Zach Lieberman | Poetic computation



the first thing that I want to do is an exercise so I want you stand up and I want you to put your right hand up in the air and then I want you to put it on the shoulder of somebody that you don't know and and now I want you to put your left hand in the air and I want you to put in on the shoulder of somebody else that you don't know and very quickly introduce yourself so you've made some new friends and I I love events like this just because I feel like the energy is in should be in the center of the room and there's people on stage but it's actually all of the things that you're thinking about and working on and you know I just get excited for this moment I want you all to meet each other I'm gonna introduce myself I used to look like this I studied Fine Arts I studied painting and printmaking and I didn't use computers at all I spent all of my time in the print making studio doing wood cuts doing etchings and I had to get a I had to get a job and at that time at that time everybody was talking about Web Design it was web 1.0 y2k and all my friends were talking about Web Design and so I bluffed my way into a job and what happened was that the economy crashed we had all this free time at the job and I discovered at that moment flash and ActionScript and in particular this idea that you could write a line of code to make something move and I had always loved animation and I never knew how to do it and for me that was the real magical moment of being able to write something and see something move I do media arts and I'm not going to talk too much about the projects I've been doing for about 15 years but for example this is a project I worked on called eyewriter we worked with a paralyzed graffiti writer he's completely paralyzed he has ALS we built a low-cost open-source open hardware eye tracking device to allow him to draw graffiti again I do things like this is a project I did with Toyota that has a smart car and we attached coloured dots to it we hired a stunt driver to drive letters of the alphabet and we made a font completely out of driving I do outdoor installations using the body projection weird stuff this is my friend dato we're hanging out working on this project in a hotel lobby in Belgrade and must be like 2:00 a.m. and we looked really crazy so I just wanted this morning I got this message from my wife and partner I love this message so much so this is why I love my wife so I'm gonna do something that I've never done on stage before so please I hope it goes well which is I want to show you code I want to show you the thing that I care about that I use on a daily basis then I'm going to show you a bunch of sketches until this clock runs out but let's open up coat the okay but I love this man sort of put a fire under me okay so I have an app I'm going to show you how I work I'm gonna make the font kind of big grandpa great grandpa okay alright alright so um we have a we have an app I'm gonna draw a circle my hands are shaking so okay 500 500 and a radius of 50 and this is like the magic right I write some text and I tell the computer what to do and it's gonna be pretty boring at first I'm just drawing a circle so I press play it compiles it and there we go magic of code right tell the computer what to do nothing really exciting happening yet but the nice thing is that we can tell the computer to do a lot of something so I'm going to write a for loop hope I do this right let's do 50 plus I okay so now I'm telling the computer to instead of to draw one circle turns the computer to draw 900 circles computer is quite good at it so I've just made a line out of circles now I'm gonna mess with it and I love kind of just introducing math so I'm gonna say float time get the time and so 100 times sine of I times time so I love using time I love using sine and now I'm going to make this thing look like a sine wave okay so now it's animating right it's kind of drawn 900 circles now I'm moving them around now I'm going to animate the sign x plus time wow I did not consider how my hands would be shaking when I was practicing I was like it was like flying no it was like can't type so now I'm animating the radius right I'm adjusting the radius over time now let's add color 127 plus 127 times sign and I don't a lot of times I don't know what I'm gonna get I just start plugging stuff in and and some of the magic is just kind of playing with math let's do this let's make let's make red green and blue a little bit different and what I love is just this this moment of taking text right telling giving the computer text and changing numbers changing the equation and seeing what happens and then trying to talk to you about what I do I just wanted to show you what I do so that was in response to my wife all right okay so school apart so the school for Porter computation is a school that I helped co-found with a group of friends five almost five years ago and we're this alternative school so four I taught for almost a decade at Parsons I have experience kind of teaching in in this kind of university world and a bunch of my friends got and I got sick of that I'm sick of working in the university and we decided to start our own school an experimental school based on poetry and code and we love the idea of poetry because there's a way to describe what we do as creative coding and I just for me it feels more magical to say that you're a poet then you're a coder and I also love in the technology world there's this concept of demo but you can flip the words demo and very easily turn it