Archeology of Aesthetics

Fahad Karim creates living systems in his art, drawing from a nomadic lifestyle and centuries old cultures

MD: The first major generative art project that you worked on was Alan Ki Aankhen. Can you translate that for us?

FK: It means Alan's eyes, in reference to Alan Turing. This was actually a concept that I had wanted to work on for many years because I have developed this very distinct style with how I draw.

FK: With Alan Ki Aankhen, I very much took the approach of a toolkit. The same way that a lot of generative artists today use libraries like p5.js or three.js, I built my own little library for the Alan Ki Aankhen universe and then I used it to construct different compositions.

Alan's Flower was until very late in the project one of the compositions in the system. But it just felt too different, so I cut it out. Within my toolkit I have the ability to build a flower with petals, and usually the core of it has an eye, but I also have the ability to add towers or flowers as the petals themselves.

MD: This second work strikes me as like very different from the number of styles that are presented.

FK: So this actually at one point was going to be an alternative view of the project. This work is exploring a very native concept in generative art or code-based art, which is how many pixels you're going to use, what your dimensions are going to be.

It's a very forgiving medium in that you can totally change it from one moment to another. It's not that you've invested in a painting and made it one scale and that's it. So this was my experiment with wanting to know what would happen if I went totally the other direction and made the art feel very intentionally digital, using maybe just a tenth of the number of pixels. It was so interesting that with the tweak of maybe one or two numbers in my program, I could totally shift to this other style.

Alan Ki Aankhen was meant to look very much like my hand drawings. I thought at one point of having a human vs. machine mode within each artwork, and you would toggle between these. I ended up not doing that, but this work is an exploration of what it would look like if I made the system intentionally more digital and pixelated.

JB: Pohualli- that work seems a lot more human-like when I'm looking at the compositions. I wanted to know what the meaning behind the title is.

FK: It means count, or it's similar to the word count in Nahuatl, which is the indigenous language that was spoken by the Aztecs. This project was very much inspired by a period when I was traveling through Mexico. I was living in Oaxaca at the time this idea came to mind.

But the reason that I've called it count is because that's a theme that's really sewn into this project. The artwork in this project is alive and it changes over time. Every day it's adding new elements: shields and blocks, ribbons and feathers, things like that. Aztecs believed time to be cyclical, also an idea integrated into this project that I’ve encountered in a lot of different traditions and religions.

MD: Can you map where these two pieces lay out in the trajectory of Pohualli?

FK: This one is an actual screenshot of a debug view. A lot of times generative artists will have different modes of looking at their artwork so that they can double check if things are going correctly - extra lines, extra dots, things like that. People will often refer to this as ‘debug view’.

The way that Pohualli is actually crafted is very much analogous to creating a collage in the physical world - I have all these textures of different colors and shapes that are masked or cut out from, and then stitched back together.

Outside of just the aesthetics and the concept, there was a lot of computational optimization that I had to do for this project because there's so much going on. I had to not blow up people's browsers and consider how much memory of your computer is being used. There's the concept and the romantic part of the art, and then there's the fact that I need to manage a thousand different graphics, each with their own texture, and they change every day. And so I need to carve out these objects from the smallest possible stencils.

When I was exploring I would look at those stencil views. And similarly with the background, it's something that made it to the actual project, but in a very exaggerated way. I use these concentric, noisy circles (circles with a lot of variation added to make them look more natural). None of the actual backgrounds in the project are this noisy. But again, it's a technique you'll often use where you push something to its limits to just make sure that it's doing the right thing.

This artwork is a snapshot in a progression. I do a lot of documentation of my projects as they progress. I keep an archive of every week, every month. Sometimes you really start to question yourself and you think: oh man, it looked so much better two weeks ago. You need to be able to go back and check - did it, did it not?

As I was developing textures I was deciding how I wanted to channel the look and feel of this project. This was an intermediate point in which it had a much more flat, graphic, sort of pop-arty look.

MD: Your works are very much engaged with cultures that are, in some cases, hundreds of years old, are there limits and challenges to presenting that digitally?

FK: There totally are. I think it's exciting to revisit things that people are familiar with, but reimagine them through automation and through generative art. That theme excites me a lot…



Co-Host: Jack Buchanan

Co-Host: Mackenzie Davenport

Director: Sasha Sepahpur

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