In Computer Science Community Art Show, Context Makes All the Difference

Lya Finston

The basement dining room of Harkness House was filled with a charged yet casual excitement last Saturday night when it opened its doors for the Computer Science Community Art Show. The Computer Science Majors’ Committee, which serves to represent and bolster Oberlin’s computer science community, organized the event. The venue’s relaxed atmosphere and variety of interpretations of the show’s interdisciplinary theme made for a highly enjoyable and thought-provoking evening.

The strength of the event as a whole resided not only in the quality of the works on display, but also in the artists’ presentation and description. By offering background information on the technological aspects of their media, artists made the displayed works more accessible to viewers. This promoted each piece’s value beyond simple aesthetics, giving viewers a deeper understanding of what went into its creation in terms of computer science and programming.

College sophomore Simon Ever-Hale, a Math and Computer Science major, works primarily with Processing, a free software and language that allows users to bridge computer technology and visual art. Its website describes it as something like a “software sketchbook.” Ever-Hale’s unbridled passion for art and the processes behind it were evident in his eager presentation of his work last Saturday.

Ever-Hale created his most evocative work, the first in his “FL2” series of prints, with a physics-based particle system he wrote and a practice known as flocking, in which thousands of particles group into flocks around a single flock. Spring forces attract particles within different flocks to one another while magnetic forces repel them away from each other. Ever-Hale then disrupted this magnetic relationship with one particle moving through the other flocks. The resulting effect was a golden spiral of radiating, curved lines broken up by more chaotic, wispy strands that resemble hairs or the veins of a leaf. The composition captured organic and abstract beauty, yet was created entirely using technology, making it an immensely intriguing and successful work.

The majority of the artists featured in the show did not share this kind of accessible presentation of their work, however. In fact, many artists did not stay in the areas where their art was displayed, leaving many of the pieces in the show unexplained. Though aesthetically interesting, the works remained unapproachable overall on account of the artists’ failure to represent their art. When it comes to public, interdisciplinary events of this type, a significant portion of attendees come from backgrounds and areas of study outside of the Computer Science department. The event organizers should have kept such an audience in mind when planning the art show.

The handful of eagerly descriptive artists at the show last Saturday ensured that the potentially puzzling showcase didn’t confuse people, yet the unmanned tables left evocative work without context.