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In Conversation with Jean-Jacques Duclaux on Neural Sediments cover photo

INTERVIEW

In Conversation with Jean-Jacques Duclaux on Neural Sediments

by Jordan Kantor

Jean-Jacques Duclaux (Eko33) creates interdisciplinary works that blend classical techniques with contemporary technologies to explore human biases and a quest for objectivity. With an academic background in sociology and psychology, Duclaux has been pursuing art largely independently for thirty years, and began exhibiting his work in 2004, when he was included in the International Media Art Biennial at the Seoul Museum of Art. Duclaux’s use of diverse and sometimes outmoded computer languages and hardware (including, at times, a CommodoreSX-64) evidences his interest in the history of creative coding and technologically forward art. Through his art—and especially his algorithmically selected color palettes that reference endangered ecosystems—Duclaux seeks to challenge artistic convention and encourage viewers to explore their own biases and perceptions.
Jordan Kantor: Hi, Jean-Jacques. It is a pleasure to speak with you on the occasion of your Art Blocks Curated release Neural Sediments. To begin, can you tell us a bit about how you first got into making art?
Jean-Jacques Duclaux: My grandmother brought me to drawing classes as a very young child, but it wasn’t until junior high that I won my first art prize thanks to a sculpture I created called “onde de choc à Roland Garros.” This sculpture was an attempt to capture the essence of a moment in time. I also have a deep passion for mid-century architects, furniture, and light fixtures, and this has influenced the way I approach my own artistic production as well. In the course of researching mid-century design, I have collected lots of old magazines and books, which have had a very strong influence on me. The aged paper-like textures and the use of sometimes retro color palettes probably comes from these interests.
JK: And how did you first get into making art on, and with, the computer?
J-JD: From my earliest memories, I have been captivated by the world of computers. With my parents working long hours, I was afforded ample time to explore and teach myself the intricacies of MS-DOS, Pascal, and Visual Basic programming languages.
My passion for the creative potential of technology soon led me to experiment with generative systems using the renowned Kobol Modular, seamlessly fused with the innovative capabilities of Max/MSP. As I honed my skills and explored the boundaries of artistic expression, I found myself irresistibly drawn to the mesmerizing world of generative systems and visual arts, particularly in the groundbreaking release of Nato.0+55+3d in 1999. Max/MSP was only about generative music and live interactions with computers and sensors, but when Nato.0+55+3d arrived, it provided a whole new range of possibilities, as it was the first time when Max/MSP could also be used to create visual art.
Eko33, Weave of Whimsy, 2023..png
Eko33, Weave of Whimsy, 2023.
JK: When did you become aware of the blockchain as a medium for art?
J-JD: The groundbreaking Monegraph and Rhea Myers projects were instrumental in opening my eyes to the vast potential of blockchain as a new medium for artistic expression. Although I initially struggled to grasp the implications of this transformative technology for long-form and on-chain generative art, I remained deeply fascinated by its possibilities. In exploring the philosophical underpinnings of blockchain as an art form, I found inspiration in the visionary writings of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, whose seminal work A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia provided an essential framework for understanding the rich complexities of this emerging medium.
Eko33, Monster Luck, 2022..jpeg
Eko33, Monster Luck, 2022.
JK: A Thousand Plateaus had (and continues to have) a great impact on makers across a wide range of disciplines. Since you mention it here, I am wondering if you can briefly comment briefly about what inspired you most about the book?
J-JD: Absolutely, the central idea of the book that resonates with my work is the concept of the “rhizome”: a system where there’s no center, no hierarchy, and no defined boundary. It’s about connections and heterogeneity, more than singularity and uniformity. In my generative art, I strive to reflect this rhizomatic thinking, creating pieces that don’t have a specific beginning or end, allowing multiple interpretations. The elements of my work, much like a rhizome, are interconnected and constantly evolving, defying a linear or hierarchical structure. Additionally, Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas of “deterritorialization” and “reterritorialization” also inspires my work, where I break away from traditional structures of geometry and allow the code to build and reconfigure the space continuously, creating new meanings and associations. Lastly, the book’s philosophical concept of “becoming” guides the temporal dimension of my artworks. Each run of my code is a unique instantiation, becoming something new each time, reflecting the fluid and dynamic nature of existence that A Thousand Plateaus profoundly articulates.
Eko33, Square #174, 2022. .jpeg
Eko33, Square #174, 2022.
