Frederik Vanhoutte, also known as wblut is a generative Artist and Physician living in Bruges, Belgium. For his job, he has been creating toy models or, as other people would say: generative Art since 2000. He likes to have some physical plausibility in his pieces. His inspiration comes from the intricacy and infinite detail of our world. Frederik is not so sure that NFT and cryptocurrencies are unavoidably linked. Both use blockchain technology, and, naturally, the cryptocurrency chains are where art NFTs found their origin. But he would welcome, somewhat controversially perhaps, an NFT mechanism not linked directly to cryptocurrency.
NFT Granny: “Dear Frederik, it is a pleasure to meet you. What do you like most about creating digital art?”
Frederik Vanhoutte: The best thing about digital art is that I can create it. We all have different mental models. We are all quite different, literally unimaginably so.
Digital art, especially when it isn’t an emulation of traditional art, is as fundamental a medium as music, dance, literature and the various expressions we call “traditional art”. And just like the other media, it opens up possibilities for more people to participate.
How did you first become interested in art, and how did you get started with it yourself?
Frederik Vanhoutte: I am a physicist. Know Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory? Well, not excatly like that. In the pantheon of physics, I occupied a lower tier, that of an applied, experimental physicist, not quite an engineer, definitely not a cosmologist. We spent our time building setups for solid-state experiments.
That means that we needed a lot of back of the envelope calculations, or more accurately, toy models. Toy models are where we try to capture the essentials of a real system, just enough to make educated choices but without requiring our friends from the mathematical physics department – like Sheldon.
The toy models I needed to make were often geometric, particles running around on surfaces, hitting each other, forming little islands and growing. Basically, they were generative art systems, but back in 2000, I had no idea this existed. That changed in 2003 when I came across Processing. And what I saw people exploring were toy models liberated from the constraints of an actual life application.
I have been creating toy models ever since, and people started calling it art somewhere along the way.
Can you tell us more about the story behind your series “OBJKT#546834”?
Frederik Vanhoutte: It is best enjoyed on the platform this was created for hecticnun.xyz.
Although, as a piece, it’s a bit of a joke shared with the platform, it is part of my isoverse pieces.
When I jumped on hicetnunc, I mostly decided to release print resolution pieces. Collectors could then take it to a local print shop and get themselves a print.
After all, it didn’t make much sense to leave behind a proof-of-work chain and then start shipping cardboard tubes of paper across the Atlantic. This particular one is 30k x 17k, or with other words: “way too big”.
One of the side effects of my good intentions is that I haven’t seen the end of my hicetnunc/Teia profile in a long, long time. I might have to invest in some serious hardware if I ever want to see that again.
The isoverse series in itself is a bit special. Started in 2018, these were created from the ground up to be pen plotted. This was a fun constraint to start from because pen plotters don’t understand 3D. They draw the lines we feed them, nothing more.
Voxel-like structures with an isometric perspective seemed like a good choice because everything fits on an equilateral triangular grid, greatly simplifying “vectorizing” the renders. It evolved into a colour shaded pseudo-3D system in the four years since it. Slightly ironic because I could have just as well created these the traditional 3D renderer way, the exact way I initially had to avoid for the plotter files.
The irony is only “slightly”. These flat colour triangle-bases pieces tend to be extremely clean. Cleaner than I would be able to make them the “easy” way.
Which of your artworks are you most proud of?
Frederik Vanhoutte: Not so much artwork, more an idea. You might have seen it around, maybe even in a piece by me. One of the earliest Processing pieces I made created random assemblies of boxes by recursive subdivision, a core technique in generative art.
Being digital, there’s no problem in having things overlap, but coming from a “toy model” way of thinking, this bothered me. I always liked my work to have some physical plausibility. And in real life, things don’t intersect or self-intersect.
One of the solutions I thought of in 2008 or so was “slice-and-dice”. Conceptually the idea is relatively straightforward:
1. Start with a mesh, for example, a single box
2. Take a random plane, slice the mesh in half
3. Select one sliced half and roll a dice to select one of
i. slide the half along the plane
ii. rotate the half on the plane
iii. shear the half across the plane
iv. stretch/squash the half keeping it seated on the plane
4. Repeat 2-4
This shows the essence:
There are a few things I particularly like about this recipe.
One, the total volume of the initial mesh doesn’t change, but the shape’s complexity keeps increasing.
Secondly, with a bit of care, all pieces remain attached. And finally, because the slice is global, it never leads to intersections. There’s an inherent physicality to it.
The process also makes for nice satisfying animations taking apart and reassembling stuff. Next to the isoverse pieces, it probably was my most common type of work. Unfortunately, “was” because I kinda lost authorship of the idea along the way.
Is there an artist you would like to work with? Like a collaboration?
Frederik Vanhoutte: Right now, not particularly, although I try to whenever possible. Not meeting people physically the last two years cramped my collaboration style. I find it a lot easier to connect with people at events.
The other thing is that my time availability is unpredictable due to my day job as a medical radiation physicist. It’s hard to plan anything around that. The worst timing conflict I had was an agency on the line for an urgent deadline in a project involving several artists ánd having to deal with a radioactive, … dead person at the same time, long story. I haven’t done any commercial projects after that.
We are curious 🙂 Would you be willing to share any plans for upcoming projects?
