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In Conversation with Alexis André on 720 Minutes cover photo

INTERVIEW

In Conversation with Alexis André on 720 Minutes

by Jeff Davis

Alexis André is a French artist and researcher who has been living in Tokyo for almost twenty years. His main activity consists in using generative approaches to redesign the future of entertainment, and his artistic practice is just one aspect of his overall work. I spoke with him about Processing, interactive art, and his upcoming Art Blocks project 720 Minutes.
Jeff Davis: Hi Alexis, it’s great to have an opportunity to get to know you better. How did you first get into making art?
Alexis André: I’ve always been a math and science geek, and for the life of me, I can’t draw nor did I put in the hours to get good at it. I really wish I could though, so when I found out I could use computers to make shiny things, I was really mind blown, and that’s when the very long journey into art started. The first things I did were in Blender, already twenty years ago!
JD: When did you start pursuing generative art?
AA: I was just starting my Ph.D. in computer graphics in 2004, and for some reason my supervisor really wanted me to use Java to do graphics (while C++ was the established standard), so when I searched the internet for “java graphics programming,” I stumbled on the works of Casey Reas—I think it was one of his projects called Group C that completely destroyed my conception of art. I was like, OK, this is it, this what I want to do, now how do I do that? And I remember spending a week or so fighting with Java to reproduce one of Casey’s pieces. Then I found Processing (at the time, it was still proce55ing!), and of course, that’s where you would start. It was just around the end of the alpha version if I remember correctly. Since then, sorting out the technical way of doing things is just one side of the generative art coin. There’s also the art part of it, and that took me years to figure out what I wanted to tell through my pieces.
JD: You’re a Processing OG! So how would you say your creative practice has changed over time?
AA: This is probably obvious to most, but it took me years to understand that technical achievements are not art. Coming from a very technical background, I was first drawn to the technical details of any piece I saw. Chasing the tool does not tell a story. My practice is now a mixture of discovery process doing daily animations and deeper pieces, where it is not just pretty pictures. I’ve also been thinking a lot about the generative nature of my work, and why this is relevant when it comes to my pieces. I am always aiming to create processes that generate consistent results rather than just cherry-picking random outputs (where the pseudo-random generator gods are just blessing me with a good series). When working primarily with interactive pieces, you should be prepared for anything, and make everything work out somehow. That’s where I think generative art will shine, when we consider the systems themselves as the art, not just the individual outputs. And I feel that Art Blocks is somehow working at this level: the collections are as meaningful as the individual outputs!
Alexis André, Un cercle de roses, 2020.jpg
Alexis André, Un cercle de roses, 2020.
JD: What was your transition then from generative art to crypto art?
AA: That was pretty recent to be honest. I was of course following Jason Bailey on Twitter, as his perspective on generative art has always been enlightening, and I guess the NFT keyword popped up enough times to spark my interest. I applied to SuperRare last summer. Sadly, my pieces did not resonate very well there, so when I found out about Art Blocks, I had to apply. This is the perfect platform for live, interactive art pieces on the blockchain.
Alexis André, 720 Minutes, 2021_test output.jpg
Alexis André, 720 Minutes, 2021. Test output.
JD: Cool, so let’s get into 720 Minutes then. What was the inspiration behind that project?
AA: Really a comment from Erick on the Art Blocks Discord. He was commenting on one of my daily animations that already had a strong pulse feel, and the discussion went to having an NFT that “does something,” like working with time. I then took that idea home and it really made me consider the meaning of scarcity when we create a generative system. Why stop at a fixed number of mints when the system can generate more variations? How should I design a system that creates enough variation for a given number of mints? What can we do now since the piece is running in the browser, at any time? And by thinking of making a real-time generative piece, suddenly when the piece runs is relevant. So applying the idea of having a live generative piece that relates to time to the concept of Art Blocks was then pretty straightforward: a collection of live clocks, each one linked to a particular point in time. The number of iterations is then 1,440 or 720, and everything was built around that concept.
JD: What should collectors look for in your Art Blocks project as the series is released?
AA: I would really encourage them to take a look at the whole series and find how the different features are intertwined. Parameters are influencing each other, so I’m looking forward to exploring which combinations show up in the series. And the colors! My work is all about color and how they interact with each other, maybe even more when the clock will “activate” on its special minute. Also, don’t forget the clocks are interactive!
Alexis André, Shibuya Clock, 2020.jpg
Alexis André, Shibuya Clock, 2020. Installation view. Tokyo, Japan.
JD: Any other recent accomplishments you’d like to share?
AA: A couple of projects that I did recently that used generative processes—the first one being a collection of custom items (bags, accessories) in collaboration with ISSEY MIYAKE, where I designed a system to extract color information from a picture to create a palette, then applied that palette to obtain interesting patterns in the final products. As the system was deterministic, the feeling that people associated with the original picture was translated directly to the product, creating a new dimension for story telling behind the colors of that item. I was also honored to collaborate with the legendary electronic musician Jean-Michel Jarre, resulting in “EoN,” a music and visual generative application available on the App Store, where I was able to create the whole graphical universe of the piece, reacting to the always changing generated music on the fly. A complete generative journey to accompany the music. A key point is that the music there is at 120 BPM, which was a huge influence on creating 720 Minutes. I did all the development of 720 Minutes listening to the music created by EoN, as it made each “tick” of the clocks just more meaningful.
JD: Anything else people should know to better understand your art?
AA: I don’t really understand it myself sometimes and that’s part of the appeal of generative systems for me. I build them expecting them to follow my ideas but I thrive for the unexpected results. It’s a never-ending exploration. Some pieces are meant to be milestones along that journey, some are just sketches to count the days. I have a lot out there with my dailies (1,522 and counting!), and I consider them as a whole. I guess my art is the journey, and that’s a life-time commitment.
JD: Awesome, I’m really looking forward to your drop on Friday. What’s the best way for people to follow your work moving forward?
AA: Twitter is where I’m the most active, Instagram might be easier to just follow the dailies.

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