right now.

Remember how we play?  A quasi-artistic, fractal-type image is first shown and subjected to your critical scrutiny.  Then, you are provided with four comments.  Three are imposters.  You must correctly select the one comment that was actually posted to the given art-type-object.

Round One features work and chat from Renderosity‘s fractal art sub-cave.  That’s the Fractalbook conclave, you know, where the artists are supposedly more serious.  Each correct answer is worth 200 points.

Mommy Can We Just Play by cricke49 

Mommy Can We Just Play? by cricke49

The correct comment is:
(a)_____ Sorta seems like Mom’s dandruff is getting worse.
(b)_____ Rather appears your dying star has cancer.
(c)_____ Kinda looks like Mom has them wrapped up in concertina wire.
(d)_____ I don’t like this new playground, Mommy.

Donkey Butts by fantasticfractals

Donkey Butts by fantasticfractals

The correct comment is:
(a)_____ "Are my kids cute, or do they make people uncomfortable."
(b)_____ I do not care to see your pet’s colonoscopy.
(c)_____ That Circle Jerks’ song "World Up My Ass" suddenly makes sense.
(d)_____ There are no comments yet.

Peeking Outside by greyone 

Peeking Outside by greyone

The correct comment is:
(a)_____ Hiding under the mobile home with some creepy growth around.
(b)_____ Metallic Voice: "John Conner. I know you can hear me. You have thirty seconds to come out from under there."
(c)_____ Thanks for giving me the second season of Fringe DVD.
(d)_____ No wonder the road not taken was not taken.

Bad Worm by gateman45

Bad Worm by gateman 45

The correct comment is:
(a)_____ How do you know the worm is bad?  Maybe he’s just misunderstood.
(b)_____ I’d love to feel the shapes.
(c)_____ Alright.  Which one of you geeks deconstructed Snoopy?
(d)_____ I think I found the perfect bait to catch mechanical sharks.

Bottom Feeders by Lenord

Bottom Feeders by Lenord

The correct comment is:
(a)_____ "Why, oh why, didn’t I take the blue pill?"
(b)_____ So if I look very close inside a fish tank I’ll see these on the bottom?
(c)_____ I wanted a flashy yellow Autobot.  What good is a desk lamp that transforms?
(d)_____ That’s the last time I ever order stir-fried squid.

Okay, players.  Mark your ballots.  And don’t touch that dial.  We’ll be right back with Round Two after this word from our sponsor.

Hi again, kids. David X. Machina here for Compliment-O — the software designed to make commenting on so-called art faster and easier — so you can get back to doing what’s really important — smoozing with your virtual friends.

Compliment-O uses cutting-edge algorithms to scan, mine, and extract random comments from various Fractalbook compliment repositories. Why resort to uncomfortable and time-consuming activities like critical thinking and aesthetical reflection when all that’s required is a simple (and, hopefully, joint) exchange of flattery?

And Compliment-O is so easy to use.  Turn the on switch to the SUCK UP setting.  Choose the appropriate level of laudation — ranging from LACKEY to BOOTKISSER to SYCOPHANT to TOADY — and you’re ready to get straight to the verbalized stroking.  Think of the convenience.  Why, before you know it, you’ll never have to face the unpleasantness of actually having to look at art in an online art community again.

Let’s take Compliment-O for a test drive, shall we?  Here, for example, is an alleged art object that our crack scientists culled randomly from cyberspace without first asking permission because Fair Use ensures for the purposes of satire and reviews that we don’t have to so there:

Overwrought by Damien M. Jones 

Overwrought by Damien M. Jones

Yes, Compliment-O takes the thinking out of thinking about art.  If you actually took the time to examine the image above, you might conclude it looks like a fibroid tumor or arterial blockage.  But, of course, you can’t actually say what you think on Fractalbook without risking shunning — or, worse, unfriending.  But, with the exertion required for one mere mouse click, Compliment-O appropriates and recycles several on-the-Internet-forever potential selections allowing you to quickly crib the perfect comment — like these:

Option 1: The coloring — austere, mournful, and at times apocalyptic — often produces an emotional response in the viewer of the art.
Option 2: Actually, I feel that the big debate is a bit overwrought.
Option 3: You’re speaking out of your ass on this one.
Option 4: Further evidence of your ugly and despicable personality.

