With Code as His Medium, Siebren Versteeg Programs Art
Coder-hacker-artist Siebren Versteeg makes art that is uniquely tied to our digital age. By generating paintings untouched by a brush and extending the internet into three-dimensions, some might say he is bringing the Singularity—a potential era when artificial intelligence will replace biological intelligence—that much nearer.
According to the mixed- and multimedia artist, attempting to retain information in our overloaded age is not worth it. In line with the Buddhist principle of non-attachment, by which he is influenced, he once stated: “There’s too much, why bother to try and hang on?” Instead of “hanging on” to the information that we process through computer screens and the infinite internet-based resources—like Amazon, Flickr, and Spotify—that have altered our social and buying habits, Versteeg hacks into and scrambles it. Tied to its time, his work is about the technological revolution and how human beings engage with the digital age it has ushered in, for better and for worse.
Though computer code is his principal medium, he draws much inspiration from art history in shaping his installations, digital paintings, and internet- and video-based works. “I did make painting, sculpture, and video as an undergraduate,” he once explained, “but once I began programming, I realized that the logic of that medium was exactly what I had been pursuing through other means. That is, a looping logic that is infinitely nesting and spiral-like.”
Versteeg begins most of his works by writing code, which he then unleashes online, allowing it to do its work. In a series of digital paintings, for example, he turns abstract expressionism on its head via various algorithmic programs: One trolls for images online, and then radically distorts and compiles them into abstract compositions; another generates a randomized assortment of gestural marks and colors, and then stops at some point in the process (i.e. completing the image), before re-starting once again. The artist intervenes at this point by printing out the finished images onto canvas, presenting uncannily painting-like compositions never once touched by a brush, paint, or his own hand. Some of these works look like psychedelic circuit boards. Others recall the gestural abstractions of Jackson Pollock or Franz Kline. All suggest that we can now add another uniquely human capacity to a computer’s arsenal of abilities: making art.