Spaceship #1

The theme here, if it’s not obvious, is the relationship between nature, randomness, mechanism and determinism. The title is not whimsical. The 6 cell motif that dominates the half of the painting is a representation of a single state of a cellular automaton, one of infinite number possible, from Conway’s Game of Life. This particular one is of the class of automata called “spaceships”. In his case, its representation is rotated to be balanced on its corners. I did this because I wanted to illustrate symmetry, which although is neither necessary, nor necessarily common in cellular automata (I’ll leave the mathematicians to prove whether the previous statements has any mathematical meaning, let alone is in any way probable one way or the other) is a common in the nature we observe around us, and may be intrinsic to life itself as well as the very fabric of the universe. Further marks are placed to then subvert this similarity placing the automaton in its environment which, as you would observe looking around your own environment, would seem haphazard and incongruous to your own manifestation.

The background to this painting was the result of an effort to create a non-white, homogeneous base for an idea for a different painting. Applying the base coat in my garden I whimsical decided to put down some leaves and other debris picked from my garden among the splashes I was applying, attempting to maximise the disorder of the base coat. Having let it dry I found the finished result so satisfying I immediately discounted my original purpose for this canvas, which would have cover most of the surface, for something that would use this base and its myriad organic forms.

The geometric pattern than I had applied to the untouched canvas for its original purpose suggested the new theme. The juxtopositoning between this regular geometric motif made an interesting counterpoint to the organic mess of the underpainting. I’ve been fascinated for while by the regularity and Mandlebrotian self-similarity displayed everywhere in the world around us. Nature is fractal and non-linear, which counter intuitively breeds a complex and unpredictable type of regularity, that repeats not only from item to item, from scale to scale. It seeming defies entropy through a self-sustaining urge to homeostasis, itself a physical manifestation of regression to the mean. This is mechanical, mathematical, seemingly linear and somewhat predictable, but at any scale or resolution is chaotic, unpredictable and, to the human brain at least, scarcely fathomable. There is geometry here, even where it’s not visible. There is also regularity, via repetition and self-similarity, but also in incremental, barely visible state change via random mutation. This gives the illusion of determinism. A directed progression towards a glorious developmental peak, with homo sapiens perched atop, chin thrust forward with pride and superiority. Creationism via a divine, unfolding plan. But this is an entirely unnecessary and redundant interpretation that makes liberal use post-rationalisation and reeks of self-serving fatalism and self-proclaimed birthright.

Finally, for any system to continue to exist, however fleetingly, it must contain a semblance of a stable state to which it can return. This, of course, is also an illusion. All natural systems constantly mutate, but a system’s existence is predicated on the fact that most facets exist within a standard deviation or two of the mean state. Outliers exist, but are momentary and will always be succeeded by information points closer to the centre of the Gaussian hump. This statistical inevitability gives the illusion of the comforting stability and regularity that allows randomness manifest as something resembling determinism. But systems are inherently unstable, and randomness prevails. To what ends we can only speculate.

An so automaton wonders this world of apparent contradictions, occasionally meeting other automata of varying shape and size, at which point they may merge and mutate, or obliterate each other. New states are created and old one obliterated. And here we have crude illustration of nature. I seek not to capture its likeness, nor create a simile or metaphor, but to illustrate one of its many faces.

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