Um.  Well.  I’m sure any remaining bugs in the program will be redressed in the next iteration.  And, fortunately, our upgrade fees are perniciously modest.  

One caution with using Compliment-O.  Be careful not to accidentally switch Compliment-O from SUCK UP to EVIL mode.  The latter setting uses a secret heuristic code designed to deep scan an image and immediately blurt out unfiltered emotional reactions.  Of course, such direct and reliable comments have no place in everyday Fractalbook confabbing.  Remember Fractalbook’s rhetorical campaign slogan: Friends don’t let other friends comment honestly.  

But, just as a thought problem, and assuming you could find a work-around for the built-in quadruple super encryption, let’s examine an example of how the EVIL setting works.  Again, our stellar research team set out the virtual drift nets and randomly snagged another arty thingie from the murky backwaters of the Web:

Rex's Last Stand by Terry Wright

Rex’s Last Stand by Terry Wright

Compliment-O’s EVIL setting instantly produces four choice comment option samples for the image above:

Option 1: Rex needs a breath mint and should cut down on the jalapeno chips and picante sauce.  Otherwise, he’ll be extinct before the big meteor arrives.
Option 2: Hey, I recognize that reptile from my visit to the Creation Museum in Kentucky.  It’s the same dinosaur Sarah Palin rode in the Bible about 6,000 years ago.  See:

Option 3: How ironic. Rex’s skin has the same color and consistency as fossil fuels.
Option 4: Is this the most negative, repressed psychopath expressionism you have ever seen?…This Wright-psycho posts dark images with negative and often violent titles…and his fractal art, if it can be called that, looks like mud after someone vomits on it.

Obviously, using Compliment-O’s EVIL mode is recommended for use only in emergency circumstances — like wanting to get in the last word when you find yourself enmeshed in anonymous flame wars occurring in threaded discussions.

Compliment-O cannot be ordered online.  For your personalized copy encoded onto an eventually shipped Betamax cassette, rush $99 99 99 95 in cash to:
Royal Scam Productions
1313 Orbit Trap Circle
Terryville, Nigeria

Compliment-O*.  For those times when your own thoughts are just not good enough.

*[Over-caffeinated announcer voice]: Side effects of Compliment-O include: irrational belief in artistic credibility, illogical suspicion of being thoughtful, acute obsequiousness, servility beyond belief, long periods of virtual prostration, occasional cowering, a lifetime spent engaging in intense supplication, and erectile dysfunction (which, of course, is caused by everything.)


We’re back, readers, for Round Two of Name! That! Comment!  Now, in this round, the Fractalbook turf shifts to the cleared-wooded-area cult-meeting-setting over at deviantART — where both the points and the egos are doubled.  Each correct answer is worth 400 points.

Random Fractal Thing by notadolphinig 

Random Fractal Thing by notadolphinig

The correct comment is:
(a)_____ How’d I happen to wander into the Barbie aisle at Toys R Us?
(b)_____ Even that execrable donkey butts pic is better than this one.
(c)_____ It’s…pink.  And it burns my eyes.
(d)_____ "I believe in overdressing.  I believe in primping at leisure and wearing lipstick. I believe in pink."

Medusa's Garden by micronomicon

Medusa’s Garden by micronomicon

The correct comment is:
(a)_____ OMG! Rapunzel definitely needs a better detangler.
(b)_____ LOL! Will viewing this fractal soon turn all my homegrown vegetables to stone?
(c)_____ OMG! I like this sooo much!!! It reminds me of a TOOL music video minus the creepiness.
(d)_____ LOL! This reeeally makes me want to grind my bones to make my bread.

 wee it's a tree xD by ko-yu

wee it’s a tree xD by ko-yu

The correct comment is:
(a)_____ Wee wee. I’m a dog.
(b)_____ This is NOT fractal art…please put it in the proper category or it will be reported and removed.
(c)_____ "Trees and ferns are fractal in nature and can be modeled on a computer by using a recursive algorithm."
(d)_____ My kid could paint that.  Hell, an invertebrate could probably paint that.

