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An Audio-Visual Installation Grows Like Insect Shells In Nature

Mary Franck's installation 'Carapace' represents a shell that continually unfolds.
All images courtesy the artist.

This article was originally published on May 15, 2014 but we think it still rocks!

In human life, the ego is born, grows, takes hold, and eventually disintegrates. Mary Franck aims to replicate the ego's life cycle in Carapace, an audio-visual installation featuring organically-created and algorithmic forms.

Developed in residence at the Society for Art and Technology (SAT), the installation's name is not arbitrary. A carapace is a shell found on the exteriors of arthropods and arachnids, amongst other organisms. While algorithms lie at the heart of software, the DNA of the dynamic, computer-generated forms could be interpreted as shells. Yet, Franck sees a more important metaphor in the carapace. For her, it's a good analog for the human ego.


"The concept preceded the word,” says Franck. “It started when I saw the Statosphere dome.” Later, when Franck was lying on a beach looking up at the stars, she was struck by the concept of layers of self or identities shedding over time. “We construct the ego as a way of expressing ourselves, but it's also how we protect our self,” with the ego becoming more and more elaborate—a shell that continually unfolds."

“The other line of inquiry that's really interesting to me is form and morphology, or how organisms actually have the form that they have” said Franck. “Why does the zebra have stripes? Most people would respond that it allows them to blend as a herd and not get eaten, but the actual reason is much more complicated.”

The complicated explanation has to do with chemical diffusion gradients. Alan Turing, an early computer scientist and cryptoanalyst, developedhis reaction-diffusion model, where chemical diffusion gradients lay down a mathematics of patterning in organisms.

These organic patterns and forms, like those found in shells or plants, always piqued Franck's interest. And this interest expanded into curiosity about how they form. “The complexity of these processes is beautiful to me,” she says. “The pattern in which a tree branches is a product of hormone diffusion gradients."

On a biochemical level, everything about us is a product of form [morphology], of how organic molecules fit together and diffuse, including consciousness,” Franck added. “Consciousness is this biochemical phenomena that we don't really understand. It's this incredible thing that comes into being, is a universe unto itself, then winks out.”


This all suits Franck's visual interests, which cut across algorithmic forms, spaces, and 3D environments and objects. “My style is a hybrid of organic and algorithmic processes,” she says. “I draw lines or model surfaces, manipulate them procedurally, analyze them, and use that as source for algorithmic animations and forms.”

As for software tools, Franck uses a mix of Derivative Touch Designer, Python, and OpenGL Shading Language (GLSL), though most of the drawing is done with Rhino. Her audio collaborator, Kadet Kuhne<, used ProTools, Ableton and Max/MSP on the project.

Franck notes that her hand-drawn work is the armature, as it were, and the algorithm the skin. “The algorithms themselves I design to look organic: curling tentacles, shifting scales, colonies, veins, etc.,” she says which can be seen in abundance in Carapace.

See more of Franck's work on her website here.


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