Aleph Null documentation
Alchemical Cosmography
Alchemical Cosmography (AC) is an online, never-the-same-twice dynamic, digital collage that composits upwards of 200 images—as of this writing—primarily from the 9th to the 18th centuries concerned with alchemy and/or cosmography (in the sense of 'pics of the cosmos').
A couple of tips with the below links. They download hundreds of megabytes—although they start immediately, without waiting for the whole thing to download (i.e. they stream). Use the space key to toggle pause/play. In the three slideshows, the mouse-wheel zooms in/out; if you're on a mobile device, tap and hold zooms in; double tap and hold zooms out. Use the 'f' key to toggle fullscreen. There's a menu at bottom of buttons you can mess with if you mouse near the bottom.
It's an ongoing learning experience for me. What do these images mean? Some of the most enlightening material I've encountered on that question looks at the work of Carl Jung.
Jung saw alchemy as an outward projection of inward processes. Alchemy, viewed by some as "proto (pre) chemistry" was about the transformation of matter from one form to another, from lead to gold, from low to high, into the philosopher's stone, redeeming the lead, transforming it into it's highest form. It preceded chemistry and waned once chemistry became fabulously successful in the 19th century—the images mostly involve a world-view that precedes our current scientific view.
Jung saw that alchemy described less a scientific transformation than a spiritual and personal transformation. The alchemists believed that to accomplish the goals of alchemy, it was important for the alchemist to transform him/herself. Many of them believed that this world is controlled by unseen forces of the spirit/other world. To work transformation in this world it was thought necessary to understand transformation of the spirit. Jung wrote a long work titled Psychology and Alchemy whose thesis was that alchemy provided a map of the unconscious, of the process he called "individuation", the growth of a person into a fully mature, fully-realized being, spiritually and psychically.
So that the alchemical images are not simply illustrations of chemical/scientific processes but, for instance, of psychological/spiritual processes of redemption and maturation. To transform lead to gold was thought of as redeeming the lead, transforming it to its true or perfect or most fully-realized state. The alchemical graphics sometimes depict human transformation. They have resonance at an unconscious level. When you look at the graphics in this project, you don't have to understand alchemy to understand they reach us in ways that surprise and intrigue us.
In addition to the 16th century images of alchemist Robert Fludd, there's the combinatorial thought of Ramon Llull (13th century), several images associated with Wilhelm Gottfried Leibniz (17th century), the inventive musings of Athanasius Kircher (17th century), the 16th century, Escher-like architectures of Lorenz Stöer (a Nuremberg master of perspective), Cellarius's Harmonia Macrocosmica (17th century), the star maps of (18th century) Alexander Jamieson, Stephan Michelspacher's (17th century) cabbalistic images, medieval musical illuminated manuscripts, Mayan and Aztec calendars, Egyptian hieroglyphics, an Arabic astrolabe, and much else.
There are also several paintings of alchemists at work such as Balthasar van den Bossche's An Alchemist in His Laboratory (1700). There's often, though not always, a comic dimension that is usually in sympathy with the alchemist even while it contrasts the high aspiration with the worldly surroundings. These images anchor the generated images among fallible human beings.
Many of the images are circular. Also, the Aleph Null brush I use draws circles with black outlines. So the compositions are of intersecting circles, for the most part. Worlds within worlds. Worlds intersecting worlds. Worlds synthesized. Worlds juxtaposed. Worlds in relation with one another. And the look of it is different. Not collage-like. A little bit comic-book like with panels that are circular segments.
Aleph Null is a project in generative art. The Alchemical Cosmography images involve the project in a sense of human transformation and cosmic generation.
I've been developing Alchemical Cosmography since Aleph Null 3.0, so for about 4 years or something. This page documents the Aleph Null 3.1-4.0 work on it. There is documentation about the extensive earlier, version 3.0 work. In 3.0, I started collecting the underlying image set of 9th to 18th century images. I did extensive work in Aleph Null with Alchemical Cosmography in version 3.0.
I continue to add and remove images from the piece. I'm trying to add more non-European publicly-licensed images.