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William Latham gained recognition as a pioneering figure in generative art with his MUTATOR evolutionary art, developed at IBM during the late 1980s and early 1990s. His creations, characterized by organic, frequently serpentine shapes, are generated using his unique "alternative evolutionary software system" (created in collaboration with Stephen Todd and their team). This software allows Latham to select and crossbreed 3D forms that transcend the boundaries of human imagination.

Latham's artistic focus revolves around utilizing evolutionary processes to create art, embodying the concept of the "artist as gardener." This concept originated during his time as a Henry Moore Scholar at the Royal College of Art in the early 1980s, where he first developed his FormSynth drawings and etchings. These early works served as a foundation for his later Mutator creations.

Upon departing from IBM in the mid-1990s, Latham established a studio in Soho and transitioned into the realm of rave music. His organic art quickly garnered a significant following within the emerging rave and cyberculture community. Subsequently, after three years, he and his team of approximately 70 individuals shifted their focus to game development, collaborating with industry giants like Warner Bros. and Universal Studios. In 2002, they achieved success with the creation of THE THING, a popular game based on the John Carpenter movie that prominently featured Latham's signature organic style.

In 2007, Latham made a career shift away from entertainment and assumed the role of a Professor of Computer Art at Goldsmiths. It was here that he reignited his creative partnership with IBM mathematician and programmer Stephen Todd. Together, they revitalized and expanded their original Mutator code, advancing the technology into the realm of virtual reality (VR). This endeavor resulted in the creation of innovative organic immersive experiences for the public. Their VR projects have been featured in traveling exhibitions across various countries, including China, Japan, Peru, Belgium, and the UK.

In conversation with Anika Meier and Noah Bolanowski, William Latham discusses his concept of the artist as a gardener and the influence of gardening on his art, organic and evolutionary art, and the past, present, and future of digital art and AI.

Anika Meier: William, do you enjoy gardening?

William Latham: I grew up in the heart of the English countryside in a small village called Blewbury, which is situated between Oxford and Reading on the Berkshire Downs. It was an unusual environment because the Harwell Atomic Research Centre was located just over the hill, about 3 miles away. While the area where I grew up was very rural, the village was home to a community of scientists, somewhat resembling Los Alamos in the USA.

The region boasts an interesting topography, featuring several natural springs and streams bordered by watercress beds. I certainly spent a significant portion of my childhood outdoors, constructing dens and playing in the streams. Engaging in traditional gardening activities is probably not my strong suit. In fact, I consider myself a rather lazy gardener, which isn't necessarily a drawback these days, as I can frame it as 'rewilding'.

William Latham, Mirror Cube #8: Heavenly Mirror Cube, 2022.

AM: I asked this question because you referred to yourself as an "artist gardener."

WL: In many ways, in describing my role as a gardener, I was alluding to Mendel, who established the foundation for modern genetics by cultivating and breeding pea plants. Similar to Mendel, I pick and breed, although in my case, it is not for scientific research but rather as a gardener striving for a specific look or quality. I apply my rather eclectic aesthetic to the evolutionary process that I have initiated.

AM: How do you navigate the balance between drawing inspiration from gardening and guiding the evolution of your organic forms in MUTATOR?

WL: In line with this gardening concept, I have drawn inspiration throughout my career from the 19th-century artist and craftsman William Morris and his renowned cottage garden teeming with wildflowers. When seeking inspiration, Morris would venture into the garden, select a specific flower, such as a Scottish thistle head or any other that caught his eye at the time, bring it into his studio at home, and draw it from the most appealing angle (sometimes adding other flowers) onto a wood block. He would then use the technique of "industrial repeat," printing it numerous times on fabric or paper, creating an interwoven pattern of flowers.

I consider MUTATOR, with its vast range of forms, as my equivalent to his cottage garden—my MUTATOR GARDEN, where I go and pick forms on my computer screen. Similarly to Morris, I extract what I find aesthetically pleasing and then develop content based on that form. Though, unlike William Morris, I can steer the evolution of my organic forms.

