The pieces that struck me the most from our class reading was the artwork by William Latham. At first, I was drawn to them because of how dichotomous and strange all of the pieces were. All at once, they seem to be both natural and unnatural, prehistoric and futuristic, real and unreal, and creepy yet beautiful. When I looked further into Latham's work, however, I found it to be much more than just those descriptives. The process by which Latham creates them is intriguing and telling.
To make the organisms, which Latham refers to as "3D computer sculptures", Latham uses a computer program called "Mutator". He typically begins with a basic shape or picture, and uses the program to morph his shape into something he finds aesthetically interesting. From there, the program allows him to mutate the "organism"'s "genes" in nine different ways. He chooses the mutant he likes the best, and continues to "breed" that mutant. In this way, his artistic process mirrors natural selection and the mutation of a species over time. He can even choose to breed multiple creatures together to create new and perhaps more grotesque organisms.
In one way, Latham's work demonstrates the power of deliberate choice in creation. Latham serves as the governing body of the entire evolutionary process, deciding which mutant strains can "reproduce" and which mutant strains will "die off". He could just let the organisms reproduce with each other randomly (or as assigned by some algorithm that he creates), but he chooses to be the sole mediator in his artistic works. Furthermore, Latham's work is a commentary on the genetic mutations that scientists do on biological organisms in their research. Latham says: "I am making a direct reference to genetic engineering and the way we are messing with nature. I too am using genetics and inbreeding to come up with my work. And like the scientists, you can't help but be fascinated by it." It isn't clear whether Latham has a positive or negative opinion on the scientific research done with breeding and genetic engineering, but his artistic interpretations are fascinating to look at and reflect on nonetheless.
In the past, Latham has been criticized for [according to the critics] letting the computer do all the work and not using any technical or artistic skill in creating his creatures. To me, though, that seems to be a harsh criticism. It is true that in this case, the computer program is acting as more than just an artistic medium, but it seems like the software can be better described as a creative partner for Latham. The program develops a variety of choices based off of algorithmic "breeding" and "mutation", and Latham provides the "natural selection" and the artistic insight necessary to create the creatures that he finds to be the most aesthetically interesting. The work certainly provides a lot of food for thought.
I found Lathop's bio and some of his works at: http://www.nemeton.com/static/nemeton/axis-mutatis/latham.html (bio written by Jim McClellen)