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ARTV3033 Visual Art Diary

This page contains some of the tests, explorations and reflections performed in the first semester of 2021 for the course ARTV3033. This was the first semester long course I had taken during which we were given full autonomy in the direction and nature of our research.

These first 2 images are created to explore the conflict of organic forms and straight edge, rigid forms. They also try to incorporate tenebrism and an idea called ‘active darkness’ which I read about in an article called Tenebrism in Baroque Paintings and Its Ideological Background. It explains that “The contrast with darkness lends to the light a dynamic quality and brings in the element of drama and pathos” Maria Rzepinska and Krystyna Malcharek, "Tenebrism In Baroque Painting And Its Ideological Background", Artibus Et Historiae 7, no. 13 (1986),92.

I explored a new approach when creating for the organic form. In a single breath I attempted to sculpt something out of a sphere that I thought would be interesting from different angles. I did this because I often get caught up trying to polish work that doesn’t really need to be (like this). I also wasn’t sure what I wanted the final render to look like so by trying to make it interesting from every angle I gave myself options. Adding a figure into the second picture really changes and grounds the whole image. Despite it still being quite abstract, I think demonstrating how it relates to a body makes it far more compelling.

This image was created again to play with the conflict of rigid and soft objects (in this case the cube and spheres respectively). I really tried to push the tenebrism to the max on this one in an effort to make the light more dramatic, again bringing the idea of active darkness into play. I also started to incorporate more repetition into the work. A theme that you will see carries through quite a few pieces. I was first inspired to include more repetition in these early tests after reading an article on UX design. Steve Bradley, "Design Principles: Compositional, Symmetrical And Asymmetrical Balance", Smashing Magazine, 2019.

I tried to create a sense of tension in this image by breaking the repetition seen in the cubes. Each object is placed on a point on a grid except for the sphere which is misaligned with the ‘grid’ (being too high and to the right). I’m hoping that this tension will make the viewer want to interact with the sphere and move it to its correct position.

This piece is probably one of the most abstract images I’ve made but I do like it quite a bit. It’s designed to use the visual conflict of temporality which, in retrospect, I don’t think reads very well. I created the work by simulating some cloth which I froze before it completely crumpled and folded on itself. This was done so that when a snapshot was taken, the user would feel a sense of anticipation for the cloth to continue falling (somewhat like the dynamic poses of baroque sculpture). However, because the cloth has been so abstracted by the material, environment and camera angle, the user can no longer identify the central object as a falling cloth frozen in time. Despite the image being a ‘failure’ as an example of temporal tension, I still think its an interesting image.

The previous 4 images were made to try and explore some of themes that interest me (repetition, simple use of colour, soft vs hard edge) without tenebrism being a factor. The repetition in this case was used to really force the viewers eye to the centre of the picture plane. By having the sphere receded from the picture plane I hoped to make the viewer want to step into the space and inspect the object.

After creating the first image, I realised that having a ground plane may further promote the idea that they could step into the fictive space. I then lowered the camera angle closer to the ground plane, creating more of a first-person perspective onto the image. When I made this change, I realised how large the sphere looked, so I again added a small silhouette in photoshop. Thanks to the scale, I think it comes close to creating a sense of the sublime.

I simply changed the colour of the sphere in the final image to see how it affected the result. I think it does make it slightly more engaging but also is probably a little too reminiscent of Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Continuing my explorations, the previous 4 images were created after I watched some music videos made by Woodkid. I was interested to see how representing things in black and white could manipulate the tone of the piece and so I decided to create a black ocean and black mountains then played around a lot with the lighting of scene.

The last and darkest image is my favourite by far and is a modified version of the first picture. The background has a very slight gradient to try and imply some sort of atmospheric scattering of light and stop the landscape from looking too flat. I used a curves adjustment layer in photoshop to create more contrast in the image, being sure not to darken the highlights along the edges of the surfaces

These 3 images were created using a variety of processes. All 3 started as a flat plane in Autodesk Maya. The first and third plane were ‘manually’ manipulated, selecting and moving edges and vertices on the plane. The second plane was manipulated using scan data from Mars which is publicly available on the NASA website.

I then 3D printed each plane (about the size of a posted note) and photographed them on my kitchen bench using a zoom lens. I chose a zoom lens in an effort to intentionally distort the scale of the objects, creating a kind of fictitious landscape. It was very important to me that the photos only had a single light source in order to emphasise the texture and form of the objects while simultaneously creating more drama. This is especially evident in the third image. It’s not normally my style to add grain to images in post but for some reason I decided it looked better for these ones. Perhaps it was to draw greater attention to the imperfections and texture in the image?

