[NetBehaviour] Some things I've been thinking about lately

Max Herman maxnmherman at hotmail.com
Wed Sep 23 16:54:22 CEST 2020

Hi Pall,

I like this idea or line of thought.  Not sure how to articulate why, but I like that fact too!

I don't know any programming language at all really, beyond the most simplistic level, but I like the overall idea that words or symbols can have both a determinate and indeterminate meaning depending on conditions.  Code can tell a machine to do a task, but I read recently in Hofstadter that a machine can't "learn" from its own actions at the exact same level of detail as its actions occur on.  Thus it kind of "intuits" or guesses.  I don't know if renormalization has a role here, or metaphor, but there is something about it I think is of value.

I'm not an expert at all about renormalization, but this recent article I read has artistic implications I think: https://www.quantamagazine.org/how-renormalization-saved-particle-physics-20200917/

Reading about allostasis lately I saw the claim that cells are analog computers, and the biology "takes shape" based on an information process going on.  So I don't know if this relates or not, but maybe?  In any case I'd be interested in examples like the wood pixel.  I've done a few network- or math- inspired pieces in wood and everything else aside I enjoyed making them.  Two are squares: one is from a 4'x8' plywood sheet cut in half and hung on the wall ("plywood square") and the other is a square wooden box with a circle image wood-burned on the front for holding 5 DVDs.  I also always liked printing out web content onto paper, then either keeping/valuing the paper, using it for a function, letting it age or get lost/ruined, etc.  These are not the same thing perhaps as what you are describing but they come to mind.  I can't think of any articulate language to explain what my thinking is about what you are describing.

It reminds me too of Hofstadter's idea of "A Godel Vortex Where All Levels Cross," "An Escher Vortex Where All Levels Cross," and "A Bach Vortex Where All Levels Cross" from pp. 713-719 of GEB.

One language I know a very little bit of is SQL, so I will attempt the below freehand as it were:

select a.garment, a.shape, a.vortex, a.year, b.drawing, b.codex, b.year, c.codex, c.theme,
from mona_lisa_painting a, leonardo_drawings b, leonardo writings c
a.vortex = c.vortex
and a.shape = 'sinusoid'
and a.stability = 'oscillating'
and b.opacity = 'low'
and c.opacity = 'high'
and c.keyword = 'esperienza'
order by 1,3,4;

With the idea being that I could do all the above with paper and pencil?  Not a great example at all, no material qualities to it, of course it's not actually rigorous in any way but something I've been thinking about doing, or what it might mean to do so.

Another approach I've been thinking of is some kind of algebra or sets, like "set of all things that flow in ML," "set of all things that flow in Drawings," "set of all things that flow in Saint Anne," etc.

By the way I like the Longest Line very much too!

All best,


PS -- Maybe this is how the universe manifests phenomena?  A code for one thing becomes an ingredient of another code and you get code 3, because the implementation is not the same medium.  I have been pondering lately how the ATP synthase "machine" rotates to bind something together (like a yarn) so that it becomes an ATP, which when catalyzed releases a small energy quantum, which is kind of like a helicity transform.  And there's no real "plan" per se either in the sense of advance design; everything just goes on its merry way but you end up with crazy stuff like benches, cardboard, aluminum cans, hedgehogs, you name it.  On p. 19 of Sterling's What is Health? Allostasis and the Evolution of Human Design he writes "The ATP synthase molecule comprises about 30 protein subunits that form a nanoturbine.  Protons, driven by a concentration/voltage gradient, pass through the interface between the c8 ring and ATP6, thereby rotating the attached central stalk (subunits lambda, delta, and sigma) to spin the turbine at 9,000 rpm.  Each revolution imparts energy to three catalytic sites in the upper domain (comprising subunits alpha3beta3lambda-delta-sigma) thereby synthesizing three ATP molecules.  The synthase appeared first in the cell membrane of prokaryotes, one of which was later transformed into the mitochondrion...."

Recent Quanta article about turbulence and vortices: https://www.quantamagazine.org/an-unexpected-twist-lights-up-the-secrets-of-turbulence-20200903/

And finally a quote from Martin Kemp about vortices in the ML:

"Leonardo's magical landscape of fluid and structural transformations finds its echoes in the sitter and her costume.  Lisa's hair obeys the water principle of flow....  The very fine cloth of Lisa's costume adopts analogous patterns of flow -- spiral in the case of the stole over her left shoulder and cascading in little rivulets below her neckline.  These are analogous to the coursing fluids that vivify the woman's body.  Leonardo could not but have projected his knowledge of the inner into the description of the outer."

[Martin Kemp of Oxford University, from his 2017 book Mona Lisa, video here<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtYhVk7qsSI>.]

To Kemp's mentions above, I would add that the sleeves are spiral vortices, the veil has a sine wave or helix profile, and the neckline embroidery includes four examples of vorticity chains.  Leonardo designed clothing and also invented machines to make rope and yarn including the first "flying shuttle"; which is understandable as textiles drove the economy of Florence in his day.


