Algorithm in ‘Object Recognition’

The ability to rapidly recognize objects despite substantial appearance variation is solved in the brain via a cascade of reflexive, largely feedforward computations that culminate in a powerful neuronal representation.* The perception or reading of the pictorial plane shifts dramatically as one begins to comprehend that what seems to be a “painting” from a distance reveals itself to be an assemblage of buttons, or pieces of dominoes, closer up. The mathematical calculations applied by the artist to form visually stimulating works of art are not immediately apparent, and only by trying to count the number of objects in the sequence of each row can one verify the formula. The surprising result defies logic, and the play between random and calculated effects becomes an adventure in discovery.

In the current exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, Programmed: Rules, Codes, and Choreographies in Art, 1965–2018, the curators focus on conceptual, video and computational works of art based on instructions encompassing sets of rules, code, and programming. Uniquely, José Patrício applies his computational algorithms without the aid of technology. His works of art are an amalgam of painting, sculpture, and assemblage of objects. The carefully calculated sequences of everyday objects such as buttons, dominoes, dice, and other materials result in extraordinary patterns, both symmetrical and asymmetrical. Algorithms applied to the placement of these objects have been used by artists at different times. However, each artist invents his own method and technique, attaining unique visually stimulating effects.

Josef Albers was born in 1888 in Botrop, Westphalia, Germany. As a younger artist to his contemporary teachers at Bauhaus Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee, he was the crafts master. When Bauhaus closed, Albers moved to the US in 1933 to teach painting at Black Mountain College. His students included Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly.

In Josef Albers’ Homage to the Square (1949 onwards), he made hundreds of paintings based on the idea of nesting 3 or 4 squares, each in a different colour or tone. These chromatic interactions demonstrated that the permutations of the order in which he placed the colour combinations altered the emotional impact of the paintings, as well as the perception of the size of each square.

Sol Lewitt, an American artist born in 1928, was renowned for postmodernism, minimalism, and conceptual art since the early 1960s. He worked as a graphic designer for the architect I.M. Pei in the 1950s. In 1967, Lewitt stated, “In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. . . . [A]ll of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.”

Since 2008, 105 of Sol Lewitt’s Wall Drawings that were created between 1969 and 2007 have been on view at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Number 289 had the following instructions:

A 6-inch (15 cm) grid covering each of the four black walls. White lines to points on the grids. Fourth wall: twenty-four lines from the centre, twelve lines from the midpoint of each of the sides, twelve lines from each corner. (The length of the lines and their placement are determined by the drafter.) (Detail: 4th wall only)

In the 1960s, using handmade paper in printmaking, José Patrício started to create works in different mediums, including sculpture, assemblage, and painting. For several decades, he experimented and refined his techniques. The results are varied, evoking patterns of different cultures, both past and present.

Patrício is as intuitive in his approach to living as he is to his work. Throughout the decades of ups and downs in political, economic, and social upheavals in Brazil, he has managed to create and establish his own rules. The life Patrício constructed from the start is that of a traditionally regarded “gentleman”, with mild manners and high principles, adhering to an exemplary moral rectitude. His innermost passion and deeply felt emotion is translated through a disciplined organization of life. He has achieved a balance in his work akin to the evolution from an administrative position in a cultural institution. He has gone from being the technician in the visual arts program at the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation to finally being able to devote himself exclusively to his successful career as an artist.

Referring to Imago Mundi, the artist says, “This work symbolizes and refers to the concept of a unit, in turn a totality and the manifestation of a whole as the result of a permanent creative action. The integral is a recurring idea in my work. Other works of mine can also encapsulate this, but I believe that the series Imago Mundi definitely embodies this aspect, simultaneously producing repetition and diversity.”

* J. DiCarlo, D. Zoccolan, and N. Rust, “How Does the Brain Solve Visual Object Recognition?”, Neuron, vol. 73, issue 3, 9 February, 2012, pp.415–434.

This text was originally written as a presentation of José Patrício’s solo exhibition, Algorithm in ‘Object Recognition’, held at Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong, in November 2018.