Italiano [English below]

Ho partecipato, con il paper “Evolutionary creativity. The inner life and meaning of art”, alla XX Generative Art International Conference, tenutasi dal 13 al 15 Dicembre a Ravenna presso il Museo dell’Arte (MAR) e la Biblioteca Classense. La conferenza internazionale, a cura di Celestino Soddu e Enrica Colabella, giunta alla ventesima edizione, organizzata dal Generative Design Lab del Politecnico di Milano e dall’Associazione Argenia di Roma, verteva sulle forme, le tecnologie e le applicazioni dei processi generativi alla dimensione creativa. Alla conferenza, alle mostre e alle performance presso il MAR e la Biblioteca Classense hanno partecipato oltre 70 tra studiosi, ricercatori e artisti da tutto il mondo. Il paper è stato pubblicato negli atti.

Di seguito uno stralcio del mio intervento (in inglese). La versione completa può essere scaricata da qui.


I participated, with the paper “Evolutionary creativity, The Inner Life and Meaning of Art”, at the XX Generative Art International Conference, held from 13 to 15 December in Ravenna at the Museum of Art (MAR) and the Classense Library. The international conference, curated by Celestino Soddu and Enrica Colabella, now in its twentieth edition, organized by the Generative Design Lab of the Politecnico di Milano University and the Argenia Association of Rome, was focused on the forms, technologies and applications of generative processes to the creative dimension. More than 70 scholars, researchers and artists from all over the world attended the conference, exhibitions and performances at MAR and Classense Library. The paper has been published in the proceedings.

Below an excerpt of my paper. The full version can be downloaded here.


Evolutionary creativity. The inner life and meaning of art


1. Simple mediations

In art and design making it is possible to identify three main modes. In the first one the artist physically shapes the matter with the body or with parts of the body, or he/she uses some body-based tools, like pencils, brushes, chisels, and so on. This simple mediation happens, for instance, in traditional paintings, in sculpture, in ceramics, in lute manufactoring. A large part of art, maybe the most celebrated in books, manuals, catalogues, exhibitions and events, deals with this making mode, from the prehistoric palaeolitic parietal wall paintings until the XIX and XX Centuries art avant-gardes.

2. The controlled mediation of a device or a machine

In a second art-making mode the artwork is a construct mediated by some device or machine. The final outcome is shaped by a more or less extended and complex automatic process. A device and a machine involve a process that, more or less automatically and repetitively, is strictly driven by starting instructions and conditions. These instructions can remain constant throughout the process, or they can change, being modified during the artwork making, but the device is supposed to strictly and exactly follow them. In fact, the measure of the final result’s quality depends on the precision of the device or the machine in following those instructions, in representing the model or repeating the project described by those instructions. The final outcome must be predictable, unique in a serialization or with just a few controlled variations, as close as possible to the starting or evolving model. This mode is typical in the artforms based on techniques and technologies like 2D and 3D printing, photography, cinema, video, computer simulations, numeric controlled devices, and more in general in traditional design and graphic arts, as well as in a large part of technological arts. Just in these days a historical exhibition at MoMA in New York, “Thinking Machines: Art and Design in the Computer Age, 1959–1989”, celebrates the creativity mediated by computers [1].

2.1 The example of photography

A perfect example of this mode is photography. Photography is based on a device that, if activated just by pushing a button, generates an automatic image, after the photographer has chosen the viewpoint or arranged the scene, the object(s) and/or the subject(s) in front of the camera. Photography and cinema from real life (not computer generated) are “referential images” [2, 3].

In this picture the images’ realm is divided in two families, based on how the images are obtained and not on what they represent: “referential images” and “non-referential images”. In the first category the images can only be obtained in presence of the referent (from Latin res ferens, which means “that carries the thing”), that is of what is represented [4]. In this category the presence of the subject, of the object or of the phenomenon during the image making process is mandatory: without this being there, in front of the camera, there is no image. Recalling Roland Barthes, in front of a photo I can never deny that the represented subject, object or phenomenon has been there, for some occurrence, in some time of its existence, in front of the camera [5, 6]. The image is logically and technically built by that co-presence (being there) during the image making process: it is the subject/object’s emanation made of the light it has reflected or generated, which has been recorded through a chemical and physical process. On the other hand, in the “non-referential” images that co-presence is simply not mandatory nor relevant during the image making process.