William Latham drawing a FormSynth Drawing in 1985.

AM: Have artists like William Morris also influenced your drawing style?

WL: Although the drawing style in my INFINITY B&W series was partly inspired by electron microscopy, Stephen and I have dedicated considerable effort to enhancing line quality and incorporating master engraving effects. We have drawn upon techniques from Dürer’s etchings, as well as from William Morris and other engravers from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. For instance, we have adopted the practice of adding white edging to solid lines to enhance the drawing's quality and visual clarity. Not unlike Morris's use of industrial repeat to replicate a sketch of a thistle or another form, we utilize an infinity room to multiply the images and essentially "infinitize" the form.

In my earlier IBM MUTATOR works from the late 1980s onwards, a significant influence was the austere quality evident in Karl Blossfeldt’s photographs of hedgerow flowers (a technique later employed by Mapplethorpe in his studio photographs of lilies). As in these works, my forms were often presented against a black background with a single light source, creating shadows and high resolution. However, my 3D MUTATOR forms distinctly differ in that they do not exist in the physical realm, leading us to often refer to them as "ghosts of sculptures."

Continuing with William Morris as a point of reference, a whole host of references to forms and patterns have made their way into my work as aesthetic drivers when breeding, such as selecting forms that have elements of paisley or fleur de lys. This influence of nature and gardening can be found in my MUTATOR pumpkin forms from 1988 onwards, including cut pumpkins inspired by Halloween, which I celebrate. Interestingly, these can be connected to my FANTASY VIRUS forms developed decades later, with the viruses being quite spherical and the dissection recalling the cutting open of the pumpkins.

And, of course, referencing Morris one last time, the MIRROR CUBE series I’ve presented at EXPANDED.ART has strong floral overtones.

William Latham, Fantasy Virus, 2020.

AM: How did you get from drawing by hand to working with computers that create biological forms? In the late 1980s and early 1990s, at IBM's UK Scientific Centre, you pioneered the use of algorithms to create computer graphics that mimic biological processes.

WL: In 1983, while still a postgraduate student at The Royal College of Art, I began developing my rule-based evolutionary drawings known as FormSynth. These drawings were elaborate and extensive, featuring primitive forms such as cones, cubes, spheres, toruses, pyramids, ellipsoids, and dodecahedrons that underwent various shape-changing operations from a predefined list of twelve operations. These operations included actions like beak, bulk, stretch, scoop, twist, slice, clone, grow, growth pod, tendril extend, add, subtract, and marry. The final stages of the process involved imagining the result and then drawing it. These drawings depicted multiple generations of forms, each generation reflecting the impact of the selected operation, and some of them spanned up to 10 meters in length.

I presented these large drawings during my initial interview at the IBM UK Scientific Centre in Winchester, UK. They showed interest in the operator rules and their connection with their development of a new language called ESME (Extensible Solid Model Editor). Interestingly, ESME eventually served as the programming language in which MUTATOR was first programmed.

FormSynth served as the foundation and guiding principle for all my subsequent evolutionary artwork. While FormSynth has evolved over time, its core philosophy of infinite evolution has remained constant. Notably, there has been a recent resurgence of interest in these early hand-drawn images, with the Centre Pompidou acquiring four pieces for their collection and also the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

William Latham, FormSynth Drawing: The Empire of Form (detail). Evolutionary Rule-Based Hand Drawing, 1985-86.

AM: Let’s take a step back. When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

WL: I knew that by the time I was seven years old. I think it was partly influenced by the garish clothes with bold patterns that people wore in English villages in the late 1960s. As my mother was a musician and my father a chemist, I was also surrounded by the mysterious symbols of musical notation, molecular graphics, and mathematical equations.

AM: Did you draw a lot as a kid?

WL: I drew a lot as a kid. Some of my drawings from that time are not that far from my MUTATOR images. Even back then, I drew huge patterns incorporating fleur de lys and other iconic shapes, really not that different from the more decorative of my new MUTATOR INFINITY (black and white) drawings.

