Articulate digital drawing generated in Processing, 2005


Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts | Los Angeles, California
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Processing is at once a digital tool, an online community, a teaching environment, and a powerful medium of visual expression. Created by Ben Fry and Casey Reas, graduates of the MIT’s Media Lab, Processing is the language behind a body of visual projects produced by artists and designers around the world.

This open-source application can be downloaded for free at www.processing. org, a Web site where a global network of users meets to shape the life of the program and share the results of its work. With its direct syntax and elegant interface, Processing enables users with minimal programming experience to create simple, rule-based animations and interactive or self-evolving works. Whereas most commercial animation programs such as Flash employ a familiar palette of drawing tools—brush, pen, paint bucket—and a graphic timeline for organizing elements sequentially, drawing in Processing is entirely codebased, requiring the designer to write instructions for generating a mark on the screen and defining its behavior.

Despite its simplicity of use, Processing supports ambitious interactive pieces and intricate self-generating compositions. Professional designers such as the architects Morphosis in Santa Monica, California, and the interactive media designers Art+Com in Berlin, Germany, are using the program as part of their research and production process. In addition, Fry, in collaboration with scientists, is using Processing to visualize the human genome at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University.

As artists, both Fry and Reas use Processing to create complex automated drawings. Reas’s project Articulate generates a field of elements that spontaneously interact, resembling a cloud of spores or a bed of lichen—shrinking, growing, merging, clustering, disintegrating. Fry’s Disarticulate takes written code from Reas’s piece and traces its repetitive routines with dense furls of machine-drawn lines. These two works reflect a new role for the designer: to define a point of origin and a set of conditions, then step back and watch life take over.