That being there, which defines photography and cinema from real life as referential images, also makes them uncanny. No way to escape their cruel as well as luring fascination, they can talk about life and death, as Barthes noted [5]. About life: because classic photography certifies that something has been there, in front of the camera, that it once has existed, which is at the core of the social and documentary use of photography. About death: because, sometimes intolerably, photography rise the evidence of a loss, of somebody or something whose light – for some reason, in some instance, in some moment of its life, by will or by chance – was once reflected, caught and recorded onto a two-dimensional chemical support, and at the same time that he/she/it can’t be again anymore in that way, in that situation, or at all. Photography is the contemporary monument. Instead of an expensive but durable single representation made in stone or bronze in order to defy eternity, photography generates a moltitude of cheap and frail pictures, of ephemeral instances, of short-living emanations, that can anyway survive to the individual’s life, against the infinity of time [7].

Although in the history of photography there are examples of artists searching for unexpected visual effects, most photographers aim at strictly controlling the final image in its character of an exact representation of reality. In fact, just because of its referential condition, photography is socially, bureaucratically and legally considered as a proof.

3. Leaving autonomy to devices and machines

A further step in art making is the use of a machine or a device with a certain degree of autonomy [8, 9]. Instead of a direct or slightly mediated construction process through simple tools, or of a device-mediated controlled process, in this mode an autonomous and possibly open process can take place, limiting or eliminating the human intervention. This process can be eventually influenced by new inputs during its running, generating a dynamically evolving outcome. In creating these artworks the artist and the designer are activators of processes. They set up some general boundary conditions, but during the art generation process some more or less known and expected variables and interactive inputs can make the final outcome – if any – similar to the result of an evolutionary process: like a work in progress, using a typical expression from the art realm. This evolution does not generate a fixed result which is strictly dependent from a rigid starting model; instead it can create a range of outcomes which depend on variables that can be external (like the inputs from the environment and/or from the user) as well as internal (that are inside the process itself). Consequently, the final result is open and it can never be completely predicted, since it depends on variables that escape the artist’s control. If the art-generation process is interactive, the relevance of the context becomes primary: people can collaborate in creating the final outcome, even becoming co-authors, and also the environment, where the artwork is located and where the processes take place, can have a great influence, similarly to what happens in the natural processes. In the so called “interactive arts” [10, 11], that have also been called “context arts” [12], the artwork resides in the process itself instead than in the final outcome.




[1] (last access 10 November 2017). [Back]

[2] Pier Luigi Capucci, Realtà del virtuale. Rappresentazioni tecnologiche, comunicazione, arte, Bologna, CLUEB, 1993. Second Edition: Ravenna, Noema, 2015, ebook, [Back]

[3] Pier Luigi Capucci, “Simulation as a Global Resource”, in Noema, 2010, online, (last access 15 November 2017). [Back]

[4] “Referent” in semiotics is “the thing that a symbol (as a word or sign) stands for”. From the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, (last access 25 October 2017). [Back]

[5] Roland Barthes, La chambre claire: note sur la photographie, Paris, Cahiers du cinéma/Gallimard/Seuil, 1980. [Back]

[6] Jean-Marie Schaeffer, L’image précaire, Paris, Seuil, 1987. [Back]

[7] Pier Luigi Capucci, “Tecnologie del vivente”, in Mario Morcellini, Michele Sorice (eds.), Futuri immaginari, Roma, Logica University Press, 1998. [Back]

[8] Celestino Soddu, “Generative Art”, online, (last access 7 November 2017). [Back]

[9] Philip Galanter, “What is Generative Art? Complexity Theory as a Context for Art Theory”, online, (last access 15 November 2017). [Back]

[10] Roger F. Malina, “The Beginning of a New Art Form”, in Hannes Leopoldseder (ed.), Der Prix Ars Electronica, Linz, Veritas-Verlag, 1990. [Back]

[11] Pier Luigi Capucci, Arte e tecnologie. Comunicazione estetica e tecnoscienze, Bologna, L’Ortica, 1996. Second Edition: Ravenna, Noema, 2013, ebook, [Back]

[12] Peter Weibel, Kontextkunst – Kunst der 90er Jahre, Köln, DuMont Verlag, 1994. [Back]


The full version of this text can be downloaded here.