Reclining Nude Under Construction by fiery-fire

Reclining Nude Under Construction by fiery-fire

The correct comment is:
(a)_____ !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
(b)_____ ??????????????
(c)_____ wtfwtfwtfwtfwtf
(d)_____ Construction workers, in my experience, generally prefer nudity to be actual rather than implied.

Pantomime of Human Existance by by DothackersDaichi

Pantomime of Human Existance [sic] by DothackersDaichi

The correct comment is:
(a)_____ Or, perhaps, Shadow Play of Symbolic Overreaching.
(b)_____ Irony works best when what you’re actually doing is actually ironic.
(c)_____ Such a heart touching masterpiece and a soul ripping piece of art.  Those brown mini duckies just show us the karma of those unwanted relationships, where we beseech a state of nirvana and the utter happiness which comes by eating too much chocolate.
(d)_____ This looks familiar.  Is this a still from a Lifetime movie about a woman who went missing? I seem to recall the missing woman’s family was trying to get custody of her baby, or something, and the husband’s family thought they were crazy for suggesting that he’d murdered her.  But, of course, he did.   He killed her with a dumbbell.

Thank you for playing the home edition of Name! That! Comment!  Once you have marked your examination sheet, you can then self-check your scores and status using the grids below.  Until next time…

Scoring Grid:
500 points:  Obviously Truckle Challenged
1000 points: Better Hire an Ass-Kissing Tutor
1500 points: Passing from Fawning to Kowtowing
2000 points: Servile to an Extraordinary Extent
2500 points: Cringing with True Submissiveness
3000 points: Bubbly Babs Lifetime Achievement Award

Answer Grid:
1. here
2. here
3. here
4. here
5. here
6. here
7. here
8. here
9. here
10. here

Jones Options Grid:
1. here
2. here
3. here
4. here

NASA’s Earth Day Fractals

Susitna Glacier

Susitna Glacier

Alaska’s Susitna Glacier revealed some of its long, grinding journey when the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA’s Terra satellite passed overhead on Aug. 27, 2009.

I’ll be back to posting more regularly on OT as summer nears and RL slows down.

For now, enjoy this natural fractal photoblog of selected shots NASA released this past Earth Day.

Any fractal enthusiast who regularly reads this blog knows that fractal shapes are found in many natural forms.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen more stunning examples than these shots from space. 

I’ve selected a sweet sixteen of the most fractally significant pics for your viewing, but the entire slideshow is well worth your time.  You’ll find many other breathtaking images, as well as more detailed explanations of the photographs included here.

To get the fractal full monty and view-with-binoculars artistic whammy, click on any of the images in this post to see large, high resolution renditions.  You won’t be sorry you took the trip back from space and poked around.

Greenland Canyons 

Greenland Canyons

On March 29, 2011, Operation IceBridge flew between deep canyons and over glaciers along the northwest coast of Greenland.

Sahara Desert

Sahara Desert

Tassili n’Ajjer National Park, a part of the Sahara Desert, has a bone-dry climate with scant rainfall, yet does not blend in with Saharan dunes.

Namibia's Coast

Namibia’s Coast

Cloudless skies allowed a clear view of dust and hydrogen sulfide plumes along the coast of Namibia in early August 2010.

Ouachita Mountains

Ouachita Mountains

The Ouachita Mountains in southeastern Oklahoma are part of the only major mountain region between the Rockies and the Appalachians.

Cloud Over Africa

Cloud Over Africa

High above the African continent, tall, dense cumulonimbus clouds, meaning ‘column rain’ in Latin, are the result of atmospheric instability.

Lake in Tibet

Lake in Tibet

This other worldly landscape is actually Dagze Co, one of many inland lakes in Tibet.

Dry Valleys

Dry Valleys in Antarctica

The McMurdo Dry Valleys are a row of valleys west of McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, so named because of their extremely low humidity and lack of snow and ice cover.

Iceberg Collision

Iceberg Collision

An oblong iceberg roughly as big as Rhode Island called B-09B (center right in this image) collided with the edge of the Mertz Glacier in eastern Antarctica this month breaking away a new iceberg (top left) that is nearly as large at B-09B.

Mayon Volcano

Mayon Volcano

Tens of thousands of people living within the danger zone of Mayon Volcano in the Philippines were forced to evacuate to emergency shelters in mid-December 2009 as small earthquakes, incandescent lava at the summit and minor ash falls suggested a major eruption was on the way.

