Machine learning, serial design, electronic circuits—these are just some of the things that inspire Tiberiu Chelcea to create.
A computer scientist turned artist, Chelcea works at the fascinating intersection of digital technology and printmaking. Drawing from his background in electronic design and computer science, he reveals unexpected connections between old and new in his artworks, exploring questions of consumption and labor, automation and efficiency.
Chelcea was featured in on one of Art the Science’s CREATORS posts back in 2017. But since then, he’s created a gorgeous new series called “Circuit Floorplan.” In this post, he shares some of his favorite works in the collection, and offers deeper insights into the ideas that inspired them.
Your Circuit Floorplan series is based on common symbols from electronic design. What first attracted you to the concept of floorplanning?
Circuit floorplanning, or simply floorplanning, is an intermediate stage in the process of circuit board design. In the first stage, schematic capture, the circuit is drawn and simulated for correctness. In the final stage, the circuit is laid out using a layout editor to create the circuit board and checked for correctness against the schematic diagram. Since layout is an expensive operation, engineers sometimes go through an intermediate stage in which they come up with circuit floorplans to get an idea where major components are to be placed and if the whole design is feasible.
I used the idea of intermediate drawing because it gave me the license to mix and match geometric symbols from both the schematic and layout stages. Like the rough circuit floorplan sketches, these drawings naturally embody the idea of experimenting with electronic symbols (for example, by changing their placement on the page, or by manipulating their interaction with each other). Much like a floorplan drawing is not a proper electrical circuit, these drawings relish the freedom of playing with symbols, electrical correctness be damned.
“These drawings relish the freedom of playing with symbols, electrical correctness be damned.”Tiberiu Chelcea
Besides symbols from electronic design, what other elements or inspirations feature in these works?
I try to limit myself to using symbols from the schematic capture and layout stages. However, the coloring of these symbols is certainly not limited to the ones found in electronic design tools. I’m inspired by colors and patterns in traditional Romanian rugs, as well as the works of more contemporary artists such as Andrew Masullo, Ruth Hiller, Polly Apfelbaum, Thomas Nozkowski, Gert and Uwe Tobias, and Tom Burckhardt.
These works are somehow softer—less vibrant—than those previously featured on Art the Science. (Though no less striking). What were you trying to capture with this more subdued color palette?
The style of these drawings (less vibrant colors on dark backgrounds) is inspired by the look of the layout software used for designing the circuit boards in my PCB Drawing series. Below you can see a screenshot of Eagle (the layout software I’m using):
Different electronics engineers may use different colors, or even use a light background, but this is how I got used.
Furthermore, I’ve started these drawings after “Trigonopoetry”, a series of paintings based on old trigonometry textbooks. These paintings were characterized by the use of mostly bright and flat colors. After a few years of making those paintings, I was ready to try something different, something more subdued and more textured. The look of these electronic design tools provided the inspiration for this new direction.
How does symmetry inform your work?
A lot of electronic symbols are symmetrical, and this is clearly reflected in these drawings. At the same time, I am trying to push back against total symmetry, either by placing various design elements off-center or by introducing variations in colors. This dynamic mirrors the differences between engineering (where symmetry in technical solutions is generally regarded as good or desirable), and composition in art (where symmetry may be less conducive to interesting visuals).
“I am trying to push back against total symmetry… This dynamic mirrors the differences between engineering (where symmetry in technical solutions is generally regarded as good or desirable), and composition in art (where symmetry may be less conducive to interesting visuals).”Tiberiu Chelcea
You have a background in computer science and electronic design. How does this formal training come to light in this series?
I’ve already hinted and discussed some influences, both in term of software as well as electronics concepts. More than anything though, I think of this series as something very akin to someone tinkering again and again with a piece of software, or with some electronics system. Similarly, I take some symbol and use it again and again in these drawings, expanding its graphic possibilities.
What’s your favorite piece in the series so far, and why?
I’m generally excited about the drawings in which I can successfully introduce a new symbol in the visual vocabulary of this series. For example, in “Circuit Floorplan #14” I’ve started to use the symbol for polar capacitors, in “Circuit Floorplan #52” I’ve started to use various symbols for drill holes, and in “Circuit Floorplan #70” I’ve started to use the symbol for choke inductors. Sometimes, these may be false starts (i.e. I use a symbol once, in only one drawing, like the layout symbol for a DIP component in “Circuit Floorplan #142”), and sometimes a newly introduced symbol appears in many drawings (for example, I’ve used the choke inductor symbol in 17 works).
How many more works do you plan to create in the Circuit Floorplan series?
This is a bit hard to say. I’m still interested and having fun creating these drawings, so I expect I will continue for a while.
However, I’m also starting a new project based on these drawings, where I train a GAN (Generative Adversarial Network – a type of machine learning system) to create new drawings in the style of the “Circuit Floorplan” drawings. In turn, I will then create new drawings based on these generated works; my new drawings will go back into training and improving the machine learning system, in a continuous loop. This new project explores how artists can use AI and machine learning techniques to aid and inspire their works. Hopefully, these machine-generated drawings can, at some point, be indistinguishable from my own drawings. The whole project may result in an updated, art-centered, version of the classic Turing test: if an exhibition goer cannot distinguish between the generated and the hand-drawn works, then this AI system is just as much an artist as I am.
“The whole project may result in an updated, art-centered, version of the classic Turing test: if an exhibition goer cannot distinguish between the generated and the hand-drawn works, then this AI system is just as much an artist as I am.”Tiberiu Chelcea
What do you hope your works leave viewers with?
I hope that these drawings can be appreciated on different levels. I cannot expect that everyone who will see them is familiar with electronic design, so on one level, I want these drawings to be appealing in a purely visual sense. But I also hope they can provoke curiosity and inquiry. The more someone might learn about the process and the sources of inspiration, perhaps this series would reveal connections between engineering and art that they were not aware of.
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