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Computer Data Grows Like Vines in ‘Enter the Machine’

Artist and programmer Eric Corriel taks microscopic photographs of file data in his latest exhibition.

What if one could shrink to see the guts, the innards of a computer hard drive or the data stored on mobile devices or on social media accounts—not as endless strings of code, but as physical manifestations? Artist and programmer Eric Corriel imagines what this might be like in his latest exhibition at Garis & Hahn, Enter the Machine. Corriel imagines himself a photographer of this microscopic landscape. With custom C++ software, he creates nine styrene-printed works displayed in synchronized, pulsating light boxes.

In Enter the Machine 1.0 AKA My Desktop, Corriel renders his digital data as a multicolored abstraction, remaking the inorganic data as organic forms like neurons, novas, flora, and so on. These and the eight other works in Enter the Machine make the flat data into painterly and even sculptural forms.

Enter the Machine 1.0 A.K.A. My Desktop

“As a programmer I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that the digital diversity of our files and folders is kept completely hidden from us by our operating systems–kind of like an overprotective parent bundling up their child for a snowy day,” Corriel tells The Creators Project. “Most of us think of digital files as we see them on our desktop, or in Finder, or Windows Explorer as a simple icon with a label. But I always thought this conception didn't do justice to the digital diversity contained therein. So I set out to explore how to bring the idiosyncratic nature of our files to light.”

Corriel quickly discovered that each file, as lame as he says it sounds, is its own “special snowflake,” because each contains numerous bits of data in a very specific order. The process of “unearthing” each file’s inherent uniqueness and then rendering it visible required the creation of several custom algorithms. Corriel wrote all of these algorithms in C++ with OpenFrameworks.

Enter the Machine 1.7 A.K.A. Work I Did for the School of Visual Arts in 2015 (detail)

“I targeted nine different stops along my hard drive to put on display: my desktop, downloads folder, dropbox, email folder, work I did for the School of Visual Arts,” he says. “At each stop, the software I wrote crawled my hard drive and created a ‘file portrait’ of each and every file. Once I created a file portrait for every single file (which in most cases amounted to thousands of individual ‘portraits’), I then wrote another script in Javascript to place each individual portrait into a Photoshop document, which then became the final print.”

Each print is thus something of a “group portrait” of all files in a particular order. The print of Corriel’s Dropbox folder, for example, contains over 5,000 files totaling 2.3GB of data, which he says took roughly 350 computer hours to produce.

Enter the Machine 1.6 A.K.A. Mac OS X 10.10 (excerpt)

“Each print is housed in a handmade light box made by Chris Miano and controlled by a custom-built circuit powered by a Teensy microcontroller, which controls the rate at which the light behind the print pulses,” Corriel says. “I can’t tell you how many people think these prints are either animated or being dynamically generated, but they’re completely static and it’s just the light that changes.”

At the exhibition, visitors will encounter the nine illuminated boxes, which are accompanied by a commissioned sound composition by Krista Dragomer called “Digital Matter.” 

Enter the Machine 1.3 A.K.A. iTunes Compilations, A–E

Enter the Machine runs until February 25. Click here to see more of Eric Corriel’s work.

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