Can code save us? ‘this.generation’ explores the intersection of art, technology, and ecological solutions

Generative art meets earth-saving solutions in a Goa exhibition that pushes boundaries of creativity and sustainability.

Published : Feb 06, 2024 20:16 IST - 8 MINS READ

“Nadi Studies”, a multimedia interactive installation by TimeBlur, renders patterns of movement in yoga.

“Nadi Studies”, a multimedia interactive installation by TimeBlur, renders patterns of movement in yoga. | Photo Credit: Sunaparanta Goa, 2023-24.

A few years ago, at an arts centre located along San Francisco’s seafront, I came across a fascinating café-bar that was a museum, library, and home to a foundation established to “creatively foster long-term thinking and responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years”. Literature and ideas intersected with engineering at this eclectic hangout: a clock designed to last 10,000 years vied for ingenuity with the “Manual for Civilization”—a “crowd-curated” collection of books considered essential to the rebuilding of civilisation by their donors. The place evoked both awe and anxiety about the end creeping closer.

this.generation, an ongoing exhibition (December 2, 2023, to March 31, 2024) at Goa’s Sunaparanta Centre for the Arts, stirs similar feelings. An expansive and seemingly divergent exhibition of code-based practices where generative art inspired by and born of algorithms and technology meets traditional solutions for saving our planet, it reflects the times that we live in.

In a world where dizzying advances in technology are in sharp contrast with the clamour for a back-to-the-basics hands-on ecological model of living, curator Srinivas Mangipudi draws parallels between the art generated and inspired by both, threading them together with the concept of codes. The show explores this through various mediums, ranging from poetic and artistic expressions through generative code art installations to a land art poem that grows in the garden and the collaborative architectural installation of a mud house, among others.

Also Read | K.S. Radhakrishnan’s ‘On the Open Road’ a metaphor for his remarkable journey

The featured artists (“a mix of established, new and underrepresented voices,” says Mangipudi) are engaged in practices involving blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), and new media art as well as in traditional practices like architecture, drawing, performance, and interestingly enough, the culinary. A biomedical engineer by education, Mangipudi has a background in programming arts and technology; he also works with food systems and solutions that tap into collective wisdom.

“This exhibition has come about in an effort to communicate and bring into dialogue this critical juncture in our contemporary history where we stand at a crossroads of various interdisciplinary exchanges seemingly connected by a delicate thread of our planetary boundaries and our survival,” he says.

Fittingly, the show opened with a tribute to Sol LeWitt, the originator of programming, machine and algorithmic processes as well as a celebrated conceptual artist who created instructions for wall drawings.

Nikhil Chopra’s rendition of Sol Lewitt’s instructional drawing #797.

Nikhil Chopra’s rendition of Sol Lewitt’s instructional drawing #797. | Photo Credit: Sunaparanta Goa, 2023-24

Performance artist Nikhil Chopra’s piece is a rendition in crayon—a colourful linear band or a collection of geometric strokes—of Sol LeWitt’s instructional drawing #797. Perched on a ladder and dressed in a white lycra bodysuit designed with lines that blend with his drawing, Chopra “performs” acts like lying on the ground, eating an apple, drinking coffee.

“A lot of generative artists have taken inspiration from LeWitt’s work. This is probably the first Sol LeWitt piece in India,” says Mangipudi.

Breaking the code

‘The total number of black and white icons in a 32x32 grid is: 21024 or approx. 1.8 x 10308 possible icons (a billion is 109). At a display rate of 100 icons per second (on a typical desktop computer), it will take only 1.36 years to display all variations of the first line of the grid. The second line takes an exponentially longer 5.85 billion years to complete.”

Having gladly left mathematics behind in school, I struggle to grasp the science behind John Simon Jr’s work, “Every Icon”. Alongside, a screen displays a grid of blank white squares, some of them turning black, like a nervous crossword puzzle that cannot make up its mind about the words it wishes to cue.

Fortunately, Simon Jr’s walkthrough is a crash course in generative art for dummies; it begins with a group exercise that illustrates not only the concept behind his piece but the very premise and nature of code-based art. Participants are given sheets of paper and asked to draw a grid of five dots as a framework for their own art. The result is an array of unique patterns, each with the same skeletal base but vastly different in colour and design.

 Land art poem, “Wildflowers dream wild”, by Sasha Stiles.

 Land art poem, “Wildflowers dream wild”, by Sasha Stiles. | Photo Credit: Sunaparanta Goa, 2023-24

“‘Every Icon’ is a mixture of computer programming and conceptual art, trying to understand possibilities. It shows that even when we use the most powerful technology, we can never see everything. Each choice we make is a creative decision about what we will see next,” says the New York-based artist who has degrees in geology, earth and planetary science, fine art, and computer art. Counted among the pioneers of software art, Simon Jr has his works displayed as part of the permanent collections of museums like the Guggenheim, MOMA New York, SFMOMA, the LA County Museum of Art, and others.

