Procedurally generated landscape experiences inspired by your personal thoughts
Welcome to Inside and Out: Exploring Self-Reflective Landscapes, the spring iteration of my senior thesis project for the Scripps Art major. My name is Julia Read, and I am a senior at Harvey Mudd College who is double majoring in Computer Science and Art. I really enjoy working at the intersection of art and technology, and this year my passion for computer graphics has drawn me towards procedurally generated landscapes.
Procedural generation is a technique that is prominent in both the computer science world and the art world. In the tech world, procedural generation is a method of creating data that takes advantage of processing power and computer-generated randomness in order to function algorithmically instead of manually, typically combining human input and algorithms. In art, this methodology can be seamlessly related. Take Generative Art for example. In this genre of art, works are created through the use of an autonomous system. In the generative work of Charles Gaines, Gaines produces the manifestation of a practice as opposed to creating an expression. He utilizes calculations rather than intuition to employ himself as a system to fill out a grid, claiming that systems can go where the imagination cannot. In a similar way, artist Sol LeWitt creates conceptual pieces that are given to assistants to execute, often including room for interpretation in an aspect of vagueness that allows for some unexpected outcomes in the physical manifestation of the piece. Both this randomness and the greater visibility obtained by using a system are present in the procedural generation process.
Last semester, I pursued creating a VR-viewable, procedurally generated landscape that was representative of my own multicultural identity. I distilled key aspects of Vietnamese and British landscape art, and integrated them algorithmically into a single cohesive landscape. These disparate elements function together in one body the same way that my parents’ genetics, cultures, and dispositions have been both randomly and systematically programmed to create me.
This semester, I pursued new content that is displayed in this same form, virtual landscape that is unique to the individual. I was interested in making my work participatory and dipping into concepts of Relational Aesthetics. When the COVID-19 situation began growing out of hand and the world fell to chaos, I was coincidentally and unfortunately provided with content that I knew I had to pursue. I became interested in generating procedural landscapes that were infused with people’s reactions to the current social context. Five pillars rule the positive self-reflection experience that I wanted to guide: Impermanence, Connection, Empowerment, Acceptance, and Gratitude. Currently, the procedurally generated virtual landscapes are produced by randomized functions that are seeded with the responses obtained from prompting questions. I am exploring the option of using natural language processing libraries in order to correlate responses more strongly with visual results.
A key aspect of my work is that it is viewable online through virtual reality technology (particularly affordable technology at that, if you use VR cardboard as I did in the fall). Last semester, I pursued online virtual reality art because I felt strongly about the way it democratizes the dissemination of information and artistic experience in addition to obstructing the commodification of art. This spring, this viewing context is given even more weight because of our current social context. Mandatory social distancing is closing down museums, opening up virtual galleries, and driving art further towards a more digital norm. Now, more than ever, this project is a critique on the way we experience art as well as on accessibility within the art world. I sincerely hope that this shift in the art world also shifts the power dynamic within it, too.
Finally, just before we dive into the piece itself, we arrive at the title of my work. Not only is this a mental exploration of the theoretical and technical capabilities of this work, but it is also an exploration that hopefully allows you, the participant, to explore a wildly new environment during a time of forced quarantine. Additionally, "Inside and Out" has several intentions behind it that I hope you are able to appreciate. Firstly, this piece is one that is probably viewed while inside, even though it depicts an outside environment. This also brings into question the standardized, indoor, white cube viewing norm of art today. In addition, the self-reflective exercise is one that questions both our internal thoughts and our external actions. Finally, the definition behind the phrase “inside and out” is “thoroughly”, and I hope that this piece is thoroughly meaningful.
The following images are a few examples of landscapes that have been created during this process. It's quite exciting to see how unique and different they each are — you never know what you're about to experience!
Here is your opportunity to take part in this project! Below are the five pillars of the reflection experience. Each one contains a vital part of how we are choosing to react to the current situation. Underneath each written description, you have the opportunity to respond to the reflection questions. No data is being stored by this website; the information is only being processed in order to create a unique landscape. When you are finished, the button at the bottom will take you to the landscape you have had a hand in creating. To rotate your view on a computer, click and drag with the mouse. On a mobile device, simply physically rotate the device. If you have virtual reality technology (including a Cardboard alongside a mobile device), the landscape is VR-viewable.