Outbreaks from the Grid

Outbreaks from the Grid

Outbreaks from the Grid pursues art that acts and behaves like life. This project uses genetic algorithms and machine learning processes to move ideas through lifelike systems, documenting and exhibiting reactions along the way.

Because artwork is interpretable and relatable we are interested in how Outbreaks might create educational opportunities for a lay audience to better understand AI and AL. There is a dire need to bring more informed voices into the discussion about how technological advancements can serve social justice and a common good.

Project Goals:

• Engage human and machine minds and bodies to create dynamic artworks and art experiences.
• Leverage sophisticated computational resources.
• Root our digital art practice in contemporary art, Islamic art, and African art.
• Bring transparency to the computer processes of genetic algorithms and machine learning (open up the black box).
• Informed by the arts and humanities, pose questions and present challenges to computing systems.
• Produce new knowledge.
• Document, share and learn from the phenomenological experiences of the participating artists, researchers and audience.

Outbreaks from the Grid: Lifecycle 2020

Link to lifecycle pdf

Jenn Karson (PI)
Ethan Davis, M.S. Data Scicne ‘21
Sarah Pell, M.S. Data Science ‘20
Fred Sanford, B.S. Mechanical Engineering ‘20

CatCoders funding from Department of Computer Science, UVM Spring 2020
Northeast Cyberteam/NSF funding, Summer 2020

This work was supported in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under award No. OAC-1659377.
Computations were performed on the Vermont Advanced Computing Core supported in part by NSF award No. OAC-1827314.



Original Analog Organic Compounds

collection ~250 items

Natural Compound
Machine Learning
collection ~1500

Dataset of svg files
collection ~2000

Synthetic Compound
Genetic Algorithm
collection infinite


Natural Mixtures
Machine Learning
collection >1000





Synthetic Mixtures
(In Process)

2nd Generation Compounds:




2nd Generation
Synthetic Compounds
(In Process)




2nd Generation
Natural Compounds
(In Process)


Heard Over the Bell

In the United States civic bell towers remain iconic landmarks in large cities and small towns. There was a time when these were the tallest architectural structures – high in the air their artisan-made bells chimed to unify a community around a singular message to gather, heed warning, or celebrate. While these landmarks continue to shape the contemporary cityscape, many of their bells are gone or remain though no longer ring. If the towers do sound it may be through speakers and digital recordings. The messages that scaffold our lives today in the U.S. are scattered bell sounds and personal notifications from our cell phones, not a singular authoritative bell.

The bell tower architecture narrows before it points to the sky, a singular path to the heavens that assimilates and homogenizes; it suggests an individual and hierarchical journey. These towers strike a nostalgic hold while they inflame instincts to unfix and break them apart at the seams; to reveal and be transparent; to explore reconfigurations and flatten hierarchical structures; to serve social justice and community; to reinvent, recreate, ideate, and disrupt; to make room in the soundscape for the many voices that previously could not be heard over the bell.