Algorithmic catcher in the rye: Piter Pasma in conversation with thefunnyguys

July 18, 2022
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Piter Pasma in conversation with thefunnyguys and Mimi Nguyen

Mimi Nguyen: thefunnyguys, what excites you most in Piter's work?

thefunnyguys: The contrast between the compactness of Piter’s code and the aesthetic diversity present in the final outputs is impressive. In his Art Blocks collection Skulptuur, he uses only 6,370 bytes of source code to create an entire universe of impossible sculptures. It makes me wonder how many bytes are needed to describe our physical reality.

Piter Pasma, Skulptuur, 2021. Image courtesy of the owner.

thefunnyguys: Your work is amazingly diverse. I’m curious to hear where you get your inspiration from?

Piter Pasma: I don't like doing the same thing twice. It's why I like programming so much :) I get the computer to repeat things for me. I don't like doing things that have been done by other people either, unless I think I can substantially improve on it.

I used to draw a lot of cartoons, I always liked drawing and line drawing in particular. If you want to program a computer to do something, you need to understand and explain it to the machine in great detail. I get a lot of inspiration from science fiction comics I used to read.

I also get inspiration from Mathematics. There is a power in exploring mathematical formulas and algorithms that really draws me. I'm always trying to get the maximum out of either the machine or platform I'm creating for. In this case it's the browser as a platform and its Javascript engine in particular. No other dependencies, of course. It's incredible what you can do with just that, and in my opinion these limitations really inspire creativity. I get inspiration from building things from scratch. It may be a longer road to get there, but there's so much to see along the way, and different routes to take, that is really inspiring to me. By the time I get there, I usually have a very clear idea of how to get the maximum out of a system I just built from scratch.

There is a weird kind of inspiration that I find comes from building SDF formulas. For some reason they always turn into these spooky, remote or alien spaces. It's something I keep gravitating towards. But it doesn't have to be, just look at Inigo Quilez's works for example, which are a lot brighter and very different.

Mimi Nguyen: What are your thoughts on the future of art as digitalization progresses?

Piter Pasma: I think that the authentication and provenance bookkeeping of artworks using blockchain technology is definitely here to stay.

I think it's wonderful that artists can now release their art digital-only, as well as that there are now many platforms for them to release it in different ways. Still, I decided to include a physical signed plot for the collector, because it was meant for the plotter and deserves to exist that way :)

I think that code as art is an important new medium for the future. It allows us to express very complex ideas, such as how I encoded my knowledge of line drawing in the Rayhatching algorithm.

Scribbling algorithm of Piter Pasma. Image courtesy of the artist.

Mimi Nguyen: Can you share with us more about Rayhatching?

Piter Pasma: It's a unique algorithm that I developed myself, around November 2020. I had recently bought an Axidraw plotter, a robot drawing machine that holds a pen. It has a few interesting limitations: It can only draw lines, never erase them, and it's never quite as fast as you like, so you can't draw hundreds of thousands of lines.

At some point I decided that I wanted to play with 3D and SDFs ("Signed Distance Functions", a type of mathematical functions that define 3D shapes). But I also wanted it to be suitable for the plotter, and so the first successful output of the Rayhatching algorithm was Capsule Hills.

Initially I started with a scribbling algorithm, drawing an entire image using a single unbroken line. This could be used with the plotter, however it still took a long time, and the detail wasn't very good.

I found that stippling gives much finer detail, but would be impossible to use with the plotter... it would take days, and possibly burn through the servo (see Alien Playground).

I had to find a way to use lines, but in a way that would not lose detail. So I got the idea to try and orient the lines along the surface of the 3D scene - Hagelslag Age Cave Painting. A friend of mine @gengeomergence actually plotted this image on his HP plotter, which is much faster than an Axidraw. It took about 50 minutes (but would have taken 9 hours on my Axidraw).

Plotting Hyperplane Microplane VX-5, 2020 on an Axidraw V3/A3 plotter. Image courtesy of Piter Pasma.

Finally, I found a way to trace connected lines all over the scene, and so the Rayhatching algorithm was born :)

I have made a couple more pieces with this algorithm (you can see them if you scroll through my Instagram), but this was before I knew anything about NFTs, so I have not minted them (yet?). Then came Genuary 2021, and some other occasions happened that caused me to move to GLSL shaders for a bit, leaving the plotter behind ... Then came the wild time when I worked hard on and then released Skulptuur on Art Blocks.

