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Vermaak | Entertainment > Visueel | Visual > Onderhoude | Interviews

Stefanus Rademeyer on Resonant Structures, dimensionality and generative algorithms


Kristine Kronjé - 2011-07-05

Stefanus Rademeyer recently held his first solo exhibition at Goodman Gallery Cape titled Resonant Structures. Following successful solo exhibitions, Surface Depth and Ideograph, Resonant Structures explored the relationship between the disciplines of mathematics and art. By using coding within existing computer programmes Rademeyer created a series of algorithmic drawings produced as digital prints. Also central to the exhibition was a series of large-scale light boxes displaying details of particular algorithms.

Click on the images to view larger versions

Cubic Space Lattice III,
Solid Mahogany, Mirrors, Perspex, Fluorescent Lights + Stand
Photo: Courtesy of Goodman Gallery

Resonant Structures shows a prominent relationship to your first solo exhibition, Surface Depth, in 2004. Re-emerging is your fascination with 3-dimensional spaces and more specifically the creation of 3-dimensional spaces within 2-dimensional spaces. Within the drawings one experiences definite but elusive 3-dimensional spaces. In Dialogue (2010) the drawing alternates between the evident treelike structures and a very textured, organic surface. On closer inspection Arborescent Geometry III (2010) resembles a linocut, but the illusion of depth from even a minimal distance seems captivatingly true. The Cubic Space Lattice series is clearly also an experimental extension of these spatial illusions. What is it that prompts you to recurrently explore these concerns?

Dialogue, 2010
Pure pigment ink on archival cotton paper
610 x 610 mm
Edition of 3
Photo: Courtesy of Goodman Gallery

Arborescent Geometry III, 2010 
Pure pigment ink on archival cotton paper
610 x 610 mm
Edition of 3
Photo: Courtesy of Goodman Gallery

Dimensionality is intricately related to notions of abstraction, whether it be mathematical or artistic. One could say that in a mathematical context, abstraction denotes the qualities of a highly formalised language. One can define abstract entities, say a 1-dimensional point or a 2-dimensional line or a perfectly spherical surface, of which there are no “equivalents” in the real world. So here my interest would be to try to apply those abstract notions of dimensionality in a real-world context. In a work like Cubic Space Lattice the logic is evident in the “construction” of the work. Points are multiplied to create lines, planes and then 3- dimensional lattices. It is done through optical mechanisms using light and mirrors, so the work really seems like it’s “suspended” in space, closer to the visualisation of an abstract geometric model than a physical sculpture. I would argue that in a fine art context, abstraction is also closely related to dimensionality, as one can see in modernism there was a concern with the collapse of illusionary “depth” and an emphasis of the surface of the canvas or “2-dimensionality”. So here I would be interested in reinvestigating that process, sometimes emulating it, sometimes reversing it. A case in point would be the trees. Mondrian reduced his trees to 2-dimensional planes of rectangles and squares; I would then be interested in inverting that process, creating the illusion of a 3-dimensional tree through multiplying 2-dimensional geometric shapes. All of this is achieved through computer programming and various sophisticated visualisation processes.

Your algorithmic drawings expose the intricacy and complexity of various natural structures, which in effect intertwines and transcends the boundaries between the structural and the organic and possibly culture and nature. Do you intend to deconstruct these binary oppositions or do you think contemporary perceptions have shifted to the extent that this kind of deconstruction is inevitable?

I think that is really part of the human condition. I do, however, have a great interest in these questions, so they would be evident in the work both consciously and unconsciously. “Organic” or “organism” etymologically already implies an “organised” structure. In my later work, however, this is visually really evident, because I integrate visual “languages” that might seem contradictory, let’s say a strict formal geometry and a very lifelike and highly realistic “natural” representation. So a highly complex natural form would be articulated through a mechanical modular process. If one looks at the detail of a portion of a branch on a tree in the algorithmic drawings it clearly looks like a geometric structure, but multiplied many millions of times over the whole surface it almost comes alive visually. In a broader context, this kind of thinking is quite prevalent in contemporary discourses. A few quick examples would be: DNA, the building blocks of life, is understood as a “code”; molecules, which interact and assemble in a highly mechanical way, create complex protein chains and ultimately cells and organisms; new large-scale statistical analysis of human interaction shows processes that seem almost “mechanical”, for example the structures of social interaction, dynamics of crowds, etc.

