At Work and Play With Emergent Intermedia

Essay by Jack Ox, from exhibition catalog (© 2007 Jack Ox)

There are some principles at play, or rather, playful principles, which have informed Paul Hertz's work as he has moved between 2D, 3D, and time-based works. These are systems of creation coming from Complexity Theory, the science of emergent behavior, and from intermedia, a concept well defined and named by Dick Higgins in 1966 [Reprinted in Leonardo Vol. 34, No. 1, along with an appendix by Hannah Higgins. San Francisco: MIT Press, 2001, pp. 49-54] in the newsletter for his book publishing business, Something Else Press. Intermedia is the locus between different media and must include structural elements from two or more media in one medium. Hertz is an admitted admirer of Higgins and intermedia.

How can intermedia and emergent behavior be combined? Hertz applies simple rules to visual elements, i.e. colored shapes, and then adds some more rules and transformations to the product, often moving into other realms, from rules that have come from the visual world to rules from an auditory world like music. Hertz's alter-ego Ignotus the Mage, described as "a genuine Neo-Pythagorean charlatan," takes you through the transformations in A Graphical disquisition Upon the Ignoverse As Expounded by Ignotus the Mage And Faithfully Recorded by Paul Hertz.

Here are some of the steps:

  • Start with a square that has a square hole in the center.
  • There are four ways to draw five lines to connect the inner square with the outer square so that each tile contains the same five shapes. These are the four ignotiles, of which there are 32 rotations and reflections in all.
  • Next create a 2 x 2 array of the four ignotiles with three simple rules imposed. The four tiles can be permuted into 24 sequences.
  • By rotating and mirroring the permutations find 192 different ignoquads.
  • Construct Latin Squares from these ignoquads. A Latin Square is a matrix of elements where no element is repeated in any row or column. Hertz finds twelve fundamental forms of the Latin Square.
  • An array of 16 different ignotiles (four ignoquads) in a Latin Square he calls an ignosquare. There are several hundred thousand possible ignosquares.
  • The shapes within the ignosquares can be merged together using a set of four more rules. Large arrays of ignosquares can be merged along their borders.
  • Hertz then creates a variety of drawings, paintings, and digital prints by applying a further set of rules to merging and coloring the internal shapes.

Hertz doesn't stop there. He goes right on transforming these materials into other systems that are located in other media. For instance, there is the Ignogame, a card game which is based on a system that mirrors aspects of the I Ching. He assigns configurations of cards to categories of human activities and movement. Hertz does not actually take his own fortune telling seriously, although Carl Gustave Jung would probably find it useful for finding out one's own state of mind and therefore one's direction, in the same way as he finds relevance in the I Ching. What Hertz does say is that "...I try to make art about the human capacity for creating meaningful systems."

Does the game stop there? Absolutely not! Images are created by playing the Ignotus Game multiple times. Of course color is applied with simple systems too. So, what is going on here? Is there a pattern? You bet your sweet system there is. Hertz keeps applying pattern over pattern over pattern. He adds structural elements from music, and thereby enters the world of intermedia. There are twelve diagonal lines in the ignotiles, to which he has attached the twelve tones of a diatonic musical scale. Pitch classes are then assigned to different shapes, with durations of the pitches based on the area of each shape.

A musical graph derived from a colored map.

He has created a graph out of his original materials and then applied more rules, e.g. shapes with rests in them are treated as a "kind of no-man's land" which serves as a connector of shapes with pitch-class nodes. Thereby, the ignotiles can be used to derive a graph of musical parameters. The game is not limited to music, though, as other kinds of activities can be inserted instead. Hertz goes on with his creative game playing and even begins to tweak out jazz-like chords with a similarity to bop harmonies.

These games are then moved into the realm of interactive installations, such as Pond. Here, with a composition derived from the ignotiles, he attaches sampled voices of sixteen persons. The visuals consist of their faces transformed by patterns which were generated by playing the Ignogame.

In Orai/Kalos (2002) Hertz created an interactive multi-media installation for the International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA2002) in Nagoya, Japan. It is also an intermedia work that is controlled by underlying rules. The visual and audio events consist of samples of images and sounds in kaleidoscopic or granulated patterns.

Fools Paradise (2004), a collaboration with composer Stephen Dembski, is described by Hertz as an intermedia work because its composition comes from an abstract notational structure which determines the visual architecture of the piece and also the music that one hears during the journey through a virtual world based on the work of William Blake. One travels through this installation immersed in a 3D landscape that is at the same time a vast book, sculpture garden, and network of pathways traversing the locations of forty-eight icosahedral gems, masks, and songs. All of these markers trigger different multi-media experiences, e.g. music including flute, voices, and sound files that evoke a mysterious journey.

Hertz's work is emergent in nature because he discovers new forms through the overlaying and interaction of simple systems. This methodology forms the aesthetic of his work. I do not believe that Hertz has a vision of some complete print or installation when he begins work on the creative process that will produce his artwork. He allows the finished product to evolve until the system has run its course. There is always the same intellectual path in the way he thinks, with ideas emerging from the overlaying of other ideas. It is constantly and continuously evolving through his creative practice, and applies to all of the media in which he works, performance, VR, or digital prints.

Jack Ox is Artist in Residence and a Research Associate at the ARTSLab, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.