Unlike the other 2 planes which I manually manipulated, the Mars plane is best viewed flat on to its face. I again utilized a single light source in these photos to emphasise detail and texture of the surface. The reflection of the object seen in the ground plane is its real reflection in my kitchen bench and was a sort of happy accident which I was able to capitalise on in post processing.

I think it’s interesting how despite this being a scan of Mars, everyone assumes it’s the moon. I assume this would be due to it being printed on white plastic and shown in black and white photos. Its worth noting how colour plays such a big role in our interpretation of even abstracted sorts of things like that.

The goal of these images was to flesh out a gallery instillation idea I had for these 3D printed plates and how the displaying the repetition and difference of the designs would influence one another. I personally like the very first attempt which contains mostly flat planes. The contrast of these next to the textured ones seem to tell more of a story and emphasise the texture. To me they appear to draw a comparison between the artificially foreign (the one I made) and the naturally foreign (the scan of Mars). I don’t think the plane that’s got a lot of contrast in height (second image, second from the bottom and left) reads very well as an image but as an actual instillation may have more of an effect.

After receiving some feedback that (put simply) said I was focussing too much on aesthetics and not enough on transhumanism, I shifted my attention more to representing transhumanist themes.

In the first image above, a scan of my head which I distorted several times to create 6 slightly different looking faces. These were then set into a plane and rendered with a single light source to continue the visual language I was developing in my earlier studies. These faces are reminiscent of death masks and are intended to toy with the uncanny valley. The second image was made as I was just playing around with different poses and cables. It seems to tie together ideas of mortality and religion as the figure seems to surrender itself to the light which illuminates it.

The 2 previous images continue the playing around that I was doing with poses and cables. The first image was created using a whole heck tonne of cables, the objects surrounding the sitting figure aimed to resemble high rise buildings. The cables were intended to reflect either a cage or a nest and add more dynamic form and depth to the image but I think it just ended up looking pretty noisy. Compositionally the figure is clearly the focus of the image but the fact the cable has so much more contrast with the background it makes the whole thing visually confusing.

The second image was made with the same figure as the first image. This figure was created in Zbrush using an 8 head proportioned mannequin with a scan of my face (more for ease/speed than artistic choice). The figure was posed after Rodin’s The Thinker, which was inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy. The image also references René Descartes philosophical standpoint of “I think therefore I am.” By combining elements of literature, art and philosophy I sought to reflect some of the pillars on which humans have built their identity. Through connecting the cable to the head, I seek to question “if our consciousness’s are networked together, does our thinking still define us?”

After some further reading, I also learned that the first person to use the term transhuman was Dante in his Divine Comedy, in this case referring to the “change of the human body to immortal flesh in eschatology” (Newton Lee, The Transhumanism Handbook, ebook, 1st ed. (repr., Los Angeles: Springer International Publishing, 2019), 4.) which is pretty funky and I think helps to tie a nice bow on the whole piece.

These images are made as part of a proposal for a VR artwork which was inspired by the Cogito Ergo Sum piece. That artwork got me thinking about philosophy and the importance of thinking which in turn made me question what we value as humans. This line of thinking eventually had me looking at funerary rituals of various cultures through history. Most of which included objects from life, given to the dead because they continued to have purpose and value in the afterlife.

Independent Work Proposal


The aim of my project After Life is to create a VR experience which immerses the viewer in a series of digital spaces and instillations which explore who we are as human beings and what it is we value as individuals and a species. In gaining a better understanding of who we are and what we value as humans, I hope that we will be able to be more conscientious in our self-preservation as we continue to integrate further with our technology.

This experience will be set into 3 stages.

In funerary ceremonies throughout history, many cultures have included objects which they consider significant. Whether it be a sword for them to fight, a coin to pay for their ride or a book of spells to protect them on their journey, often these objects from life were given to the dead because they continued to have purpose in the afterlife. The first stage will consist of a disembodied journey. The user on a boat laden with the previously mentioned objects and icons. While echoing various funeral beliefs, this boat ride symbolises the individual’s journey into the “cloud”, where they will remain immortal as a consciousness within the digital realm.

