Background | Current | Education | Philosophy

I was raised in a small agricultural community in the Southern California desert, some miles from the town of Thermal. College was in the turbulent Vietnam War & Watergate years; I moved among four campuses of the University of California with, I recall, some seven different majors, and dropped out several times to travel and work in Africa and deal with bouts of near crippling rheumatoid arthritis.

Returning with an interest in geology acquired while driving across the Sahara Desert, I finished off my undergraduate degree in 1974 and returned to Kenya in 1975 to find work mapping rock formations in the Precambrian gemstone district. I faceted gemstones for a while back in the States in 1976, then entered the University of Arizona to get a Master's degree.

Though a straight-A student since my sophomore year, I was still too restless to do it all at once - after a summer as a research assistant in the Northern Mariana Islands, I dropped out again and took my first programming job in 1978. A year later I found myself writing 2D and 3D spatial and geochemical software for a mining and exploration company, and finally finished off that M.S. in 1982.

Now in my thirties, I found myself increasingly interested in the Big Questions of our origins and the working of the Universe. In 1985 I was fortunate to get a job as a senior systems programmer in the IRAF project at the National Optical Astronomy Observatories (NOAO) in Tucson. While my interests outside work shifted from the origin and history of the Earth to those of the Universe, in my job I found myself scrambling to unlearn my prized but inferior programming practices and undertake the difficult process of mastering serious systems programming.

In the late 1980's I found twin interests in algorithmic art and ecosystem theory. Chance encounters with Drs. Ralph Abraham and Rupert Sheldrake in 1991, during a discussion of Gaia Theory, led me to orchestrate a mid-life crisis resulting in leaving NOAO. I was able to purchase a Silicon Graphics Indigo workstation with the timely proceeds from a balloon payment on a house I had sold years earlier, and begin working on my own software in my home in the Tucson Mountains. My intention to write a computer graphic system to explore complex ecosystem interactions, perhaps even to simulate aspects of Gaia Theory, was put on hold as I grasped the magnitude of the problem. I would like to return to that project one day using the tools of genetic algorithms, artificial life, and simulated evolution. Aside from its philosophical implications, there could be great art lurking in it.

Meanwhile I attended the Artificial Life III conference at Santa Fe in June 1992 and began the path leading to my current activity in evolutionary art.

As of early 1999 I have spent the last six years developing software to evolve images, and exploring an increasingly rich genetic art hyperspace. It helps satisfy my urge to explore the process of evolution, but for me there is also a power in the images themselves, demanding to be brought forth from the immaterial to the material world.

My library of genes coding for form in images expands with each new run, and provides the seed for successive runs. After years of continuous work on this project, my genebanks are more valuable to my future artwork than the software system I wrote to create them. My SGI is running 24 hours a day generating video sequences from genetic cross dissolves.

Beginning April 1999 I'm designing a next-generation genetic system in Java, based on directed graph genomes like the ones Karl Sims used in 1994. My hope is to construct a generic genetic wrapper that can be interfaced to arbitrary dynamic simulations, starting with an improved image evolution system, then others like Gerald de Jong's Struck. Following the theme of my talk at Digital Biota-2 in Cambridge, September 1998, I intend to focus carefully on what the system does, and does not, consider an "individual" entity genetically speaking. Formerly independent genetic lineages should be able to merge symbiotically under the right conditions, as did our ancestral single-celled organisms at the Eukaryotic Transition. I would like this system to become an early testing ground in a-life software for Lynn Margulis' theories of symbiogenesis.

M.S. Geosciences, 1982, University of Arizona

B.A. with honors, Geology, 1974, U.C. Santa Barbara

by Steven Rooke

I can't stop. There is something compelling about this process. It feels as though the images are trying to break out of their hyperspace into the physical world. Sometimes I'll be two or three days into a run - dozens of generations with one or two hundred individuals in the population - when Wham! there's something familiar staring back at me from out of the computer screen, demanding to be made real. From hyperspace to computer screen to IRIS print.

Nobel laureate Murray Gell-Mann stated in The Quark and the Jaguar (p.299) that he understood the process of evolving images could be addicting. Indeed it is. Further, he observed that sale of such artwork in the marketplace and comments by critics would distinguish between a higher order complex adaptive system and one in which, for example, a dilettante horse breeder may please himself but not be acting like a businessman, instead exhibiting maladaptive behavior. I feel the time has come to accept Gell-Mann's implied challenge and test the marketplace.

I cannot speak the language of a traditional artist, as I have no such background. Instead I must rely on what the images themselves are telling me, and the process that produces them. The ambiguous dimensionality of many of the images is intriguing -- this one looks like a fantasy landscape, but there's more going on than gravity, ground, sky and stuff in between; what's that whorl over there sneaking in from another dimension?

