In this new research & creation project, we propose to explore magical traditions to find new ways of making art with the computer. Specifically, we are interested in gathering inspiration from the methods and imagery of divination systems and other magical practices. By working with these systems through artistic experiments, we aim to develop the basis for a new artwork.
This intuition emerges from our first collective project, Nova, which led us to change our method of working with computers. We developed a program that combines recorded video footage of water and synthesized wave patterns to produce new imagery. As we added more parameters, the program became so complex that we could not fully predict its visual output. Working with a system that was at the limit of our control led us in unexpected directions. Composing images with Nova involved relating to the computer as if it were a collaborator instead of as an inanimate tool that carried out our explicit instructions in precise detail.
This was a conceptual shift rather than a technical one. Nova does not make use of AI technologies, but it felt like it was communicating with us. The unpredictable visual output from the system influenced our artistic composition, but also the way that we continued to develop the system itself. Our relationship with Nova thus came to feel like a productive feedback loop, or more plainly, a conversation.
This sense of collaboration with a system reminded us of our personal experiences working with methods of divination. For example, a Tarot reading generates surprising combinations of cards. While the order is apparently random, the symbols on the cards gain significance when they are juxtaposed with each other. Although the Tarot does not have a mind of its own, it encourages the reader to generate a narrative in a way that feels like a collaborative encounter.
We see the Tarot and other divination systems as methods for creating a sense of communication. We are interested in working directly with these systems in order to understand how they produce this impression. In addition to divination systems such as the Tarot, we are interested in studying other magical symbol systems such as Enochian magic and Goetia in order to enlarge our frame of reference.
Our goal in this research is to find the qualities of these systems that can be transposed to computer art. In doing so, we aim to follow the example of other artists who have sought methodological inspiration in divinatory systems. By finding links between magical systems and computation, we hope to expand our approach to working with the computer as a generative artistic machine.
We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.