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Algorithmic Shells Grow And Develop Like Nature Itself In Audio-Visual Installation

Mary Franck's new work "Carapace" represents the ego, a shell that continually unfolds.

In human life, the ego is born, grows, takes hold, and eventually disintegrates. Mary Franck aims to replicate the ego's life cycle in Carapace, an audio-visual installation featuring organically-created and algorithmic forms.

Developed in residence at the Society for Art and Technology (SAT), Franck's Carapace will premiere inside SAT's Satosphere dome at IX Symposium of Immersive & Experiential Media in Montreal on May 22nd. Franck will then take the exhibition to EM15 at Mutek Elektra Festival from May 28th to June 1st.

The installation's name is not arbitrary. A carapace is a shell found on the exteriors of arthropods and arachnids, amongst other organisms. While algorithms lie at the heart of software, the DNA of the dynamic, computer-generated forms could be interpreted as shells. Yet, Franck sees a more important metaphor in the carapace. For her, it's a good analogue for the human ego.

“The concept preceded the word,” said Franck. “It started when I saw the Statosphere dome.” Later, when Franck was lying on a beach looking up at the stars, she was struck by the concept of layers of self or identities shedding over time. “We construct the ego as a way of expressing ourselves, but it's also how we protect our self,” with the ego becoming more and more elaborate—a shell that continually unfolds:

“The other line of inquiry that's really interesting to me is form and morphology, or how organisms actually have the form that they have” said Franck. “Why does the zebra have stripes? Most people would respond that it allows them to blend as a herd and not get eaten, but the actual reason is much more complicated.”

The complicated explanation has to do with chemical diffusion gradients. Developed by early computer scientist and cryptoanalyst Alan Turing in his reaction-diffusion model, chemical diffusion gradients laid down a mathematics of patterning in organisms.

These organic patterns and forms, like those found in shells or plants, always piqued Franck's interest. And this interest expanded into curiosity about how they form. “The complexity of these processes is beautiful to me,” she said. “The pattern in which a tree branches is a product of hormone diffusion gradients.

“On a biochemical level, everything about us is a product of form [morphology], of how organic molecules fit together and diffuse, including consciousness,” Franck added. “Consciousness is this biochemical phenomena that we don't really understand. It's this incredible thing that comes into being, is a universe unto itself, then winks out.”

This all suits Franck's visual interests, which cut across algorithmic forms, spaces, and 3D environments and objects. “My style is a hybrid of organic and algorithmic processes,” she said. “I draw lines or model surfaces, manipulate them procedurally, analyze them, and use that as source for algorithmic animations and forms.”

Franck noted that her hand-drawn work is the armature, as it were, and the algorithm the skin. “The algorithms themselves I design to look organic: curling tentacles, shifting scales, colonies, veins, etc.,” she added, which can be seen in abundance in Carapace.

As for software tools, Franck uses a mix of Derivative Touch Designer, Python, and OpenGL Shading Language (GLSL), though most of the drawing is done with Rhino. Her audio collaborator, Kadet Kuhne, used ProTools, Ableton and Max/MSP on the project. Franck emphasized that Carapace's audio will be less generative and more structured.

After Carapace makes its appearances at SAT and Mutek, Franck will bring a single-channel version of it back to her home base of San Francisco this July. Other exhibitions may follow.

See more of Franck's work on her website here: http://www.maryfranck.net/

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