In the second stage, the user will enter a large space, hopefully evoking a feeling of the sublime. This space will contain a large statue inspired by Rodin’s The Thinker, originally inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy. On the base of the statue will be an inscription that reads “cogito ergo sum” which is Latin for “I think therefor I am”. A message first put forward by mathematician and philosopher René Descartes. This digital sculpture combines ideas of philosophy and art as well as classical literature, reflecting some of the foundational pillars on which we identify our species. On the back of the figure’s head a single cable will be connected. By having the cable connected to the head I seek to question “if our consciousness’s are networked together, does our thinking still define us”?

This cable will lead the user to the final space where it will be plugged into a digital fetus, constructed of a semitransparent material to emphasise its artificiality while appearing somewhat natural; An intentional dive into the uncanny valley. Surrounding the fetus, genetic code (ATGC) will be converted into computer binary code (0110), demonstrating the destabilisation of our fundamental components. These combined elements seek to encourage the viewer to think of what will continue on when we are no longer biomatter.

By constructing and experiencing this work in VR, the user is in a way experiencing the future, surrendering their senses to and becoming further integrated with technology. This demonstrates the need for them to reflect on what’s important to them now because before we know it, what we believe makes us human today may be lost.

Using the game engine Unreal Engine 4, I attempted to challenge conventions of the video game production pipeline, specifically LOD’s. LOD stands for Level Of Detail and is a method that changes an asset to lower resolution versions based on the player’s relative position. By reversing this process, making the furthest object the highest resolution I attempted to play with the idea of the digital sublime; “the sublime intrinsically involving an awareness of the limitations of the self”1. By doing this I hoped to question once digitised, how would our now ‘limitless’ selves shift our understanding and response to our environment?

1 SHINKLE, EUGÉNIE. "Video Games And The Technological Sublime". Tate Papers, no. 14 (2010).

Serving more as a tech demo, this video simply demonstrates the combination of a few works in a real-time render engine (UE4). These works being the shifting of our perspectives as well as the cogito ergo sum sculpture. It is using this render engine that I would hope to create the VR artwork.

I was basically trying to think of other ‘classical’ ideas or narratives that I could draw upon similarly to The Thinker. By retelling the story of Adam and Eve with a digital tone, I was hoping to talk about how through the utilization of technology we hope to become powerful like gods (in this case God). However, I don’t like that by doing this I’m implying that this pursuit will lead to our downfall as it does in the biblical narrative.

An interesting idea can be drawn from the story of Adam and Eve though. That since humanity was banished from the Garden of Eden we have had to rely on technology to sustain us and that since we really have been ‘human’ our lives have been integrated with technology and as they develop we are now in a way, constructing our own Eden in the digital realm.

This piece is an animation starring a twerking mannequin who is wearing a breastplate and who I built up a little mass on. The animation was acquired from Adobe Mixamo (like a stock photo site but for animations). The figure was then given a material which mimics the properties of a diamond (same index of refraction etc.). I really don’t know what this piece is about and again, I sort of just made it because I didn’t know what else to do. I really like drawing on philosophy, mythology and history but don’t feel like I know enough about it to make another work as well rooted as the Cogito Ergo Sum sculpture. I’m sort of just making random stuff at this point which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s how I got the sculpture I like. I’d just like to find something else I like soon.

In an effort to further investigate how our environment after humanity transcends its physical limitations would change, I created the previous 5 images. These images specifically attempt to address themes of the mathematical and digital sublime. I created these exploratory works through Mandelbulb 3D, a tool which allows its user to generate and manipulate a variety of fractals in three-dimensional space. This was my first attempt creating generative artwork and I found the results quite cool and unlike anything I’d made before. I believe that the video which zooms in on the fractals best illustrates the infinite nature of the structures and after watching it, helps frame the viewers understanding of the enormity of the ‘landscape’ in front of them.

The final 2 images are my attempts of converting the fractals into data that is useable in the traditional 3D digital pipeline that I’m working in. I simply converted the first fractal image into black and white in photoshop and dramatically increased its contrast. I then applied the image as a displacement map to a plane with dense geometry in order to have the displacement have an effect with more detail and contrast. Unfortunately, that method sucked and hardly displaced the geometry at all. In an effort to get something out of what I had done, I altered the material applied to the plane to mimic glass.

The reason for my attempt to incorporate the fractals into my pipeline was so I would be able to create a similar effect to the LOD’s in an earlier slide but have the landscapes be generated using fractals.

After reading an article on how Animal Logic, Method Studios and Weta Digital overcame the incompatibility issues of fractals with the VFX pipeline, I was able to move forward with my mathematically generated landscapes, eventually to be put into a real-time game engine. Simply put, one of the methods the studios uncovered was that an artist could animate a camera revolving around a section of the fractal and then import those frames into photogrammetry software which would then create geometry based on the still frames. The previous 2 images demonstrate this process. However, after creating geometry in the photogrammetry software I realised that the resolution of the object was not high enough for what I needed and so I decided to not continue down that path.