Below is my PURPLE COCKEREL drawing from 1969, when I was eight. I started out by drawing a pattern, then chased the content I saw emerging from it, and that led to the shape of the cockerel.

William Latham, Purple Cockerel, 1969.

AM: When did you first get in touch with computers?

WL: While I was a student at Ruskin College, Oxford University, I gained some experience with Fortran 77 and Benson Plotters. Then, I was taken on by computer artist Paul Brown at Middlesex Polytechnic, London, to do some part-time teaching and worked with Mike King using the Picasso System developed by John Vince and Gareth Edward.

After that, while pursuing a PhD at the Royal College of Art, I studied programming at Imperial College. At the RCA, my supervisor, John Lansdown, who was head of the Computer Arts Society and famous for his introductory spacecraft graphics to the ALIEN movie, encouraged me to harness the power of computers for my FormSynth rule-based drawings. Keith Critchlow, the conceptual artist and author of books such as THE HIDDEN GEOMETRY OF FLOWERS, encouraged me not to. I would certainly have had a very different career if I had followed his advice.

So it was these influences and mentors that helped me realize the potential for collaboration between the artist and the computer.

Noah Bolanowksi: Can you expand on how your traditional art background influenced you to explore computing from a creative perspective? Do you feel it influenced the creative output you were producing at the time?

In ART AND COMPUTER from 1990, you discuss your exposure to traditional art mediums while attending the Royal College of Art, as well as your influential exposure to mechanized or chemical processes of art replication.

"I initially trained in fine art and produced paintings, sculptures, and prints for a number of years before working with computers. It was here in the printmaking department at the Royal College of Art where I first became interested in the use of mechanized reproduction of images."

WL: I should start by saying that my exploration of computing has always been solely from a creative perspective. I work in a computing department (at Goldsmiths University, London), but still on the art side, and while my MUTATOR software has in recent years been adapted and applied to scientific research and exploration, my own input is always on the creative rather than the technical side.

But to answer your question more fully about my trajectory from traditional to digital art, I started oil painting when I was 13 and tried out lots of styles, producing works in the style of the Impressionists, of Mirò, or in the style of Picasso. Then, I was fortunate enough to study at the Ruskin School of Art, Oxford, where I had three full years of quite traditional fine art training from excellent teachers (such as Kenneth Martin and Anthony Caro), starting off with painting, then picking up other fine-art skills such as print making.

While at the Ruskin, my work became heavily influenced by Russian constructivism with its geometric abstraction and dynamic organization of form, and I was very interested in dance choreography, which I tried to capture in geometric compositions with swirling circles.

From the Ruskin, I went to the Royal College of Art (RCA), London, where I had another three years of solid fine art training and was taught by Eduardo Paolozzi, Patrick Heron, Terry Frost, and Paul Huxley. While at the Ruskin, I became interested in sculpture as well. And at the RCA, my interest in sculpture grew further. I was a Henry Moore scholar, and this involved actually being mentored by Henry Moore.

But at the same time, I was taking my first steps in working with computers and began a PhD thesis under the computer graphics pioneer, John Lansdown. I was based in the Royal College painting studio behind the Victoria and Albert Museum and close to the Natural History Museum (where I spent a lot of time), but I was also working in the sculpture department, making modular sculptures and making geometric animated films in the animation department. So it was an exciting time, and although traditional in one sense, it also felt quite cutting-edge.

This big block of fine art training meant that I did not train as a conventional computer programmer, and whatever programming skills I did gain were piecemeal. However, I had access to some very bright programmers and mathematicians (the first of whom was Mike King at the RCA), and this work with software engineers, which in a way reminded me of the collaboration in a print studio with print-making technicians, taught me how to collaborate. On the one hand, this has resulted in a reliance on my part on software engineers. On the other hand, over the years, working with these extremely brilliant mathematicians and software engineers has allowed me to push the scope and quality of my "mutations" far beyond what I could have achieved as a creative working alone, even if I had had more robust technical training.

