Practice

Hébert's work uses the computer algorithm at its heart, at least in a technical sense (as he points out below, it is the aesthetic and spiritual imperatives that come first). As one of the founders of the 'algorists' this is only natural, but, as with all digital artists, the particular algorithms he has turned to have a personal and unique enquiry behind them. Also remarkable in his work is the range of media to which Hébert has employed over the years. The image above shows just one example, while the use of sand as a medium is one of the most delightfully unexpected applications of the algorithm in art.

Algorithms: Hébert has been drawn to algorithms with a mathematical basis, particularly those which seem to expose the underlying structures of the physical world. Hence we see traces of natural processes in the images, those of water, the forces that shape fabrics, the effect of winds on vapour and sand.

The Plotter: Although Hébert has experimented with a wide range of media, the majority of his pieces are executed with the plotter, enabling the use of high-quality inks and art papers. Plotters are generally being replaced in the industries that used them with laser or inkjet printers, so artists like Hébert are having to rely on machines that can no longer be replaced.

The Virtual Plotter: Hébert has written software that generates bitmap images from the plotter codes that his programmes generate. This means that a 'virtual' plot can be generated and saved to disk for printing with high-quality light-fast printing processes now available. The Virtual Plotter acts a little like the 'rasterisation'

routines that convert a PostScript or other vector information into a bitmap for printing or manipulation in a paint programme. However, the Virtual Plotter needs to preserve the sequence of mark-making to capture the original plotted image. The actual marks that the pens make on paper, and the way that ink bleeds into the fibres, are harder to simulate however.

Sand as a Medium: Although Hébert prefers to keep the details of the mechanisms hidden, his sand pieces allow for his algorithmic explorations to drive a ball through sand in order to create relatively ephemeral artworks reminiscent of Zen gardens. A natural extension of the process has been the introduction of the time element: the movement of the ball through the sand is part of the piece, unlike in the creation of the plotted works.

Work process: A non-technical overview — Jean-Pierre H�bert (April 1997)

The work is an exploration in an abstract world of lines, supple water colour lines building surfaces like threads make fabrics. Flexible, innumerable lines: their rhythms organize shapes and shades. Their accurate arrangement is planned by precise calculations. These calculations are organized by a master plan composed as a framework uniquely describing the piece. A piece results from its concept composed into a plan, then made visible by drawing lines. Preliminary sketches and studies are usually necessary before a good size piece can be completed.

Hand is too impatient to render the accuracy and intricacies of the final design. As a weaver needs a loom to manage one's threads, mechanical help is required to guide the pens faithfully and save the

elegance and details of the work. [Thus empowered, mind can ask what hand alone cannot do.] Each piece is unique and rendered with lightfast inks on quality, acid free paper. According to size and complexity, from a few hours to a few days are needed to set in inks the few yards (or the few miles) of lines making a piece.

Help comes from a mechanical device: a plotter. A computer is needed to drive this plotter. It can also help in the computations mentioned before as a piece is defined by thousands (or millions) of points; and in composing the computations plan. Only custom software is used here. This allows for an intimate dialog with the computer and insures the complete originality of this work. Although a computer is involved in the creative process, this work is nothing but a tribute to and a continuation of thousands of years of drawing, geometry and fine arts by all civilizations past. [In fact, computer as a tool fades entirely behind the aesthetical and spiritual concerns that Art builds upon.]

A software plotter has been evolved from 1997. This has provided a wider palette of geometries beyond that of the plotter and allowed an access to new tools and paradigms, like laser engraving. And as modern inks inch toward lightfastness, the "virtual plotter" opens new media & avenues like printing, limited editions. In 1999 the exploration of metal plates for the etching press, and installations like "Ulysses", have enriched the work process, without changing its foundation: from concept to authored software to the piece.