JK: Thank you for outlining that. I can see where rhizomatic structures permeate your work for sure. Can you tell us about how your creative process has evolved over time?
J-JD: My artistic practice has undergone two significant paradigm shifts in recent years. The first centers on my prototyping approach: inspired by the pioneering work of Vera Molnar, I previously relied heavily on drawing. Now, I’ve integrated AI much more deeply into my creative process. I still begin by sketching out my ideas, but then I use those drawings to train my own models and generate countless iterations until I arrive at precisely the result I envision. Only then do I begin coding and writing my own software for long-form projects. 
The second major transformation centers on my use of electronics, sensors, and environmental data. I build custom hardware that I deploy in natural environments to capture data, which I then use in conjunction with AI to create synthetic datasets that feed into my custom algorithms. These algorithms generate unique and captivating 1-of-1 pieces or long-form generative art series. At times, I also incorporate 3D rendering engines into my work.
Eko33, Lucky Y, 2022..jpeg
Eko33, Lucky Y, 2022.
JK: Can you share a bit more about how you train your own AI models to prototype? What particular challenges or affordances does it offer at this stage for the ultimate form your work takes?
J-JD: AI is moving very fast, and I was lucky enough to have my first training on the topic two decades ago. Encountering the work of Kurt Gödel, Alan Turing, John von Neumann, and Claude Shannon just blew my mind. At the beginning, I was using very simple neural networks architecture, and then, when I could scale up my GPU resources, I moved over more complex and advanced experiments. I like using real life, environmental datasets, especially when it’s collected using the hardware I’ve designed and assembled myself. For me, it’s a way to re-connect my artistic practice to nature. When it comes to affordances it offers, at this stage I would say speed: I believe it’s very important to iterate quickly, and this is exactly what creating my own AI models allows. Of course, it’s not perfect, and it comes with its challenges, for example cleaning up your data set and finding the right architecture for your model is key. I also lack some very fine tuning on the outputs, hence the need to take the prototype and then write the code allowing for control of all fine details while generating super high resolution outputs.
Eko33, Neural Sediments, 2023. Test output. .jpeg
Eko33, Neural Sediments, 2023. Test output.
JK: Please tell us about Neural Sediments.
J-JD: “The map is not the territory,” a truism coined by Alfred Korzybski, has become a mainstream shorthand expression highlighting a potentially oversimplified version of reality. In my Neural Sediments series, I attempt to highlight the complexity of our brains and some of their biases, while drawing on some of the visual cues of the works of Alberto Burri, František Kupka, and Swiss topography.
Looking at one Neural Sediment will deliver you a first broad impression; however, looking at it for a longer time will yield a never-ending and much more nuanced and delicate observation. Like Alberto Burri’s Cracks, some things not obvious to the eye become real over time. Each Neural Sediment opens itself to the viewer in a unique way. The more you look at it, the more you can decipher it (hopefully).
Like Swiss Alpine glacier sediments, this material appears only after a certain amount of time and a decent amount of gravity. Burri used a special technique to envision and present time with cracked canvases; František Kupka, in his Katedrála painting, opens the fourth dimension by looking at the vertical lines of the glass window. I used both of these visual touchstones as an inspiration to push the viewer’s eye to search for more details and a deeper perspective in the Neural Sediments outputs.
Eko 33, Neural Sediments #0, 2023. .jpeg
Eko 33, Neural Sediments #0, 2023.
JK: Cracking, topography, sedimentation: these are all really apparent visual metaphors we see in these test outputs. Can you tell us about other formal choices? What about the palettes you’ve created?
J-JD: Choosing color palettes for a long-form generative art collection is as demanding as solving technical algorithmic challenges, and the color palettes I create result from a process I’ve built into my practice over time. Each palette comes from my own algorithmic selection trained on images of paintings deeply rooted within the culture of specific geographic areas and based on the number of times they are mentioned online, trends on the number of researches of their titles, etc. Based on this always-evolving dataset, I extract color values which are then combined by hand to make specific palettes, connected in groupings that I associate with endangered ecosystems. Palettes such as dark blue waters, peach salmons, rare botanic species, or volcanos are part of this. As nature and environmental preservation is very important to me, I see this last step as kind of closing the loop, coming from human to digital to nature again.
