A Space for Everyone

Student Artists

Many end-of-spring-semester events pivoted from in-person to online this year, including Scripps College’s annual Senior Art Exhibition. Harvey Mudd College seniors Emily Zhao and Julia Read were among the artists who reinvented their artwork to fit a virtual presentation for the show “A part/Apart.”

Read, a double major in computer science and art, produced a participatory, procedurally generated landscape experience for her project, Inside and Out: Exploring Self-Reflective Landscapes. In addition to the virtual display as part of the Scripps show, Read developed an interactive website where visitors can experience her landscapes in 360 degrees and create landscapes of their own.

Visit Read’s website.

“Procedural generation is a technique that is prominent in both the computer science world and the art world,” Read says. “In the tech world, procedural generation is a method of creating data that takes advantage of processing power and computer-generated randomness in order to function algorithmically instead of manually, typically combining human input and algorithms. In the art world, the SPACE STUDY 1 randomness and greater visibility obtained by using a system in the procedural generation process are present within generative art as well.”
Read says a key aspect of her work is that it is viewable online through affordable virtual reality technology. “I pursued online virtual reality art because I felt strongly about the way it democratizes the dissemination of information and artistic experience in addition to obstructing the commodification of art,” she says.
Because of the pandemic, Read says, “mandatory social distancing is closing down museums, opening up virtual galleries [like this online gallery] and driving art further toward a more digital norm. Now, more than ever, this project is a critique on the way we experience art as well as on accessibility within the art world. I sincerely hope that this shift in the art world also shifts the power dynamic within it, too.”
Interested in making her work participatory and exploring concepts of “relational aesthetics”—the tendency to make art based on, or inspired by, human relations and their social context—Read developed an interactive tool for procedural landscapes. Viewers are invited to participate in Read’s project by responding to a series of questions—like, “Safe social connection is one of the best things for the mental health of ourselves and those close to us. Who will you connect with or check in on today?” The answers generate their own unique landscapes.
Read’s positive self-reflection experience is based on the concepts of impermanence, connection, empowerment, acceptance and gratitude. “The procedurally generated virtual landscapes are produced by randomized functions that are seeded with the responses obtained from the prompting questions,” she says. “I am exploring the option of using natural language processing libraries in order to correlate responses more strongly with visual results.” Harvey Mudd College Communications staff generated this otherworldly landscape using a single word, repeated in response to each of Read’s questions. Can you guess the word?