Emergent: Performing with Code (2021, in process)

The body is the database of lived experience. Body-based performance art functions as a means of considering this “data,” drawing upon it through actions and gestures that investigate, play with, and share the accumulation of experience in flesh. How then can biometric data function as performance art? Emergent involves the production of generative animations that are produced using biometric data (such as heart rate and oxygen levels) and movement trackers as a means of conveying body-based performance. My intention is to engage with the memories of the flesh, as the data of the body is used as the impetus for aesthetic encounters.

As a performance artist working with digital media, I have long been interested in how technology opens up different means of engaging with performed actions. The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly disrupted the production of performance art, which generally relies upon live and physically in-person presentations of work. While video and livestreaming have introduced possibilities for productions, these depend on cameras to capture and communicate action through moving image and sound. However, performance art encapsulates other sensory qualities of the body that do not always translate through lens-based media. These limits introduce creative challenges that invite new ways of producing performance art.

At the moment I am producing generative design sketches using p5.js, where code is my collaborator as I develop new means of tracing performance with digital tech. I am trying to create one a day, posting them on social media and on GitHub pages. Shifting away from lens-based media, such as video and photography, these works are the expressions and artifacts of performance. This is my sketchbook, where I present works in process(ing) and create an archive of the work as it develops.

This project is being produced with technical support from Gerald Glynn and financial support from an Arts Council Ireland Agility Award.

Intriguing Relativity


I am continuing to work in 3D, with this sketch returning to representations and sensations of passing time. Inspired by Carlo Rovelli’s book The Order of Time, I am responding to the limited and inaccurate attempts to quantify time through visual representations, like the clock. Here I work with the hour glass shape that also resembles the light cones that Rovelli uses to illustrate the relativity of time. This perpetually creating and dissolving array of hour glass forms is contrasted with the accumulated traces of particle forms — a merger of metaphor and affective sensations of lived time. The array moves in relation to mouse position/placement of finger on touchscreen.

Beautiful Game


I have been working on variations of a theme as I continue to experiment with the form of the mobius strip, after receiving some feedback that the form of the strip tends to have a “science-y” quality to it. It is not surprising, since as a geometric form it is engages with such mathematical precision. The model evokes the double helix of DNA. How then to engage with the form without falling into such semiotic trappings? As I become more familiar with working in 3D space and becoming familiar with the trigonometry involved in modelling the mobius strip, I am trying to find ways to push its edges into less than perfection. The challenge is to maintain some semblance of aesthetic cohesion without falling into messy digital chaos. I am not quite there yet.



I have finally made the jump and started with 3D. I was trying to create a Mobius strip in reference to the Mobius Artists Group, which I have been part of since 2009. I did not anticipate the challenge of producing this digital object, though managed to find some code to adapt in the Processing Forum (GLV and Mcintyre). I continued my explorations of the 3D, with the introduction of the Z-axis changing my overall sense of how this virtual space functions. The fluttering swarm brought to mind images of insects, hence the title debugging.

Debugging is proving to be a creative process, as I come up against the limits of what the computer is able to do. These moments is when the digital feels most like a material — a medium of constraints that I mold to realize artistic intentions as my intentions modify in conjunction with the capacities and limits of the medium.

Paper Flowers


I continue to work with the grid theme, adapting code from the Wireframe sketch. The pink overlaying shapes, or what loosely take the form of flowers, is adapted code from the shape example presented in the Generative Design book. The combination of pseudorandomness with user interaction has been an ongoing aspect of exploration throughout this project. Computer as collaborator or co-performer, enabling what artist and technologist Amelia Winger-Bearskin describes as being able “to do things that I couldn’t do by myself and being able to collaborate with machines meant that I could do things I do poorly faster and then do things that machines do poorly better.” I have never been good as drawing or painting, but working in code enables me to compose in a 2D space without a camera. Computers, at least at this stage, are only capable of doing what they are programmed to do, so I invite the capacity to engage with the computer as an aesthetic encounter (via Simondon), introducing a pause into the interaction with the interface.

