Robert Allison

Digital Artist

Robert Allison is a digital artist from London, now living in Lisbon and resident at MILL (Makers in Little Lisbon).
His work focuses on the generative, using computation to create unique experiences, exploring the potential of the purely computational, the mechanistic, as this approaches the boundary with the natural, the tactile, the ‘real’.


From 10th to 19th of November 2021
Open from 18.30h to 6.30h

This cellular automaton uses Von Neumann neighborhoods as its underlying structure – cells are connected horizontally and vertically, but not diagonally. The first process uses a simple rule set to determine ‘life’ and ‘death’ for each cell. This rule set, one of many possible rule sets, was discovered to induce the sharply defined self organising structures. The second process bleeds colours between the top and bottom halves, using a kind of binary DNA to encode complexities beyond simple colour values. It is ‘gated’ by the first process to realise the overall effect.

Cellular Automata for Generative Art

A cellular automaton is a procedure that repeatedly updates a grid (or other arrangement) of cells. The state of each cell (typically as simple as on/off) is calculated at each step by considering its neighbouring cells and applying a rule.

A well known example of a cellular automaton is Conway’s Game of Life, but here we will examine a variation based on Von Neumann neighbourhoods. Because of the nature of such neighbourhoods, there are 1024 possible rules that can be applied, and ‘growing’ an automaton with each rule reveals a rich tapestry of results. Certain rules produce self-organizing textures with interesting structure, and are thus candidates for further investigation and perhaps application in producing generative artworks. One such rule has been used as the basis for the generative animation Skyline.

In this way, cellular automata show how richness and complexity can emerge from simple processes iterated at scale. The potential of the computational, the procedural, is explored as it approaches the boundary with the natural, the tactile, the ‘real’. The artist is one step removed from the act of creation – the artist forms, adjusts, and curates a procedure, and it is then this procedure, scaled sufficiently, that produces the work. Central to this concept is the notion of the cell, rendered as an over-sized pixel onto the image plane, and updated as the process continues. The essential discrete (as opposed to continuous) nature of the digital medium is thus emphasized and celebrated.

We spoke to Robert Allison about the origins of his work, the limits and the enormous potential of creative software.
A fluid conversation about the history and the future of computing, from generative art to machine learning and analog networks.