The whole structure of the way I work is collaborative and involves a dynamic exchange of ideas. My early interest in the Renaissance meant that I had already taken on board the idea of artists, mathematicians, and technicians working together, centered on the rules of perspective. And when I left the RCA for IBM’s UK Scientific Centre in Winchester, then a hive of pioneering cross-disciplinary computer visualization work, I found myself in exactly this kind of Renaissance situation, working with Stephen Todd and Peter Quarendon. My love of Dutch still life painting strongly influenced the way Stephen and I developed and used the WINSOM CSG Modeler at IBM to render images with dramatic lighting, shadows, and surface qualities, and ultimately this also fed back into the software, which had been originally created as a science visualization tool.

So, to return to your question, gaining so much knowledge of art became a springboard to do something new.

William Latham working in the main Graphics and Visualisation Lab at The IBM UK Scientific Centre, Winchester in 1989.

AM: Who influenced you and shaped your path during your time at the RCA?

WL: There were many influences pointing me towards this path. Of my teachers at the RCA mentioned above, Eduardo Paolozzi, in particular, was a major influence on me with his preoccupation with machines and engineering. Then there was Crichlow with his geometry of nature and, of course, John Lansdowne’s wonderful computer graphics work. I read Mandelbrot, whom I met in later years, as a student and found his work on fractals incredibly exciting.

And of course, the whole idea of evolution, on which I became so focused during that period in a sense, invited the use of computers. From 1983 onwards, I worked on the FormSynth rule-based evolutionary drawings I described in detail earlier. They were extremely labor-intensive, and at the time they looked incredibly detailed, but of course, once I moved on to computers, the level of detail that could now be achieved was exponentially greater. Though, strangely enough, I still have people telling me that my hand-drawn works are their favorites!

To put this transition to computing in the context of my personal situation during my RCA period, I was producing these obsessive FormSynth drawings in biro on paper while my friends were producing paintings that were heavily influenced by Baselitz, Kiefer, and Julien Schnabel, and I felt like the odd one out—and that was even before I got into computing!

Another important point for me in this trajectory towards computers was that at art school I had learned and loved using three-point perspective derived from the Italian painter and mathematician Paolo Uccello, and, in a sense, although I was not aware of it at the time, this was also putting me on a track that led to computer graphics. When I embarked on FormSynth, I had to put this use of three-point perspective to one side, which was a radical move for me at that point, as it had become my signature style. But the FormSynth drawings were already so detailed and complex that there was no way I could have incorporated a three-point perspective into them. This was a limitation in the drawings that was immediately overcome once I took my ideas to computing, as the computer handles all that geometry with ease, so that allowed me to revert to my style of choice and preoccupation with 3D forms.

Overall, I would say that my digital work was not so much influenced by my earlier traditional art work but rather a continuation of it. My core ideas preceded my engagement with software, but computers allowed me to overcome the limits I had come up against in traditional art forms and also the limits of the human brain.

NB: Looking back from several decades into the future, do you have any reflections on how the digital artists of your era, many of whom had a background in art education, approached this emerging medium uniquely?

WL: The first generation of computer artists, we could say—many of the trailblazers came from a fine arts background. Vera Molnar was a painter and studied art history and aesthetics. Lillian Schwartz also started out working with physical media. By the late 1960s, they were both working with computers. Frieder Nake was a computer scientist.

One of the distinguishing features of my generation (the second) was the growth of programmer artists, people like Karl Sims, who, in the tradition of Nake, were computer programmers who produced technical demonstrations with high artistic quality. Craig Reynolds, Ken Musgrave, and Ken Perlin were similarly primarily computing experts who produced striking and often beautiful visuals. So their trajectory was really the opposite of mine—their art grew out of technology.

In addition to the traditional art references you mention, another big influence on computer art was science fiction imagery (in fact, this linking of computer art and sci-fi has been there from the outset and persists even today). For example, Edward Emshwiller, who created the seminal film SUNSTONE in 1979, was a science fiction illustrator.

And this is also an interesting point in relation to your question about having a traditional art background: many of the people who went into computer art had studied art extensively but had been considered illustrators rather than artists. Computer graphics was an open forum; there was no snobbery among those working in this new medium.

