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onformative is a generative design studio based in Berlin. Founded by Julia Laub and Cedric Kiefer, onformative specialises in using new technologies to find innovative processes and develop novel procedures with which to transcend the conventions of more traditional design. Their work is forged at the convergence of technology, design strategy and emotionally driven artistic intuition, and revolves around the synthesis of the organic and the digital. As such, their clients have ranged from Adobe to Nike to Wired magazine.

Kiefer and Laub’s experimental approaches have earned them a number of prestigious accolades. At the end of October, Kiefer was selected as one of ADC New York’s thirty seven Young Guns — a collection of art directors, designers and illustrators under thirty, who are recognised as leading the field. Julia Laub’s pioneering work has also established her as an authority on the nascent discipline of Generative Design. She co-authored an eponymous book on the subject that was published in a German language edition in 2009, by Verlag Hermann Schmidt, and then in English, by the Princeton Architectural Press, last year.

onformative also see their mission as collaborative and pedagogical. To this end, they have partaken in a series of lectures and workshops, including the MotionBank Choreographic Coding Lab (November 2013), Visualised Berlin (October 2013) and Visualised New York (February 2014). Kiefer also teaches Generative Design at HAWK Hildesheim and shares his copious knowledge of the field in Weave magazine.

“We work in a range of varied fields,” Kiefer told Alpha-ville. “Quite often when we start something, it is unclear which media will constitute the final product. Knowing the tools at our disposal and being able to mix and combine technologies as needed gives us the freedom to focus on the idea without being constrained by technological boundaries.”

Onformative Google Image: Google Faces.

When speaking to Kiefer, it is clear that he takes a very fluid approach to the artistic process, privileging the exchange of ideas and modes of working between disciplines to stop the work becoming a mere technocentric demonstration of computerised capability. “The form your ideas take should remain open until the end and be determined by the work itself. Music can become matter, motion can become colourful images, and data can be turned into sound. Everything is possible. You have to be careful, though, that your art is not technologically driven and becomes an end in itself. As Man Ray said of artwork, ‘In whatever form it is finally presented: by a drawing, by a painting, by a photograph, or by the object itself in its original material and its original dimensions, it is designed to amuse, bewilder, annoy or to inspire reflection, but not to arouse admiration for any technical excellence usually sought in other works of art.’”

In Google Faces, onformative wrote a face-detection algorithm using openFrameworks which found likenesses of human faces in the satellite landscape images of Google Maps. The project resulted in a number of interesting objets trouvés. With each circumnavigation of the globe, the programme zooms to another level of detail, exposing new ‘faces’ and challenging our views regarding ‘natural’ and ‘digital’ patterns.

Onformative2 Images:Unnamed Soundsculpture
Such ideas were also integral to onformative’s expanded animation piece Unnamed Soundsculpture (2012), a moving sound sculpture made out of the data extrapolated from the recorded motion of a human dancer, Laura Keil. Using three Microsoft Kinect cameras, Keil’s interpretation of Kreulkeltape by Machinefabriek was captured and rendered in three-dimensional point-clouds, the data from which was then exported to create a digital body of twenty-two thousand points, which could then be manipulated through alterations in the noise field to create an infinite array of divergent effects. The resulting sound sculpture won an Honorary Mention in the ‘Computer Animation Film VFX’ category at the Prix Ars Electronica 2012, an interdisciplinary platform founded in 1987 to celebrate outstanding artistic accomplishment at the interface of culture and technology.

Projects like Unnamed Soundsculpture emphasise the collaborative, genre blending approach onformative take to generative design. “When you work with people from different disciplines, beautiful things can happen,” Kiefer says. “Whether it’s that of a dancer, magician or product designer, having another perspective to contend with challenges your usual way of working and your go-to tools. Often it is new technology that provides the interdisciplinary link and help us achieve things that would otherwise seem impossible,”

immaterials_final_1 Image:Immaterials – data between visibility and invisibility

“Though we have a lot of friends in the UK and have worked with a variety of people in London, this will be our first speaking engagement,” Kiefer said. “We look forward to giving our audience an overview of our work in different fields and the creative process behind it. Drawing on our recent and ongoing collaborations with a dance company, we hope to question the nature of inspiration and show how technology can be used to inspire and improvise to create unexpected results.”

Make sure you don’t miss out on the opportunity to hear from some of the foremost trailblazers of generative design by grabbing your tickets below before they run out.

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