Sarychev Volcano

Sarychev Volcano

A fortuitous orbit of the International Space Station allowed the astronauts this striking view of Sarychev volcano (Russia’s Kuril Islands, northeast of Japan) in an early stage of eruption on June 12, 2009.

Rub' al Khali

Rub’ al Khali

The Rub’ al Khali is one of the largest sand deserts in the world, encompassing most of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula. It includes parts of Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Great Wall

Great Wall

The Great Wall of China and Inner Mongolia are featured in this image photographed by Expedition 10 Commander Leroy Chiao on the International Space Station.

Arctic Eclipse

Arctic Eclipse

NASA’s Terra satellite was rounding the top of the globe, making its way from the eastern tip of Siberia and across the Arctic Ocean towards northern Norway and northwest Russia, when it captured this unique view of a total solar eclipse on Aug. 1, 2008.

Lake Nassar

Lake Nassar

Egypt’s Lake Nasser, as photographed in January 2005 from the International Space Station.



Looking more like an alien landscape than an Earthly landscape, the Morenci open-pit copper mine in southeast Arizona is North America’s leading producer of copper.

Back soon with more thoughts on style in fractal art — plus some Fractalbook insider trading.

BMFAC: “We Are All Winners Now”

Are we in a dentist's office?

Which way to the cafeteria?

This does not look like an art exhibition.

Two photographs of the exhibition of the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest in Hyderabad, India, 2010.
Photographs released by Esin Turkakin.

Photographs of the showcase exhibition of the 2009 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest (BMFAC) have been released by one of the contest winners.  Only the winners received any information about the exhibition.  It has taken six months for any photographs to surface on the Internet.  The main BMFAC site has not been updated since the winners were announced last year.  There has been no publicity about the India exhibition on the main site, nor have any of the previous three shows (two in Spain and one in Argentina) been mentioned at all.

The two released photographs are fairly long shots of the show.  I’m sure this was deliberately done, for I doubt the organizers want anyone to have a clear view.

There is no discernible reason why photographs of the exhibition had to be limited to the winners.  Why was no one else in the fractal community allowed to see them?  Information is power, I suppose — or, perhaps, the lack of information maintains power.  With the release of the photographs, we are all "winners" now.  We can make up our own minds about the show based upon what we can actually see.

Two things are immediately evident in the photographs.  The first is that the size of the prints is considerably smaller than a reasonable person would have inferred from reading the contest page’s exhibition description.  Moreover, the prints in India are indisputably more minuscule than the prints displayed in the earlier exhibitions in Spain.  Here is a look at the BMFAC show last May in San Sebastián:

This has the feel of a museum. 

This does look like an art exhibition.

An exhibition of the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest in San Sebastián, Spain, 2010.
Photograph by Javier Barrallo. Seen on C82.

The contrasts between the two shows are striking.  The large prints featured in Spain are obviously made using canvas.  Doing otherwise would have made them far too heavy to display.  The prints hung in India are noticeably smaller.  They are paper prints that have been matted and placed under very not-glare-free glass.

Here’s the problem.  The payoff for winning contestants was to have their work exhibited in India at the International Congress of Mathematicians.  No reference to any other exhibition was made (and still hasn’t been mentioned).  To be eligible to enter, participants had to have the capability of submitting images at unusually large sizes.  According to the BMFAC rules page:

Size: Artwork that is selected must then be provided in high-resolution format, sized so that the largest dimension is 8000 pixels. If a high-resolution version of the artwork cannot be produced, it should not be entered. Some images may be selected for printing at even larger size (12000 pixels in the largest dimension) so entrants would do well to be aware of the size requirements. This is particularly important for certain types of fractals (e.g. flames) which are difficult to render at large sizes.

The only logical reason to insist upon such gargantuan image sizes is that the organizers planned to display very large prints — much like those shown at the unmentioned San Sebastián show.  But the small prints used in India could have easily been made from image sizes 1/10th of what was required for entry.

What went wrong?  It seems to me there are only two possibilities.  One could be chalked up to a failure of planning.  The other would be deliberate deception to achieve an ulterior motive.

