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Swarm and SwarmSketch

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Swarming is in the ether, cyber and ink today. It’s also in the real world. Friday’s opening of “Swarm,” at the Fabric Workshop and Museum brings together some great swarms of lines, objects and ideas about convergence, divergence, chaos and group-think. It’s a fab show and a beautiful one as well. I can’t really pick one favorite but among my many is Sarah Sze‘s “Unravel,” 2003, a monument to the mundane with materials like matchsticks, gift boxes, a baggie filled with water, a pool of salt on the floor, a tape measure, ruler and so much more. (There are a bunch more photos on the FWM “Swarm” show on my flickr site.)

Then in this morning’s NY Times, a story by Sarah Boxer tells of the 3-month-old web project “Swarm Sketch” by Australian student at Canberra University, Peter Edmunds.
The online global-village sketch program allows all participants to input up to a 100 px continuous line. Then it allows you to edit other lines in the sketch by erasing them or darkening them. (image is a swarm sketch from nov. 27 called the biggest loser)

There are 50 sketches so far and according to Boxer’s article the first couple were made by a small number of individuals and the results look like children’s drawings. But in October word of mouth (word of email?) had gotten out and swarms came to draw and edit each others’ marks. The drawings stop at the 1,000th line that’s been contributed. After that a new sketch is begun based on a popular search term in the big cyber search engines (today’s drawing is “cell phone bandit.” Earlier ones were “hurricane,” “jessica simpson wedding,” “halloween,”etc.)

What the complete swarm drawings remind me of more than anything is Jean Dubuffet‘s crusty primitive images of people.
There’s nudity galore and some bad language (“FUCK” was erased from the phone bandit piece but you can see it appear and get edited out when you watch the time lapse animation of the drawing which goes from first to last mark made.) (image is “world’s ugliest dog” from nov. 29)

SwarmSketch is less fun to play with than you might think. In fact it’s tedious looking at tiny line fragments and deciding up or down, darker or lighter. As for putting down your individual line, I never saw mine in the hectic atmosphere of lines. But the whole swarm drawing idea is a great one — exquisite corpse drawing for the nintendo age. Oh, and there’s a stats page on the site. More than 55% of the participants are from the US and Canada. A mere 2.85% are from Australia. How’s that for being overlooked in your own backyard.