Deep Dive: Tectonics by Michael Kozlowski

by ImperfectLine

traditional cubism

To start, I tried my best to insert analogies and break down Michael Kozlowski's writing in a way that it can be easily interpreted by someone with little knowledge of the subject. If I made a mistake along the way, I am sorry and hope that you can forgive me for my efforts.


At first glance, I was immediately drawn and noticed this was a fairly complex piece of art. There are so many things to discover aesthetically; and even in just one piece my eyes were glued to the creativity. As I started to examine each output, I found myself struggling to pick a favorite because they were all equally amazing. Each of the 90 works had its own illusion on the mind.

I first learned of Michael Kozlowski (mpkoz) through his Art Blocks curated drop Chimera. Chimera is one of my favorite generative collections due to my love for florals and still lifes. The flow of the code through the animation is nothing short of inspiring, and helped to reaffirm my belief that generative art is here to stay.

The Tectonics website was beautifully crafted as well. It’s extremely easy to explore, and set up in a manner that is inviting for a collector. