Abstract- Nina Samuel

Re-Reading Fractals: Towards and Archeology of the Digital Form

In the mid 1980s, the so-called Mandelbrot Set was promoted as one of the first scientific icons of the digital era. Its ‘inventor’ Benoît Mandelbrot claimed the priority of the visual over the algebraic terms in his theory and declared the ‘return of vision’ in natural science. He argued that this had taken place through the use of the personal computer as an image-generating medium. To this day the aesthetics of fractals are closely associated with the concept of simulation and added to the appraisal of digital media as being mainly an insubstantial numerical code.
By contrast, my research project departs from the beaten track of this traditional reception. The focus is on an archaeology of the digital form to uncover the deepest possible layers of its specificity: the graphical procedures, visual competences of scientists and on the interdependence of media and knowledge. In the early phase of his theoretical considerations, Mandelbrot himself used artistic methods that revealed a close correlation between digital and analogue techniques. He drew lines in the print-outs, used drawings even to authenticate his conclusions, produced collages and painted in the shapes of his first computer-generated ‘fractal geographies’. As indicated by the analysis of working methods used by other researchers in the field of complex dynamics, plotter and pencil operate simultaneously and constantly complement one another. Hence, early epistemic computer graphics must be characterised as hybrids: analogue and digital media do not exclude each other. Rather, it is the other way round, that one determines the other as in the thinking process. Only because of computer graphics did the pencil once again become an indispensable cognitive tool to extract a theoretical concept out of the complex and inconceivable accumulation of visualised data.