In Conversation with Emily Edelman, Dima Ofman, and Andrew Badr cover photo


In Conversation with Emily Edelman, Dima Ofman, and Andrew Badr

by Jeff Davis

Emily Edelman, Dima Ofman, and Andrew Badr are the team behind the Art Blocks project, Asemica. Ofman and Badr studied computer engineering together at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), and Edelman and Badr are partners in multiple ways. While they individually have different backgrounds and interests, they all nonetheless have deeply creative and technical sides, and have a strong collective relationship. I had the opportunity to learn more about their collaboration in advance of their upcoming release.
Jeff Davis: Hi, it’s great to meet all of you! Could you each tell me a bit about yourselves?
Dima Ofman: I’m a first-generation Russian immigrant, musician, dancer, language lover, and software developer. I’ve always led a somewhat creatively nomadic existence, following my evolving interests that oscillate from the artistic and expressive, to the technical and mechanical.
Left: Andrew Badr and participants, Your World of Text, 2009. Interactive website, screenshot by Andrew Badr, 2020. Live view. Right: Emily Edelman for David Stark Design, Robin Hood Big Benefit Gala, 2018. Live event, New York. Photo by David Stark Design.
Emily Edelman: I’m a design director at David Stark Design, working on events and experiences for brands, NYC institutions, and private clients. I work in space, experience, digital, typography, sculpture, collage—I think good design thinking can be applied to any medium.
Andrew Badr: I’m a creative coder, a creative writer, and a startup software engineer by trade.
JD: I’ll admit that I’ve been intrigued about the group dynamic at work with this project, so it’s great to get to understand more about each of you individually. How did you all first get into making art?
EE: My parents are creative, and they gave me all the tools I needed to get inspired and be creative. But even if they had been athletes, I still would have escaped my T-ball game to sit in a chair in the next field over and make designs in the grass. I took all the basic kid art classes, plus glass bead making, metalsmithing, ceramics, and printmaking. Then I went to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) to study graphic design, and I’m still recovering from (and having) the “artist versus designer” debate.
DO: I took my first drawing classes in early elementary school and was always fascinated by animation. I remember how mind-blowing Toy Story was when it first came out, and I dreamed of becoming a computer animator at Pixar. Now that I think of it, my first “computer art” was made using some ASCII font editor program in the DOS terminal on a 486. There was a per-pixel character editor window where you would navigate the grid with the arrow keys and use the spacebar to turn each pixel on or off. I used each character as a single frame of my animation, which I then watched by quickly traversing the grid of characters with the arrow keys, like a digital flip book of ASCII characters.
AB: Writing is what I’ve done the longest, specifically poetry. But growing up on the early days of the internet, there was some very weird art with the web itself as the medium. That blew my mind, changing my taste forever and what I thought was possible in the world. The biggest art project I’ve done is a website called “Your World of Text”—it’s kind of an infinite anonymous whiteboard which has had millions of visitors.
JD: So you’re obviously working on a project for Art Blocks. When did you start pursuing generative art?
AB: I made my first generative art project in 2005—though I didn’t know to call it that at the time. It was a kind of graphic visualizer for text.
Left: Emily Edelman, A Search for Kinetic Function: Experiments, 2012. Paper and Board, Dimensions variable. Right: Emily Edelman, Jitterbox, 2012. Wood and leather, 10 × 10 × 5 inches.
EE: In May 2021, when I started exploring Art Blocks! But I feel so inspired by the challenges of creating generative art, because I’ve always seen the creative process as a series of inputs and outputs. I mentioned before that I’m less of an artist of a medium, and more of an artist of a way of thinking. I love pattern design, where you change a tiny thing in a module, and an entire composition springs into a different form. I’ve also done a lot of paper engineering, sort of like 3D pattern design, where you implement rules about folding, and output a structural object that can move in a very coordinated way.
DO: Curiosity has always drawn me towards the unknown and entropy has been quite the seductive muse. Since starting down the generative rabbit hole, I have found the process of generating the generator to be very stimulating and fulfilling. For the first time, the analytic and technical mind—which has been mostly confined to my professional software development career—has met the creative and expressive mind, and the sparks are flying. Michelangelo supposedly once said, “The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.” I like to think of the generative art development process as starting from the space of universal chaos and pruning and molding that entropy into the space of outcomes consistent with our collective creative vision.
JD: Is there a crypto enthusiast in the group?
AB: I’ve been into crypto for ten years, and digital art for twice as long, but had no clue those worlds would one day intersect. Early this year, I was listening to a lot of podcasts, catching up on everything going on in the crypto world, and heard NFTs—and Art Blocks in particular—mentioned. What really caught my attention was the novel artistic potential of Art Blocks—how it enables new kinds of creativity and creative constraints that weren’t possible before. I became totally obsessed, to the point where it was all I talked about, and I shared this enthusiasm with Dima and Emily. Given their backgrounds, it made sense to them immediately.
Emily Edelman, Dima Ofman, and Andrew Badr, Asemica, 2021. Test outputs.
JD: Alright, let’s get into Asemica. What was your inspiration for the project?
EE, DO, AB: All three of us are lovers of language, poetry, puns, wordplay, and alphabets. Dima speaks Russian and Italian, and Andrew speaks French and Arabic. Emily’s graphic design background gave her an understanding and appreciation of the art of typography, and a desire to create a new kind of typography that only asks appreciation of form. Dima’s natural language processing (NLP) background informed the statistical modeling behind the structure and appearance of our language. Working on Asemica allowed us to flex our love for language, satisfy the acute obsession of our technical sides, and explore potential typographic forms creatively without the burden of legibility.
Left to Right: Emily Edelman, Dima Ofman, and Andrew Badr, Asemica, #895, #786, #791, 2021.
JD: Man, that’s such a cool intersection of skills and interests. So what would you say collectors should look for in your Art Blocks project as the series is generated?
EE, DO, AB: First, character forms that look handmade, but are algorithm made. Developing the rules to create these was the most intensive part of the process. Each character is uniquely created from a large pool of abstract elements stringing together with specific and careful rules. Second, surprising color combinations. Instead of making palettes, we made rules about what wasn’t allowed.
And third, the interplay of repetition and then breaking repetition with color and scale shifts—this was a careful decision to break repetition with the joy of surprise.
JD: Having seen a lot of your pre-work, I’m really excited for the range of outputs. Anything else people should know to better understand your creative practice?
EE, DO, AB: Process is super important to us. Especially in generative art where we only have processes to work with, since the final outputs are in the hands of the algorithm. So our process has been deep and wide. We started by hand-generating every single element, every possible outcome we could think of, narrowing and re-narrowing down, editing, adding, all by hand, obsessively, even throughout the entire process of writing the script, every time a decision needed to be made. Outside of the script, we have dozens of packed Illustrator documents, Figma documents, Google Slides and Docs and Sheets with thousands of categorized outputs. This is how we worked together: mapping things visually, staying extremely organized, and trial-and-erroring to no end have been the main mediums of our conversation. You can learn more about our process at
JD: And what’s the best way for people to follow your work more generally?
EE, DO, AB: We’ll post projects and processes on our Instagram
EE: I post new work (and play) at my website
AB: And I occasionally update my website

Find out more about Asemica.

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