From: NetBehaviour <netbehaviour-bounces at lists.netbehaviour.org> on behalf of Pall Thayer via NetBehaviour <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
Sent: Tuesday, September 22, 2020 4:10 PM
To: Julian Brooks <lists at julianbrooks.net>
Cc: Pall Thayer <pallthay at gmail.com>; NetBehaviour for networked distributed creativity <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
Subject: Re: [NetBehaviour] Some things I've been thinking about lately

Hi Julian,
Don't get me wrong. I'm not really trying to justify the existence of anything. Rather, I'm trying to justify my own notion that I've created some art with computer programming that works better outside of the computer and digital realm.

Thanks for your comment on The Longest Line. I appreciate it. And I'm glad you brought it up because it's a good example to bring into the discussion. As I see it, The Longest Line couldn't possibly exist in any other form than it is presented in. It's made for the web browser and even borne out of web culture (the infinite scroll). I can't think of any other means of presenting it and having the piece actually "work". However, my experiment with the single pixel on the screen doesn't work even though it's constructed with web technology and conceptually borne out of digital concepts (the pixel). It's too hard to see the pixel, causing the art work to be far less interesting than it could be. So, my first reaction was, screw it, I'll just make the "pixel" a 10x10 pixel square even though the code presented is for a 1x1 square. But I always get too involved in the conceptual side. That part of me thought, "No, you can't do that. The code says 1x1, therefore the pixel must be 1x1." That's when it occurred to me that I could, for instance, turn it into a tee shirt design. It would still show the code but, since it's no longer on a computer screen, I get to determine the size of the pixel. Which got me to thinking, hey... what about creating work with code as my medium but instead of a computer or software interpreting the codes, I can interpret them in my own head and construct them any way I want. So, I really just began this discussion to justify my own conceptual choices. But I'm glad people can apply the ideas in different ways.

On Tue, Sep 22, 2020 at 4:03 PM Julian Brooks <lists at julianbrooks.net<mailto:lists at julianbrooks.net>> wrote:
Hi Pall,

As a fairly recent netbehaviourist I'm kinda saddened that justifying
existence is still a thing for digital artists (esp here)...

For my music practice I think of code (Pd mainly) as instrument and
laptop as tool.

Anyhow, this 'wrong-ness' puts me in mind of some Gavin Bryars pieces,
where things like chinese-whispered scores, near-impossible realisations
over vast dimensions and inaudible content form the various pieces -
most often with great titles (his website seems to be down so can't
share many links but e.g.
or a realisation of one here:

Music's good (experimental esp.) for this kinda thing...

Re the pixel -- I'm maybe overthinking but isn't it then an object
(which is fine) but not a pixel (it would perhaps require defining
physical image resolution, which, for me, is kinda interesting
conceptually also. Hmmm:)



P.S. Can I do a quick fanboy thing and say The Longest Line was one of
my favourite pieces of 2019 <:hands>.

On 22/09/2020 17:07, Pall Thayer via NetBehaviour wrote:
> As some on this list know, for many years, I've been pushing the notion
> that programming code should be viewed as an artistic medium when it's
> used to create art. The artist molds it into shape, as they would with a
> lump of clay, until it takes its final form. When I've discussed these
> ideas, I've always gotten a lot of pushback. People will say that
> programming code is a tool, like a paintbrush, not the medium, like
> paint. I don't agree. This notion has piqued my interest again in the
> wake of a rising trend where artists are creating graphic images by only
> using HTML/CSS (e.g. https://a.singlediv.com/ ,
> https://diana-adrianne.com/purecss-francine/ ).
> The problem with computer programmed art, however, is that it requires a
> computer. In my mind, there really hasn't been any justifiable reason to
> display computer programmed art on anything other than a computer...
> unless it adds something significant to the work. And this is something
> interesting that has recently occurred to me. I came up with this really
> simply piece:
> http://pallthayer.dyndns.org/notApixel/
> And have decided that this piece, although based entirely on computer
> programming code, will work better when divorced from the computer and
> the browser's interpretation of the code. On my 4k screen, it's
> practically impossible to see the red pixel in the center. If I remove
> the work from the environment that interprets the code, I'm free to
> determine the size of a single pixel:
> http://pallthayer.dyndns.org/notApixel/notApixel.png
> And I could choose to produce that piece in any physical material I
> want. It could be a block of wood glued to a panel of wood. What
> determines the size of a pixel of wood? What determines the result of a
> hexadecimal color code when it's been removed from the computer? If the
> code is to be interpreted in wood, what does #f00 mean?
> My main point is that with the example shown above, the piece can be
> made to work better at a conceptual level than it would if it were not
> removed from the browser environment.
> I'd love to hear other people's ideas on this. I did just write this all
> off the top of my head, so if I'm rambling and things don't make sense,
> just ask and I'll do my best to clarify.
> Pall Thayer
> --
> *****************************
> Pall Thayer
> artist
> http://pallthayer.dyndns.org
> *****************************

Pall Thayer
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