Elliptical forms: abstract algorithmic objects

Paul Goodfellow*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Contemporary systems painting directly engages with the material of contemporary culture, not necessarily the technological substrates of computation, social media, the Internet, and artificial intelligence, but the concept of the algorithm and the circulation and patterning of information at the limit of human apprehension. Systems painting emerged as part of the wider category of systems art in the 1960s—a heterogenous collection of artists who were focused on the exploration of social, ecological, and technological systems, and the processes that underpin them. These systemic fields increasingly define and shape our lifeworld in the 21st century, producing an excess of algorithmically generated information. It is, therefore, appropriate to consider the role system painting plays in addressing the conceptual, aesthetic, and affective aspects of information derived from computational, algorithmic, and rule-based processes. This paper discusses the practice of the contemporary systems painter James Hugonin and his series of paintings Fluctuations in Elliptical Form (2015–2021). Karl Popper’s theory of three worlds is introduced, and the concepts of ‘concrete’ and ‘abstract’ objects are described and applied to Hugonin’s painting as a way of understanding the role externalised rules and internal intuitive decisions play in the construction of these complex and visually mesmerising paintings.
Original languageEnglish
Article number172
Number of pages12
Issue number4
Early online date10 Aug 2023
Publication statusPublished - 10 Aug 2023


  • Systems art
  • Systems painting
  • Algorithm
  • Abstract objects
  • James Hugonin
  • Karl Popper


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