AGH on Glorifying the Computer

AGH, the trio of Kim Asendorf, Andreas Gysin and ‍Leander Herzog, spoke with Peter Bauman (Monk Antony) before their debut show in Berlin, covering the group's formation, the digital aesthetic and glorifying the computer.
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Andreas Gysin, svg6.svg (still), 2021. Courtesy of the artist and owned by Le Random

AGH on Glorifying the Computer

AGH, the trio of Kim Asendorf, Andreas Gysin and Leander Herzog, spoke with Peter Bauman (Monk Antony) before their debut show in Berlin, covering the group's formation, the digital aesthetic and glorifying the computer.

Peter Bauman: Walk us through what AGH is and how it came about. Maybe you can start with how the three of you first met.

Leander Herzog: We first met in person at Proof of People in London but we've been following each other online for quite a while. We have also been in shows together. Then we met a couple more times over the years in Berlin and Paris for different reasons. I would say last year or so, it got a bit more intense because we started a group chat and figured, “Hey, we should maybe do something together.” We had this long-term vision to eventually start something together because people started mentioning our names together and we felt like we aligned on many things. We have similar tastes when it comes to aesthetics and many other things. 

Kim Asendorf: I think it was Andreas who said, “Hey, let's do a show together” just for fun. It was a process over the course of a year or so. We were talking back and forth and at some point we were pushing a bit more. Then an opportunity came up where it all made sense to say, “Okay, now is the time. We have the right thing that could work.”

Peter Bauman: That opportunity is AGH 1 on December 7, 2023, in Berlin. Can you talk more about the event? Do you see these becoming a regular thing moving forward?

Leander Herzog: We already have plans for an event in 2024 but don't know exactly how many we will do. There can also be just online formats or other basic things that we organize with our group so that's still totally open. Forming AGH enables us to do things that are harder individually but easier as a group. For instance, it's much easier for us to coordinate, pool resources and find partners. It also has something to do with the fact that, previously, we would go from group show to group show, always organized by someone else. Sometimes we had great exhibitions and really nice experiences and sometimes it was not so great. Things like venue choice and documentation were often lacking. Group shows are typically curated in a questionable way too, to say the least. Then, you usually get a request for some work and you have like 24 hours or a week. They present it in a small space with many small screens and then you get a shitty iPhone photo at the end of it. We realized that we were not going to change anything by advocating to our curators in nice emails. We decided that if we do something together, we want control. We have to start something fresh and give this a try to have the chance to make it better.

Returns #295 preview
Leander Herzog, Returns #295 (still), 2021. Courtesy of the artist and fxhash. Owned by Le Random

Peter Bauman: You’ve kept public information about the group limited. But you did reveal that you formed “to align around shared ideas and aesthetics.” What are those shared ideas and aesthetics?

Andreas Gysin: The shared ideas are probably a certain use of the computer and the software in such a way that it doesn't necessarily add a narrative or a story. 

What we try to do with our work is glorify the computer, to put some aspect of the computer in the very first position. 

We all move in abstract landscapes and we also don't have much of a narrative overlay in our work. We could eventually define our work as concrete art, almost. It's an art where you show things as they are. There is no second layer of meaning. I really like this idea. There is a certain honesty and there is also a certain safety because the work cannot really be misinterpreted. It is there in its complete nakedness and in its complete use of technology. 

Leander Herzog: I like the honesty point. We're trying to have an honest dialogue with the software and hardware of our time. We're trying to work with the medium instead of against it. I think that's important. We're trying to work closely with the materials, playing with the actual nature of the computer and displays.

We're not trying to pretend we're still painting.

Kim Asendorf: At some point, as an artist, you don't even think so much about what you want to be. You just express what is in yourself somehow. It's not like all decisions are strategic or based on much fundamental information. It is this aesthetic and formal expression that is somehow part of myself, maybe because I grew up with computer aesthetics. As a young child, I was already sucked in by these early computer graphics. I'm still somehow obsessed with them. Whatever I do, it always ends up in similar directions because it’s self-expression.

Andreas Gysin: There is another aspect, too. Most of our work is in motion. That's something I realized from the very beginning. This medium somehow wants things to move because it's not something printed. The medium demands change, demands eventual interactivity and input from the audience. We didn't really choose this but I think we are already aligned in this direction.

Leander Herzog: The opportunity is there and we have this technology. We can do these amazing things, like code-based work that is flexible, dynamic and responsive.

I think real-time animation is, in my view, the most contemporary art form there is right now. Honestly, the question is, why would you do something else? It has all these interesting characteristics; why the hell would you just create a static image?

That feels completely weird to me. If we have this very accessible possibility to explore, it feels extremely urgent to actually do that. I also do static work sometimes but I struggle to understand why so many people and such a big part of the space are really focused on static images that reference the aesthetics of the past century. I think more and more people should and will focus on real-time, code-based art. I think we’ve been seeing that over the last ten years, as more people are working with code now. Yet still, we see a lot of grainy, print-looking static images, which to me is very irritating.

Peter Bauman: Andreas, Kim, what excites you, specifically about real-time animation?

