Diego Zuelli is a visual artist. For more than ten years his research has dealt with the digital creation of image, often exploiting the computer’s decision-making skills. In his latest project, The simple combination, a combining algorithm daily creates a drawing by assembling graphic elements that were previously uploaded by the author. The project, curated by Paola Tognon and Elisa Bernardoni, is available on the contemporary locus website, and it was produced by Collezione Anna and Francesco Tampieri.

Diego Zuelli, The Simple Combination, 2015. Series of drawings composed with an algorithm of combination, computer-graphics, and software. Courtesy the Artist, Collezione Anna e Francesco Tampieri, Contemporary locus.

Adv/N.B. : this dialogue derives from various scattered notes, which were collected by a third individual during a conversation between Diego Zuelli and Gabriele Tosi. It has been then decided to edit it for reading purposes, without adding any contents. The sequence of questions and answers is therefore an artifice that doesn’t necessarily coincide with the statements’ authors.

GT Why are you interested in using a computer to generate art?

DZ We turn to a computer to be less of ourselves. It’s interesting because at the same time that computer ends up resembling us…

Be less of ourselves…

To free ourselves from the need of making decisions where it doesn’t matter… the possibility of letting a computer choose some shapes, modes and moments. I think of algorithms to generate casual numbers…

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Diego Zuelli, Il complesso dei pianeti (The Complex of Planets), 2013. Software, HD video projector, stereo sound. Courtesy of the artist. In this work a software infinitely recombines a group of elements of computer graphics to compose on the screen animations that are always different. In the same way the sound is the result of a random generation.

By replicating a random choice the machine resembles us?

Yes, if you define a tree as a random generator of leaves, a volcano a random generator of lapilli, as the lawn of flowers, and the atmosphere of clouds. We could even think that the simple act of playing with a ball would end up being a random generator of sports! And so on.

So the use of chance is a matter of realism?

Chance mimics chaos. In this sense it isn’t wrong to think that good part of art still today has an imitative relationship with nature. But for an author chance is also used as an instrument to not define. To describe what is not placeable between a cause and an effect.

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Diego Zuelli, frame of an unfinished piece, 2003. Courtesy of the artist. In this unfinished piece the software combines in a random way the elements that compose the landscape. The bird’s eye view shooting displays a landscape that is always new, thanks to the composition of finite graphic elements.

But why is choosing a problem?

I don’t want to show myself off, I want to show the work. The problem isn’t much choosing, but the amount of choices that today an author has to make. There was a time where several external factors, such as the commission, would unburden the artist. In another moment the language and the ideas directed the will of the authors. Currently the amount of choices can turn into an obstacle to research. For this reason creating rules and complex casual behaviors and using an algorithm helps generating art. Once the rules have been written and the materials organized, the best moment is to see that the project goes on its own. This scalability is impossible when working without some sort of automation and randomization.

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Diego Zuelli, 22 cerniere casuali (22 Casual Links), 2006. Video installation, computer-graphics, computer reproduction. In this case the sequence of eleven frames that compose the video is selected randomly in every moment by the computer.

I sense some repetition, mannerism…

The less willing artists and the ones with less foresight select a series of rules, materials and conjugations, and if these rules have any luck they will “generate” pieces of art for years. The good artists select every time the materials, the rules and the conjugations. Whoever technically implements the piece isn’t interesting, be it the computer or the assistant.

But in comparison with the assistant, the presence of a machine is relevant for the interpretation of the work, yet it doesn’t undermine the role of the author. Is it so hard to think of the computer as an artist?

It makes me recall Asimov: “The Last Question”. A very advanced computer carries out what we’d call a proper universal creation. The fundamental problem of an utopian computer with infinite possibilities, that generates art without a programmer is the one of frequency: should he generate one per second or one every three years?

Couldn’t he decide it?