 “John’s ‘Every Icon’ work is probably one of the most important pieces of programming conceptual art,” says Mangipudi, adding that he is the only one among the artists at this.generation to have exhibited with LeWitt.

Interestingly, Simon Jr shares the memory of that experience as a realisation of the inability of software art and the computer screen to compete with the physicality and rich texture of traditional art. “An awakening happened as I stood in front of the LeWitt drawing and stared at the waxiness of the crayon and the roughness of the wall. All the algorithms, I realised, fell away in the moment of looking, when the sensations of the materials [took] over,” he says. This lends an extra edge to the fact that his digital artwork finds, for the first time, a physical representation in the form of an interactive installation at Sunaparanta—a pixel grid with wooden cubes for people to make their own icons knowing that those patterns, too, will be generated by the algorithm.

“this.generation is so vast and ambitious in scope that it feels like a babushka doll of exhibitions. Sunaparanta’s rooms-within-rooms architecture lends well to the labyrinth of exhibits and accompanying events.”

this.generation, celebrating the odd juncture of art and technology, foregrounds the creative coding practitioner. Among the latter is Anushka Trivedi, whose computational poems (to my eye, an algorithmic avatar of the poetry of E.E. Cummings) explore poetic possibilities through words, structure and movement. “Coding, even when it breaks, is beautiful,” says Trivedi.

Recipes for change

In stark contrast to the rapidly changing digital patterns of code-based artworks is the unhurried pace and physicality of the installations in the garden of Sunaparanta. Made up of wildflowers from nearby forests, the land art poem, “Wildflowers dream wild”, by poet and AI researcher Sasha Stiles, will grow at leisure for the duration of the exhibition, symbolic of the botanical codes that exist in nature.

“Climate Recipes” illustrates the thoughts and sustainable lived experiences of a diverse mix of people.

“Climate Recipes” illustrates the thoughts and sustainable lived experiences of a diverse mix of people. | Photo Credit: Sunaparanta Goa, 2023-24

Meanwhile, “Earth House” resembles a quirky indigenous home. This collaborative structure is the result of a workshop facilitated by architect Tallulah D’Silva, where the age of participants ranged from 5 to 75. Built using only wet mud—lateritic soil from the neighbouring plot of land—and water, with some cow dung, hay, and bamboo, it survived many challenges in its making, including unseasonal rain.

D’Silva, who specialises in natural buildings, also engages communities in sustainable building practices. “To tackle climate change, we need to understand how indigenous communities built the way they did, and go back to that style of living,” she says, addressing a group seated on the lawn around the cocoon-like structure. “Climate has always been changing; we’ve forgotten how to adapt.”

“Earth House”, a collaborative installation, exemplifies the codes in indigenous structures around the world.

“Earth House”, a collaborative installation, exemplifies the codes in indigenous structures around the world. | Photo Credit: Sunaparanta Goa, 2023-24

this.generation’s diverse programmes allow visitors to keep returning, finding something new each time. On one of the days I was there, Sunaparanta’s courtyard and Café Bodega served as venues for the presentation of “Climate Recipes”, a project by Mangipudi in collaboration with Srinivas Aditya Mopidevi that collates the wisdom of indigenous ancestors, environmentalists, food writers, activists, urban planners, chefs, foragers, and others into a “guidebook on the survival of our planet”. Contributors include Sachin Shetye, a spice farmer and owner of Savoi plantation; Paresh Shetgaonkar, founder of a natural, cold-pressed virgin coconut oil business; Goa’s most celebrated writer, Damodar (“Bhai”) Mauzo; food writer Vikram Doctor; historian Fatima Gracias; poet and disability activist Salil Chaturvedi; Ayurvedic physician and agro-forestry consultant, Maryanne Lobo, among others.

Also Read | The fine art of a coarse India

Readings from Climate Recipes were accompanied by appetisers and snacks from “ingredient driven and cuisine agnostic” Goan restaurant Edible Archives (also a contributor to the book). Visitors got to taste chef Anumitra’s “wok-tossed kaate kanaga” (a tuber cultivated along the Konkan coast, Goa, and Kerala), “sweet and sour suran” (elephant yam), and Goan bimli (tree sorrel) pickle, among other fare.

this.generation is so vast and ambitious in scope that it feels like a babushka doll of exhibitions. Sunaparanta’s rooms-within-rooms architecture lends well to the labyrinth of exhibits and accompanying events that include the geometry of Nasreen Mohammedi’s art, books from the Hongkong Photobook Dummy Award, Eva Hauschild’s digital prints titled “Hand Drawings”, charcoal murals depicting the inside of a Goan casa by Siddharth Gosavi, Ryan Woodring’s 3D printed candy, and more. The exhibition could have included India’s rich folk art traditions with their intrinsic codes but perhaps that is material worthy of a separate show.

Janhavi Acharekar is an author, a curator, and creative consultant.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment