Pushing Software to Its Artistic (and Algorithmic) Limits

Daniel Temkin's Glitchometry brings the psychedelic esthetic of Op to the language of coding

In our day-to-day interactions with computers, we humans tend to twist our thought patterns to accommodate the machines’ less flexible processing of information. This mental contortionism is something that new-media artist Daniel Temkin often reflects on while working in his studio in Queens, New York. “A lot of my work looks at that translation of human thinking into computer logic,” he says, “especially how it goes wrong, but also how we deal with logical systems, how kind of alien they are to us.” Yet Temkin remains a computer lover. He considers software to be his artistic partner, and he often pushes it to the limits of its algorithmic logic.


Daniel Temkin.


For his ongoing “Glitchometry” series, shown last year at Transfer Gallery in Brooklyn and at this year’s Pulse New York art fair, Temkin uploads illustrations of simple black-and-white shapes (stripes, circles, triangles, squares) into sound-editing software. The software’s special-effects functions distort and color the shapes, turning them into vividly psychedelic Op art. But Temkin can’t see the outcome until he moves the algorithm to an imaging program. “It’s that whole not-knowing-what-it’s-doing that’s interesting for me, because it feels more like a collaboration with the machine,” says Temkin, who cites Sol LeWitt, Gerhard Richter, and Bridget Riley as influences. The brilliantly distorted patterns are printed as high-resolution transparencies and mounted on lightboxes, selling for as much as $9,750.

The 40-year-old artist grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, outside Boston, where his father is a physicist at MIT and his mother makes pottery. He studied communications as an undergrad at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and earned an M.F.A. from the International Center of Photography–Bard College program in advanced photographic studies in Manhattan. In 1996, Temkin taught himself computer programming and quickly began seeing the language of coding as a form of conceptual art.

Glitchometry Stripes #4 (Alternate), 2013.COURTESY THE ARTIST

Glitchometry Stripes #4 (Alternate), 2013.


Some of his projects are interactive. For instance, two years ago, during a solo show at Brooklyn’s Devotion Gallery, viewers had typed conversations with Drunk Eliza (2012)—a tweaked version of the 1960s chatbot Eliza—whose questions and responses frustratingly degenerated into gibberish. “I was really interested in the way people communicate with her more than what she actually says,” Temkin explains. “As she starts to make less sense, people just start jamming the keyboard.”

For an upcoming exhibition at Transfer this August, Temkin is building a contraption that will automatically take pictures of the gallery space through different filters and at different exposures. This sequence of digital photos will flow to a computer program that operates by reading the brightness and color of images rather than text. The work, called Light Pattern, draws a parallel between the neutrality of the camera and the neutrality of the computer. “If there’s a camera pointing at us, we tend to perform for it—either people are uncomfortable or they’re fooling around,” Temkin says. “But the software doesn’t care what you’re doing in front of the camera. It only cares about the settings.”

Trent Morse is senior editor of ARTnews.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of ARTnews on page 112 under the title “Critic’s Pick: Daniel Temkin.”

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