part of +GRAPH exhibition on FeralFile, curated by Case Reas
Custom software (color, silent)
Paper: Fedrigoni Old Mill 300gr
Pen: Fine Liner 0.1 faber-castell
Color: Mix of KOH-I-NOOR dry pastels applied over adhesive stencil cut on cutter
While starting “The Space in Between,” Aleksandra Jovanić thought about a statement by the artist John Baldessari: “when you’re looking at two things, don’t look at them, look between them… The space between two things, that’s very important.” For this artwork, the space between is vibrant and full of life, while the space on the outside frames this central area of activation. The positive and negative spaces are essential to placing the work in an urban corridor, and making a reference to life emerging through cracks in the concrete. The active area is a block of hand-painted gradient color and an undulating cluster of plant-like organisms. To create these drawings, Aleksandra first draws the black line with a plotter, then she cuts a custom mask to keep the rest of the paper clean while she uses dry pastels to create a custom gradient for each drawing in the series.
“The Space in Between” is a generative art NFT, but the first collector of each in the series will receive the corresponding plotter drawing created in the artist’s studio. Each software NFT includes millions of other images beyond the primary image for each in the series. The software NFT and the plotter drawing aren’t linked together; the NFT can continue to be collected on a secondary market without the drawing.
The image you see on the main artwork page on Feral File is the plotter drawing for #1/30. Compare this image of the drawing to the corresponding software version to see how the software image and the plotted drawing are similar and how they diverge. Because the artists are using a range of papers and inks, the software and physical drawings are delightfully different.
It’s been two years since the opening of –GRAPH, an iconic exhibition held during Feral File’s first year. Today that early exhibition has evolved into a new one called +GRAPH, which, like its predecessor, explores the deep historical connection between coding and drawing and brings together artists who engage with both. Each artist in +GRAPH created generative software that is capable of making limitless new drawings, and has selected 30 of these variations to render as physical works. Five artists from the original exhibition — Iskra Velitchkova, Licia He, Aleksandra Jovanić, Julien Gachadoat, and James Merrill — are back for +GRAPH, and we’re thrilled to welcome the addition of Joanie Lemercier this time around.
These six artists all share a love of working with visual systems and writing code, and transforming how the code is rendered through drawing machines. For +GRAPH, each of them has created one software artwork that creates 30 unique physical drawings. Every drawing in this exhibition is a 1/1 artwork, meaning only one will ever be created. Along with each of these unique drawings, there are millions of other compositions that are embedded in the original code.
The work in +GRAPH makes a strong reference to the history of generative art. Today, we most often experience generative art on screens and projectors of all sizes. If the work is transformed into a “physical,” it’s usually as a digital print, and most often an inkjet print (a.k.a archival pigment print.) Sixty years ago, when generative art created with code was first evolving, it was all very different. Color screens and printing weren’t options. The majority of work from this time was created and experienced as physical drawings produced with a machine called a “plotter.” A plotter is a physical drawing machine that holds a pen or other drawing tool and physically moves it across a sheet of paper. Over the years, plotters evolved from massive room-sized machines to objects that are small enough and accessible enough for artists to bring them into their studios. All of the plotter drawings created for +GRAPH are produced with great care by the artists in their own studios.
Because they have been made with plotter machines, the drawings created for +GRAPH are a very different kind of physical artifact from a digital print. A plotter drawing can use a wide range of different paints, inks, and drawing tools. A plotter machine can draw onto a larger range of papers than a digital print. The artists in +GRAPH are pushing these differences as far as they can. They are using papers of all textures and pigmentation. They have tested and are using specialized inks and hybrid mixtures of watercolors and acrylic paint. Licia He, for example, is using sixteen separate colors for each drawing. Her custom software moves a brush from the paint and dips it in, then moves the brush to the paper to make a mark, and back to saturate the brush with color again. Each drawing takes about 20 hours to render; they are precious physical objects. Licia has been developing these tools for years and is pushing them to new levels for +GRAPH. Every artist in this exhibition has similarly pushed into new territory.
The artists in +GRAPH share a commitment for code, drawing, and materials, but each approaches it in a singular way. Licia is creating a mood and emotion through compositions of color and form. Aleksandra is reacting to her lived experience in Belgrade, to the feeling of moving in the city. James is deep into simulation and exploring that through deconstructing geometry. Joanie is focusing on climate science and the changes to his environment through rendering fragments of clouds. Julien is engaging with ideas of artificial life and rendering the traces of unfolding simulated ecologies. Iskra works with minimal geometry through laying and transparency to construct images that lead toward introspection.
Since –GRAPH in 2021, I’ve seen these artists form even stronger connections with each other. They have shared work-in-progress with each other over the last months and have supported each other with great generosity. It has been a unique and special experience to engage with them and to see the work evolve. As I’ve gotten to know them over the last few years, I see these artists so clearly in their work. I hope you will get to know them as well, through the incredible new work they’ve created for +GRAPH.
— Casey Reas, November 2023