into a poem and I just think that's we just want to be creating poems the other thing about poetry is poetry is always in the back of the bookstore so you have to go you enter the bookstore you have to go all the way to the back and then there's this tiny section that's focused on poetry and nobody's getting rich writing poems but these are really beautiful expressions of what it means to be human and what it means to be alive and that's what we want to celebrate in the school so we're based in though in New York in the West Village and we do this 10-week program where people come to learn about electronics to learn about code and theory and in the school I teach a class which I really love which is called recreating the past and it's inspired I love this but there's this book I found the art of computer designing I'm gonna I good to see my dirty desktop I found this book which I love from Japan this is from the 90s and I just first thought of all I got into this book because of the imagery so I'm they're like let's go through it really quick and it's all about how you can use the computer to do like crazy graphic design these like beautiful visuals and I just love like 80s and 90s kind of graphic design language and there's this section right at the end this afterward and there's there's one sentence I think so beautiful and he's basically thanking he said I'd like to acknowledge my favorites the Russian on the guard futurism Bauhaus his brilliant typefaces and designs have shaped my own mind if the artist of those movements were alive now to work with computers I'm certain they would discover new artistic possibilities the work of past ages accumulates and is remade again and I love this sentence the work of past ages accumulates and is remade again and I invite my students to study the past we look at different artists every week and then we recreate their work so in this class we focus on a different artists or designer last week I talked about Miura Cooper who's an AIGA medallist and she helped start the MIT Media Lab and she was also in charge of the design department at the MIT press and and her work is so beautiful because it's really this intersection of code and graphic design and I was thinking a lot about her work as I was coming here to AIGA and so we talked about these different artists and the students learn their work and then they recreate their work as homework so they have to take one piece or the artist very Molnar who's a hungarian artist who in in the 70s and 80s in france who was writing code to control a pen plotter and making drawings with software and so students look at her work and you know basically reverse-engineer it try to figure out how it works and try to recreate it all so John Maeda who's here at this conference we look at the more asawa posters and the students have an assignment where they have to recreate one of these and we were invited to show the work of the school at a festival and so I suggested this idea of showing the code and the visual side by side and we went to this festival all of our gear said poetic on it and we set up this basically this installation where the students took apart the work of these artists and recreated them and we showed the code and visuals next to each other I'll show you just a quick video and one thing I'm gonna point I'll point out a couple of things which is we wish the way we could we created it you would see like on the right side where the code was if one of those numbers changed you would see a corresponding change in the visual so the idea is to give you a sense of what code feels like and people thought we were actually like typing it live so the witch would have been amazing that would have been so impressive and I just got so inspired I guess I get really get a lot of energy working with students I'm going to talk about how that energy translates into my own work so there was one of the students in the program Yuki Yoshida and he created this final project where he tried to study all of the ways that you could tell a computer to draw a circle and there's a lot of ways that you can encode to a computer to draw a circle and I came up with an idea for him and I suggested it then I coded it which is really simple which is you take a rectangle and you take one random point along the line of one of the edges and one random point along the line of one of the three other edges and you connect them with a line and if that line intersects the circle you don't draw it and if it doesn't intersect the circle you draw it so that's in a way it's a kind of drawing by absence and I got so excited about this idea that I tried to try to with letters I tried the word love that didn't work very well I tried a smiley face and I got obsessed with this and I thought okay how do I get those inside spaces how do I get the lines to go in and show reveal the forms there and so I started to experiment with reflection and really trying to figure out the algorithms if you have a ray of light and a wall how could you calculate how that light would bounce and just experimenting with kind of using typography and light rays and seeing how they would work and also refraction if the light hits the wall maybe a bends and the installation that I have here in the Hall B you can actually kind of take those sketches I turn them into an interactive installation and invite you to come and play and the thing that I love about this kind of project so I'm going to kind of fast forward this is at the panorama festival the thing I love about this sort of interactive