Trickle Down Aesthetics – Cellular Automata in recent works by Troika

Cellular automata are one of the classic techniques of deriving algorithmic form, and for good reason – they offer a great return on investment. Spawning complex and unpredictable 2D patterns from simple rules, they are the type of system that many programmers play around with when first investigating computational emergence. While many artists exploring these methods ultimately ‘graduate,’ and move on and mobilize more sophisticated mathematical systems, several recent works by the UK artist collective Troika convincingly demonstrate how a prolonged investigation into a rudimentary approach can yield rich dividends. This savviness is hardly surprising as Troika’s Eva Rucki, Conny Freyer, and Sebastien Noel fuse conceptual, computational, and commercial (gallery) concerns. Their more recent projects include a selection of drawings and projections at Art Rotterdam and a sculpture that offers meta-commentary on viewing ‘in the round’ at Mexico’s ZONA MARCO. This post will hone in on the subset of their recent works deploying cellular automata and evolutionary algorithms; quite notably they forgo the pixels (and screen-based presentation) you might expect and realize rudimentary computation in plastic and aluminum.

It was at a show quite fittingly titled “The Far side of Reason” at OMR Gallery in Mexico City in 2013 that Troika presented Hierophany, a series of 2D compositions rendering cellular automata with neatly arranged rows and columns of black and white dice. In one image, triangular forms expand and then disintegrate; another reads as pure monochrome noise – a chunkier version of TV snow. Initially rendered on canvases in portrait orientation, these chaotic geometries were explored further in landscape aspect ratios within the complimentary series Calculating the Universe (2014, see the feature image that sits above this post).

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