Superficially the images are two-dimensional height fields interacting with expanded colormaps to provide simulated depth cues, shadows, perspectives. But mathematically, the identical program is applied to every pixel, and that genetically evolved program involves super-high dimensional spaces. The program has hundreds or thousands of branches, constantly swapping spatial variables with temporal or phase-space quantities. In a non-trivial sense, each image is a colored two-dimensional projection of a complex space having hundreds or thousands of dimensions.

Evolutionary art has become a passion for me. Images evolve that look like places I see in my dreams, sometimes complex landscapes I can fly through, sometimes evocative forms that seem familiar, just beyond the edge of recognition. My library of genetic image or scenery elements continues to grow, seeming to take on a life of its own, though coupled to my own evolving tastes and inspiration.

I have seen these shapes and places before, in dreams, in altered states, in rocks, landforms, forests, arthropod shells, galaxies, in microscopes.

There is a Jungian aspect to all this. When I say the images themselves are calling to me to pull them out of hyperspace into the material world, and that certain images virtually jump out of the screen at me, it could be that I am talking about archetypes. I do see these images in dreams, in altered states. When I hear an audience gasp during a slide show or multimedia presentation, I have to think there is something broader happening, beyond the whims of an eccentric arti-scientist. Time and the marketplace will tell.

I have been exploring algorithmic art since the mid-1980's when I was a senior systems programmer at the National Optical Astronomy Observatories in Tucson, Arizona. I was fascinated by the rich worlds revealed by simple fractal equations in computer programs I would write during nights and weekends. Janitors got to know me because I would often be photographing long sequences of images off old framebuffer image processors or the newer workstations in the wee hours. The art of fractal imaging is like photography: you choose just where to look, how to frame, lighting and color. The content of the image itself has no history created by the artist: it always was, and is, existing unchanging in some Platonic realm.

In 1991 I learned about Tom Ray's work on artificial life, which pulled me into the world of genetic algorithms and simulated evolution, and I read Karl Sims' seminal paper on generating colored 2D images using evolution by aesthetic selection. Now there was a way to evolve these landscapes, and with a history: the artist's guidance throughout the process. By the end of 1993 I had written my own program for evolving images on my first Silicon Graphics workstation at home in Tucson.

As I write (Dec. 31, 1996) for three years I have been building a library of genetic organisms that produce images. I find it difficult to get anywhere fast starting with a primordial soup, as I did often in the early days. With my background in geology I see parallels with the evolution of life on Earth: there was a lot of experimentation early on in basic body plans, with a major explosion of new phyla appearing in the Cambrian, followed by a shakeout with only thirty-something phyla surviving today. Something similar is happening in my image evolution, as I generally inoculate a new run with a variety of preserved organisms (the digital amber). Evolution by aesthetic selection has for me already had its flowerings of new forms followed by shakeouts.

I suppose I am known as something of a fanatic about image resolution, or detail. For me, there is never enough. I want to print these images at the largest size, with the finest resolution and quality available. Someday I would like to employ some kind of wall sized printing device to create the largest, highest resolution images ever. Picture seeing a large mural from a hundred feet away. As you walk closer to it, you see increasing detail - right up to the limit of your vision 12 inches away. Such journeys through large reaches of scale are made possible by algorithmic, and evolutionary, art.

For a brief discussion on the issue of "Do these images already exist? And aren't you just telling a computer to crank some out for you?" - see my comments under Stuart Kauffman and Kevin Kelly in the references page.

I would like to finish by quoting Dr. Ralph Abraham, from a panel I organized in 1995 at the Telluride Wild Mushroom Festival entitled Mushrooms, Music, and Mind, from a personal transcript of an audio tape (August 26, 1995):

"...But in Nature, we see chaotic patterns, and it turns out that chaotic patterns have resonant behavior -- that means that one chaotic pattern, spacetime pattern, can speak to another one across space and time, through an elastic medium or the electromagnetic field.
These are the patterns which are seen to be fundamental throughout Nature, in the galaxies, in the ecosystems, in the human brain, and, I'm sure, in the mycelial mat.
We try to study these new patterns, spacetime patterns, of smooth cooperation, of chaotic agents, by using supercomputers and large workstations, to visualize through computer graphics the actual spacetime patterns generated by these chaotic computer models while we vary the strength of the connections between the nodes in a way that would imitate, for example, the learning process Andrew [Weil] described in the human brain.
The spacetime patterns, then, are the messages... a letter is sent from one place to another. Similar letters are sent from many stations to many recipients according to a certain spacetime pattern.
When we see these computer generated spacetime patterns of chaotic cooperation on the computer screen, we recognize them. We have seen them in our dreams. We have seen them in our telescopes. We have seen them in our microscopes: the universal language of spacetime pattern, which is the subject of the mathematics of tomorrow."