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Ancient Macs Make Modern Art

02:00 AM Jan. 26, 2005 PT

Apple Computer may have quietly killed its easy-to-use programming tool, HyperCard, but it has an afterlife -- in art.

The near-redundant, 18-year-old technology has found a new lease on life at the cutting edge of European art.

The <cite>Hyperscape 1</cite> installation is set up in the Workstation Gallery in Sheffield, England.<cite>Hyperscape 1</cite> uses eight old, networked Macs and Apple's ancient HyperCard software to make a statement about how humans process information.In <cite>Hyperscape 1</cite>, a HyperCard program running on one Mac determines the screen output of the other seven machines. The screens start out black and steadily fill with semi-random shapes and images.<cite>Hyperscape 1</cite>'s end result is abstract, random and dynamic -- an ever-changing montage of broken and distorted shapes spread across the installation's eight screens.Artist Richard Bolam investigates a bug in the <cite>Hyperscape 1</cite> system.
 

British artist Richard Bolam uses HyperCard to create generative art using ancient Mac Classics.

Bolam, who lives and works in the British city of Sheffield, is gaining recognition as an artist successfully working with technology -- old technology.

"I enjoy embracing the technology of old Macs," Bolam said.

A recent work, Hyperscape 1, was shown at Sweden's Malmö Konsthall as part of the Electrohype festival.

Hyperscape 1 is a generative art installation, which runs on eight compact Macs. One Mac runs a program Bolam wrote in HyperCard, Apple's abandoned hypermedia software.

The HyperCard program determines the screen output on the other seven machines. All the screens start out black and steadily fill with semi-random shapes and images. The master Mac running HyperCard proposes certain image manipulations -- inverting areas of the screen, tracing edges or copying parts of images -- and the other machines decide whether or not to accept the changes.

The result is abstract, random and dynamic -- an ever-changing montage of broken and distorted shapes spread across the eight screens.

Bolam said the idea is to illustrate how humans process information.

"If you put a series of objects in a line, your brain looks for similarities as they've been queued," said Bolam. "(It's) obviously organized. Hyperscape 1 is the opposite: Because the (screens) are all similar, the brain looks for differences."

In the art world, Bolam is an oddity. Many artists working with technology do so with the latest and greatest -- Macs, Maya and Macromedia Flash. But Bolam's tools are not only outdated, they were never intended for creating art in the first place.

"I could work with Mac Classics for the rest of my career and never repeat myself," Bolam said. "People haven't given up on drawing and painting -- the possibilities haven't been exhausted. I feel the same way."

Fellow artist James Wallbank is upbeat about Bolam's unusual approach to art.

"In a way he's a pioneer, but the territory he's exploring is what other people have passed by," Wallbank said. "His work is about opening up an entire new landscape based on what people have abandoned. HyperScape asks a simple question -- 'Who says faster is better?' It changes imperceptibly slowly, but when you go back to it it's completely changed and you think: 'Who did that?'"

Bolam has experimented with HyperCard's modern clones, Revolution and SuperCard, but won't give up on Apple's antediluvian effort.

Bolam's next project -- Hyperscape 2 -- extends the generative idea to audio, although Bolam has been forced to make some changes.

"It's set to reset every few minutes and start again; otherwise it would get quite irritating," he said.

While critics and contemporaries have reacted positively, Bolam said his real concern is the general audience. Bolam said art should not alienate, and he thinks he's achieved that, with one notable exception.

"My father is nonplussed by it," said Bolam. "But in some respect it's all his fault anyway, as he introduced me to computers in the first place."

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