Inside and Out: Exploring Self-Reflective Landscapes

Procedurally generated landscape experiences inspired by your personal thoughts

Artist Statement

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.

Generated Landscapes

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!

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Create Your Own Landscape

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.

impermanence

One reminder that our current situation has given us is the ephemerality of existence. All things must come to an end, and we can reassure ourselves that we will not be fighting this virus or in quarantine forever. However, we ourselves are also temporary. Accepting the impermanence of life empowers us to live more fully and face our fears head on. Take a moment to think about the way you are choosing to live your life. How would you want to be remembered by those who know you? Are you making choices that are fulfilling to you?


connection

It isn't social distancing that we need, but rather social solidarity while we maintain physical distance. This distancing is not a call to self-isolate; it is a call to be considerate of the vulnerable members of our community through reducing physical interaction and therefore reducing spread of the virus. But this does not preclude us from staying in touch with the ones we love. In fact, safe social connection is one of the best things for the mental health of ourselves and those close to us. Who will you connect with or check in on today? Will you video chat with a family member? Will you text a friend?


empowerment

We have the power to lift up ourselves and others during these difficult times. Even though we are all struggling through varying degrees of difficulties, we all have the ability to see the positive and to give it our best shot anyways. One way we can do this is by taking care of our physical bodies. Have you exercised physical movement today? What positive new habits are you forming? Another aspect of this pillar is how we are responding to external parts of our lives. Have you taken care of someone else today? What beauty are you cultivating?


acceptance

Even though we know we have the power to cultivate and act upon a positive attitude, this doesn't mean that everything is okay. We are in the midst of a global pandemic — of course there will be struggle and anxiety and mourning. The challenge to ourselves is if we can accept this new "normal" and adapt to these strange circumstances. It's okay if we are not being ultra-productive with our free time. It's okay if we need to take extra time to take care of ourselves. What expectations of "normal" are you letting go of today? Are you being understanding about expectations of yourself? Of others?


gratitude

The prospect of misfortune can remind us of what we are fortunate to have. Counting our blessings can also be a way to lift our spirits during difficult times. What are a few of the things in your life that you are grateful for? Who are some of the people that you are thankful to know? When was the last time that you expressed your gratitude towards them? These people and things will hopefully remind you of some of the reasons why your life is beautiful.