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.

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11 thoughts on “The Roots of BMFAC

  1. Actually, all you had to do was download the pamphlet to see where the exhibition was being held. One piece of ‘ocular proof’ that was always on the website.

    All you had to do was email an organizer to confirm that it was occuring. More proof available to you that, by choice, you did not garner.

    All you had to do was email me back and you would have received even more proof. But that wasn’t good enough for you either.

    Yep.. a string of articles with little to no comments… Time to whip out a BMFAC article!

  2. Chris,

    I wrote the organizers and heard nothing. I am unaware of any “pamphlet,” nor would it necessarily be proof that the BMFAC show in India actually occurred.

    Only BMFAC winners (like you)got PR stuff. And it was you who crowed on this blog that you had photos and would be oh-so-willing to share them. Why are you stalling and playing games with email runaround excuses? Are my suppositions true that the exhibition was parked in a hallway and the prints were shrunk down in size?

    I suggest you either put up your “proof” on one your multiple web sites and place a link to it in this thread — or stop wasting everyone’s time.

  3. ‘or stop wasting everyone’s time”

    A pretty funny supposition aimed at the only guy who seems to want to give you what you are asking for.

    All I wanted was an email back. I keep record of the things I do. How is waiting for an email response stalling exactly?

    But let’s cut to the chase here. The only reason you want me to post them elsewhere, is not for personal proof, but so that you can use those resources here, to your advantage. Sent by email you don’t have the permissions to do so, and that is what you are truly after. Stop acting noble as though you have everyone elses’ best interest in mind, when it is quite apparently the opposite.

  4. Chris,

    I’m going to explain this in terms even you can understand.

    The photos will have more credibility if you post them yourself. If Orbit Trap receives them via email and posts them, then our detractors (that would be people like you) will probably claim we digitally altered them for our own purposes. Make sense?

    [Aside to OT readers]: I hate it when I have to do our trolls’ homework for them.

    It’s clear from your last message that you never had any intention of making the photos public. Your continuing histrionics only serve to strengthen the impression that the exhibition photographs were not widely released because they show something the contest organizers did not want the general public to know.


    just because I’ve really had it with your attempts at manipulating the reason why he’s not sending you the photos… you can manipulate these instead to your liking. you keep bringing this up time and time again and hopefully this can provide some sort of resolution for you so that you can go back to sharing fractal art instead of trying to attract conflict via manipulation. If comments are what you’re looking for, tell me and I swear I’ll write a comment to each and every post you put up from now on so that you don’t have to resort to this again.

    ps. these two are not the only images, but the ones I haven’t uploaded don’t contain information that these don’t and I am not to spend more of my time for this.


  6. and to be clear, when I say “manipulate these instead” I don’t mean the photos themselves but the reason why they’re in the hallway and not in a separate room into something other than space availability and the limitations of the building itself (perhaps because the extreme file sizes they asked for was simply to weed out non-UF? that the organizers just couldn’t care less? I don’t know, get creative..)

  7. Esin,

    Thank you for your online posting of several photographs of the BMFAC exhibition in India. It only took six months for someone other than the contest’s winners to get a glimpse of it.

    I believe a blog about fractal art has a greater responsibility than just sharing images. Examining the only international fractal art competition should fall under such a blog’s purview. If my opinions “attract conflict,” I suspect any antagonism is coming more directly from you and from others who are miffed over the views that are being expressed.

    I consider someone who would judge the worth of a creative expression (like an art object or a blog post) by the number of comments it receives to be a shallow person. If racking up comments were my objective, I’d be hanging out with you and Chris and others in the virtual high school cafeteria called Fractalbook — where assessing value to a posted image is apparently determined by the sum of its page views and the length of its praise threads.

    Your photographs show that my speculations about hallways and reduced print sizes are true. I will have more to say about breaking developments in an upcoming post.

  8. On the contrary, I value your posts featuring art and speculating about what fractal art is much more highly than these recurring posts about BMFAC that don’t bring up anything you haven’t said multiple times. The former are the reason why I still follow your blog, not the latter. As I said, the reason why I posted the images was for you to stop assuming someone has something to hide, rant about whatever you see in the photos and just be done with the whole issue so that you can go back to your regular posts. It’s good to know that you don’t judge your posts by the number of comments and that several articles that elicited a few comments and the following BMFAC article that popped up was just an unfortunate coincidence. I’d really be happier to be wrong with my initial assumption than to be right about it.

    I really shouldn’t have to explain why I share my images on deviantart – I do not share the value system that you associate with that website. I just use it out of convenience because even though I’ve been wanting to set up a website or a blog of my own to share my art for quite some time, I haven’t had the time to do it. I don’t see how me having a page on that website merits a right-off-the-bat assumption that I partake in some popularity contest there.

  9. Esin,

    No one is forcing you to read posts on this blog — especially posts that you know from the start you will find distasteful — nor is anyone compelling you to (repeatedly) comment on such posts. These are choices you are making.

    Fractalbook sites are not contemplative museums; they are designed specifically to encourage social interaction. Their overly busy layout emphasizes crunching stats and views and faves to assign value to posts. Mutual praise exchanging is near-obligatory and trumps serious critiquing by a margin of about 1,000,000 to 1. It’s good to hear you don’t “partake” of the prevailing system, but it’s hypocritical to dis my supposal after first making a “right-off-the-bat assumption” that I post on this blog strictly to “manipulate” circumstances and to amass comments.

    Better time management might be constructive. Perhaps if you unplug from Fractalbook for a spell, and cut back on your voluminous comments on this blog, you’ll likely have enough free time to build that website you’ve been wanting.

  10. The reason I comment on those posts is not that I like them, it’s because I find I have something to say about them since they’re about a contest I happen to have won and have some information about. The posts that I know I will find distasteful have a history of making assumptions about groups of people that I happen to be in and that’s another incentive for me to read them. I don’t read the blog to please you, nor do I claim that anyone is forcing me – I just enjoy your features between the BMFAC articles.

    My assumption had reasonable grounds for it from past personal experience with how you have written about BMFAC so far. Your assumption is based on the activities of a mass of deviantart users that may or may not have included me in the passing. I don’t think that’s quite the same.

    And thanks for the time management tips – I’ll consider allocating the total weekly 15 minutes of OT and dA to making a website. Should be enough.

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