Orbit Variation, 2010
Pure pigment ink on archival cotton paper
1 118 x 1 118 mm
Edition of 3
Photo: Courtesy of Goodman Gallery

Point Line Field, 2010
Pure pigment ink on archival cotton paper
610 x 610 mm
Edition of 3
Photo: Courtesy of Goodman Gallery

Your reversed methodology in terms of mathematics - taking the algorithm and releasing it to a complexity of loose ends instead of abstracting the natural world into a mere formula - reminds me of something like the Big Bang. In a sense you are taking the rational essence of what we know to be the world and unleashing it to the aesthetic realm, freeing it of its rational confines. What were your thoughts concerning this unleashing of the mathematical language?

I work in a very specific field of computer programming which can loosely be defined as “fractal” geometry. The process relies heavily on visualisation, so the data sets generated from an algorithm are mapped into a visual form on the screen, and then I would make “aesthetic” decisions, return to the code, rework and expand the algorithms. So built into the “logical” process is an aesthetic feedback. This is how I could get incredible fidelity to the natural world, for example the trees. These are abstract or “mathematical” sequences that generate visual images that resemble the real world. This is what I poetically call a “resonant structure”. It is certainly not a photograph, but an abstract process that in certain respects (in a highly simplified manner) behaves like the real world. I have generated hundreds of different algorithmic sets, and sometimes it is also interesting to see what is possible within a given system; especially in the latest exhibition many of the forms take on exotic qualities and become a free play of creativity. In terms of a developmental sequence, one could compare my creative process to the natural world as well, where there is a gradual articulation of more complex structures, much like one would find in cosmological or evolutionary processes.

Differential, 2010
Pure pigment ink on archival cotton paper
610 x 610 mm
Edition of 3
Photo: Courtesy of Goodman Gallery

Meredith Randall’s only criticism of Resonant Structures in the autumn issue of Art South Africa was the fact that the mathematical formulae are never revealed to the viewer. Instead you chose titles resembling the silent aesthetics of the specific drawings and natural forms created. As the relationship or conversation between the mathematical algorithms and the beautiful aesthetic of the drawings is fundamental to the success of you work, why did you choose to withhold the equations? Would you ascribe it to sentimental factors, just to keep us guessing, or a kind of analytical puzzle for mathematicians and programmers?

My initial decision to present only the visual “art” was strongly influenced by the way I developed an interest in structures in the first place, by carefully looking at the natural world. One could call it a kind of “outside reading”. This is the intention, to communicate that kind of reading, to lead the viewer through the conceptual process through the image. I strongly believe in the sense of sight and its ability to convey complex ideas that are often not possible in conventional language. So after seeing one of my algorithmic trees the viewer might look at a real tree differently, because in my work the modularity, geometry and symmetry of those structures are visually emphasised. To understand or follow the logic of the actual algorithms would be limited to very few viewers, and the intention is exactly the opposite: to convey complex language into a medium that can be intuitively understood without a knowledge of science, mathematics, biology or computer programming.

Since 1994 the local art scene has experienced an interest in non-Western or previously marginalised art as well as that of the black diaspora. Relying on rational thought and the very logical language of mathematics, your work seems to be more Western. How does your work contribute to post-post-apartheid South Africa?

The kind of work I do is highly personal, and also conceptually extremely specific, both in the realm of art and in other disciplines as well. The key here is that so-called “logical” or “rational” processes can be appropriated and articulated within one’s own subjective experiences. I think Western ideologies become problematic if they are practised at the expense of individual subjectivity. I have had the privilege of opening dialogues with a tremendous spectrum of people through my exhibitions, and it has been exciting to see the enthusiasm with which the public walkabouts have been received, to reinspire a reverence for the natural world and its beauty and complexity.