Nathan Mifsud

Concrete Animals

Procedurally generated visual poetry

I was inspired to write a program that generates concrete poetry upon reading Lewis Thomas’s wonderful comparison between human speech and the pursuits of social insects:

Language is, like nest building or hive making, the universal and biologically specific activity of human beings. We engage in it communally, compulsively, and automatically. We cannot be human without it; if we were to be separated from it our minds would die, as surely as bees lost from the hive. […]

New ways of stringing words and sentences together come into fashion and vanish again, but the underlying structure simply grows, enriches itself, and expands.

Ant nests accrete from the tiny bits of earth that each worker carries in its mandibles. Here, sculptural forms are shaped by the dirt clods of language — the letters of our alphabet.

Each time the program runs, a random set of species are selected to have the letters of their name sorted by character density (e.g. seal → slea). These letters are then mapped to the pixel intensities of images extracted from Google.

You can look at example output here and here, and the code here.