NB: Was science fiction where you first encountered Herbert W. Franke?

WL: Although I was aware that Herbert Franke was a science fiction author, I knew him in the context of his famous COMPUTER GRAPHICS book (1985), a seminal book I read and reread. It was regarded as a bible for anyone interested in this area. I still vividly recall my excitement upon first reading it. His book played a key role in influencing me to go into computer graphics at the very start.

We had a lively correspondence at one point, though sadly, I never met him in person.

William Latham, Gold Rib Pump, 1989, IBM, Cibachrome.

NB: Do you feel artists natively approaching the digital medium today could (or should) benefit from familiarizing themselves with the larger canon of art history?

WL: I would strongly encourage digital artists starting out today to familiarize themselves with art history (if they have not already done so, of course). At Goldsmiths University, I run an art history course for postgraduates studying game design, and I see how immensely the students’ work benefits from this, and incidentally, how it often gives them a competitive edge when they look for work afterwards. So, this must apply all the more to someone setting out as an artist.

As regards the canon, this should not be seen in any narrow or prescriptive way. One big advantage people have today is their access to artists of the past who either never received any recognition despite deserving it or were recognized but quickly forgotten and so were not included in this list handed down from generation to generation.

On this same question, I should also mention that MidJourney and similar apps are notably weighted towards the surreal. While my work is obviously also very much influenced by the Surrealists, I am nervous about this weighting. About what is left out (and potentially in danger of being forgotten), but also about the sort of flattening effect this may produce. The surreal relies on surprise and a jarring effect, but without a broader visual art context within which it can be evaluated or from which it can be experienced, it can quickly become empty and boring.

NB: You’ve held the title of Professor of Computing at Goldsmiths, University of London, since 2007, bearing witness to a plethora of rapid innovations in the technology itself. Even decades before that, you were exploring computational practices creatively at the dawn of the computer age, innovating and influencing generations of artists to follow you.

Moving into the era of quantum computing and AI, what insights do you have for creatives looking to explore that frontier in a similar capacity? Do you have any words of wisdom for creatives producing art at the dawn of quantum/AI from your experience as a creative at the dawn of computing?

WL: I should start by saying that the MUTATOR work didn’t strictly speaking get underway at the dawn of computing, since there was that whole first and second generation that I mentioned earlier. However, I got into digital art just before a huge technological explosion, which in some ways is comparable to the AI situation today.

By the early 1990s, PCs had become available, the Internet was taking off, etc. And for me, everything changed. The new cyberculture led to an explosion of interest in my work. Computer graphics had suddenly become more mainstream, and my images were all over the place. In the space of a few years, I’d gone from being a sort of outsider to finding myself at the heart of things. Of course, I was still largely shunned by the art world due to its deep suspicion of computers at that time. But Warner Bros. sought me out to make an interactive art package for PC in the style of my organic art; I designed book covers for some of the sci-fi bestsellers of the time; I had all kinds of bands knocking at my door to commission me to produce album covers; rave concerts were using my visuals; and in fact, I ended up doing a lot of visuals for concerts, for the band The Shamen in particular, and even directed some music videos for them. I also moved into computer games.

So I suppose the first bit of advice, if you like, though it’s probably applicable to creatives at any point in history, not just now, is that it’s worth sticking to your vision, and you may well find the world 'catching up with you' as it were. But the second point, on the basis of my own experience, is that obviously, when you get that approval and popularity, it’s a positive, but it entails risks of its own, as I was increasingly drawn into the world of entertainment. In fact, I spent ten years in the gaming industry. This was not all lost time by any means, and my gaming experience proved invaluable once I returned to academia and was able to start making art again, as I applied some of that gaming knowledge to making my VR art experiences. But overall, it was a setback in terms of what I could have been doing over that decade had I been able to focus on my art.

