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INTERVIEW

Beyond Code: The Multidisciplinary Artistry of Erik Swahn

Journal article cover

Erik Swahn's journey as a multifaceted creative began in the culturally rich city of Gothenburg, Sweden. It was during the home computing boom of the 1980s, and Swahn, a quintessential "computer kid," was lucky enough to discover the limitless creative potential of technology. From a young age, he perceived technology not merely as a tool, but as a profound extension of his creative self. Programming became a magical act for him, transforming the abstract into the concrete, automating processes that extended his own capabilities.

Born to a family passionate about the arts, his early life was punctuated by frequent museum visits, nurturing a broad and evolving appreciation for art. However, initially he was more interested music, languages, and literature, honing his technical skills towards automated translation and natural language processing. He also explored learning various instruments, laying the groundwork for his later forays into generative electronic music inspired by artists like Squarepusher and Aphex Twin.

Erik Swahn, Fields #159, 2023

The visual arts beckoned in his mid-twenties, leading him to experiment with drawing and painting, and using text generation methods to create unique canvases, particularly in homage to his admiration for Cy Twombly. His professional life saw him balancing roles as a programmer and translator, but it was his later studies in architecture that catalysed a significant shift in his career. He soon discovered the burgeoning field of computational design —an architectural discipline that aligned perfectly with his passion for generative methods.

Cy Twombly's works exhibited at Gagosian, New York, 2023

Swahn sees art as a "visual language," emphasising composition in its broadest sense — whether in language, art, or music, he approaches his work through the lens of compositional art. His influences are deeply rooted in experimental movements like Bauhaus. His 2021 series Farbteiler was based on ‘Farbkreis’, a colour wheel designed by Johannes Itten, a Swiss expressionist painter, designer, and theorist associated with the Bauhaus school. Swahn’s exploration of colour is deeply intertwined with musical metaphors - “the colour of music” is a phrase widely used to describe characteristics of sound such as tone quality, pitch, and timbre. He also has an affinity for Italian architects and artists such as Aldo Rossi, Massimo Scolari, Franco Purini, and Giorgio de Chirico, who deal with architecture in an abstract sense - “place making” if you will. He’s most interested in the early stages of architectural design, the abstract ideation phase that precedes any considerations of financial or structural feasibility.

Erik Swahn, Farbteiler #35, 2023

He is skeptical of art born from explicit intentions; to him, art is an instinctual act, with its meanings and purposes often becoming apparent only in retrospect. He thinks about his generative art as building a machine, preferably an idiosyncratic one with a character of its own. To Erik it’s about shaping a process, he’s interested is what that code can “find.” He sees it like shaping a fishing hook which you later you cast into the water, into the space of possibilities - what you reel back in should be a surprise. He shapes the hook, and the works he catches are formed as if by magic, through an alchemical process brought into fruition by intuition.

Erik Swahn

Erik Swahn (b. 1977) is an artist and architect based in Sweden exploring the minute details of procedural art. Initially, Swahn’s artistic practice included physical mediums such as acrylic, ink and charcoal before transitioning to creative coding. His practice investigates colour, pigment blending and overlapping forms with a pointillist style. Alongside Swahn’s digital art practice, he teaches...
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