In Silico: A practice-based exploration of computer simulations in art

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Computer simulations (CS) profoundly alter many aspects of our lives yet exhibit an ontological recalcitrance that impede our understanding of what they are and how they function. The dominant theoretical framework for understanding computer simulation (CS) related artworks is rooted in postmodern ideas that proliferate ‘immaterial readings, consequently hiding the making processes of the artwork, and making it difficult to discuss the material points of contact between the physical and virtual world. There is limited literature that focuses specifically on CS-related contemporary art. This thesis draws together the most pertinent history, theory and practice for artists and curators working with CS-related artworks. This study employs a reflective practice methodology to explore the changing modes of materiality ascribed to computer simulation-related artworks. The research consists of three phases of practice, theoretical analysis and reflection. Five artworks were created for three exhibitions, that elucidated how space, time and behaviour are constructed within game engines, and how this can inform the understanding of existing and future CS artworks. A parametric time system was developed: a new visual scripting logic for real-time artworks that allows them to be exhibited for different durations without altering the content or recompiling code. Characteristics of CS were established in relation to existing art practices. Postmodern and new materialist theories were analysed and discussed with a view to better understanding CS within art contexts. In relation to my own practice, assemblage theory, media ecology and media geology were found to be the most appropriate theoretical frameworks in which to understand CS artworks. The final chapter expands on these ideas in relation to the recalcitrant temporal aspects of the CS assemblage. For artists working especially with computer simulated artworks, this thesis provides a set of practical and theoretical examples of the contexts that real-time computer simulations, specifically with ecological and environmental concerns, can be discussed within. The comparison and analysis of postmodernist and new materialist theories provides a way of considering computer simulations within a contemporary philosophical context.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Northumbria University
  • Gibson, Stephen, Supervisor
  • Dorsett, Chris, Supervisor
  • Smith, Dominic, Supervisor, External person
Award date12 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019


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