The previous 7 images were created as a way for me to pivot with the fractals, incorporating the idea of the digital and mathematical sublime landscape with the digital human. I did this because without there being an element of the human in the 'landscape' the feeling of the sublime was lost.

I created the images using the refractive portrait method taught by Lee Griggs because I thought it was visually interesting and if I was to put a figure in the foreground of the fractal ‘landscapes’ (like Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer above the Sea of Fog) it would give the space a potentially gargantuan yet finite scale, damaging the original purpose of the fractals.


Because I wasn’t a huge fan of the results from the first couple of portraits I decided to try and make more fractals specifically for the refraction method. Unfortunately, these were even less successful than the first few. The final of the portraits are my attempt to most accurately recreate Lee Griggs’ work to see if I could understand where I was going wrong. Instead of using fractals I used food dye, milk and oil to create swirling shapes that I then composited together in photoshop. Even with the initial image of the swirling liquid looking closer to what Griggs was using, it was still a far cry from the aesthetic he was able to achieve.


At this point I was given some feedback that I was again getting too caught up in the aesthetics of my work and needed to refocus on transhumanism.


The previous images demonstrate the beginning of the most recent chapter I’ve been investigating, focusing more on the individuals identity. Due to the technical difficulty of creating a head scan with a single camera, my investigations have so far only explored these themes using my own head scan. Using other peoples faces would obviously further complicate the work with additional themes of re-representation etc. which I do not hope to address (yet).

The first of the 3 images contains 2 head scans. The one on the left is the most raw version that I could render (after being converted from a dense point cloud to geometry which then had the back filled out in Zbrush). The material assigned to it has the sub surface scattering (SSS) effect applied to it, allowing photons to pass through the surface of the material and diffuse underneath (similar to marble, wax, skin etc…). By having this effect applied to the head, I hoped to create a portrait that contained the conflict of the digital data and the humanness of a skin analogue and face. The second head scan has a more accurate representation of surface specularity, colour and SSS. The colour was created through the photogrammetry software knitting the images together and projecting it onto the UV unwrapped model.

The second depicts the camera, the lighting and the key lighting values. The third demonstrates the individual effect of each light on the subject.

The previous 3 videos are a demonstration of what are essentially my final explorations for this semester. By manipulating the data captured by the camera and reconstructed by the computer I am attempting to explore/challenge the individuals identity in a digital age. By influencing the face and head I hope to further question “in the world of a transhumanist, when we become an amalgamation of all consciousness in a digital platform, what place does the individual have and how can that individual be defined beyond their physical and malleable data set.”


The first video is the best, clearly and grotesquely distorting the face.


The  second video was made as a response to some feedback of the first saying that if it was more subtle it might be more unnerving and effective at communicating the idea of a non-human human. If you look carefully its right (our left) cheek, you can see it moves at around the 19 seconds into the video and the eyes move at about 6-8 seconds in. While this deserves further exploration with more nuanced animation, it was very technically difficult to simulate isolated zones of the face without affecting the rest of the object. This difficulty lead to a large amount of time being spent compositing the effects on top of an untouched frame.


The third video is one of the simulations seen in the first slide but is shown front on. I wanted to see how the change of the camera position and aspect ratio would change the viewers relationship with the work. I was hoping for it to be more confronting but believe that the front on perspective is only worth it if I’m doing more subtle animations like the second slide. If I’m going for grotesque I should just show the grossness in the best way possible, which in this case is more from the angle of the first slide.

The previous 2 videos are simply an edited version of the animations that I liked the best. I was given some feedback which told me that the highlight on the ground was detracting from the animations, which after editing out in after effects using a feathered mask, I totally agree. The second video is simply a version with the highlight removed. The first video has its timeline remapped, speeding up and slowing down to try and maximise its abjectivitness. I think that the effect works but not when I was originally running the animation at 24 frames per second. It becomes choppy and breaks the illusion of movement. This effect may be worth exploring further but only if it is rendered at 30 or 60 frames per second (potentially doubling the render times).

Reflection on Semester's Work


This semester my investigations have been focused on the theme of transhumanism. Transhumanism is a movement which believes that death is a disease and that it and all other diseases can be cured through harnessing technology’s full potential, eventually leading to a transcendence of our bodies through a full integration with technology. Through my limited research, I have attempted to investigate what comprises a human and humanity, as well as investigating how a world without death would alter our existence and relationships to the environment. At this point in my investigations, I believe that to transcend our bodies and remove our limitations would be to remove our humanity altogether.

