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.

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3 thoughts on “No Talk of Art at Fractal Art Conference

  1. Just to point out that Fractal Art is primarily software-based which means that development of real *new* fractal media requires new algorithms i.e. new programming techniques.
    How is this relevant to the comments ? Well basically if the technology of Art generally had never moved on from its beginnings then all art would still be scratched onto stone walls with a harder stone.
    Also the ultimate development of fractal software potentially has the ability to give the fractal artist a means to generate *any* type of image whatsoever including realism – just consider how well fractal compression can work. The ultimate fractal program would make it possible for the fractal artist to do the equivalent of fractal compression *backwards* giving the scope of any type of image being the result *with 100% control*.
    So a discussion of the future of fractal art (which is somewhat younger than cave drawings) inevitably means discussion of the associated algorithms, user interfaces and all other associated tools.

  2. brush-users discussed how to use their brushes… simple as that! consider the brush was just encountered like 30 years ago, people painting nice pictures discuss how to hold and stroke their brushes…

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