On the other hand, I have been lucky in that, after a relatively long hiatus, the same sort of cultural alignment that I experienced in the 1990s with cyberculture has reoccurred now. My VR immersive experiences proved to be in tune with the public’s fascination with VR, and indeed, MUTATOR, as a form of AI, is in sync with the AI/machine learning movement. I myself am looking with interest in quantum and AI developments to see how Stephen and I might be able to incorporate them into my work. But we’re at an early stage with that, so I don’t have anything concrete to say about it. We’ve been incorporating a lot of physics into our work, like the look of electron microscopy, which has yielded great results in the latest work.

One major difference between someone starting out when I did—and of course, I was very young, not even out of university yet by the time I’d formulated many of my core ideas—is that there was really zero encouragement from the art world; you were treated almost like a pariah. And, of course, that’s all changed. But now, on the other hand, there’s enormous pressure from the fact that so many artists are entering this space and also that casual users of software like MidJourney and Dall-E are able to produce visually interesting results. How to negotiate this suddenly very crowded landscape—with or without Quantum—is the big challenge for a creative now.

NB: You’ve worked on a number of gaming titles in the past, from THE THING (2002) to SHAODWS OF THE DAMNED (2011), and a number of titles in between.

What sets MUTATOR apart as an art form, against the genre of evolutionary games like SPORE (2008)? Are there any evolutionary game titles that you feel not only honor MUTATOR but even offer their own evolutions on the concept?

WL: One of the first evolutionary games was my own EVOLVA, developed with my team at Computer Artworks, which was published in 2000 and had a strong influence on the game you mention, SPORE. Although it’s now mainly restricted to the retro game audience, EVOLVA is still fondly remembered for its visuals and in particular for its opening movie, which sets up the action with a giant egg-like spore traveling through space and landing on a planet, which it immediately begins to take over. As its organic tendrils spread across the planet, it starts to create "guardians," insect-like creatures that protect the mother plant and lay waste to the indigenous life forms.

Taking organic art into the game space was overall an interesting experience and taught me a lot about the irreconcilable differences between art and games—or at least between MUTATOR and its derivative games. The elements of surprise and wonder that had characterized the organic art were a good fit with the gaming experience in EVOLVA (and later, THE THING), which built on the bleakness and potential for horror that the original organic art contained with its epic and primeval quality. At the same time, it provided an outlet for the humor that is also a component of organic art, with its quirky forms.

However, I soon had the uncomfortable sense that the infinite world contained within my original organic art at IBM was shrinking. I’d already experienced the limitations of the Organic Art screensaver package, which gave users the illusion of being open-ended, whereas in reality we had put a lot of effort into fine-tuning it to make sure that whatever the user did would look good (i.e., partitioning off parts of the parameter space that contain unsatisfactory variants). The games proved far more restrictive again. The participation of a player within a tightly structured game did not at all satisfy me in my quest for open-ended interactivity within a viewer-driven art form.

On the contrary, the importance of closure for a game player, which takes the form of winning, i.e., obtaining a clear marker of achievement, was taking me further down the road to a closed structure and away from the central concept of infinity in my art. I also became keenly aware of the irony whereby the player’s actions largely constituted destroying the EVOLVA organic world, which was in sharp contrast to my philosophical notion of the artist as a gardener. Ultimately, it was the structured and predictable nature of computer games and the lack of scope for experimentation in the games business that led me to the realization that the creative vision, which I had been able to develop at IBM, was being compromised.

This also answers the second part of your question. Given the nature of games, which we could describe as 'closed structures,' they are inherently not capable of evolving an open-ended, indeed infinite, system such as MUTATOR.

William Latham, Organic Art for Windows, CD, 1996.

NB: I feel that’s an aspect of digital art history that often goes unrealized—not only interest and acceptance of the medium, but the means of distribution to share these works prior to the internet. And how would you share your work prior to the internet? Was part of it done through CDs like the one pictured above?

WL: That CD was for the screensaver package published by Warner Bros. My artworks were shared by traditional means—printing, exhibiting, and also using slides. At that time (late eighties or early nineties), a lot of magazines approached me for images, and I would be posting bundles of slides several times a week.