project is that it's quite physical you come with your body and you see your hands right away and and you see yourself like you you put your about your put your hands there you put objects down and you see yourself and the artwork goes from your body to your mind and then back to your body and this process of sort of body mind body I find really beautiful and captivating and by the end people aren't even using the shapes anymore they're just kind of playing or like they put their heads down and it's just really fascinating to see what people do I got inspired by the students and in the school that I teach at and I started to do daily sketching about a year and a half ago and basically I post on Instagram every day I make a small sketch and these are short animations when I started Instagram that you do 15 seconds now you can do a minute and I would just post these short animations of just anything that I'm thinking about and I try to explain what what my motivation is and I'll show you some examples of this a couple of things that motivate me I love this rules for students by sister Corita Kent that John Cage popularized and there's a bunch of rules for students my favorite is rule 7 the only rule is work and just the idea of kind of just working all the time and then documenting all the time so I saw this guy on the train and he has a phone and a camera and the snapchat glasses and so he's got like three cameras and I thought that's that's what I want to be as an artist I just want to create stuff and I want to document everything and post everything I know I have another rule which is a bi which is inspired by this they always BBC closing always be closing and for me a be eyes always be iterating always iterate and what I do is I don't try to make a new thing every day I iterate I just take the same sketch and I rework it and I try to just change it enough that it feels like something new and it for me this iterating feels like a really important part of my practice I love this this is like one of my favorite images to describe what I do this is a kid who had to write I will I will make better choices and you can see it at the start he's writing like like a troops letter individually and by the end it's like oh like the stem of the bees are connected and and this is this is magical because this is describing the shortcuts that you need to take if you just have to do something again and again you need to take shortcuts and those shortcuts become your style and that's something that I'm kind of fascinated with so I was doing sketches I was doing sketches with reflection and it started because my my stepdaughter who was six at the time she was having trouble sleeping and so she would ask me to stay in the room while she fell asleep and so would go read a book and then I kind of hang out I'd make a sketch and in the morning I would show it to her and I was making all of these reflection sketches at the beginning and at the star she was like oh that's amazing I'm hypnotized that's so awesome and then like a month in she was like I think you need to do color and so my my six-year-old is my art director so I woke up one day and I said okay I'm gonna do color and I started to do blobs and I got really obsessed with these like blob forms and how would they move how would they look blobs connected to blobs I put myself in the blob I don't know she didn't like that and also get I get inspired by designers and artworks around me so Lance Wyman who's also an AIGA medalist like I love this there's offsets like taking a shape and just offsetting it so I started oh sorry I started with the blob saying like how could I I gotta take this shape and then just kind of make offsets from it and permit with that or like blobs with offsets on top of blocks with offsets blob on blob action that seems really interesting I love like I don't kind of don't like 3d graphics but I like 3d graphics that look like 2d and 2d graphics that look like 3d and I think they're interesting because your brain has to work harder so your that is the I get really excited about these kind of not like optical illusions but just very flat graphics a flat graphical language and then a lot of times these sketches are responses to what I'm feeling so around New Year's I was I right after the election I was feeling this weird energy like okay it's New Years I should be happy but like this election happened I'm kind of sad and just trying to deal with the things that I'm feeling or like we went out and protested my wife and I went to JFK and we were protesting the travel ban and I just was feeling like what is this energy of pushing and so making sketches that are kind of responsive to the energy that I'm feeling or it was the anniversary of my father passing away and I made a sketch that where I was just thinking about walking and just the points you can get these datasets of a walk cycle and just what it feels like to be walking and to be alone and then a lot of times I see things like the on Instagram there are these all these great videos of people doing calligraphy where they just film their hand kind of drawing stuff and I thought about using those videos and that kind of algorithmic way a lot of times just doing stuff for for beauty sake just trying to make visual forms that excite me or interest me things like connecting half a circle with another half of circle and then extruding it out into space and then art a different artists I mentioned but like Ruth asawa as a sculptor who I really love and I love the forms that she makes out of wire and trying