theTrees (2007)

TheTrees was inspired by two years of living deep in the woods on the Hudson River north of New York City. Trees "grow" one at a time, and no two are ever the same. As trees grow, provided the user hasn't selected to "lock" the program into a single season, the seasons progress through spring, summer, fall, and winter, with the look of the trees gradually changing accordingly. The color of the mist around the trees also changes with the season.


TheTrees seeks to explore the singular creative moment, that moment in every creative endeavor when the artist makes something from nothing. Beyond that moment lies a period, sometimes short and almost non-existent, sometimes grueling and difficult, of refinement and modification of the original creative spark, but that initial moment is what seers the soul of every person who creates, whether for fun, as an intellectual pursuit, ...
            
        
Full Description

TheTrees was inspired by two years of living deep in the woods on the Hudson River north of New York City. Trees "grow" one at a time, and no two are ever the same. As trees grow, provided the user hasn't selected to "lock" the program into a single season, the seasons progress through spring, summer, fall, and winter, with the look of the trees gradually changing accordingly. The color of the mist around the trees also changes with the season.


TheTrees seeks to explore the singular creative moment, that moment in every creative endeavor when the artist makes something from nothing. Beyond that moment lies a period, sometimes short and almost non-existent, sometimes grueling and difficult, of refinement and modification of the original creative spark, but that initial moment is what seers the soul of every person who creates, whether for fun, as an intellectual pursuit, or for a living.

In theTrees, as with most computational art, the creative moment is a bit of a mystery. Did the true creativity happen when the artist was calculating the mathematical algorithms that produce the endless variety of trees that grow on the screen? Did the computer actually produce the creative spark when it ran those algorithms? Does the viewer have the ultimate creative control in being able to choose the composition and seasonal makeup of the progression of the trees?

As the artist who wrote the program that produces theTrees, my contention is that the art was made while I was writing code. The computer produces marvelous randomness built upon a set of laws that I designed. The viewer then has the option to choose from several options that may speak to him in a particular way. But at its heart, the forest produced by the program is always the same, based on those original rules that were created when the code was written.

Which brings us back to the original inspiration for the piece, the actual forest. A complex set of interconnected rules and organisms, the forest can be seen in any number of different ways by various people at various times, but at its heart it is always the same forest. It is difficult to imagine a single creative impetus behind the growth of an actual forest, it is rather a series of small creative events (a single seed falls, germinates, and blossoms, again and again). As with theTrees, there is no grand moment when the entire forest comes into being, but rather a long string of small moments when decisions are made, chance plays its role, and things grow. This of course begs the question - who wrote the algorithms that produce the real forest? That question is beyond the scope of this piece, but is hopefully a logical progression of thought that the viewer will be lead to by viewing and digesting theTrees.

The program that produces the trees you see growing on your screen was written in Processing, a programming language based on Java, and contains about 650 lines of code. It is essentially a series of simple branching algorithms, with many permutations and variables available for modifying and experimenting with the look and behaviour of the trees. The code is object-oriented, which allows for fast, sweeping changes to be made to various aspects of the trees (overall tree behaviour, environment, branches, leaves, or flowers can all be changed modularly and independently of each other). The version you see is the latest incarnation among many others.
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