Week 1: Computational Media means Abstraction as Instructions

manfredmohr-uhf81-1Manfred Mohr, P-48, “UHF81”, plotter drawing ink. From 1960’s series

How would you describe this early computational media work?

  • A 6 x 8 grid of circles, each showing a worm stylised into a jagged line?
  • An illustration from a biology book concerned with showing the different permutations of DNA strands?
  • 48 paths of how to move through a house?
  • Rasterised versions of shooting stars seen in a telescope?

The way in which you might ‘abstract’ this drawing into a single or multiple executable instructions is what MEDA102 is fundamentally concerned with. The key concept being developed in this subject is that:

computational media is best understood as abstraction into instructions

In other words, computational media involves taking things and translating them into a set of instructions. Visual artists engage with computational media by, for example, translating visual ideas into instructions.

Sol LeWitt, L: Wall Drawing 901, 1999 and R: Wall Drawing 1081, 2003

Sol LeWitt, L: Wall Drawing 901, 1999 and R: Wall Drawing 1081, 2003

Software programmers engage with computational media by translating real-world forms (social or otherwise), such as ‘responding to a message’, into lines of software code, and emoticon iconography.

Facebook 'reactions'

Facebook ‘reactions’

Knit-wear fashion designers engage with computational media by translating real-world forms (the human body) into instructions that take the form of knitting patterns.


In other words, we are suggesting that computational media is more concerned with HOW a form is abstracted into instructions than with the instructions themselves. What is fascinating about computational media is that the abstraction has one leg in its origins: the real-world form that is being abstracted, and one leg in its eventual form: the artefact produced by the instructions. So a master of computational media (such as Sol Lewitt, for example) has a capacity for both

Computational media thus involves working in an intermediary medium. The instructions that are written are there to facilitate the translation of a form from one material existence, to another.

This concept has a strong relation to a line of critical enquiry by Mitchel Whitelaw where he develops the notion of transmateriality. Here, however, we are concerned with the middle of the transmaterial process. Here, we argue that how a form is translated from one form to another is a function of the author’s skill and approach to abstraction. Abstraction is thus the intermediary form in Whitelaw’s transmateriality.

In this exercise we ask you to translate visual ideas into instructions that will be executed by your fellow students.

Exercise 1

Identify an example of a real-world form that has been abstracted as instructions and re-executed into a new materiality.

Hints: think knitting, cooking, Ikea furniture, kolam designs, and any thing that exists as instructions.


  1. The original material existence of the form
  2. The form’s key characteristics
  3. What is captured by the instructions
  4. The characteristics of the form as it re-births into a new materiality

Exercise 2

Step 1: Analyse

Each student will be provided one Manfred Mohr print. The student must analyse what makes the key visual ideas present in the print.

Step 2: Translate into simple instructions

Write down one, two maybe five or six sentences of instructions that describe how to reproduce the key visual idea.

Step 3: Swap your instructions

The class, together, swaps instructions with other students.

Step 4: Execute your fellow student’s instructions

The class, together, swaps instructions with other students.

Step 5: Analyse what worked, and why.


  • Did you capture the visual idea of the original idea?
  • Is the visual idea that you captured better than the original idea?
  • Are the multiple implementations of your idea better?

Coding (Lines, shapes, colours)

processing handbook

Processing … 

  • What it’s for?
  • Who uses it?
  • How to use it? The environment, tutorials, examples, reference etc.

Processing tutorials

Go through Getting Started tutorial: http://processing.org/tutorials/gettingstarted/

Exercise 1: ‘Hello World’

Open Processing. Copy and paste the following code into the Processing window.

Write a comment (after each line) describing what that line does. Use “//” to make a comment. Notice how the text goes grey.

  size(480, 200);
  background(0, 0, 0);

  fill(255, 255, 255);
  text("Hello World!", 200, 60);

NOTE that:

  1. There are 2 methods… one sets the drawing up, the other does the actual drawing

Exercise 2: Draw something

Now try the following code:

  size(480, 200);
  background(255, 255, 255);

  //fill(255, 0, 255);
  • Uncomment the “fill” line
  • Change the colour of the ellipse: Use different values in side the fill() command
  • Change the colour of the line: eg. stroke(204, 102, 0);
  • Change the thickness of the line: strokeWeight(2);

NOTE that:

  1. How to change colours, (with numbers represented as RGB)
  2. 0,0 (which is X, Y) is at the top left of the screen.
  3. Methods take ‘arguments’ … this is all the information that is required to draw that shape.

Exercise 3: Primitives


line(1,1 10, 10);


triangle(18, 18, 18, 360, 81, 360);

Square (or rectangle)

rect(81, 81, 63, 63);

Circle (or ellipse)

ellipse(252, 144, 72, 72);


arc(479, 300, 280, 280, PI, TWO_PI);

Exercise 4: Recreate a Donald Judd work.

Screen Shot 2017-07-21 at 11.42.00 am

Donald Judd was one of the most significant American Minimalist who created important work in 1960’s. Search his images, choose that one appeals to you.

Ask yourself: what is the key visual idea present in this work, and how might I translate it into instructions? Then implement it in Processing.

Alternatively, execute one of these:

Donal Judd, Untitled, 1990

Donal Judd, Untitled, 1990

Ellsworth Kelly, Nine Colors, 1951

Ellsworth Kelly, Nine Colors, 1951


Fran Stella, Chocorua IV, 1966

Fran Stella, Chocorua IV, 1966


Ellsworth KELLY, Red, Yellow, Blue, 1963

Ellsworth KELLY, Red, Yellow, Blue, 1963

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