Atom Riverbed


I make interfaces messy, leaving traces of entropy as afterimages of gesture. This sketch is more of a doodle, combining aspects of previous sketches. It is a means to pass the time while making; to adapt, combine forms and colours in different ways, and just see what happens.

As part of this process, I have come to treat the internet browser as my medium, which I did not intend when I started. I thought I would be creating animations and videos as I was before, but a technical constraint of p5.js (the limited capacity to save frames) shifted my process and output. I am aware that there is a library to assist with recording videos, though I am letting this project take me where it goes. I think net.art is an incomplete project, usurped by apps and UX design. There is still so much room for critical play.

Expanded Present


I started this sketch adapting Dan Shiffman’s repeller example from the Nature of Code. I am interested in capturing qualities of action and reaction, and this example represents it well. I made a number of modifications, such as having the repeller move along the x-axis along with the mouse/touchpad and the qualities of movements of the particles. I added a grid as well, though making it appear at a slower interval than the framerate. I tried experimenting with giving it a more cyclical form, though that one was quite chaotic. Even though I refer to these as sketch of the day, it took me two days to work this one out. Some of the challenge is creating distinctive animations, but also as these sketches get more complex it takes longer to work them out, including debugging.

Glib Drive (Biometric Version)


I have not been posting much lately in terms of the daily sketches because I have been working to prepare four sketches (Viral Time, Peat Bramble, Tether, and Glib Drive) for public presentation. This process has involved adding text and buttons to move between pages, as well as integrating biometric data in Glib Drive. I downloaded data from my FitBit, which I acquired in 2020 during the first period of lockdown in Ireland, and have set it up so one day is selected as random. The heart rate data for this day is used to determine the hue of the rotating rectangles. I compliment this with the hue changes of the circles controlled by the mouse/touchscreen. That way, it becomes an asynschronous performance between myself and the audience.

The production of this piece involved a number of challenges, including a timing issue that impacted the functonality of the site and enabled me to become more familiar with Javascript. Since I needed to preload the list of file names and could not select a file name until after p5.js was running, the loading of the JSON file was moved to setup. However, the data did not upload prior to the draw loop (Javascript is an asynchronous language), and the sketch couldn’t run unless it was. After spending some time debugging and identifying the issues with Gerald Glynn, I tried to brainstorm ways around it. I realise there would probably be a way to introduce a loop that delays the start of the sketch until the data is uploaded, but instead I built this delay into the design of it. I set up a delay of about 200 frames after the start of the sketch (time is treated in terms of frame count in Processing) , before the rotating rectangles appeared, which need the data to function. I synchronized their appearance with the text, again drawing attention back to time and how we experience it using digital technologies.


Displacement: A Poetic Meditation on Performance, Time, and Virtual Connections

Click the image above to begin.

Warning: contains flashing images.

Broad Pixie


I have not created many sketches where the images are trying to represent something in particular — I tend to lean towards the abstract. This started with wanting to create honey comb, though I was using a model of not overlapping circles by Daniel Shiffman in his YouTube series Coding Train. However, the hexagon shape did fit together as anticipated. To make this more precise would involve some more work with trigonometry.

Computer models are innately abstractions of what they are modeling. There are ways to create more realistic models, involving mathematical abstractions of phenomenon. However, I am more interested in the visual impacts of the designs and how they provoke/engage gestural interaction. Sometimes a resemblance of representation may drive a sketch, inform how it develops, though I do not strive for verisimilitude.

Time is glitchy

I have an ambivalent relationship with text when it comes to producing art. I find text to be quite loaded and can easily dominate a work, though as I prepare the first public iteration of the project, I know text is going to be necessary. Even though I have been working with Processing for years, this is my first foray into its text and typography functions. I find myself continuing to work against principles of UX design, where I am not just trying to solve problems, but pose questions through my process. Though not evident in this sketch, I am sketching out types of navigation and menus that are evocative of early net.art, but have been rejected in mainstream web design due to the obscurity they introduce.