I began this semester intending to examine the thematic and visual tension in 'traditional' artwork and apply this tension to transhumanist topics to evoke a visceral response. After creating a series of images that investigated the tensions that I identified, I was told during a crit session that I was concentrating too strongly on the aesthetics and not speaking enough to the transhumanist theme that I originally set out to explore.

After this feedback, I began to focus more directly on the transhumanist theme. During this early exploration, I created the Cogito Ergo Sum piece which includes references to art history, literacy, and philosophy. I took a particular interest in the philosophical side of the image which led me to begin reading about metaphysics. This image and the anthropological, historical, and philosophical themes it foregrounded laid the foundations for my point of departure proposal; A VR work that encouraged viewers to reflect on the aforementioned themes to gain an understanding of what they believe comprises humanity.

The majority of my explorations from that point onward were in service to the final VR work. Instead of observing human constructs as a way to understand what constitutes humanity, I shifted my investigations to the relationship between the human and their environment and how that relationship would change if the body was transcended. In the past, the Sublime has been used to discuss tension between the human and their environment.[1] I attempted to utilise this historical tension by investigating the mathematical and digital sublime as a kind of new landscape. This is reflected in my work creating 3D fractals and the work in a real-time game engine, manipulating the players' environment based on their relative position to objects. This real-time work was inspired by Eugenie Shinkle who said that the sublime is "intrinsically involving an awareness of the limitations of the self."[2] By reversing and manipulating the relationship of the viewer and their surroundings, I hoped to question "how would our limitless, digital selves alter our comprehension and interaction with our environment?"

During my investigation of the Sublime themes, I remained particularly fascinated by the philosophical school of metaphysics. This interest rapidly led me to what felt like a dead-end, raising questions similar to "what is the meaning of life?" Despite this 'dead end', it was during this time that I had come to the conclusion that our constraints are what make humans who we are, and removing them would be to remove ourselves altogether. This realisation is reflected in the work I created, with the fractal landscapes feeling disconnected because they no longer contained any reference to humanity, it was just a visualisation of mathematics. After this epiphany, I attempted to merge the sublime elements back to the human. After spending a week trying to merge these elements with little success, I was given feedback that I was again focussing too heavily on the aesthetic of the work. I was also told that the VR experience was didactic, which was not my goal. There were aspects of the project I thought had potential but overall, it was a contrived stereotype with no nuance.

After this breakthrough, I realised that I was trying to observe humanity by analysing its relationships and creations instead of the core of these relationships and thoughts. Since that point, I have been approaching my work using a more open-minded dialogue with my computer, focusing on the human as an individual. Taking inspiration from Alan Warburton[3], I am attempting to incorporate my context as a digital artist, challenging or exploiting standardisations in production pipelines. This has most recently involved me creating non-human humans, exploring the abject and uncanny valley. This is done by representing the individual as a set of data that has been captured and recreated by the camera and computer, respectively. By doing this I am aligning myself in similar spaces to Phil Wang's This Person Does Not Exist[4] and Heather Dewey-Hagborg's Stranger Visions.[5] Through simulating this data set I hope to explore themes of identity in the post-truth digital age and question how an individual can be defined beyond their malleable data set.

After spending some time in the VR space during my investigations, I still believe it offers a unique ability to both discuss and create a dialogue between the human and technology, thereby creating visceral and meta work. In my future investigations, I will be more conscious of avoiding stereotypical and didactic work.


By researching tensions like the relationships of humanity and technology, the sublime, the uncanny valley as well as struggling with philosophy and my context as a digital artist, I have discovered that death and other boundaries are what make us human and eliminating them through the amalgamation of technology would be to eliminate humanity altogether.


[1] "Sublime – Art Term | Tate", Tate.Org, 2021.

[2] EUGÉNIE SHINKLE, "Video Games And The Technological Sublime", Tate Papers, no. 14 (2010).

[3] Alan Warburton, "Primitives — Alan Warburton", Alan Warburton, 2016.

[4] Phil Wang, This Person Does Not Exist, Web based GAN (repr.,, 2019).

[5] Heather Dewey-Hagborg, Stranger Visions, 3D Print.

The video above demonstrates the installation I created at the end of the semester with the studies I had made throughout the twelve weeks.

To view the final work from this semester, simply click on the button below
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