Algorithmic Pattern

How can ancient and traditional approaches to pattern-making enrich contemporary creative technologies, making them more culturally grounded, usable, and more open to experiment, collaboration and change? Since December 2021, Alex McLean has started to work with a wide range of collaborators to find out, through a major four-year Future Leaders Fellowship funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

The Algorithmic Pattern project (codenamed 'Alpaca') investigates "heritage algorithmic arts", in order to rethink the design principles of contemporary creative technology. Broadly speaking, heritage algorithms consist of procedures and rules of pattern - shifting, combining, reflecting, rotating, interfering, glitching, and combinations thereof, at multiple scales.

Patterns are also at work in computers, from binary operations in low-level machine code, to high-level operations used by artist-programmers in creative coding. However, the word "pattern" is overloaded, and is often used to describe simple phenomena such as straightforward sequences in music. On the other hand, the word 'algorithm' is often used to describe unfathomable complexity. In combination, "Algorithmic Pattern" refers to human-made algorithms, where complex and surprising results can come from the combination of simple parts. This offers us rich ways of making; easy to learn but taking a lifetime to explore.

Through this fellowship we are researching historical and contemporary technologies and practices for algorithmic pattern through a diverse range of collaborations. Thanks to being hosted here at our non-profit studio Then Try This, we will be able to work across disciplines and within communities in ways that would not be possible in a traditional academic institution.

If you are interested in the theme, check our Algorithmic Pattern blog, including for news of future public events and recordings of previous ones. Please also join us on the Algorithmic Pattern forum, set up to catalogue and host discussions about heritage and contemporary use of algorithms in arts and crafts. If you are nearby, you could also drop by one of the Pattern Club meetups (the Sheffield Pattern Club is affiliated with our project, and we're happy an independently run club is also starting in London).

Project advisory committee: