Radical art movements from the last century continue to reverberate in contemporary art, often in surprising combinations. On the surface, constructivism, postwar modernism, and experimental sound-based art appear to have little in common with the contemporary digital art movement, but artist Casey Reas harmoniously interlocks these influences. Inspired by the kinetic ideologies of early 20th-century Russian and Dutch art, Reas builds computer programs that allow chance to play a supporting role in forming digital compositions: simple, geometric elements perform a series of dictated behaviors, but their spontaneous interaction creates an unpredictable and ever-changing canvas as it evolves over time. Reas, like John Cage before him, removes himself as the creator and becomes a conductor of sorts who promotes chance, variation, and—maybe most importantly—interactivity.
Reas is an active participant in the contemporary dialogue about free culture, authorship, open forums, and emerging digital cultures. With fellow MIT Media Lab's Aesthetics and Computation Group graduate Ben Fry, Reas co-founded Processing, an open-source programming language specifically designed to teach basic programming to artists and designers, promoting the potential for the unforeseen interactivity that digital art and new media hold. After eleven years of site activity, Processing now has tens of thousands of users and their projects have reached many thousands more. Reas’s educational ambition parallels his own work: provide set information to participants and watch the unpredictable and fascinating results unfold.
Illustrating this trend of the conversion of conventional ideas to new technology, the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) presents the exhibition Rethinking Typologies—on view through July 29, 2012—featuring an installation of Maharam Digital Projects's Path B by Casey Reas. Taking a broad, historical view of emerging typologies in architecture and design with over one hundred objects from AIC's permanent collection, curators Zoë Ryan and Alison Fisher demonstrate the transformative nature in which we represent and interact with information and new technology.
Image: Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.