Andreas Gysin: Leander mentioned that we work with screens and devices. This enables artists to play with aspect ratios in their work, expanding it in any direction. Creating art that can work in any size is something that I assumed from the very beginning would play a central point in the work. I want a piece to run on a phone but I also want to run it on a huge LED wall. This adaptability and flexibility are what excite me.

Kim Asendorf: Especially now, working with media or integrating the blockchain or using the internet, I more or less feel the urge that my work has to be coded. It’s because I can write an artwork in 10 kilobytes of code but it can expand into something that is an endless stream of data. If I tried to capture that, let's say in video, it would end up in countless gigabytes and the quality also could not be replicated. This makes the work very portable and, like Andreas said, adaptable and flexible. It can run basically endlessly and it can create an aesthetic that is rendered directly from the graphics card.

That means I can have a lot of control. I think for us especially, precision is important. The crispness of the rendering means that a pixel can really be just one pixel. That is just beautiful; I cannot put it in any other medium.

I could create a still image out of it that would look similar but as soon as it needed to move, video couldn't keep up with my demands for quality. I’m also excited by shaders. If you work with shaders, specifically fragment shaders, but also vertex shaders, all this stuff wraps around and opens up a completely different way of thinking and interacting between single parts in your code.

Kim Asendorf, Cargo #82 (still), 2023. Courtesy of the artist and Art Blocks. Owned by Le Random

Leander Herzog: It's also a big struggle because our work is often reduced to JPEGs and video stills. We have some collectors, luckily, that actually run the work in real time, as it's supposed to be understood at their home or for a specific show. 

Andreas Gysin: You mentioned collectors that run the pieces at home. We spoke before about aesthetics from the past, like the painterly that got dragged into this medium. I also think the way these pieces are put in homes is somewhat anachronistic. Having a dedicated screen for a work in a square format on a wall is something from the past. Many still treat our work as something you put in a frame on a wall and then sometimes you look at it. But our work is different because it runs on energy and runs all the time, even if you don't look at it. I really like the idea of an artwork that can be consumed on a computer or on a phone. You choose when to look at it. You can even look at it on a small screen when you’re out and about. Maybe you have a nice, big TV that’s a centerpiece in your home. Then you can enjoy the piece when you want.

Leander Herzog: We all have a background between engineering, web development or web design. We know that people have all kinds of screens. Screens are different and resolutions are different. That's just a reality we embrace because we think ignoring it is stupid. You can't just send the same chip pack to everyone because the aspect ratios, the browser tabs, whatever—this stuff is always different. Adapting to this is the bare minimum that you have to do to display an artwork properly—as intended. If you work for a specific resolution, and for example, if you work on the level of the pixel, which is Kim's specialty, then it's basically impossible to display your work properly if people just screenshot it and scale it up and down; that already destroys it completely.

Kim Asendorf: I also like the idea that by using the full size of the screen, you basically make the device invisible. It becomes just a meaningless frame as soon as you have black bars somewhere or too much user interface still visible. With responsive work that adapts to any screen size, you can at least create the feeling of making the device invisible or null and void somehow.

Peter Bauman: Leander, you mentioned “the aesthetics of the past century” that we’re holding onto, which seemingly favor static images. If we only consider work in terms of traditional aesthetics, things like balance and composition, what are we missing out on in terms of your work? What are some of the more digitally native elements that we should be considering? I think you already mentioned some things, like screen size and resolution.

Leander Herzog: Motion in general and interaction in particular are both important. Interactivity can be a simple user input or something complex that is enabled by crypto, like with a transaction but also goes beyond that. I think that's very new, very exciting and something that is often completely ignored. Interaction is definitely very underrated still and this is a huge part of this digital aesthetic, if there is such a thing.

Andreas Gysin: Early in my career, I had a similar breakthrough. I realized that interactivity was the ultimate form of art because it only works when the audience is present and when the audience engages with the piece. If you don't do anything, you don't have access to the true meaning and the true depth of the piece. I was not thinking about this in terms of screen-based work. It was installation work that had some interaction. Over the years, maybe I became a bit more contemplative. I don't like interactive work as much anymore. I prefer something that drags me in a little slowly and brings me into a sort of travel, into a sort of voyage. I don't want to think or do things. I just want to get absorbed and be dragged into the piece. So maybe Leander is still young. [Laughs] 

Leander Herzog: [Laughs] I have come to the same conclusion that a piece also needs to work without interaction. Interaction is a nice add-on, like a privilege, if you can make it happen. But it's not a given so I just do it sometimes and it's still a lot of fun. I think most of the art that we do right now has a hands-off approach. Requiring interaction to even make something work is probably not a good idea.

Kim Asendorf: I also prefer the way that I don't have to do something with the art but the art does something with me so I can get in a state of losing myself. I let it just happen rather than need to interact, which mostly feels a bit awkward to interact with something in order to get something out of it. It's super nice and interesting and it works, of course, especially with younger people. Interactivity can be a gateway to art based on digital technology. I see it a bit like Andreas said. I really want to just get something in my head and still be able to think about, compress or process it somehow without being distracted. I don’t want to think about “Okay, now I need to do this and this,” jumping around or hitting buttons too much. Maybe that's like Andreas said: when you get older, you get a bit more lazy.

