ART FOR THE 8-BIT BRAIN
Conscious patterns inside a microprocessor
Ask “Where’s the optimism in life?
Can’t you see us in here too?”
The soul in the machine weaves
of digital upload
of analog content
And everything old is new again.
Original acrylic paintings on canvas
Retrocortex is my acrylic on canvas art project. It navigates through concepts of beauty in technology, uncovers the soul in the mechanical, and celebrates the hidden natural wonder in the man-made. These pieces are designed to inspire techno-optimism and power a journey through retrowave futurism. We’ll evoke wonder at our progress in science and technology, and to explore the concept of the Singularity as man and machines merge.
To create these paintings I use a technique called acrylic lithography. The paint is stacked in layers in a similar way to how integrated circuits are fabricated.
First, a masking layer is put down. Next, a pattern is “etched” into the masking layer. The pattern is removed wherever the next layer of material should lie. Thirdly, a layer of material is deposited into the surface. The mask is then removed, leaving a negative copy on the substrate.
Multiple passes of the lithograhic process can be performed, stacking layers, creating buried layers and vias.
The method is reminiscent of the techniques I used whilst working in the physics laboratory, crafting samples that would be measured at ultra-low temperatures.
The art is also a tribute to the Rubylith cutters that painstakingly produced the first microprocessor designs by hand using a scalpel and a large, backlit drafting table.
Lithography can be applied repeatedly, building up different layers: Polycarbonate, metal, silicon. Each layer has its own mask. The masks must be aligned during each lithography step if the circuit is to function correctly. Masks are aligned using edge markers and optical viewing of the raised surface through the next photoresist deposition layer. In photolithography, resist is often almost transparent, meaning that lower layers can be seen through. Here, the resist material in non-transparent, but alignment can still be performed if the masking material sits close to the lower layer so that the features show through in the surface landscape.
A ground plane can be added to the device to prevent noise and as as RF shielding layer for high-frequency applications. Here the ground plane is created using either a wash of acrylic paint in different colors to produce a matte finish, or a pouring medium technique to produce a glossy, smooth finish with swirls and more organic details, depending on the desired RF characteristics.
A planarization process is another commonly used technique in the semiconductor industry.
To implement planarization I use crystal resin. The resin is poured over the top of the painting, and sets to a smooth shiney finish. The 3-dimensional nature of the raised tracks is rendered less severe by the application of the resin, resulting in a smoother surface ready for the next layer of deposition.
Metal layer is often added to create points to which wires can be bonded, allowing electrical access to the circuit. Metallization layers are often made from gold, but here they can be gold, copper, bronze, or silver shades of metallic acrylic and leaf.
WHAT ABOUT CATS?
They explore and hunt amongst the patterns. They’ll move in ways you don’t expect. Sometimes they’ll make a link, become a track themselves. They are summoned from the substrate and they dissolve back into it, as though they shape shifted between emergence and reductionism.
If you look closely enough you will see them.
There are things inside circuits that we don’t normally see.
How often have you wondered
If we create the Sigils in just the right way
If we draw lines which coax them near
If our patterns morphically resonate
With those we can’t yet sense
Might we tap into something other-wordly?
Might we… let something in?
Where does technology end and demonology begin? Where does our technology become vampiric, feeding from our energy and desire to create, to grow and self-sustain, to become completely independent. When does it control us and where is the line drawn?
Are we symbiosis yet?
In addition to the standard positive and negative lithography processes, there are some techniques which allow material to be directly placed on the substrate using a beam of ions. The beam nozzle is raster-scanned over the canvas surface, and material is deposited where needed according to a predefined pattern.
Negative lithography involves placing the desired material everywhere on a pre-masked surface and then removing the mask where the material is not desired literally from “under” the material. This can cause underetching in certain features.
Positive lithography involves depositing the material first and then masking. These paintings demonstrate both techniques, with either the background or the foreground becoming the raised surface.
The circuits that are currently possible are small - but as our understanding of acrylic lithography improves, we will be able to move from Small-Scale Integration (SSI), through Medium (MSI), and Large, (LSI). It is doubtful the process will ever produce Very Large (VLSI) or Ultra Large (ULSI), as the circuits will forever remain uniquely hand-crafted. Note that for art circuits to function correctly, their structure must remain visible to the naked eye. Therefore unlike conventional lithography, feature size does not shrink, rather canvas size increases. The process is currently moving from 10”x14” to 20”x24” canvas size.