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In Conversation with Kim Asendorf on Cargo cover photo

INTERVIEW

In Conversation with Kim Asendorf on Cargo

by Jordan Kantor

Kim Asendorf is a German visual artist who works with conceptual strategies and generative systems to create abstract animations, images, and sculptures. The pixel is the main building block in Asendorf’s work, and the foundation of his signature Pixel Sorting method. His abstract visual systems are conceptually set and realized in algorithms that are open to a wide range of interpretations. He is working on a per-pixel level to create worlds that mix simplicity with complexity, that never sleep, and that can put the viewer in a mesmerizing state. He loves to experiment, is driven by curiosity, and finds satisfaction when the results of his work surprise even himself. With roots in Net Art, he likes to keep his work easily accessible, and the Internet is his favorite canvas.
Asendorf studied New Media at the Kunsthochschule Kassel, and has been showing his work for over fifteen years at institutions including Kunsthalle Zürich, Hek Basel, ZKM Karlsruhe, Eyebeam New York, NIMK Amsterdam, NRW Forum Düsseldorf, Museumsquartier Wien, and Kunstmuseum Gelsenkirchen, as well as at festivals and biennales such as Transmediale, Object, New Horizons, and the Overlapping Biennale. His work has also been shown in galleries in Tokyo, New York, London, Paris, Singapore, Moscow, Amsterdam, Vancouver, and elsewhere.
Jordan Kantor: Hi, Kim. Great to get a chance to speak with you on the occasion of the Curated release of Cargo. While I am confident many readers will be familiar with your distinguished generative art practice, I am hoping you can tell us a bit about your background. Let’s go to the beginning. How did you first get into making art?
Kim Asendorf: Hi Jordan, thanks for having me. First I wanted to say that it is a great honor to release Cargo with Art Blocks. I am very excited for this opportunity and I am looking very much forward to browsing through all the works Cargo will generate.
To answer your question: I honestly can’t recall how I got into making art. I think there is some compulsion in me to create things, a desire to discover some beauty, and to search for unseen compositions.
I am a kid from the 1980s and grew up with Nintendo. I was lucky that my father recognized the importance of computers and got me a Commodore 64 and later a Pentium 286. These early computer experiences really shaped my sense of aesthetics and enabled me to create abstractions with a visual toolkit, which I have really loved and lived with for decades.
So after an initial time of using computers for gaming, I moved on and started using programs like Adobe Animator and Steinberg Cubase to create stuff. At the end of the 1990s, I put my first website online, which may mark the point when I started to make art. At least this was when the desire was coming up to let my work out, though it took me a few more years to become aware of all this.
In 2006, I started to study visual communication and new media at the School of Art and Design in Kassel. And rather quickly I figured out that coding would become my number one toolkit to make art. I have spent a few years in the net.art scene and focused on a mixture of online performances, and conceptual and visual art. I used coding for automation, and to create tools and scripts to manipulate and create images and even audio. I never really considered myself as a generative artist, although I made a bunch of generative works. The most fascinating thing for me at the time was the Internet—the idea of being able to create art and present it to an audience at the same time.
Kim Asendorf, Untitled (2), 2017. Live view..png
Kim Asendorf, Untitled (2), 2017. Live view.
JK: It’s really interesting to hear how having a computer early in life formed your aesthetic sensibility, and then seeing the twists and turns of how you found different expressive outlets in this space along the way. It kind of parallels signal developments in computing, early web and new media, more generally. Fascinating. And when did you discover the blockchain, specifically, as a medium for art?
KA: I have been thinking about ownership and scarcity of digital art for a long time. It might have been ten years ago when Aram Bartholl already proposed to use the Bitcoin blockchain as a storage or media for these issues. At the time it seemed very elaborate to develop the idea, and I preferred to focus on making art. Eventually I just joined the movement in mid-2021. 
JK: We are glad you did. Can you talk a bit about how your creative process has evolved over time? What are some of the main aesthetic or technical lines of inquiry you have been pursuing?
KA: My work has always been digital from the beginning. I started working with programs to create something. And then I realized I wanted to create my own programs. I learned programming, which is a long process; I am still learning. So my process evolves along with my skills. That counts for coding and for making art.
I think an interesting technical hurdle was to learn GLSL. It requires a different way of thinking, which is something I always enjoy. I was hardly motivated to learn it after seeing the works of Andrew Benson and Ezra Miller. I wanted to be able to liquify and move things on the screen like they did. Funnily, my inner aesthetic urged me to create a bit of a different style. I simply need pixels, recognizable pixels. I developed something like my own crisp and pixelated style and I feel there is still a lot to explore.
Kim Asendorf, Untitled (3), 2017. Live view..jpeg
Kim Asendorf, Untitled (3), 2017. Live view.
JK: I really like the idea of process and skill evolving in parallel. Creating work in a new technology can be a lifelong, and always changing, pursuit. Tell us about where you are now in this journey. How do you wish to introduce Cargo?