BMFAC defenders are probably assuming the venue changed unexpectedly.  The conference altered its plans at the last moment, and the exhibition had to relocate to a more limited space.  But none of this is likely.  Any attentive exhibition organizer will pre-plan and be familiar with the exact dimensions of every exhibition space.  In other words, the organizer would know far in advance (and, in this case, BMFAC directors had over a year to get ready) whether the show(s) would be placed in a hall or in a hallway.  The conference facility in India has an exhibition hall; BMFAC was not booked into it.  And a sudden switcheroo couldn’t have been all that last minute.  Realistically, it would take a fair amount of time to have all exhibition images re-printed, mounted, matted, and framed. In the end, the most reasonable assumption here is those running BMFAC knew all along exactly what space would be available and what size prints would fit that space.

As I have systematically argued, the likely explanation for insisting on such huge file sizes was to privilege Ultra Fractal.  It is the software of choice for the two co-directors and for every BMFAC artist-judge.  One co-director writes openly of his UF preference.  Most tellingly, the author of Ultra Fractal, which is commercial software, openly served as a BMFAC judge — which is a conflict of interest so ethically staggering that it brings into question the validity of the entire enterprise.

Ultra Fractal, of course, is the only scalable fractal software that can easily handle BMFAC’s specifications — and everyone involved with the contest knows this to be a fact.  And that’s why they did it — because they wanted UF to look good by weeding out artists using other programs.  Tim clarified in his last post why the selection field was already inherently narrow:

[BMFAC is] limited in what it shows: 25 works chosen not from all that the fractal art world has to offer but from what those who cared to enter the contest thought would impress the eclectic (dream team) of judges. Right off the bat the exhibition is behind the eight ball because, by design, they must passively attend to only what the contestants give them.

Then comes the pièce de résistance.  Hatch a scheme to limit what can be submitted by throttling any fractal artist not using UF.  And, sure enough, as we documented last year, the overwhelming majority of winning images were made with UF.  That was not a coincidence.  It was a foregone conclusion.  No, even worse, it was a deliberate strategy to give the general impression that most of the "best fractal artists in the world" use Ultra Fractal — just like their mentors — the "esteemed" (and self-appointed) BMFAC contest artist-judges.

And now we get the ironic kicker.  Any fractal program could easily have made images large enough to make prints of the size used in the India exhibition.  As it turns out, there was no need for insisting upon such absurdly vast size requirements.  How many more artists could and should have been allowed to enter the competition?  And how much more representative should and would the pool have been to show the true diversity of our art form and a wider variety of artists?

Apophysis’ users should be especially furious because that particular program does not scale images well — as the BMFAC rules page even indirectly notes.  The size restriction ploy pretty much killed off any fractal artist who post-processes, too — unless he or she has a powerful computer at their disposal.

When all is said and done, this whole cynical business was about business.  BMFAC was never about "choosing art that represents our art form to a world that largely does not know it."  It was about selling product and promoting personal interests.  It was, as Orbit Trap has consistently pointed out, a publicity scheme to promote the careers of those staging a competition in which they twice placed their own work.

They should be ashamed of themselves for furthering their careers on the backs of other artists.

But they are not, and they’ll be back again soon to re-run the whole phony contest intrigue again — if they think they can get away with it.

The question for our community is: Can they?


I almost forgot.  I said the released BMFAC photos reveal two things.

The second is that what’s presented in the photos from India is not what I imagine an "international art exhibition" should look like.  Does the "information hallway," as Tim describes it, match the picture in your head of a prestigious art exhibit?

I’ll say it because no one else will.  What the photos show looks like something you’d see in a shoddy cafeteria — or in the waiting room of a dentist’s office.

The Roots of BMFAC


It wasn’t the sleep of reason that gave birth to a monster.

Some of Orbit Trap’s critics have taken issue with our claim that the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest (BMFAC) is nothing more than a publicity stunt to feather the nests of its organizers and judges.  These critics argue the competition is being unfairly maligned and is altruistic at its core.  It’s not about self-promotion, claim our detractors.  Rather, the contest’s organizers have selflessly volunteered their time and energy for the betterment of our discipline.

If you’re still sitting on the fence about this issue, or you believe our BMFAC critiques have been unfairly exaggerated, please consider the following.