AM: What were the reactions to the ORGANIC ART CD back in the day? It says on the cover, "a living screen saver." Today, calling digital art a screen saver isn’t considered a compliment. Your screen saver was very popular in the 1990s and was perceived as art.

WL: In the 1990s, people were generally proud of their PCs and would leave them running, with screen savers being popular. Ours was the first to feature 3D graphics. Individuals would use the screen saver mode as a sort of running art gallery showcasing my organic art and the evolving scenes. While I was never fond of the term 'screen saver,' utilizing it in this way helped transform it into a mass-market product on an international scale, with the images becoming widely recognized across various audiences.

For instance, I recall meeting someone who operated a couple of garages; he mentioned having ORGANIC ART displayed on all the screens at his garages and also at home, both day and night. Despite not having a particular interest in art, he was a big fan of ORGANIC ART.

NB: MUTATOR AI was one of the first artistic explorations that used evolutionary algorithms to generate complex, organic forms. While a relatively niche innovation at the time in 1992, the notion of leveraging algorithms to produce diverse and unique artworks based on set rules or inputs has come to receive wide popularity and appeal in the generative art genre of today.

When you first started working with evolutionary algorithms to create art, did you anticipate that this method would become a foundational technique in the future of digital art?

WL: Absolutely not, since the art world, with a few exceptions, was insisting that it wasn’t art at all!

AM: How do you explain the MUTATOR software to someone who hasn't heard of it before?

WL: MUTATOR is the software that I use to generate artistic variants from a starting 3D organic form. The initial form is defined by a grammar we call FormGrow, which consists of a long series of numbers. These numbers determine various characteristics of the 3D form, such as the amount of twist, bend, branches, horns, and so on. MUTATOR functions like an 'evolutionary fruit machine,' randomly altering these numbers with each spin to create a new variant.

Furthermore, I can crossbreed two or more variants, combining characteristics from one or more parents to produce multiple offspring. The technology we have developed operates within the realm of Genetic Algorithms (GA). Together with the additional technology developed by Stephen Todd for structure mutation and navigating multi-dimensional parameter space, it represents a form of Artificial Intelligence (AI), often referred to as Artificial Life.

Historically, MUTATOR was originally developed by Stephen Todd and me in the late 1980s at IBM, coinciding with Genetic Algorithm techniques pioneered by Richard Dawkins and Karl Sims during that period.

Stephen Todd working on Mutator at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, 2020.

NB: What impact do you hope your work with MUTATOR AI will have on future generations of artists? Are there specific aspects of your work that you wish to see explored or expanded upon?

WL: I think the impact of my work on the following generation of artists and other users was often easy to spot. There was an influence on the next generation of generative artists, who also used a set of rules and incorporated an element of chance. But also, many forms in the work of artists and other users were very similar to my images, which seemed to crop up in all kinds of places, including cinema visuals, with this influence becoming more diluted over time but still recognizable.

Much of my work has challenged the traditional hierarchical relationship between artist, viewer, and machine, to some degree handing over the artwork to either (or both) the viewer or the computer itself through automation of the mutation selection process. The big question now is whether it will be possible to hand over completely to the computer or whether the artist will still need to have some input. Up until now, computers have been very poor at recognizing the kind of emergent content that humans find evocative and meaningful.

In the image below from my MUTATOR INFINITY series, viewers have been discovering all sorts of content. Would a computer be able to supply this? So this is the area where I would like to see more exploration and expansion. Can we bring the software to a point where it can see through a particular artist’s eye with all that individual’s quirks and preferences? And, building on that, will there one day be a computer that can exercise its own artistic choices in a way that pleases (or provokes) humans?

I also believe that we are still far from tapping into the creative potential of VR and XR. I think in the future there will be home art enjoyed in VR in full immersion with some sort of metaverse angle where virtual world and experience builders will share their work. This at-home, technology-enjoyed art may be either fully private or could potentially incorporate some sense of a collective experience with other people, even if they co-exist rather than socialize, e.g., floating, flock-like, with thousands of other entities in some sort of collective astral projection. The technology will use extremely sophisticated, fast, and high-resolution VR headsets with experiences that are 100% customized to the viewer’s thinking and desires (e.g., slow and meditative for some, more rave-like for others), including content that they themselves have created and invented. I’m guessing that some of these systems will have tactile feedback and that the experience will, to some degree, be considered hallucinogenic.

