clox-Looking Outwards-03 


Positions of the Unknown is an interactive installation by Quadrature, a Berlin-based artist duo focusing their artistic research on data and physical experiments. The installation is composed of 52 small machines constantly moving to follow the path of 52 corresponding satellites orbiting Earth, whose movement has been tracked, but whose purpose or identity is still unknown (or redacted). The data for these satellites' movement has been catalogued by amateurs coming out of the "Operation Moonwatch" years, during which the government had to train civilians to detect artificial satellites due to the lack of infrastructure to surveille outer space.

While the interaction between the machines and the movement of the unknown satellites is poetic, I think the installation could have given more context to the moving machines (besides a wall text). Basically, I wish the installation referenced or represented more the human work that was done to track the movement of these satellites.


Struggling with a new technology or medium, figuring out how to make it do what I want is not my favorite part of the artistic process (not that I dislike this part). I like most the part where it comes together into something interesting. I'm more comfortable working in spaces where I'm confidant in my abilities. This means that I naturally tend towards already established spaces, away from technological novelty.

Just because the focus is on making something interesting rather than only playing with new forms, doesn't mean it always becomes what Michael Naimark calls last word art. What makes a piece seem interesting might just be its novelty. You never know until time passes whether you were actually making something to last, or if it was only interesting because it was new. Being the first to do something has its only kind of legacy, but only if that thing amounts to something on its own.


Our culture is constantly shifted and changed by developments of new technologies, and those technologies build off old 'new' technologies which results in this cycle of remaking and re-creating. The concept of the first word/last word art is a really interesting one to consider, especially in the context of rapidly changing and developing digital technologies that we are in dialogue with today. I think that one of the greatest difficulties in working in something that is technologically novel is that in order for it to age well (I suppose this may be more significant to last word art, but still) is that there needs to exist more than the technology behind it. I am particularly interested in the unclear line between where experimentation and expression meet to create first word art. When it comes to where the difference between a new process and experimentation lies, and where the creation of first word art is drawn, this transition may appear when the voice of the artist is enhanced by the new technology available, but then again once looked at like so, it seems to fall under the umbrella of middle ground towards last word art.


I locate my interests more along Last Word art than First Word. I am not too interested in experimentation and innovation, but in refinement and mastery of media which already exist, and combining preexisting conceptual elements in unique combinations. I suppose I value quality over novelty, though for some they are one and the same. New technologies shape culture by influencing the methods by which we communicate and by determining which industries will become the most prominent. Technologies also affect our security, transportation, militarisation, education, and so on. Some ways in which culture shapes technological development would include the concept of supply and demand. Markets will always adjust to what there is a demand for, and therefore only products which the culture is interested in will be manufactured. The culture will determine which technological developments to invest in.

When our work is technologically novel, this is an example of First Word art. We have introduced a new medium, but have not necessarily refined it. For example, Pong, which was revolutionary for its time, can now be considered a very boring game compared to the MMORPGs and VR games of our time. Novel technologies of the present will eventually be considered crude in the future.



I began making the piece by first experimenting with arcs and easing/time based functions in p5.js. After coming up with some looping shapes that I liked, I added more and more until it was basically a jumbled mess. After looking at it some more, I related it to a telescope pointed at the sky and was inspired by the recent "Storm Area 51" hype and memes to create something relating to extraterrestrial life. So, I decided to make a loop that shows supposed extraterrestrials eyeing the Earth's moon for some purpose. I'll link the experimental sketch at the end as well. 

Beginning my actual sketch, I started making the moon shape and detail first. I wanted to add enough craters to make it distinguishable as the moon, but also not too much to draw all of the attention of the piece. I then started working on the scoping/targeting device and used sinusoidal (sin and cos) functions to make the dashes move in a somewhat elliptical rotation around (width/2, height/2), as change their radii in a similar fashion. For the rounding triangle, I used one of Golan's examples of how to change a circle into a triangle (and vice versa) in p5.js and changed some of the parameters to augment my loop. I then began to move on to the stars in the background.

For the stars, I used two different easing functions. The first was a cubic function I wrote myself which uses the curve (x-0.75)3+0.5 as its basis, and the other was the DoubleExponentialSigmoid from Golan's Pattern_Master folder. I used both because I wanted to vary the movement of the stars coming in from off-screen, and by manipulating the functions differently for each individual star, I was able to add some "character". I also added some stationary stars to make the scene more realistic. Finally, just to underline the fact that this loop was "occurring" in outer space, I added a slightly larger star to represent the sun which also moves sinusoidally about its center. I added text to make the scene feel more like the view from a scope or some kind of binocular, and added movement to that as well. At the end, for some extra detail and a repetition of the alien motif, I added a UFO in the corner to make it seem like the beings looking at the moon from this point of view may not be the only extraterrestrials out there. 