to kind of take that energy and and revisit it and like see what how could I take that those ideas and you know apply that to the code that I'm writing I have done I have about 1,500 sketches so I'm not going to go through them all I will say the following I have I'm going to show you one thing which is I have this one folder on my desktop it's called everyday it's about 250 gigabytes and this is this is everything every thing I make goes in here it's just kind of one place and it's quite beautiful this is not in chronological order but it's quite beautiful to have this collection that as you're making you just have this one place where you store all the ideas all the things that you go through and I found this to be really you know it's a dot it's a diary it's also yeah it's a way of understanding your creative process I'm gonna talk about one other thing that I started to do and then I'm gonna share an awesome book with you and this is kind of in also in related to those sketches that I make I started the same thing in New Year's which is doing open office hours so I make sketches every day and that's my way of saying hello to the world and I was also thinking about how can I listen to the world what is a good way to listen and I was reminded of the printmaking studio and I had this professor there who I really loved Vinny Longo and at 2 p.m. every day he would open up the office to the printmaking studio and he would take a muffin this lemon poppy seed muffin he would cut it into slices and invite the students to come in and talk to him and I just loved this idea of teachers taking students seriously just listening and he took me seriously and I was telling him about all the things I was thinking about and working on and he just listened and offered advice and and just that was a really important thing for me as a student and so about a year and a half ago I started this thing where I just kind of post online I go on Twitter I said I'm gonna have open office hours tomorrow for anybody not just my students but anybody who in the world and I do them online I do that in offline and I spend about 3 hours a week doing this and talking to people and it's really beautiful I do it on people contact me I call me on skype a lot of times they have questions about education or creative practice or technical problems that they're working on and I love it also I see people when I'm traveling it's quite nice to like I'll be doing an install like and then you know people will come and me but I find this process really amazing there it seems like I'm doing this very selfless thing but it's actually kind of selfish I if people email me I was finding that I was spending so much time talking about talking and writing emails about meeting and having coffee and it's quite nice to actually just just not talk to anybody throughout the course of the week I mean I talk to my clients I talk to my friends but to actually say like come and find me come and see me during office hours and I'm mentally prepared to listen I'm alert I'm able to talk to people and I have found this process to be really beautiful and kind of important for me in my creative practice the last thing I'm gonna do is I'm gonna read you a book by my stepdaughter River and this is an amazing book she's eight now she was six when she made this the book is called I am art I'm worried that soon she's gonna start charging me royalties when I when I read this book but sea by River the artist I am art this book is for a poetic gone and naana art art is like you feel free you feel like you can do anything and you know what to draw and if you don't you look at you you are the one and you have your own imagination and maybe in your imagination you will see lines and squares this way a long time to figure out and in those squares and lines you will see art and that art is amazing and you are – ha ha hello stop looking at me art art art art arts I am art art food is arts art anything is arts art art art art art art art art art art art art art thank you oh goodness I like that a lot so I found that a lot of times when people ask me about my work they asked me like how do you get all your ideas yeah and I always find the it's such a weird question and I feeling that you might share this because you seem to have ideas every moment into every so talk to me about do you find that easier hard is it is it more just execution of ideas rather than the idea is yeah I think there's a couple of things like one is is to be a really kind of avid collector I try to talk about this with my students in the school and I tried to model curiosity and just try to collect references and images and things that inspire you and have those kind of ready available and and that's one you know that I think that if you do that you have always have a starting point for things to think about and then yeah a lot of times is either kind of coming at it out of something that I want to see that I don't know how to make yet and try to figure it out and that drives me crazy or or or just discovery and just playing and I like really just kind of jam and meditate with code and then see what happens I like that concept of not knowing how it frustrating might not know we not do it I used to I have this saying that stealing plus lack of talent equals creativity so like the effort which the lack of talent is the least generous way to put this but basically you don't know how to make the sculpture that you admire and so in your effort to make it you're gonna come up with something completely new even if you're not