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Newton's Fern

*disclaimer* Egorulz now self-identifies as "ArtistX" on Superrare. I will be using the new moniker throughout my commentary.

Museum Link: https://app.museumofcryptoart.com/collection/permanent-collection?collection=0x41a322b28d0ff354040e2cbc676f0320d8c8850d&token=649&page=3

Source Link: https://superrare.com/artwork/newton%27s-fern-649

Date Minted: September 4, 2018

Artist Description: Generative fractal mixing artwork, created completely through code.  

CohentheWriter’s Commentary:

When Artistx (Shyam Sreevalsan, formerly Egorulz) is at their best, his generative work is on par with the other greats. Even just in terms of the output images that are constructed, which seem both intensely familial and completely alien (like in his work Where the Sea Sleeps, a prime example). And there’s always this hyper-complexity at play, an endless unfurling of shapes and pixels that seems to descend onward and inward forever. With that as a basis, Newton’s Fern is a triumph. It is the poster-child of complex generative art, a work “created completely through code,” and which features an unrivaled intricacy, shapes within shapes, fractals within fractals, colors within colors, even artistic styles within artistic styles. The bright electronic neon and how it seems to fade quietly into more hand-colored pastels. There’s just so much sheer visual information in this piece, it presents us with an almost calming sense of being overwhelmed. That’s not to say Newton’s Fern is frenetic, because there’s an overarching and cogent logic here that keeps freneticism at bay. But the visual component is so rich, and the patterns formed by the algorithm so simultaneously predictable and varied, it’s like looking out into a dense biome, hearing the cacophony of bird-calls and watching a dozen unnameable insects buzzing by, and being struck by a sense of overarching calm even despite the movement of its many parts.  

I’m thinking a lot today about something that Fidenza artisti Tyler Hobbs said in an interview with Artnome for Right Click Save. “Yeah, the universe is generative, and everything that’s happening around us is a result of these processes, right? They might be really complex processes — weather systems and geological systems — guided by the laws of physics and chemistry, but nature is process driven. Thinking in terms of systems and processes is a really beautiful way to analyze and appreciate the world around us. As generative artists, we talk a lot about emergence. But earth is one hell of an emergent artifact in the universe. So I feel incredibly lucky to get to experience it.” It’s not just the natural imagery of Newton’s Fern which reminds me of this quote, but the underlying nature of its ebullient composition, the way things come about not exactly by chance, but finalized by chance according to limiting artist inputs. The way an ecosystem develops not in any specific direction but within the confines of each environment’s rules. I look at Newton’s Fern, and I can see both the artist’s outline and the algorithm’s random growth into certain niches. Perhaps that’s why I find this work to be so lovely and so meaningful: both of its contributors, man and machine, are on overt display. Neither works to hide the other. They share process and share prize. Ah yes, the word I’m looking for has just arrived: equilibrium. 

There’s an equilibrium present in the colors, and the very composition, even in the very idea at the heart of Newton’s Fern. It’s very simple, isn’t it? An algorithmically-generated fern leaf unfurls itself along the image’s midsection, curving slightly to the right as it nears the image’s northernmost edge. It is awash in psychedelic hues, almost like how a puddle of oil contains within it a series of interconnected, light-inflected greens and purples and yellows, though the colors here are quite a bit brighter and give off none of that belching artificial association. There are enough curls and bubbles and wisps of color within the fern to keep our eyes entertained for a week, and enough in the background —itself a sequence of oblong shapes tucked one into another, great paisley amoebas of color warping in and around each other— to extend that preoccupation another month. But the directive which contains its construction is quite tight, and so there is no mistaking the shape for what it is. I’m left wondering what came first, the piece or the intention, the art or the title. 

Either way, Newton’s Fern feels to me like a masterclass in generative art, if for no other reason than the intelligence with which it limits itself. It never descends into abstraction, which sometimes for me feels like capitulation, like an inability to form a cohesive expressive, so, ugh, I gues this mishmash will do. But this piece also takes itself seriously enough to explore color and shape as it does, to allow such a descent into the kind of computational complexity only generative art can truly achieve. It’s the product of confidence and restraint, and that’s besides the fact that it’s beautiful to look at, the colors bright and popping, the composition hypnotic. This sensibility doesn’t extend to all of Artistx’s work, and he seems to have moved his experimental eye away from the roots underlying pieces like Newton’s Fern (for better or for worse). But nevertheless, Artistx reveals himself to be a scientist of the highest degree, and when I look at Newton’s Fern, at what proves possible when Artistx approaches the machine for a collaboration, it’s hard not to feel that their output might one day, without warning, produce something of lasting, eye-opening greatness. That is, if it hasn’t already.