John Gerrard Is Helping Restore Ireland’s Rainforest with Generative Art

A generative art series by Irish artist John Gerrard is helping restore Ireland’s temperate rainforest. Hosted by Feral File, an online platform for digital art founded in 2020, the series, titled “crystalline work,” offers dozens of collectable digital works a day for the next 12 months. It went public on June 18.

“This work is first and foremost an experiment,” Gerrard told ARTnews. “In a virtual world on a pontoon in the Arctic North Pole, a robot—which I call a prismatic robot because its surface changes color every millisecond—is creating 24 works every day, from summer solstice 2024 to summer solstice 2025. The artworks are derived from a JavaScript ice generation algorithm I found online 20 years ago.”

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Gerrard describes the project as a “global data performance.” When asked what this means exactly, he explained that it is “a work of public art that can be accessed by anyone on earth via the browser.”

A link on Feral File’s website leads to a video of the digital robot diligently enacting the algorithm in real time, to create “crystal bar lattices.” Once completed, these lattices are added to the Feral File gallery as “unique, dynamic, tokenized 3D Web Graphic Library (WebGL) art pieces,” per the platform’s announcement.

By the time next year’s summer’s solstice rolls around, 8,760 artworks will have been created, each tokenized on the Ethereum blockchain and available to buy for $100 a piece, or 0.026 ETH. “The works can be strung together by collectors to create longer performances using the Feral File app,” the platform noted in its announcement.

Digital artists including Refik Anadol, Lu Yang, Rick Silva, and 0xDEAFBEEF have in the past exhibited with Feral File, which aspires to offer “a new kind of collecting experience, connecting otherwise unaffiliated, previously disconnected artists, curators, and collectors.”

Twenty-five percent of the profits from “crystalline work” will go to Hometree, a charity devoted to restoring a lost 4,000-acre rainforest in Connemara, Ireland.  

“John’s commitment to supporting the natural world is significant and will definitely be remembered in time,” Matt Smith, Hometree’s CEO, told ARTnews. “We’ve been working together for three years, and every time he brings a new strategy that often goes beyond my understanding of the digital art space. This time, as always, his approach is ambitious, but he delivers. He is an amazing man with a unique mind, and I personally love his art. Working with someone who has such an intimate knowledge of the climate crisis and biodiversity loss is a pleasure.”

Every day, the robot will create enough artworks to fund the planting of 33 trees in Ireland.

Each artwork comes with an “annual generative soundtrack” created in collaboration with Tone.js, a company helping people to create interactive music in the browser. “The influence for the soundtracks is a sound bath, like a Tibetan sound bath. In the summer, the sounds are higher, while in the winter, the pitch is lower,” Gerrard explained. Moreover, he said, “this is not a media work—it has nothing to do with media. It is a data work. There are no recorded elements whatsoever, and the sounds are from a choral piece derived from code.”

A 4,000-pixel image file of the generated crystal bar lattices, which Gerrard refers to as “archetypes,” is embedded in every work, and can be exported and pigment printed on paper. Also embedded in each work is a 3D model of the unique crystal arrangement, “which can be exported for usage in 3D prints or virtual world-building.”

“John has been pushing the boundaries of art for decades and ‘crystalline work’ is his most ambitious and thought-provoking artwork to date,” Feral File cofounder Casey Reas said in a statement. “It’s an exquisite work, from the ideas to the finished simulation to the direct impact on the temperate Irish rainforest restoration.”


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