Andreas Gysin: There are also works where the interactivity is at the core of the work itself. Of course, those are super interesting. Maybe if interactivity is just a small gadget but I'm guilty of this, I admit.

Leander Herzog: There is still some magic in interaction, clearly. When you see kids interacting with your stuff and having fun, you realize there is still something special to it.

I would also like to come back to the painterly aesthetic and emulating past aesthetics. I think this is often about finding a way for the audience to relate to this new art because digital art is still incomprehensible to many people. New audiences understand art as objects and paintings. To emulate the painterly aesthetic is a way for the audience and for these artists to find some connection, which I think I appreciate as a method. If it works, that's certainly good for them. However, it's not an honest thing to do somehow. It's like selling automobiles with horses in front or something so people understand what the deal is.

Andreas Gysin: It's an aesthetic choice, first of all. To emulate natural languages and their texture is much more complex than just drawing straight lines and adding a few pixels. There is a very deep technical ability to achieve a good, convincing result. I also think by researching and emulating known languages and forms, there is an opportunity to discover something new. For example, we can trace a similarity between music and the synthesizer. I remember when synthesizer electronic instruments came out in a more commercial and accessible way. They were trying to emulate natural instruments. You would have a trumpet, a flute or even a piano. They tried so badly to simulate this and they weren't so good. Over time, they became much, much better. For me, that's where I started to lose interest because the piano sounded so convincing. At this point, you really could use a piano. But the early attempt to imitate the piano became almost a language on its own because it was so weird and so unconvincing. It was also something else, something completely synthetic.

Andreas Gysin, Device 1 #218 (still). Courtesy of the artist and fxhash. Owned by Le Random

Kim Asendorf: I’m especially drawn to computer aesthetics because they are new and they express something fresh for me. That’s a very subjective point of view. If I want to have an artwork that looks like a painting, I would probably get a canvas and paint and color and paint something, because that also has so much intimacy and a way to experiment. I got into coding because I wanted to find some stuff and discover stuff that I could not easily imagine. I use code to surprise myself. When you learn coding, you have these ideas but I'm not really into just coding a tree. I see a beautiful tree and now I write code that replicates the tree. It's not so interesting for me. What I find interesting is having no clue what I'm looking for but I do have a few ideas and concepts. When I put them together, I create a huge experiment and hopefully I see something that I could not imagine before. That's what computers give me.

Peter Bauman: You speak so convincingly about the critical role in your practice of experimentation to discover new visual phenomena. Can relying on visual language and, like you mentioned, no second layers of meaning only take us so far? How do you navigate pushing artistic boundaries through experimentation and also creating work that resonates with viewers beyond just this initial visual impact? Beauty and these conceptions are always changing. Conceptualists would argue that it's the concept that keeps work interesting in the long term, not beauty itself, an approach that’s consistent with postmodernism and much contemporary fine art's de-emphasis on beauty.

Leander Herzog: It's an old critique and it's a fair point. It's also something we keep discussing. I think relying just on conceptualism as a framework, as a quality, is just as flawed as just relying on aesthetics. I remember one of my first processing workshops in 2008 with Marius Watz. I made my first generative piece. There was some German professor that did a guest critique and he said, "Yeah, it's impressive because it's really beautiful for this being your first coding workshop. It's really cool but there is no content." It was like, basically, he was saying, "Okay, it's not s– –t, but it's also not good because there is no content." I struggled with this for many years—to find my place in this. Like, okay, is this actually a problem or isn't it? I think it's not but I completely understand that people see it from that angle.

Kim Asendorf: Meanwhile, I don't even think so much about that anymore. I just want to do what I have in mind. Of course, it can be hurtful or exciting if somebody has a bad or good opinion about what you're doing. But for me, it's much more interesting to see how this world has changed over the last 15 years. At the beginning, as an art student at art school, there were not many people around interested in these super-nerdy things, to be honest. Generative art is still pretty nerdy to me. It's not something normal. If you do generative art, you're certainly not normal. Meanwhile, there are people who appreciate that and see that it's not easy. You need to learn a language, basically, before you can start. That's interesting and gives me something more than the critics that are around and trying to describe what you do. Mostly, I don't try to describe what I do because my language is art. That's my way of expressing myself. I cannot exactly describe each of these artworks. I can tell you what I did, but I also don't want to describe exactly what I did because I love that art has a bit of a mysterious and magical angle to it.

I'm not coding an artwork with the intention to later explain exactly what the coding steps behind it are, because that's secondary for me. It's about how people perceive the work without knowing too much and without being coders themselves. It's the hope that the art itself can be detached from the code but still, the code, of course, is the craft. You learn the craft but eventually hope that it can be seen by anybody without giving a s– –t if it's coded or what the media is, trying to move on to just the artwork itself somehow.


Leander Herzog is a visual and generative artist, coding realtime animations and web-based art.

Andreas Gysin: Art. Code.

Kim Asendorf is a visual and conceptual digital artist working with real-time generative systems.

Peter Bauman (Monk Antony) is Le Random's Editor-in-Chief.