STEM in Art
Key Idea 2: Algorithms

Algorithmic art is a direct fusion of science, technology, engineering and maths. It also has strong STEM dimensions such as pattern, structure, measurements and modeling.  

Algorithmic art predates the rise of digital technology. Early examples include Islamic design practices evident in tessellated tiles adorning mosques, and the innovation of linear, single-point perspective in Renaissance art and design from the 15th century onwards found in paintings, church murals, architecture and gardens. These design practices involved algorithms which incorporated mathematical techniques to achieve aesthetic harmony and balance, and/or emphasise specific beauty ideals and proportion.

Mathematics was also the launching pad for the algorithmic art pioneered in the late 1960s which incorporated computers, such as George Nees’ plotter-like systems controlled by a computer.

A prominent type of algorithmic art that we see today uses computers and has a wide range of outcomes, incorporating uniform shapes, repetitions, patterns, symmetry, tessellations, and fractals – all derived from code. ‘Code’ is the set of rules or instructions created by the ‘programmer’ or, in this case, the artist. Producing code can be a repetitive and highly complex task, but it can create results that cannot be achieved by hand. The outcomes of coding can also be interactive, and this leads many artists to explore themes surrounding our relationship to technology and its potential future implications.

As technology advances so too do the possibilities of algorithmic art, bringing computers to the forefront of contemporary art materials, processes and subjects. The chosen artworks in this section speak to the breadth of possibility for art in the digital and online realm. Like all art, algorithmic artworks reflect the times and cultural conditions in which they are produced. 

  1. Introduction
    1. Sajej Rahal, Antraal, 2019
    2. Robert Andrews, Tracing Inscriptions, 2020
    3. Tega Brain and Sam Lavigne, Offset, 2023 
  2. Support Material
  3. For Teachers

Key Artworks

Sahej Rahal, Other limbs 2019, enamel paint on polyurethane and found materials (three parts), dimensions variable; Antraal 2019, artificial intelligence program presented on television monitors and as video projection, installation view, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne. Courtesy the artist and Chatterjee & Lal, Mumbai. Commissioned by ACCA with the residency support of Monash University, Melbourne. Photograph: Andrew Curtis

Sahej Rahal, Antraal 2019
Artificial intelligence program presented on television monitors and as video projection

Sahej Rahal’s art practice incorporates diverse media and techniques, including sculpture, painting, performance and digital coding. Rahal studied IT before Fine Art art at the Rachana Sansad Academy of Fine Art, Mumbai, and the knowledge he gained from this has informed his use of digital and AI technology in his artwork. 

Rahal’s artworks often have a surreal appearance and function as windows into alternate worlds populated by alien, AI-driven creatures that wander within landscapes very different from our own. Rahal describes his recent body of work as a ‘growing mythology’ that is influenced by both his deep interest in science fiction and his critical engagement with the role of technology in our day-to-day lives. As an artist he is thrifty and resourceful, often incorporating found and discarded materials, such as broken furniture, into his sculptures of otherworldly beings. Rahal has exhibited widely in India and internationally and his work was first exhibited in Australia at ACCA as part of Feedback Loops, 2019. 

Antraal comprises one large wall projection and a group of six small television sets, each of which provides a view into a digital landscape populated by artificial intelligence (AI) driven alien beings. Rahal studied IT before switching to study fine art, and this combination of studies greatly informs how he uses both digital and sculptural media and techniques to express himself as an artist.

Each individual screen is linked to one of seven digital beings, allowing the viewer to follow their movements through an otherworldly digital landscape. Below each television set there is a small lapel microphone which ‘listens’ for sound from the gallery. When one of these microphones registers sound, the corresponding AI character responds in some way – by expelling black tree-like forms, illuminating crystals, or jumping up and down.

The bodily forms of Rahal’s AI characters are generated through a trans-dimensional exchange between the physical and digital realms. The artist’s process involves creating three-dimensional sculptures from discarded and broken items that he scavenges from dumpsters and the roadside, which he then transforms and unifies using expandable foam, paint and artificial furs. These objects are artworks in their own right, but Rahal also uses three-dimensional scanners to capture the forms of the sculptures which he then adapts and animates as AI creatures within his digital compositions. Rahal has said of the free movement and unpredictable interactions of his AI beings that he is interested in the ‘poetry’ that they might generate.


Activity – Design and Technologies

Discarded items are constructed into three dimensional forms using expandable foam, paint and artificial furs. Object design, aesthetic unification and structural integrity must be considered. Objects are mapped and digitally animated using three-dimensional scanners and AI.

Students experiment with the artist’s design process, using found materials and expandable foam or (more sustainable) papier mache to create their own sculptural character. Experiment with mapping and translating characters into 3D animations using software such as Blender.

Sahej Rahal | STEM Curriculum links

Robert Andrew, Tracing inscriptions 2020, installation view, Overlapping Magisteria, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne. Commissioned by ACCA and the Macfarlane Fund. Courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane. Photograph: Andrew Curtis

Robert Andrew, Inscriptions 2020
Burnt and ochre-dipped branches, string, aluminium, electromechanical components. Dimensions variable

Robert Andrew is a descendant of the Yawuru people, whose Country is the lands and waters of the Broome area in the Kimberley Region, Western Australia. He also holds European and Filipino heritage. Andrew’s’ work investigates the personal and family histories that have been denied or forgotten. His work speaks to the past yet articulates a contemporary relationship to his Country—using technology to make visible the interconnecting spiritual, cultural, physical, and historical relationships with the land, waters, sky, and all living things. Andrew’s work often combines programmable machinery with earth pigments, ochres, rocks and soil to mine historical, cultural and personal events that have been ‘whitewashed’, or buried and distanced by the dominant paradigms of Western culture.

