A Scheme Not Of This World

A Scheme Not Of This World is the first collection of generative artworks created by Alex Russell’s ApeiroPattern system. The visual inspiration for the collection comes in part from maps and aerial photography: the abstract patterns within cartography or landscapes. Alex really likes maps.

The code takes simple, hand-made rectangles, stripes and textures, and assembles them into complex 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. One of the main features of the ApeiroPattern project is creating 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. Every time the code runs, they will be different.

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

The ideas behind the code

The code works in two stages, genotype and phenotype. These terms come from biology. Genotype is the data with an organism’s DNA that determines its visual characteristics (the code for hair colour, for example). Phenotype is the physical manifestation of the genotype (in this case, what colour the organism’s hair actually is).

In the (first) genotype stage, the programme produces numeric data that corresponds to the composition and content of the output. In the (second) phenotype stage, the code uses the genotype data to build the output. The data tells the programme which image to open from the library, how to digitally manipulate it and where to pasting it into the artwork.

The output works with the library of images using a grid system. The grid is a series of cells, which are in turn divided into sub-cells. 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 the sub-cells. This draws on the concept of armatures, used by artists to structure the elements within a composition. Overarching both cells and sub-cells are rules that echo the use of the grid by graphic designers.

The library and the titles

The library is a series of digital images. In A Scheme Not Of This World, Alex made all the original images by hand, using a combination of collage and painting techniques. He then scanned and digitally edited everything to make the library. The images can be categorised into two types. 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 titles for the code blocks come from the phrase “scheme of things” in David Bowie’s song Word On A Wing, and “a world not of this world”, 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 initially available as a series of archive-quality prints on paper. Head over to the shop to see them.

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.