Ultimately, I feel I could have added more detail to the moon and UFO, but both did not want to distract the viewer and didn't have enough time to do so. I'm also not completely happy with the movement of the stars, as both easing functions look like they have very similar outputs in the viewable range. I also don't like that I was not able to increase the resolution, but I had a lot of problems with GIF creation as my loop had a longer period than the example from class on computational exportation, so it took a lot longer than I expected to construct a GIF out of my many frames. I am however, happy with the output of the binocular view, as it has a sci-fi feel to it, and the reduced resolution can add more to the story about the extraterrestrial's technology. That all aside, I believe I made a decent product that utilizes some of the many capabilities of arcs in p5.js. 

Experimental GIF loop:

Final GIF loop:


I believe I fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. I feel both that first-word art is difficult to judge without something similar to compare it to, and last-word art can sometimes feel like taking an original idea and just redoing it with current technologies or thought processes. Relating this to pop culture, the first person to start a trend doesn't become popular until more people jump on the bandwagon, and the last person to jump onto a trend is usually either ignored or belittled for being late (as the trend has probably died down). 

Technology has a huge potential to shape culture. Since it is always advancing, people are always experimenting with what it can do and creating new trends, adding to pop culture. With more advanced technology, more difficult tasks become easier, and the first to accomplish those tasks become popular and set new trends. The reverse is also true. Culture has a large impact on technological development. Especially in politics, if a group of people feel especially strongly about a specific current event or movement, they will create the technology and means to push their ideas to the masses and get their point across. Further, as new trends become popular, people will create the technology necessary to participate and make a name for themselves in those trends. 

If we make work that is technologically novel, it is always expected that the same work can be done easier and faster after more technological advancements. The one thing that is constant about technology is change, and it will keep on improving in some degree, and making previous technology relatively outdated, slow, and inefficient. That is why, when using technology to produce things like art, the audience is not necessarily for the future - it is for the current society. It shows off what current technological inventions can do, and inspires people to make better technology that can do the work better.





Note: Quality of colors, shapes, and fps has been greatly reduced to compress file size. For the original file project, visit this link.

Initially, I began trying to create a precise fire by programming each flame individually. The endeavor seemed too tiresome to complete, until I realised I could simulate the particles using randomised variables. This greatly reduced the amount of time required to code this piece. I particularly enjoyed playing with gradients using essentially only fill() and arc() and creating an atmospheric animation. I also enjoyed implementing subtle animations such as the twinkle of the stars and the shooting star. 80% of creating this piece was refinement. Using mathematical functions to simulate organic, fluid fire required a lot of toggling of different variables and trial and error. I used sigmoid functions to control the size of the flames as they burst into and fade out of existence, as well as to control the size and position of the shooting star. These sigmoid functions gave the appearance of acceleration and deceleration.

I am proud of how well the fire turned out. It looks organic yet also stylistic. The light emanating from the fire and the shadow the log casts on the ground are effective at giving the fire an appearance of warmth. I like my use of bright, warm colors against dark, cool colors. I wish I could have added more elements to the scene, like a caveman cooking some meat over the fire for example, but the fire and the rest of the background proved too time consuming for that. I would have also liked to pay more attention to the shooting star, which could have had a longer trail and maybe a twinkle as it fades. I think I could have also added more detail to the trees, the ground (adding plants or rocks) and the texture of the log, while maintaining the Adobe After Effects-like animation style.



As technology advances we will always be bombarded by a series of novel use cases of technology for art. Exploring the new and novel is not inherently wrong, but it is worth considering the reason for any goals of pioneering a medium. Kyle McDonald had an interesting critique on the need to claim first or define an incremental change as groundbreaking.

There is an undeniable ego to artists proclaiming themselves as pioneers. Importantly, many of the First & Last authors mentioned in the article have a deep understanding of the history of their medium, which likely contributed to their understanding of a possible future and novelty.

I would hope the goal of this exploration is in order to find new ways to connect with those interacting with art. Marshall McLuhan has discussed the importance of medium, and it is possible that these new mediums of work will help a series of artists connect in a way we never expected.


The process of creating this gif was a combination of incredible fun and stress. I considered doing a geometrically focused animation à la Bees and Bombs, but I do those kind of works a lot. I decided to use this project as a way to explore some whimsy instead. My full animation ended up being a little longer, with a day night cycle and a moon, but near the export phase of this project I ended up having a series of technical difficulties involving file size and frame rate, so I simplified the deliverable for the sake of time. I ended up choosing the smoothStep easing function partially because I liked the feeling of the sun and cloud coming in as if they were runnings lining up for a race. I would say the piece may not be incredibly complex, but it was helpful to get out of my stylistic comfort zone a little. Where I fell short most was interactions in the scene. The sun/cloud and hill/sheep interaction is basically the same, and without the day night cycle there isn't as much to unify everything in the scene.

P5JS code


I spent a lot of time struggling with creating the central object - the segmenting circle. I wanted it to have certain properties so that when I moved it around, it would naturally segment itself. When I finally managed that to my satisfaction, it was just a question of using the tool I had created in an interesting enough way. I wish I could have figured out how to make the balls actually fragment more than I managed, but overall I like how the basic interaction creates interesting illusions in the eye.