Frederik Vanhoutte: Currently, I’m running a purchasing procedure for several linear accelerators, setting up a medical physics department and planning the construction of a new radiotherapy ward.
Maybe as a counterreaction, art-wise, I don’t plan projects. My roadmap is scale 1/1. I tend to have a few threads I’m following at any given time but how they progress is subject to time, mood, tides,…
Who or what are your biggest influences or sources of inspiration?
Frederik Vanhoutte: The intricacy and infinite detail of our world. But also architecture and man-made constructions. Industrial sites and machinery. Things of such complexity they cannot be held in a single mind.
Is there something specific you are trying to express with your art?
Frederik Vanhoutte: Some things we create just for fun or purely for technique or aesthetics, and that’s fine. But there’s definitely more. I’m primarily a generative artist, and in an old essay, I try to express what I feel is the underlying essence of generative Art.
I see an evolution of human thought. We lived in an animistic world of narrative in the distant past, operating at the whim of spirits whose ways were captured in stories. We didn’t so much explain the world as describe it. And the stories served us well.
Inquisitive minds throughout the ages sought to replace this narrative by giving explanations, culminating (in a sense) in what I call the 19th-century clockwork universe. Everything is defined by its state, know the past, measure the present, predict the next tick, the future. Rather than stories, rules and data became primordial.
But the reality isn’t captured that quickly, and in the 20th century: quantum physics, inherent randomness, chaos theory, and practical unpredictability of completely deterministic systems threw spanners in the works. We stuck to the clockwork universe in our economic, societal and political models.
We cling to the idea that “data”, a modern term for magic, holds everything – or at least ad revenue. But as we are closing feedback loops throughout society, we’re starting to catch up with 20th-century science in realizing that “state” doesn’t define reality but flow and process.
Not just natural processes like climate, but also our own constructs, things like economy and democracy. These aren’t frozen constructs strictly fixed by human rules but highly interconnected, chaotic, living systems with a dynamic of their own, running their ways independent of initial intentions. For example, selecting capable leaders in a democratic process is a noble goal. Yet it is the very nature of the system that it rewards those that are good at getting votes, not necessarily those that display good leadership. This isn’t nefarious. No evil mastermind at work; it is intrinsic to the system, part of the dynamics. And if we don’t recognize this, if we keep telling ourselves that these systems are fully controlled, we might end up with grossly distorted human constructions, like democracies that grow stale with self-interest or an economy that becomes a goal rather than a means. In fact, we’re pretty much back at our animistic beginnings. This time around, the spirits are of our own making.
What better art form to explore flow and process than generative Art?
What do you feel when you are creating new art?
Frederik Vanhoutte: Getting a grip on a new system and seeing new things emerge that we didn’t think possible a few days before, “Organicon, variation I“, is incredibly satisfying.
We don’t talk about the moments when inspiration doesn’t spark when things don’t work out. Those can be frustrating or, worse, boring. I’m convinced that is it imperative to keep working even when boredom strikes. I’m not a big believer in the sudden flash of inspiration. That sudden flash needs to be kindled, and collecting kindling takes work. Sometimes, the most challenging thing is just sitting down and putting in the work.
Do you remember the first time you heard about NFT Art?
Frederik Vanhoutte: Fall 2020, both late and oh so early. Many people I follow on Twitter suddenly started talking about and applying for Superrare, Makersplace and KnownOrigin. I remember discovering strange and noisy places like Rarible and seeing that these places already had old roots. Even now, I’m still learning daily about “OG”s from years ago.
What would be your biggest wish for the NFT Art scene? What is currently missing / not fully developed to reach full potential out of it?
Frederik Vanhoutte: What attracted me to the crypto art scene (do we still use that term?) was the promise of participation, of opening gates. A promise that shines brightest on low-cost tezos. Even in the shift of the term used, I regret seeing that large vocal parts of the NFT art scene aren’t crypto art, but a digital reproduction of tradart, same system, different suits in the seats. The many diverse crypto art communities that still exist outside this hypermonetized superficiality struggle to make themselves heard, as louder voices on both sides of the NFT debate seem to be determined to ignore their existence, a strange union in otherwise polar opposites.
I’m fully convinced NFT as a mechanism to sell digital art is here to stay. I hope that one day we can talk again about the digital art scene without defining it by its mechanism of monetization. To be honest, I don’t have a strong affinity with the cryptocurrency part. I’m not so sure that NFT and cryptocurrencies are unavoidably linked. Both use blockchain technology, and, naturally, the cryptocurrency chains are where art NFTs found their origin.
But I would welcome, somewhat controversially perhaps, an NFT mechanism not linked directly to cryptocurrency. But as it is, it took the crypto scene to deliver to digital arts what we failed to deliver ourselves.
For me personally, what I discovered were literally thousands of people I could reach with my art, something that before was only possible for a limited list of names. My hope is that others get to experience this too.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Frederik Vanhoutte: The average of all advice I get given at any time is “do nothing”.
But the best advice is still “Manifesto for myself“.
- Full Name: Frederik Vanhoutte
- Date of Birth: 21st December 1974
- Current hometown: Bruges, Belgium
- Languages he speaks: Dutch, English, French
- What did you want to be when you were a child: Anything but an adult
- Education: Physics and medical physics
- First Job: Physicist