Jared Tarbell was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1973. He grew up in what he describes as a "great family." He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from New Mexico State University. He lists little biographical information, except to say that he bought his own computer at age 18 (in 1991), but even before that he was working on other people's computers. He has gone on to become, among other things, a software artist. He works primarily in ActionScript and Processing, and sits on the board of the Austin Museum of Digital Art. The main site for his artwork is complexification.net. In Processing: Creative Coding and Computational Art, Ira Greenberg writes of Tarbell, "Jared Tarbell's code art is sensuously analytical, combining gorgeous tonal subtleties and implicit complex mathematical structures" (21). Some quotes:
"I was initially motivated to use the computer through the text based adventure games my father would write while I was asleep. It became clear to me that a programmer truly could create something from nothing, and this idea intrigued me."
"Computer art suffers its past... Libraries of methods derived within its history, such as composition, back-painting, and stroke irregularity, should not be forgotten or excluded when generating art on the computer. Until a hundred years of computational history have been accumulated, traditional painting is a good source of inspiration"
"I believe all code is dead unless executing within the computer. For this reason I distribute the source code of my programs in modifiable form to encourage life and spread love. Opening one's code is a beneficial practice for both the programmer and the community. I appreciate modifications and extensions of these algorithms. Please send me your experiences."
Are these ideas in contrast? Does one seem to win out over the others in Tarbell's work?
"Moonlight" (2002) is one of Tarbell's most explicitly collaborative works. According to the levitated.net site, "Moonlight is an interactive installation of the visualization of the first movement of Beethoven's No.14 Sonata." It uses a MIDI file of a specific human performance of the song and turns that information into colored blocks that move across a wall as a visitor/participant walks through the piece - the visitor is also able to change the color of the blocks. Not only does this piece use the Beethoven song, it is inspired by another artist's work, that of Stephen Malinowski, whose Music Animation Machine was intended to function as a kind of commonsense musical score that anyone could read. It is thus an appropriative and collaborative work.
What I find most interesting about Moonlight is Tarbell's reading of the visualization of the work, above, as a rocket. I think this points towards the idea that people need not understand the work in order to get meaning out of it. There are multiple layers on which to engage with this work, and none of them are particularly better than one another. Anyone can appreciate and derive meaning out of the aesthetic of Moonlight even if they do not know about the process that went into it.
In this work lines develop by an algorithm and create spaces filled in with a palette from a Jackson Pollack painting. It conjures up themes of development and city spaces, suggesting the history of cities. It also paints a beautiful picture, perhaps drawing on suggestions of urban space to make a comment on both the beauty and the difficulties of urban life.
On Tarbell's art site, Complexification, there is an alternating series of quotes, one of which, by Philip K. Dick, is:
"As the external world becomes more animate, we may find that we -- the so-called humans -- are becoming, and may to a great extent always have been, inanimate in the sense that we are led, directly by built-in tropisms, rather than leading. So we and our elaborately evolving computers may meet each other halfway."
Much of Tarbell's art seems to enact this prediction, acting as a collaborator with the computer. In an interview, Tarbell states, "Sometimes the line between the artist and the machine is blurred. More correctly, the line is fractal. It is very rewarding to hit 'play' on a well-formed, finely tuned program, and watch the machine go to work. Often, 100% of the computer's resources will going into executing your instructions, as many times as you have asked it to, for some indefinite amount of time. You may even ask the computer to make some random decisions of its own along the way. In the end, the work that is created can be immeasurably more complex than what you, as a human, could have ever produced operating on your own instructions. In this light, the computer is doing most the work. So some look to this and say that there is little or no artistic input in work created this way. How could there be when everything is so logically determined? My belief is that the work is pure artistic input, filled with emotion, careful thought, and a deep human perspective. It is the 'well-formed, finely tuned program' that makes this so." The computer is more than a medium for Tarbell. Thus, while his work can be appreciated on an aesthetic level without knowledge of the technical processes involved, the computer can still, in a sense, be seen as co-artist of the work.
"Tree Garden II" (2004)
In "Tree Garden," trees grow in front of your eyes, different and random each time. This piece has less going on visually than "Substrate," but gestures to similar issues of growth and randomness. This project may seem more like a cute mini-program than lasting art, but the changing nature of the piece calls into question what is being defined as art here. Since there is a random component to the work, the outcome itself cannot be completely attributed to Tarbell. Is his work, then, just the source code itself? Who is responsible for the rest - the user, the computer, or both? Even a simple work like this conjures up these blurry issues, yet it remains accessible to a lay audience, as the sketches are still visually interesting. For me, they also bring up questions of the line between nature and technology. In our world genetic engineering is becoming more and more of a reality, yet this work suggests that good outcome comes from keeping an element of randomness even in specific designs. That is what creates the beauty, moe than if all the trees were the same - and the same holds true for nature.
"Software Structures " (2004) - In this project, commissioned for the Whitney Artport, Tarbell is implementing the structures set by the primary artist, Casey Reas. Inspired by Sol LeWitt, Reas described in words what he wanted the implementations to do, and had several other artists implement them in code. Reas suggests that the role played by Tarbell and others here is similar to that of a performer, while he acts as a composer. Tarbell used Processing for this project and had a certain degree of freedom to interpret Reas's structure. Reas makes the distinction between the work humans do here and what a machine could do, but Tarbell seems much more willing to see computers as fellow collaborators. With this project, the tables are somewhat turned from Tarbell's usual stance as originary artist who offers his source code to others, and here takes on qualities both of the appropriative artist and of the computer itself.
Etsy (2005) - Etsy is a marketplace, not an art project - or is it both? The site is a place for crafters to showcase and sell their handmade works, while also fostering a community of artists and consumers around an interest in non mass produced goods. Tarbell acts as Vice President of Visualization, finding ways to display the products. These include being able to search by color or geographic region (the latter is visualized on a globe).