However, I've always kept this algorithm in the back of my mind to do something awesome with. And that time is now :)

I rewrote the entire algorithm from scratch so that it's completely self-contained, smaller, better, faster, stronger. It even writes its own code as an SVG comment in the output :)

"Hyperwillows" is the first output of this new version of the algorithm, and in my opinion it's one of my best pieces to date.

Piter Pasma, Hyperwillows, 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.

thefunnyguys: How did the rise of NFTs impact your life?

Piter Pasma: I think I'm still processing most of the impact on my own life. But with the impact of NFTs also came an upsurge of renewed interest in generative art among a larger audience, because of their natural synergy. This same synergy is how Dmitri Cherniak's Ringers inspired me to create Skulptuur. There is a fundamental difference in experience of generative art, thanks to NFTs. It used to be that you showed your generative program to someone, and they refreshed it for a couple of minutes, and walked away perhaps impressed by the variety but very much mixed with a sense of what the average output kind of looked like. Contrast this with the experience of minting an NFT; This is *your* output, and it's special, and you can look at the full set too, but not with the same eyes as the output that belongs to you. That unique experience is made possible only by the co-incidence of NFTs and generative art. It allows each output piece to be appreciated on its own.

Mimi Nguyen: A few months ago I interviewed Dapper Labs about NBA Top Shots, thefunnyguys - you actually came in to the space from this very project, but stayed for art. How do you see the future of art collecting?

thefunnyguys: NBA Top Shot is actually an interesting point of comparison. A core part of what made this platform exciting was the opening of packs. You did not know what moment you were going to get, and there was always a tiny chance of getting a LeBron James or Luka Dončić one. This aleatory element is also present in the generative art minting process and partially explains why new releases are so captivating. The future of art collecting will be more gamified, at the intersection of art and collectibles, and the velocity will be multiples higher compared to the traditional art world.

On that note - Piter, how do you see the generative art space evolve over the next years?

Piter Pasma: I think AI art is here to stay. But it will remain a separate scene from generative art at large. Not many will successfully combine the two, but a few who do will probably do it very well :)

I think people will keep developing new and novel algorithms, I definitely intend to. I think we're going to be surprised how much techniques there are still to discover.

I haven't seen anybody rent a very large amount of computing power for a project, using all this parallel computing power for something directly artistic, instead of training neural nets. Maybe an exclusive live event.

I think the story behind / that goes with generative art pieces will become more important. Maybe we should find a way to record even more of that in a decentralized manner.

Which brings me to another important point: Archival. The blockchain only records so much about an NFT's history, at least currently. It will become more important, and we could take a look at the Demoscene as an example. I found out a little while back that someone had catalogued all the artworks I released in the Demoscene, some I had almost forgotten about. I think we're on the right path, and it's still early. Perhaps virtual galleries could play a role in this?

thefunnyguys, an anonymous collective of three Belgian brothers—has what one member describes as one of the most “horizontal”collections of generative art in the NFT space. Ranging across platforms, blockchains, and edition sizes, thefunnyguys’s collection has grown from a well-researched investment portfolio into a testament to their passion for the generative art community on both Ethereum and Tezos.

Piter Pasma is a generative artist, expressing himself through experiments with code and complexity. Inspired by randomness as an inspirational and creative force. Among the space of algorithms are buried gems in carefully tuned black boxes, concrete trap doors leading to unexpected dungeon forests, only seen when you open them a thousand times, sideways. Starting as a demoscener in 1998, he wrote four prize-winning 4 kilobyte demos (non-interactive real-time size-constrained audio-visuals). Since then he has been honing his creative coding skills. He has been lead organizer of Genuary 2021 and Genuary 2022, generative art month, during which artists create daily pieces according to 31 carefully selected prompts.

Mimi Nguyen, Art + NFT at She is a doctoral researcher and teaches at Imperial College London, Faculty of Engineering, where she leads Mana Lab, a “Future of work in Blockchain” research group, and at Central Saint Martins, University of Arts London together with CSM NFT Lab. Her previous research on creativity and human-computer interaction has been published by Cambridge University Press, Design Studies, Design Research Society, TIME magazine, and ACM Association for Computing Machinery.

thefunnyguys had nominated the generative artist Piter Pasma for Verse, showcasing his newest series Rayhatching.

See the work Hyperwillows by Piter Pasma on Verse on Wednesday 20 July 9AM EST | 2PM BST, where 10% of the initial sale will be donated.

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