trying to make something yeah yeah I'd totally agree yeah so so in all of this you have this sketches and you have these things that where you can sort of operate on your own and speak to the world on your own and you have this school okay so and that has all these great social and emotional things but still you have to run a school yeah which is different than an art practice sure so can you talk about that is like yeah so port well to back up for a second I do I find it really helpful I do three things one is educator and also I guess an administrator the artistic practice and commercial work and I have this I feel think of them almost as three legs of a stool and try to figure out they they are really balanced for me and there's a lot of things that I bring from one to the other the connections I think are really interesting in terms of the school it's it's super hard work it's really hard work when I was I was an adjunct for a long time at Parsons so what address do they just come they show up they teach the students have a problem they complain you're like oh yeah you know it's the administration's fault plane is like very personal but but it's it's a it's really amazing and actually if there's any message that I want to say is that you can you can start you can start a school you can start a community if the community doesn't exist we created this school because it didn't exist this is the school that I would have liked to have five years ago or ten years ago and and if that does that you want and your life doesn't exist you can create it um who is there if someone were to create a school what is the surfer thing the lesson that you would have them keep in mind for us it was really important to have a write down a kind of mission statement and articulate our values and I find it that just generally helpful whatever we have to write anything or kind of do communication to have to be able to articulate your values and we try to work in a very open source model so for example all of our finances are open and you think about you go to university have no idea where the money goes right I don't know where your tuition goes and we publish them on github you can see you know we try to that that is one product of the values that we articulate so what is your mission statement is the openness the main thing um yeah I don't know what it was but it was it was basically about about celebrating magical things that you can do with code electronics and theory and yeah and trying to create a space that's not a boot camp we were trying to make clear because there are a lot of these 10-week programs where you go to learn to code we're trying to make clear that this is more of a residency that this is more of an artistic experience not everybody's starting in one point and ending in one point but everybody's starting in different points we do something on the first day of school and usually a professor comes and gives you a syllabus and the first day of school we have everybody come and just take out a piece of paper and write down all of the questions that they have every question that they have and and then they do that individually for 20-30 minutes then they come as groups they collate the questions and then we come up with this master list of questions and we put them on the wall we print them out and they become it they become starting points for discussion they're coming with starting points for then some students are completionists they want to cross off they want to answer every question some questions are completely unanswerable and I but I just love like that you know we start we don't start with the answers we start with questions what kind of a student are you looking for like who comes who's just just okay we just want students who are curious and work openly those are kind of the two guys who knew how to code already you know Wow when you showed your work or the work of the students as code and result is there one you view is the art result or is the art the code or is it both is it like I was I found myself watching the code yeah yeah and and it was amazing because we had we set it up to this Film Festival we had many people just kind of watch the whole thing the whole sequence is about 40 minutes yeah it's a bit like a code Film Festival and and it yeah I think both are important and a lot of times you don't see the code right you you interact with all of these applications all the time you don't see the sort of underlying scaffolding the thing that makes it but I've I think that stuff is beautiful do you ever put the code on Instagram like rather than the sketches would you ever consider that that's a good I mean I'd like to see it yes it's pretty I mean I just found it beautiful to watch you do it honestly it's there's something about that that's really peaceful that was quick hands were shaking well it hurts but yeah yeah it's peaceful and I think it's I I think more it mmm I think the artist should be more open about their process when you actually see a lot of times you just see these final results right and so and especially a conference like this is people showing projects and it's like here's like a home run and another home run or another it's a bit like watching the highlights of a baseball game right but actually there's so much of this kind of work and slogging and strikeouts and and just seeing that process yet trying to make that process more visible I think would be really helpful that's great well thank you so much please um thanks

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