With all the innovative artists we have explored recently, breaking ground in new media from books to rubbish, we've seen that there are no limits to a creative mind in action. Then what could stand out more than an artist who not only dreams up unique artwork, but one who even invents the media used to execute it? Casey Reas is a Los Angeles-based artist who employs self-invented software to produce work that seamlessly blends art, science and technology. We pointed out Reas as a 2012 trendsetter for his multimedia designs that we came across on the Creator's Project website, where he is credited along with Ben Fry as the inventor of the open-source programming language Processing. The resulting artwork, Process, is a series that "explores the relationship between naturally evolved systems and those that are synthetic." The artist's computed creations manage to pair the (often) tactile nature of art with the intangibility of technology; organic, evolving forms are born from a few lines of computer code, emerging as truly mesmerizing designs.
Reas has exhibited, screened, and performed his work at major institutions worldwide such as New York's New Museum and the V&A in London, and his most recent showcase was part of the group show Codings at Pace Digital Gallery. The exhibition highlighted the computer "as an aesthetic, programmed device," and the works which were chosen "eschew elaborate multimedia combinations" and "operate on encoded letters, numbers, punctuation, and other symbols that are on the computer itself." We recently talked with Reas to get a understanding of his unique creative process, and find out what motivates this inventive artist. (Above right: Reas' Signals, a commissioned mural for building 76 at MIT; created in collaboration with Ben Fry.)
What interests you about new media? Does this art form present a unique set of challenges?
I'm not interested in new media; I'm interested in systems and images. The medium of software enables me to explore systems and images in the way I imagine them and in a way that other media do not. I see my work as rooted in various movements within the history of art and the ideas that link my work to the ideas of other artists should be the strongest emphasis. That said, writing software does allow me to make works that are unique from what can be made in other media. For example, photography has a different range of possibilities in relation to painting, and vice versa. While I try to think around my medium, I am influenced by it. Software, in its modern form, has been developed since the late nineteenth century and artists have been creating work through software since the 1960s. Many of the ideas I build on were first explored in the 1910s. There's nothing technically new about what I'm doing and therefore all of the emphasis is on images and ideas.
Can you talk a little about your Process series? What is the theme or goal behind it?
The Process series is an amalgam of ideas. From one perspective it's the relationship between minimal geometric systems defined by behaviors and the ways these systems construct unexpected organic forms. The works are an abstraction of how nature works, rather than how nature looks. As a result, the images have simultaneous organic and artificial properties. From another perspective, it's about making visual systems and then interpreting and exploring these spaces. All of the process works are defined by a text. This text is analogous to a score produced by a composer; it's a description of the work. The text is the core that is then interpreted as a series of software structures.
You've created a lot of large scale-murals. Are these more difficult to work with? Do you have a different approach to these works?
Yes, working at large scale is more difficult for me. I've worked my way up to it over the last decade, starting with small prints. The Chronograph commission that I produced with Tal Rosner is the largest work to date. It's projected onto a 7000 square-foot wall on the exterior of the New World Symphony Campus, designed by Frank Gehry. After months of imaging the work on the site, we spend nights in front the building tuning the 365 compositions to work at the right scale. I like to evaluate things empirically and to have samples at 1:1 in my studio for long periods of time to think about them. With the large-scale work, I do tests and 1:1 samples, but I experience the work entirely only when it's installed.
You blend a lot of elements of art and science in your work. How do you translate this relationship in your art?
I don't think about science when I create the work, at least not any more than I think about other areas. I was first influenced to start my current direction by my total fascination with artificial life and the related phenomena of emergence. I read extensively within these areas over a decade ago, with the result of no longer consciously noticing the influence. I no longer think about objects or organisms, I think about relationships between objects (networks) and ecologies of matter.
What message are you trying to relay to your audience - what do you want viewers to come away with?
I don't have a message; I have a way of thinking. The work is process based and exhibitions of my work provide the pieces needed to follow the inquiry from the text that defines a process to the range of instantiations. For me, the work lies in the relationships between the different objects and their textual progenitor.
What are some of your future projects?
I'm planning an ambitious work, the equivalent of a novel or symphony, but it's of a new form unique to software. It's currently unobtainable because it goes beyond anything I've seen and that I can currently imagine. I'm going to build up to it with between four and five planned works. The idea is for these smaller works (equivalent to projects from the last decade) to build up to the more ambitious work. I don't want to say too much at this point, but it's influenced more by my love of cinema, collage, maps, and games than my fascination with the abstraction of biology.