Who are the people with the power to design the system we live in? Digital artist Peter Burr investigates

How did the idea for Drop City come about?

Peter Burr: I like the idea of people finding their way out of their own problems. A few years ago I came across the book Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander written in 1977, it indexed a system to help ordinary people solve complex design problems – like building a functional city for themselves for example.

Living in New York, the challenge of actually using such a utopic self-help book got to me and, as an artist working with computers, I like playing around with these design concepts. There’s a hubris to the sort of power we taste when building dynamic simulations rendered realistically in 3D CGI. I can’t help but reflect on my own lived experience as if I was one of these simulated units. Who are the people who hold the power to design the system I live in IRL? Where does my well-being fit into their conception of this world?

INT: How did you develop the aesthetic of this work?

PB: For the past seven or eight years, I have been playing around with the limitations of computer displays and rendering technology. In 2012, I made a film called Alone With The Moon that adapts the first computer graphics tool I ever used in my life, MacPaint, into an animation.

One of the things I liked about this program as a kid, was the way it used patterns instead of colours. Because the computer display was black and white, you had to mix various patterns to build out a sense of depth and volume. So through the development of Alone With The Moon, I embraced these restrictions while adapting MacPaint’s workflow to contemporary graphics programs.

Alternatively, with Drop City I’m imposing this technical limitation on tools from the video game industry as essentially, I like how this creates a curious mix of really complex visual elements blended together with super simple and restrained ones.

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