Artist Presentation – Ben Fry

Ben Fry is one of the creators of the Processing language, along with Casey Reas. He has developed a lot of personal works to visualize large data sets — especially genomic and biological-related. He is also a principal of Fathom, an information design studio based in Boston.
Although most of his work is related to data visualisation, it has been displayed in some art exhibitions, like the Whitney Biennial, the Cooper-Hewitt Design Triennial and even in the Hollywood movies Hulk and Minority Report:

hulk minorityreport2The visualization tool Genome Valence made short appearances on Hollywood movies.

Ranging from the artistic to the commercial ones, Fry’s works are always well-balanced in terms of visual appeal and information design.

mariosoup-blue-big mariosoup-red-big mariosoup-both-bigMario Soup: a Java code was used to extract image tiles from 8-bit game cartridges.
darwinThe Preservation of Favoured Traces: a Processing script displays all paragraphs from Darwin’s Evolution of Species. The colors are related to each edition, showing how the text has evolved until its final version.

Speaking of programming languages, most of the works from his website run a Java application. He obviously uses Processing too. I think that the web applications developed by Fathom may use the Processing javaScript mode.

My favourite work of his is the Frankenfont. It’s an edition of Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein made out of incomplete font subsets extracted from online PDF’s.


He used code to search for PDF files that contained the words from the book, download them and extract the fonts. I am not sure exactly about how this last part works, though.


The whole book seems to be composed using code too. From the web search, he mapped which were the most common fonts. They are used in the beginning of the book. In the last chapters, a big portion of obscure types are mixed, referring to the narrative’s development.


This project’s idea is great. I’ve been drawn to it because of its clever use of code to present a concept. Besides, I think it’s an interesting example of code being used in a non-interactive media. I am also particularly interested in this bridge between digital and print.

All images are from Ben Fry and Fathom‘s websites.

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