So yes, I’d also like to see that explored. Something strange and exciting with some element of a social aspect.

AM: For your solo exhibition at EXPANDED in Berlin, you have once again expanded your MUTATOR software. What’s the idea behind the MIRROR CUBES?

WL: The idea behind MIRROR CUBES is to take a mutation variant from MUTATOR and FormGrow and place it in a closed mirrored space, creating infinite refractions. This results in a kaleidoscope effect where viewers find it challenging to distinguish between the form and the reflections, offering them a visual feast of colors.

William Latham, Mirror Cube #16: Orange Molecular Crowd, 2022.

AM: Why do you emphasize that the MIRROR CUBES are "shamelessly decorative"?

WL: The MIRROR CUBES series represents a departure from the mood of my earlier work in the late 1980s and 90s, as well as my recent FANTASY VIRUS series. In the FANTASY VIRUS series, the mutated 3D forms are displayed in a vast void, a bleak infinite empty space, resembling biological specimens with little or only dark coloring.

In contrast, the MIRROR CUBES series features forms enclosed in a highly reflective and warmly colored space, presenting a more playful approach influenced by my time in rave music. While I personally appreciate decoration, I consider it somewhat of an artistic indulgence. This perspective is why I describe these images as shamelessly decorative.

William Latham, Mirror Cube #11: Bold Black Lace, 2022.

NB: There was an unexpected intersection between your work and that of rave culture in the 1990’s. How did rave culture initially get exposed to your work? In terms of digital visuals, was that a largely new concept at the time?

WL: This is the cultural alignment I was just mentioning, which took my artworks outside of the traditional galleries and also brought into the galleries people who were not traditional visitors. At one gallery in Manchester, they put beanbags on the floor where people lay around gazing at the images, some of them actually in a trance. Over the years, many people have told me that my ‘psychedelic’ images were remarkably similar to hallucinations they’d had when under the influence of drugs, which always surprised me as I’ve never had any interest in drugs myself.

In terms of how rave culture was first exposed to my work, at the time my images were very much ‘out there'—in magazines, on TV, etc. (in the UK). They struck a chord with the musicians and DJs. I was directly approached by the Shamen and a number of other bands. Because my Mutator art was a good fit with experiences around what was then a new drug, Ecstasy, my artworks were shown in large warehouse raves. The DJ Danny Rampling often featured my art at his club, Shoom, in Southwark (London), where Acid House was launched.

You asked whether this use of digital visuals was new at the time, and I think largely yes. The visuals were not so much used to support the music but became integral to the concert experience.

William Latham signing a Mutator Infinity B&W drawing in his studio, 2024.

AM: While the MIRROR CUBES bathe in color, MUTATOR INFINITY seems to have gothic vibes. Why these two opposites with these two new series?

WL: MUTATOR INFINITY was always meant to be black and white, aiming for a Gothic effect where organic forms interlace and mirror each other with a lot of emergent content. However, one day I switched on the color, 3D rendering, and lighting for a while and was captivated by the feast of colors with floral overtones and a shimmering kaleidoscopic effect. So, before returning to black and white, I worked on the images that would become the color MIRROR CUBES series. Although it was an unplanned deviation from the path I had set out on, I found the journey very enjoyable.

In MUTATOR INFINITY, we see the same mirrored cubic space as in the MIRROR CUBES series but represented as black and white line drawings, employing an 18th-century engraving-like effect in the rendering. Here, when the mutation is reflected, it creates a complex yet highly two-dimensional effect. Additionally, a 3D physics noise effect is added at the end, gently disrupting the organic form, pulling it apart, and introducing an element of incremental chaos into the work. In many ways, these drawings are at a midpoint between chaos and order.

AM: Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas with us!