A Scheme Not Of This World

A Scheme Not Of This World art prints are the first collection of generative artworks created by Alex Russell. They explore the concept of abstract map-making, of trying to visualise an imaginary topography. The code simulates textile/graphic design and fine art methods of arranging content within an image, creating complexity from very simple elements.

A library of hand-made rectangles, stripes and textures are assembled into the final images. There are parallels with the idea of musical variations. In particular, Alex takes the notion of playing with a theme to create outputs that share some qualities, yet each have their own unique identity. The creative process he uses is an iterative system, experimenting with ideas, then testing them to see which are the best to feed back into the next step.

In common with all of Alex’s generative work, the code uses a series of rules (algorithms) to produce the artworks. He creates networks of algorithms that influence each other’s relative behaviour. The rules govern the characteristics of each element in the image, looking for a balance between the extremes of chaos and order. Typically, this means establishing boundaries within which a degree of randomness can occur. Where these boundaries lie for any element is dependent on the other content and composition within the image. Each run of the code creates a unique output.

Sketchbook and SchemeOfThings development of A Scheme Not Of This World by Alex Russell
A Scheme Not Of This World sketchbook and SchemeOfThings development
A World Not Of This World development and very early A Scheme Not Of This World prototype by Alex Russell
A World Not Of This World development and early prototype

Developing the code

The code works with the library of scanned images, arranging them using a grid system, further divided into a series of cells. This layout allows the development of algorithms to draw on the concept of cellular automata. The coding is done in ExtendScript, an extension of JavaScript that operates within Adobe software (in this case Photoshop).

There are two main blocks of code. The first controls how the content will be composed on a larger scale within the cells. This code, SchemeOfThings, has rules that model methods used by printed textile designers to arrange motifs in patterns. The second block, AWorldNotOfThisWorld, governs the arrangement of imagery on a smaller scale, within a further division of sub-cells. This draws on the concept of armatures, used by artists to structure the elements within a composition. Overarching all the cells are rules that echo the use of the grid by graphic designers.

Building the artworks

The code works with the library to build a new one-off artwork with every run. The images in the library are catagorised in two different ways. The first set are the images that become the visual content within the final artwork. The second set alter the first set, changing the shape or look of the original. These alterations knit the content together, performing overarching changes to unify the style. The result is a print that looks as if it’s a hand-made collage of hundreds of painted and plain pieces of tissue paper. This questions the point at which the hand-made becomes digital.

Naming the collection

The title for the first code blocks outlined above comes from the phrase “scheme of things”, a line in David Bowie’s song ‘Word On A Wing‘ (from the album’Station To Station’). The title for the second, “a world not of this world”, is the final words of Wisława Szymborska’s poem ‘Map‘ (translated by Clare Cavanagh). The title for the collection is a combination of the two.

Buying or commissioning

A Scheme Not Of This World is available as a series of archive-quality prints on paper. Browse and buy here.
If you’re interested in commissioning A Scheme Not Of This World at a different size or on another surface/substrate, please get in touch.

A Scheme Not Of This World prototypes by Alex Russell
A Scheme Not Of This World process: two prototypes
A Scheme Not Of This World 201017 001 PSV

The Creative Code Festival

As part of the development process, Alex created a series of video art pieces. This work extended A Scheme Not Of This World into moving image format, using Processing in addition to ExtendScript. These are available to view on Alex’s YouTube page.

One of these, A Scheme Not Of This World 201017 001 PSV, was exhibited at the Creative Code festival at LightBox gallery in New York in November 2020. The music accompanying the Creative Code work is also generative. Alex wrote and produced it especially for the piece.