In this work Andrew combines Yawuru language with programmable technologies, raw materials and mineral resources such as pigments, ochres, rocks and soil gathered by Andrew on Country. These materials also allude to the effects of climate change, the cultural politics associated with colonial extraction economies such as archaeology and mining, and to eurocentric practices of archeology, anthropology and linguistics.

Tracing inscriptions 2020 embeds an electro-mechanical system that drives a cartesian plotting system. It is made up of computational elements and robotic mechanisms that pull and manipulate 100 strings connected to burnt and ochre-covered sticks. The work functions similarly to the plotting system first generated by Georg Nees, a mathematician in the 1960s at the forefront of Algorithmic art. 

At one end of the artwork, Andrew has entered Yawuru language words into the plotter through a computer under a plinth-like mechanism; he deliberately withholds their exact meaning as there are no equivalent English translations. At the other end of this network of ‘working’ strings, the words unfold as abstracted inscriptions on the gallery’s white walls. These markings come from the charcoal burnt ends of trees from the bushfires of country NSW. The plotter moves slowly leaving its mark on the walls throughout the three month exhibition, turning a white wall into a large drawing of black and orange earthly pigments. Andrew notes that the Yawuru words have freedom to move and be unconstrained by the inadequacies of literal and linear English language readings and translations.


Activity – Design and Technologies

Andrew uses his own plotting system to transcribe the Yawuru words. He is fascinated by what occurs when you place seemingly opposing or divergent ideas and materials together such as technology and natural materials, considering the inter-connected histories and cultures of each.

Students to research the language group of the Country where the school is located, to learn the local First Nations language names of key materials to your area such as wood, stone, water. Discuss ways where English and First Nations words and meanings differ, and identify difficulties finding translations.

Practical design activities may also involve experimentation with mechanical processes to create marks on paper using natural materials, such as a pulley system with charcoal or water drip systems on dirt.

Robert Andrew STEM Curriculum link

Tega Brain and Sam Lavigne, Offset 2023
Alternative carbon credit registry (digital artwork)

Tega Brain and Sam Lavigne have collaborated on a range of digital projects that playfully make visible the often hidden political and economic conditions that shape computational technologies and data systems. 

Sam Lavigne is a New York and Austin-based artist and educator whose work deals with data, surveillance, cops, natural language processing, and automation. Tega Brain is an Australian-born, New York-based artist and environmental engineer whose work examines issues of ecology, data systems and infrastructure. She has created wireless networks that respond to natural phenomena, systems for obfuscating fitness data, and an online smell-based dating service. 

Offset 2023 is a new digital artwork which functions as an alternate carbon credit registry for the emerging global voluntary carbon offset market. The work has been commissioned by ACCA as part of Data Relations, an exhibition which considers the ways the data economy and related technological developments inform interpersonal and wider social relationships. 


Activity – Design and Technologies

Students apply skills in design and technologies to create online advertising campaigns, using the power of data driven advertising to develop and promote their own ethically motivated, targeted campaigns to post on Google Ads platform. 

Offset is a provocation. It asks us to question the carbon offset economy, related legislations and systems of measuring or reducing carbon emissions. Offset aims to calculate carbon credits from direct action (a form of protest), proposing an innovative methodology for quantifying the climate benefits of these activities.

There has been a rapid increase in demand for carbon credits from the corporate sector, as companies seek to strengthen their appeal to increasingly environmentally conscious consumers. But academics and environmental campaigners are divided about the efficacy and ethics of the carbon credit market. In Offset, Brain and Lavigne provocatively apply the logic of capitalism to atmospheric interactions at a time when climate activists across the globe face increasingly harsh restrictions and punishments. 

They assert: ‘This logic assumes that all activities on earth can be quantified, abstracted and exchanged by means of a price. This logic produces the capacity to export or outsource the effects of one’s consumption… to someone, somewhere else, or even to the generations of the future. In short, existing carbon offset markets act to maintain a status quo rather than address root causes of the climate catastrophe.’

Activity Make: Tega Brain and Sam Lavigne Bushwick Analytica workshop – visit their website to find out more and download the teaching resource.

Tega Brain and Sam Lavigne STEM Curriculum link

Support Material

Robert Andrew – artist interview discussing his artistic practice and Aboriginal ancestry

Data Relations  – Artists in ACCA exhibition, Data Relations (2022) – audio responses to the question ‘What is Data?’
Sahej Rahel – artist talk sharing his practice during the ACCA exhibition Feedback Loops (2020)


Tega Brain & Sam Lavigne – Discussion on what informed the development of artwork Offset


Tega Brain & Sam Lavigne – online artwork Offset on the ACCA digital wing




For Teachers

Primary activities

Tega Brain and Sam Lavigne Bushwick Analytica – Visit Tega Brain and Sam Lavigne website to find out more about their Bushwick Analytica workshop and download teaching resources.


Curriculum Interpretation

The activities in this STEM Art File are intended to build students’ and teachers’ awareness of the many ways STEM is present in Contemporary Art practices. By enhancing knowledge and creating connections between Art, Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths students deepen their understanding whilst expanding their creativity and critical thinking skills.

Secondary activities

Tega Brain and Sam Lavigne Bushwick Analytica – Visit Tega Brain and Sam Lavigne website to find out more about their Bushwick Analytica workshop and download teaching resources.

Curriculum Interpretation

The activities in this STEM Art File are intended to build students’ and teachers’ awareness of the many ways STEM is present in Contemporary Art practices. By enhancing knowledge and creating connections between Art, Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths students deepen their understanding whilst expanding their creativity and critical thinking skills.

Terms of Use

This education resource has been produced by ACCA Education to provide information and classroom support material for educators. The reproduction and communication of this resource is permitted for educational purposes only.