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The Algorithmic Impulse: Witness Simon Ingram’s machine make a painting based on brainwaves

Simon Ingram Monadic Device 2018; Sydney Contemporary, 2018. Photo: Jacquie Manning

The Algorithmic Impulse: Witness Simon Ingram’s machine make a painting based on brainwaves

From 21 November, the work of Auckland artist Simon Ingram can be viewed in an exhibition at City Gallery Wellington Te Whare Toi.

The Algorithmic Impulse: Witness Simon Ingram’s machine make a painting based on brainwaves

The Algorithmic Impulse is set to survey Ingram’s work since 1996, unveil new pieces, and demonstrate his painting machine in action. The show will even see the creation of new works – people will have the opportunity to make new paintings using  Monadic Device, where participants wear an EEG headset and Ingram’s robot paints in response to electrical activity in the brain.

On the show’s opening weekend, Ingram will don the EEG headset to create new paintings using  Monadic Device, and works will accumulate over the course of the exhibition as others have the chance to wear the headset.

We spoke to Ingram about how he came to paint using a machine and what we can expect from the exhibition. You can learn more about Ingram’s show in the December issue of MiNDFOOD.

How long have you been making paintings by mechanical and electronic means, and what made you want to start painting this way?

In 2004, though the idea is there in ‘Spirit Level Painting’ (1995), a yellow monochrome with a spirit level. Since art school painting is a domain of experimentation for me. The way painting reflects the context in which it’s made, in the way it’s made, in what it connects to, how traces of the body and hand show themselves, make it a special kind of knowledge, abstract and embodied at the same time. What happens when painting-based gesture is there, rendered in thick and/or thin oil paint with hog hair brush, but the body and hand are completely absent? 

What is the usual process for creating your machines and developing the software?

It’s a painting-based Ship of Theseus – one device, all components replaced. Initially, Lego robotics were grafted onto laser cut plastics and aluminium. This was then exchanged, with the help of Kamahi Electronics, for milled aluminium components and specialist electronics. With Robert Spite, I upgraded the electronics and motors driving the brush, now the machine is faster. Software developed with Will Smart, a T square fractal and a Random Walk, is traded for code that with custom-built antennae, captures electromagnetic energy as painting. Working with the Department of Computer Science at The University of Auckland, I developed software to interpret bitmap images into an array of lines based on the Cossard stenographic alphabet. Next, John-Paul Pochin and I returned the machine to the expressive mode of the Random Walks, but as an outcome of the electrical activity of a user’s brain.

Simon Ingram Stonewall Alp Cliff 2020

How would you describe what visitors can expect from The Algorithmic Impulse at City Gallery Wellington?

The exhibition shows work that leads to and follows from Monadic Device, an open cube framework with the machine, a computer and an EEG headset interpreting electrical activity in a user’s brain as painting.

The exhibition overview says you will be unveiling Terrestrial Assemblages’ ‘environmental models’ – what are these and what is Terrestrial Assemblages?

These will be in the third room and under the auspices of Terrestrial Assemblages. This is an art-science group I’ve started to create awareness of and sensitivity to natural systems. Thinking about John Conway’s Game of Life, after conversations with Gwen Grelet of Manaaki Whenua and Shane Ward of Action Ecology, John-Paul Pochin and I have developed a series of computer models employing regenerative agriculture approaches in a rule-based ecosystem. These show, in a gamified form, the plant root mycorrhizal fungi exchange of liquid carbon for minerals. Alongside these models is a clear acrylic cube containing a custom hyperspectral camera developed with Robert Spite observing light outside the visible spectrum to observe organic material over the duration of the exhibition as it decays.

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