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INTERVIEW

Aluan Wang on his Painting Machine

Aluan Wang, Automatic Messages #80, Output detail, 2023

Haiver: Why did you choose the title Automatic Messages for this piece?

Aluan Wang: Although my works are crafted from code, the myriad of possibilities driven by algorithms often astounds even me as the author. I like to think that I provide the code with a concept and then I’m left in a state of anticipation for the unforeseen solutions it will uncover. Perhaps generative art is the result of machines engaging in Automatic Writing, something I’ve been exploring recently.

Haiver: In the shapes of this piece, I see pressed leaves and flowers, the kind my grandmother used to dry out and frame. What do you see when you look at it?

Aluan Wang: The interesting part about this algorithm is that the only difference in the code between the different forms is a difference in a mathematical function — just variations between sin, cos, atan, and tan.

This fits my initial conception where, in dreams or unconscious states, a tiny difference can result in a significant change. Everyone has different imaginations about shapes. Indeed, I designed leaves or flowers into the framework, but it's not that I aim to portray leaves, it's more that their grouping and positioning align with natural structures. And this is also embedded in the unseen growth paths within the way the algorithm draws.

Haiver: There's a long tradition of pressing flowers into handmade papers such as Oshibana, or wildcrafted Lokta paper from Nepal. Were those papermaking traditions on your mind as you were envisioning the texture and forms you wanted to incorporate into Automatic Messages?

Aluan Wang: Perhaps I’ve been influenced a bit, as I have collected a lot of books and materials, and these two styles or traditions are in there. I also often flip through books of plant specimens, and it’s almost always a top-down view rather than a frontal view — the seeds and plant specimens have been plucked, placed on a flat surface, and arranged by someone, so they’re no longer connected to the soil by stems, which is something I really like. So, with Automatic Messages, I intentionally hid the roots or growth path.

Haiver: I see a throughline in your projects, from Chaos Memory to Turner Light to After the Cave to this one. Do you see these works as being connected to one another, part of your own growth path?

Aluan Wang, Turner Light #287, 2022

Aluan Wang: Recently, every piece I create inherits the technical aspects of its predecessors. Hence, the connection between these pieces is technical, or in the language of programming, they share a conceptual inheritance and recursion.

I maintain a private database of materials, which serves as a beacon during creation. However, at the final stages of a piece, I always attempt to exceed my own expectations in terms of output. For me, the ultimate goal of creating is to challenge myself to varying degrees and derive joy from the process.

One of my favorite film directors, Tsai Ming-liang, once said: "Many directors only make one film in their lifetime." This isn't to say he only directed one film, but rather that his earliest work already pointed toward the possible directions of his future work, and all subsequent films served to reinforce this core. Indeed, I share the same perspective. As a result, my early audio/visual work tells one distinct story, while my more recent generative art pieces belong to a broader and more expansive landscape.

Aluan Wang, After the Cave #4, 2023

Haiver: It’s fascinating to see what seeps in from one project to another. For instance, your recent work has used a consistent set of background colors in a range of cream and cool tones. What keeps drawing you back to these colors?

Aluan Wang: I intentionally made the tones of my recent projects very similar. I referenced a lot of contemporary paintings too. I like murky colors, likely influenced by Japanese culture and Zen Buddhism. Many Eastern artists are fascinated by the wabi-sabi lifestyle, and these color tones are part of our daily life.

From an artistic standpoint, having colors in such a tight tonal range is also a big challenge for me. When the colors are close together, the individual pieces need to differentiate themselves significantly in other ways such as composition or shape.

Aluan Wang, Automatic Messages #61, #63, 2023

Haiver: I love the diversity of source materials you draw on. Is there a story behind the kinds of textures you’ve been exploring as well?

Aluan Wang: Paintings and calligraphy in Eastern art often exist on paper, and thus many of our cultural relics tend to have a faded appearance over time. I find this state of fading enchanting, so even though my work is digital, I like to incorporate these analogue textures.

Also, I am very protective of the books in my collection, doing my best to keep them pristine and free of signs of use. However, my son doesn't share this sentiment. One day, when I came across his textbooks and notebooks, I found a certain amusement in the traces of ketchup, spilled cola, and such. I still can't stand it when my books bear marks, but I do enjoy incorporating these distressed elements into my work.

Haiver: Ha! I’m glad your son can also bring you inspiration, even with all the messiness that comes with raising a kid.

One of the things that first attracted me to this piece is how gentle all of the textures are. How do you think about creating lines that are solid and defined, yet merge seamlessly with their surroundings?

Aluan Wang: To allow the lines to blend into the background and into the other shapes on the canvas, they’re actually made up of many layers stacked on top of each other, much like multiple exposures on film. Back when I was painting with watercolors, I really liked a technique called glazing, where you wait for the entire image to dry, then use a small amount of paint and plenty of water. This way, you can create a blurred effect, and Automatic Messages uses a similar technique.

Aluan Wang, Automatic Messages #66, 2023

Haiver: That’s so fascinating, because you described in your artist statement that the piece “blurs clarity,” but that implies there was something there that was once clear.

Aluan Wang: Exactly. It was important to conceal the original paths of the drawing mechanism to make the contour of the forms less distinct. My lines are not actually formed with lines, but what is essentially numerous tiny dots. And by using dots, I can blur the originally sharp boundaries to give it more of a human feel.

This approach also emulates the way an artist making a sketch will quickly capture the overall outlines of the scene with light strokes. When the final image is completed, the light strokes create an area around the subject with an almost blur effect, but the result is that it makes the subject stand out even more.

When I was creating this work, I often just wrote a lot of code before figuring out what could be used in the final piece. I hope the resulting images convey some of this uncertainty.

Aluan Wang, Automatic Messages #41, Output detail, 2023

Haiver: One late addition to the piece I really adore is these small bits that look like flame, like celluloid burning, or the reverse image you see on a film negative where the colors go all inverted.

Aluan Wang: Yes, in the final stages of the work, I wanted to infuse the piece with a bit of magical spark. At that moment, I was inspired by another technique from watercolor, a scratching technique, where you remove pigment from the image with the tip of a brush. This approach gives the image a touch that “brings the dragon to life,” a term often used in the East to describe the finishing touch that brings a piece of art to life. Personally, I associated these vibrant sparks with fruits or pollen. But I like the things you describe seeing too, as I always prefer not to explicitly tell the viewer what they should see in the piece.

Haiver: Music has often been an important component of your work. How does music influence your practice, even when you're making visual-centric work?

Aluan Wang: The music I listen to while creating is very consistent, I really like minimalism, composers like Ryoji Ikeda or Ryuichi Sakamoto, or Sakamoto’s collaborations with Alva Noto. I can't imagine listening to music with vocals while I create, that would be too overwhelming. So, I tend to stick to a playlist of the same one-hundred songs, and my son often tells me, "Dad, can you stop listening to that noise?"

Aluan Wang, Automatic Messages #15, 2023

Haiver

An artist and curator, Haiver is the artistic director of Alba.art. He edits the on-chain publication fxGems, combing through every project on fx(hash) to find and celebrate the platform’s best generative art. He’s worked as a fine art photographer and filmmaker, and has taught both disciplines at a college in New York.
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Aluan Wang

Born in 1982 in Taichung, Taiwan, Aluan Wang is an artist and creative coder. He started his career in interactive design, working as a creative designer on large-scale installation artworks. He is known within the audiovisual scene in Taiwan, where he merges geometric visuals with the dynamic rhythm of electronic breakbeat music. His practice uses algorithms and rules to create a vibrant and...
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