The partial screencap above is taken from a page describing a fractal art exhibition that made some rounds in 2000.  It was called "The Frontier Between Science and Art."  Nearly one-half of the participants later went on to serve as BMFAC judges.  Like BMFAC, the exhibition had a heavy touring rotation in Spain.  Like BMFAC, it was produced by the same two co-directors.

In other words, this non-juried, by invitation only, vanity project eventually evolved into BMFAC.

Why?  Because, like self-publishing, self-produced art exhibitions of yourself and your friends tend to be less respected and even frowned upon in most professional circles.  After all, it’s not an objective peer review guiding the content of the exhibition; it’s subjective self-financing.  You pay and you pick — and thus you can become both artist and curator simultaneously.

What suffers in such arrangements, though, is that artistic standards become irrelevant.  Who among us really believes that the best artists are inherently those who are the most willing to pay to promote themselves?

But there was one way to bring instant respectability to this pay-for-view venture.  Concoct a scheme to turn it into an "international fractal art contest."  Set up yourself and your friends as the panel of judges.  Rig the submission requirements to favor a particular scalable fractal software program favorable to your work and that of your friends.  And, best of all, include the work of "panel members" (that’s you and yours, of course) in the "contest" exhibition in a manner that makes your self-selected, unjuried work indistinguishable from the work of the competition’s winners.

Presto.  Suddenly your vanity project has instant professional integrity.

Except, of course, that it does not.  The cheap theatrics should fool no one.  It did not fool us.  We called out BMFAC for what it was.  A craven, self-evident, publicity stunt.

Recently, we’ve written several posts trying to figure out why there was virtually no publicity for BMFAC’s showcase exhibition in India last summer.  Earlier BMFAC exhibitions featured press reports and photo layouts.  I remember one picture in particular featuring a co-director and his grandfathered-in panel-selected art situated in a smiling photo with the late Benoit Mandelbrot.  So, what was different this last go around?

I can only think of one thing.  The directors and their judges elected not to include their own work in the last exhibition.

Do you see the connection to the lack of publicity now?  As long as the exhibition furthered their own reputations and pushed their own careers, open the curtain and turn on the lights.  But once the self-promoters exit the stage, close the curtain and fade to black.

And, so, only the BMFAC contest winners (supposedly) received PR packets about the India exhibition.  I hope the competition’s winners, both past and present, feel the prestige of being recognized by BMFAC offsets that lingering, nagging back pain…

…the back pain from being forced to give the contest’s organizers and judges all those piggyback rides.


Speaking of the BMFAC India exhibition, I’ll remind our readers once again that the whole enterprise still falls under the definition of an alleged art show.  To date, nothing concrete has surfaced on the Internet to demonstrate the show actually occurred.

Yes, several winners came forth and chided us for being so absurd to insist on what Othello once called "the ocular proof."  One winner even admitted having photographs that he’d be willing to share — assuming we signed some kind of pre-nuptial agreement or something.  Of course, he could have just as easily posted them to any one of his multiple web sites — but, to date, has not done so.

Why one would almost think revealing the photos would lead to some kind of shocking revelation.  It’s safer, then, to dole them out in hush-hush tones to the winners only and blame the whole PR vacuum on a "press blackout" by Indian authorities. 

What new wrinkle can’t be revealed to the rest of us?  There were plenty of photos from the ICM conference.  And those fractal prints were BIG, remember.  They had to be printed huge to reveal plenty of "fractal detail."  Yet, each print remains hidden from cyberspace.  The show turns up nowhere on any search of the ICM site.  It wasn’t in the main exhibition hall.  Was it tucked away somewhere in a dark back hallway?  Was space at a premium, so the whole exhibition had to be reprinted at a much smaller size? That would lend truth to the claim that the size restrictions were indeed designed solely for the expressed purpose of promoting Ultra Fractal…as if having the software’s author as a judge wasn’t enough of an unfair advantage already.

I guess we’ll never know the answers to these and other questions until one of the inner circle of winners decides to make photos of the exhibition public.  After all, apparently, the winners are the only people on earth who’ve been given such materials.

I suppose the contest director and maybe a few judges have some photos, too.  But I don’t think we can count on them for any shared publicity — especially now that there’s nothing in such a gesture for them. As far as they’re concerned, the show closed the moment the whole production stopped centering on their stealing every scene.