A Careful Trust / Zine Collaborations.
An essay about the creation of a program that generates zines, and the first explorations of what moving from control to care might mean.
The final project I created during my second semester of work is a zine generating collaboration program that pulled together all of the technical code-based learning of the previous six months, and the writing of the six months before that (my first semester was spent writing with Natalia). This generative zine project is an attempt to work toward sharing creative credit for the projects I work on; pushing forward my initial interest in collaborating with humans, and more and more with non-humans—with my design tools. To make these generative zines I assembled the various parts—tools, ideas, data sets—set some parameters, and gave it a nudge forward. I produced three versions of the program, all coded in Processing.
The first uses a technique called ray-casting to display a simplified example of how light beams are cast around a space interacting with objects. Each zine page has a unique space and arrangement of various sized rectangles and a randomly placed circle representing the light source. The zine’s text comes from essays I wrote during my first semester, on a range of graphic design topics. Each page has one paragraph of an essay. The placement and dimensions of each text block in this ray-caster version are based on a randomly generated number with a minimum width. Each time the program runs and the network of things collaborates (text, image, page shape, code) it creates a unique zine. The range of possibilities is vast. The outcomes are PDF files: they are final, they can’t be edited, they are a collected output and a completed design object.
The second version of the zine collaboration contains a selected (by me) essay I had written, alongside randomly selected, scaled, and placed photographs. Each page again holds one paragraph; the dimensions of the text block are determined by a version of randomness called Perlin Noise. This kind of number generation picks a random number based on inputs from the previous number, generating something that looks a bit like a wave moving back and forth through space. In theory, these text blocks might seem more related in shape and area than with the previous total randomness of the first zine generator.
The locations of the text blocks and the folios rely on a version of a random walker. A random walker is a math-based example of random motion where each step can either be up, down, left or right. At each step, the choice is made again, creating something that has an uncanny naturalness to it, something planned but in a way or scale that is unknowable to me; something like the path of vines that have grown up a wall, or the spread of moss.
The version of a random walker that I set up in this arrangement is called a Levy walker. This kind of walker uses a model based on a foraging animal in nature. The walker stays in one area moving around in small steps and then makes large jumps to a new location to spend some time there looking around, foraging, sniffing, whatever it might be imagined to be doing, and then doing it again in the new space.
The photographs are linked from unsplash.com (a free website with an extensive archive of contemporary photos), because this website’s specific URL structure (ex https://source.unsplash.com/random/300x500) allows a random number to be added in the x and y values. Again in this version of collected inputs, the final piece is unreviewed, unedited, unchanged. Nothing is approved; the collaboration with the code is trusted to make something worthwhile.
The third version of the zine project combines aspects of the previous two. Each page’s text block dimensions and location are generated in some variation of randomness. Some rectangles and one circle are added to each page with almost every measurable aspect randomly generated. A similar photo selection is used, but all of the photos are converted to grayscale (converted by the program, because I told it to do that).
Each of these collections of ideas, methods, and actions produce a unique output: each and every zine is different from the last. Each is unique; changed; they are new. They repeat ideas or themes or aesthetics, and each time the program runs they are made anew, each run creating novelty. The space for this novelty is opened up and made possible as my expectations for what the outcome should be, what the page should look like, are erased, overridden (I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that)—or at least dimmed a little, as my control over the other actors in this production becomes looser, and my trust that we are making something of worth in this weird collaboration is slowly but importantly strengthened.
One of the aspects of this project that I find intriguing is the idea of potential possibilities: the many, many possible outcomes. I imagine the network like an atom—a collection of probability clouds, each element existing within its specific orbiting space. Like an atom, maybe, our observation of it changes it; we document it in a candid and unplanned manner—a series of snapshots of a river flowing, each one of the same river, but each different from the last and the next shot—potential, or real.
A complete inventory of the network of actors involved in the creation of my zine generation programs would, likely, in the end, stretch out to touch an awesome number of inputs spread out across disciplines, technologies, spaces, and people. The center of this project (as observed by me) is the program Processing (used to organize all of the elements of the program), the programing language Java (the language that Processing runs on), the website unsplash.com (for image selection), my essays (the written content of each of the programs), and the reader/viewer. Each of those elements is deeply complex, with rich histories and complex networks of relationships connecting to more and more similarly complex networks. Things reveal themselves to be more and more out of my control.
When considering this kind of collaborative making from a vantage point that decenters the graphic designer out of their (my) role as primary and sole author/maker, we (I) might be able to see ourselves as one among many. Sometimes small in context, occasionally massive, floating in an ocean affecting and affected by currents and forces we do not always see. But in this floating understanding, this unmoored space of ideas and things, maybe we can see that this is not a new or restructured hierarchy that has diminished us in any way, but simply a new view, cleared of our sentimental human-centric expectations, that values trust in collaboration and makes in relationships with our rediscovered collaborators.
Chapter 4 — Dragons and Princesses.