Like Josef Albers, who highlighted the instability and deceptiveness of colors, my color sets are here to reinforce the question of objectivity in the art world and life in general. My color choices are profoundly influenced by the theories proposed by Josef Albers and Carlos Cruz-Diez. Albers’ Interaction of Color taught me that the perception of a color is highly subjective, depending on context and juxtaposition. It’s the interaction of colors rather than the colors themselves that create the experience of color. This is very much in line with my understanding of objectivity from A Thousand Plateaus—that objectivity doesn’t exist in isolation, it’s formed by its relations and interactions with the surroundings. Likewise, Carlos Cruz-Diez’s work with the Physichromie series, where color is treated as an evolving situation rather than a fixed entity, has influenced my approach. His exploration of color, light, and the viewers relative position resonates with my ideas about objectivity in art. In my work, colors change and interact dynamically, defined by the code and the viewers’ perspectives, reflecting the dynamism of reality and the subjectivity inherent in our perception. Hence, in my work, objectivity in color doesn’t exist as an absolute or a single truth. Instead, it emerges from the intricate dance of light, code, viewer perspective, and the ever-changing interplay of colors, reflecting the shifting and multi-faceted nature of reality itself.
JK: Can you tell us something about the ways in which this algorithm works technically that you are particularly excited about?
J-JD: If I had to pick two things in this algorithm which particularly excite me it would be: first, the way intersections are computed; and second, how the different parameters are evolving and all linked together in non linear ways. For example, the little cracks you can see in the image are based on a 2D Space colonization algorithm, which is an algorithmic process developed by Adam Runions and the Algorithmic Botany group at the University of Calgary to mimic the growth of various naturally occurring networks such as leaf venation, root systems, and circulatory systems. The algorithm uses sources of growth hormones or nutrients (termed as “auxin”), and creates branching lines attracted to these sources, generating open or closed venation patterns. “Open” venation refers to networks without interconnected secondary branches, while “closed” venation includes branches that loop and connect. Both methods place a set of points symbolizing auxin sources on a canvas, but differ in the way nodes and attractors interact within a predefined distance. The thickness of branches is determined by “Auxin flux canalization,” a process where veins grow thicker as they lengthen, analogous to water canal formation, signifying more auxin flowing through the longer veins. about the intersections, which is the corner of this work.
The algorithm I created for this occasion, I call “Stratiform Cliff Sculpting Algorithm.” “Stratiform” relates to the layered construction akin to natural cliffs, and “sculpting” alludes to the artistic process of shaping these layers to achieve a 3D effect. Without getting too technical, the layers are built from the top down. Each layer is built from a series of contiguous segments that span the canvas. This series of segments represents the upper edge of the layer which will be translated downwards to obtain its lower edge. The first layer (at the very top) is built without constraints. Further, I try to avoid linear correlations as I prefer more organic approaches. For example, some Neural Sediments are composed of a lot of small layers whereas others will be much more minimalistic. Color palettes will be applied differently based on the overall structure of the artwork. It’s these kinds of things that motivate the work.
Eko 33, Neural Sediments, 2023. Test output..jpeg
Eko 33, Neural Sediments, 2023. Test output.
JK: What should collectors look for in the series as it is revealed?
J-JD: Overall, eleven different types comprise the series, with names like “Stratcelli,” “Midnight Moss,” and “Dreamlike.” Two of the types, “A Thousand Plateaus” and “Nocturnal Rhizome” nod to Deleuze and Guattari explicitly, and “Epic Cliff” is the one I initially prototyped. There is a hidden mode to all of this as well, but the collector will have to tweak the code to see it. And, for a truly immersive experience, I highly recommend viewing the high-resolution exports of this series (although, depending on your hardware, be prepared to wait a few minutes for them to generate). The intricate details and subtle color changes within these exports are an essential aspect in fully appreciating this work.
JK: Thank you for all this detail and the easter egg tease. I am sure it will help viewers appreciate your work even more. Is there anything else you’d like to share that would help viewers approach your work?
J-JD: I have a good summary of previous exhibitions on my website. My DMs are open and it’s always a pleasure to discuss with collectors. I will also mention that at the beginning of this year, I had a solo exhibition curated by Kate Vass in Switzerland which I am very proud of.
JK: Thank you again for taking the time to speak with us, Jean-Jacques. What is the best way for people to follow your work?
J-JD: Definitely. Twitter, I also post on Instagram and I’m starting a Youtube Channel where I interview artists I appreciate. It’s short interviews format, very fun and always enlightening about the narrative of artists and their works. All links are available from my website.

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