Converted from paper version of the Broad Ripple Gazette (v16n13)
Feedback Fractal Project - monumental art by Conrad Cortellini
posted: Jun. 28, 2019
Many Gazette readers know local architect/artist Conrad Cortellini. He wrote Green Broad Ripple in the Broad Ripple Gazette from 2006 to 2008. But some do not know about his current art in development, the Feedback Fractal Project.
It is a work that will take years to complete and involves many contributors - friends, students, residents, etc. A bit of background is needed.
Last year the Gazette covered a reception at Clowes Hall for the 25th anniversary of Conrad's art that hangs in the lobby, Total Perspective Vortex.
That piece is a fractal generated from the Mandelbrot set of mathematical equations. The iterations of the formula that generates the fractals is a digital feedback loop, starting with an initial value, producing a new number, then using that number to feed the formula, and so on. Conrad was looking at a similar feedback loop for his next project, but this time an analog one.
When a TV camera is pointed at the TV Screen displaying the camera's picture, that picture goes back into the camera, comes out on the screen and goes back into the camera, and so on. The result is a kind of visual explosion. To be able to control the chaotic visual effect, Conrad employed a computer program that simulates video feedback.
"Analogy is what art is all about...metaphor...this is a portrait of chaos," exclaimed Conrad, "So, I set out to make a monumental piece of sculpture. 640 by 480. Each of these pixels, you're talking about 307,000. Each of these pixels are going to be rendered as a little tube."
I asked Conrad how he keeps track of the pixels (tubes) as he creates each one. He uses a coordinate system, like a X-Y graph.
"Oh yeah, that's a real problem. You have two numbers X and Y. That's the address. Not only are they likely to be unique, 307,000 not two exactly the same, but they'll only fit in one spot, because they have to connect up with four others around it."
He wrote a computer program to translate the 640 by 480 pixel VGA image of his feedback chaos (see photo above) into the colored paper tubes. Each pixel has a brightness and a color. The program converts the pixel's brightness into the corresponding tube's length. It converts the color into a color for the inside of the tube. Is also calculates the angle of the end of the tube so all four edges will meet up with the four surrounding tube heights.
A series of pixels (tubes) are created by the program and get printed on a color printer using heavy watercolor paper, then cut out of the sheet by a computerized stencil cutter. The tubes are then rolled and glued by hand.
Conrad then makes a base (see photo below) that holds ten rows of ten tubes (100 tubes/pixels). An aluminum frame section holds four row of four bases (1600 tubes).
A Quadro is a larger aluminum frame that holds four rows of four frame sections (25,600 tubes/pixels). Each Quadro is about 8 feet by 8 feet.
The first finished Quadro, called the DeveloperTown Quadro, has been stored at DeveloperTown at 53rd and Winthrop Avenue since is was completed in 2016.
The finished piece will eventually be three rows of four Quadros (307,200 tubes/pixels) and will be about 32 feet wide and 24 feet high.
Conrad has been the Artist-In-Residence at Scecina High School at 16th and Emerson Avenue to continue his work on the second Quadro. Many students have built tubes for the sculpture. Conrad's concept is, "Include the community. We came up with the idea of distributed art production. So, I've had kids both here (Scecina) and at Shortridge making a module. And their name's gonna be on it. A module is the easy piece, it's a hundred pieces, 10 by 10. A section is 16 modules, and a Quadro is 16 sections. It just scales up."
When I first interviewed Conrad back in July 2018, three of the 16 sections had been completed for the second Quadro, called the Scecina Quadro (see below).
Recently, the 16th section of the Scecina Quadro was completed.
On June 12th, Conrad held a party at his lab at Scecina for the joining of the first two completed Quadros. This piece of the sculpture measures 16 feet wide and 8 feet tall. It is 1/8th of the final sculpture. In the close-up photo to the right, the individual tubes making up the pixels of the original image are visible. You can see how each tube is angled to join with its four neighboring tubes. When viewed from a distance, the piece becomes a 3-dimensional colorful work, and even in its present state of only 2 of the 12 Quadros, is stunning.
The Broad Ripple Gazette hopes that a Broad Ripple location for next Quadro-building effort can be found. That way Broad Ripple residents can join in on the construction.4
At the Quadro Joining Party held at Scecina High School. The first two of sixteen Quadros are now joined (DeveloperTown and Scecina).
Building the Scecina Quadro in July 2018
The original prototype feedback image generated by Conrad. The DeveloperTown Quadro is the upper left section.