suckerPUNCH: describe your project.
scott DRAVES: What is the relationship between man and machine? Is open source a sustainable way to run a creative society? Can digital creations have the subtlety we know in the natural world? These are the issues addressed by my work.
I create my art by writing software that runs an internet distributed supercomputer consisting of 450,000 computers and people. The first versions of this algorithm date from 1992. Each image is a form of artificial life, with its own genome, thousands of numbers that define how it looks and moves.
I created this collective intelligence—the Electric Sheep—in 1999 and it has been evolving and developing since. The system is based on a open source screensaver that anyone can download and run. All the computers work together to render the animations, or “sheep” (it takes an hour to render each frame, or one day of work per second or animation). All the people contribute their creativity and aesthetics, via open source, crowd source, and by voting. Sheep that gain favorable votes mate with each other and reproduce according to a genetic algorithm. Hence the flock evolves to satisfy its human audience. This popular version makes draft designs that are the basis for my fine art.
I use the screensaver as a design laboratory and factory to realize my museum-quality collectors’ edition pieces. I select sheep that
satisfy my aesthetics, redo them in high definition and slow motion, and edit and assemble them into final pieces. I pick sheep for how
they look, because of their relationship to each other or a theme, or to tell a story. The final creations are like paintings.
Sales of this fine art support the open source code and server network used to create it, making the flock self-sustaining. By applying
supercomputer power and the techniques of artificial intelligence to image synthesis I create works beyond geometry, beyond the mechanical, beyond the limitations of a single human creator, all with a fine level of detail rarely seen in digital art. I hope when you see them you will be more open to accepting the machine as part of yourself.
sP: what or who influenced this project?
sD: I always find this question difficult. There are many people who have influenced me and inspired me. Every time I make a list like this, I look at it later and think of all those I left off. How could I! So, I will mention just one here, because he doesn’t seem well known, but had a big impact on me, at a critical time in my life. That would be Gregory Bateson. There’s a book of his collected writings, “Steps to an Ecology of Mind” that I found very insightful. I read it around 1995. At that time I was struggling with the definition of information and meaning. What is life? A lot of theorists have definitions — Claude Shannon, Andrey Kolmogorov, Greg Chaitin, Erwin Schrödinger, etc. People keep trying to quantify it. Bateson said “information is a difference that makes a difference”. It was a sign
to me that information (and hence beauty) could not be quantified, or reduced to an equation. But, I was also reassured that I could trust myself to recognize it. And so I was able to continue to pursue creativity.
sP: what were you reading/listening to/watching while developing this project?
sD: Mostly just internet.
sP: whose work is currently on your radar?
sD: Flight404 and just discovered Abstract Birds and Quayola’s collaboration.
This is a team effort and I want to thank everyone who has contributed: http://community.electricsheep.org/credits
The next show is June 6th in SF: http://futurecanvas.net/