Bugs Draw For Me
Harvey Moon is an emerging new media artist out of Chicago. His work explores generative procedures and the extension of one’s creative potential beyond their own means. Moon pushes this potential conceptually and physically with different iterations of his Drawing Machine. In these series of works, Moon collaborates with a machine he created to explore aesthetic outputs possible in a human-computer partnership. The machine uses a system of motors, servos, and micro controllers to control the movement of a fixed pen. The visual output created by the pen on paper is dictated by a computer algorithm Moon predetermines. While the algorithm is fixed, the output is usually generative in nature allowing for a randomness in the procedure. Over time, the design of the machine has become increasingly more sophisticated, allowing for a feedback loop similar to that of any other art practice:
“I have been building and working with different types of drawing machines for almost 10 years. The exploration is analogous to how I learned to draw with my own hand. It was a slow process, many different sketchbooks and types of drawings. The process of learning what to draw and what you like to draw changes over time. I never set out knowing exactly what the machine was going to do. Instead, I tried a lot of things, I learned what I liked and didn't and modified the code. I found this feedback loop no different than any other art practice. I like to say that the projects I do with robotics are a "collaboration" because it is always evolving.” (Email Interview, 2016Harvey Moon)
Through this process, Moon has explored a number of generative methods to guide the actions of the Drawing Machine. One such piece, Bugs Draw For Me, included a second collaborator, a cricket. Using sensory data and an algorithm to guide the machine, the cricket’s movements were tracked and transcribed onto paper by the Drawing Machine. By setting up the parameters for the work, Moon assumes the role of the producer allowing for the artistic input to be left entirely up to the bug.
The idea of questioning agency and relinquishing creative control is central to the conceptual ideas presented in Bugs Draw For Me:
“Of course the final work is not about the drawing, but how a bug can have the ability to make a drawing using a system I built. It was about releasing control of the drawing to something with no concern about my aesthetic choices. A relinquishment of my control over the machine and the final drawing.” ( Email Interview, 2016 Harvey Moon)
For Moon, the Drawing Machine becomes a vehicle or tool to execute his conceptual ideas. While the machine extends his (or a bugs!) physical ability to draw, it also affords him the ability to conceptually divorce himself from his own aesthetic biases and play with notions of agency. In this instance, Moon effectively separates the artwork from the idea, and the final product, or drawing, becomes less important then the process.
Moon’s work can be seen in direct conversation with the work and art of Sol Lewitt. In his Wall Drawings series, Lewitt enlists the help of others to execute his artistic and conceptual vision. Lewitt’s speculation that “the Idea becomes the Machine that Makes the Art” is a major inspiration for Moon and a founding principal of conceptual art. By merely outlining instructions, Lewitt, like Moon, is playing with the concept of agency and the ability to create art beyond one’s own means. In both instances, the artist is not physically enacting the output. However this is not central to the concept of the work. Rather the idea in the absence of their physical hand and the resulting process that produces the final product becomes the important artistic contribution. Moon explores these conceptual ideas using a robot and programming languages rather than people and hand written instructions.
Another example of generative work Moon creates using the Drawing Machine is his Impossible Map project. While the project may again be read as an exploration of the extension of one’s physical means, it differs conceptually and in the way it utilizes technology:
“I liked the topographic aesthetic that emerged from some of my drawing algorithms and wanted to explore this with an intentional map. I started learning about digital maps like google maps and realized they are stored in a database of tiles and positions. Thinking of them, I was interested in how a computer mind would misunderstand this database and accidentally generate false landscapes. I build a software algorithm that shuffled up google images and re-represented them in a new map. This was an impossible space built with real images. I started turning these impossible maps into drawings declaring new borders of yet undiscovered virtual worlds.” ( Email Interview, 2016Harvey Moon)
Moon broadens the conceptual possibilities of the Drawing Machine with this new algorithm. In both pieces, Moon uses this sophisticated tool to conceptualize and execute his ideas. In Impossible Map he not only relinquishes agency through this randomized selection process but works with the computer’s logic to develop an idea for the visual output. Using the drawing machine and computer software, Moon is able to render an otherwise impossible virtual landscape and give the viewer a glimpse into the thought process of a visual database such as Google Maps. Both pieces represent an important applications of an emerging tool. Autonomous robots have increasingly become ubiquitous, and we need artists such as Harvey Moon to critically and artistically engage with the medium.