KA: I consider Cargo a kind of living composition. It has a lot of energy, although it is quite minimal. It has a techno vibe, like most of my recent work. This might be because I have listened to techno and produced tracks for almost twenty years. I think you can have a really great experience when you put Cargo on your monitor in full screen mode and play some techno beats along with it. Switch the lights off and enjoy. (=
When I started to work on Cargo, I had been thinking a lot about LED screens and the energy they transport. I got myself a little setup of 2x1m with a total of 512x256 LEDs to experiment and to figure out how a pixel, as we know it from our displays, translates to a LED. I wanted Cargo to work equally intensely on a 4K display with 3840x2160 pixels and a small LED wall with significantly fewer pixels.
Kim Asendorf, Cargo, 2023. Test output on LED display..jpeg
Kim Asendorf, Cargo, 2023. Test output on LED display.
So all the patterns I created had to be pixel perfect, but also responsive. Some patterns that worked very well on the LED screen didn’t work on a conventional display and vice versa. There was a lot of experimentation with patterns until it felt right. Eventually I also had to add some gradients—I am totally into gradients, and I had the feeling they would create a nice harmonic balance with the pixel patterns.
426000000.gif
Kim Asendorf, Cargo #0, 2023.
JK: You have been working with pixel pattern animations for some time now. Can you talk a bit how this works and how Cargo builds on your earlier work?
KA: Usually my work is very conceptual. I have a rough vision about where I want to go, but I tend to define rules that lead me along a path with an unknown destination. Of course, I have building blocks which are fundamental in my work: mostly patterns, grid based structures, monochrome or black and white elements, and of course pixels. I like to work with saturated colors and gradients as well. These building blocks became my toolkit and I became obsessed with this particular style of super sharp and crisp pixels.
For Cargo, I wanted to work with a large and diverse set from my toolkit to take the long-form spirit really into account. I could see an approximate draft of my concept and started to write and test many algorithms to create patterns, structures and movement. Compared to monogrid or Sabotage, where the work was built around a pretty clear concept, Cargo is much more about compositions. I selected patterns and simplified the animations to reach a certain level of harmony. Some compositions are very minimal and some are fairly complex.
Kim Asendorf, Sabotage #195, 2022. Live view..png
Kim Asendorf, Sabotage #195, 2022. Live view.
Another important property of my recent works is that they are responsive, which means they have no fixed resolution or aspect ratio. They can fill any screen to use all available pixels. This is aesthetically very important for me and comes from growing up with the full screen programs from the DOS era and a love for screensavers.
Kim Asendorf, monogrid 3c, 2021. Live view..png
Kim Asendorf, monogrid 3c, 2021. Live view.
JK: You have written that Cargo is “a series of abstract paintings created with animated pixels.” Can you talk a bit about how you see your work within discourses of abstract painting?
KA: I think that is somehow a provocative breakdown and a simplified expression about how I’d like Cargo, or my work in general, to be seen. A pixel is usually perceived as a rectangle, which is also the shape that has been the most fascinating for me in abstract art. It is an ode to Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich. (=
JK: Can you tell us more about the technique you have employed in this project in which the current rendering uses the previous animation as an asset? How might you describe that to a non-technical viewer?
KA: Actually I am working with a feedback system. You can compare it to an electric guitar feedback that occurs when you put the guitar in front of the amp. The sound from the guitar amp travels back to the guitar strings and amplifies their vibrations. Imagine a similar loop for visuals where the current image on the screen gets captured and fed back to the code. Obviously a program can deal with the data much more accurately and precisely: it can select what information to use and what to skip. This makes a wide range of effects possible and allows you to use the data to brew your own rules to create some kind of reactive behavior on the output.
Kim Asendorf, Cargo, 2023. Test output..png
Kim Asendorf, Cargo, 2023. Test output.
JK: What should collectors look for in the series as it is revealed?
KA: I love to put my work out without demanding a certain interpretation. For Cargo, the patterns, structures, and movement reminded me a bit of logistics—I could sit down and see all the goods that are currently in transport or being stored and retrieved. That is where the name comes from. But it is just one possible interpretation. The most interesting abstractions are those where you see something different, each time you look at it; those where everybody sees something different. That is what I was aiming for.
I think collectors should bring some patience and let their Cargo iteration unfold itself. It will perform; it is a play, with choreography. I will personally look out for the most minimal outputs and for those where two different kinds of patterns create an odd patchwork. And I am obsessed with pure black and white art works.
JK: Is there anything else you’d like to share that would help viewers approach and appreciate your work?
KA: Art can be so many things, it can tell so many stories and I like that everybody can develop their own relationship with it. I grew into my work over many years and some people see something fresh and new in it, which is already pretty rare when you look into art history. So I guess it helps if you are open-minded and curious. Kids love my work, check it out with your kids and let them explain it to you.
JK: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us, Kim. What is the best way for people to follow your work?
KA: The best way to follow my work is certainly Twitter.

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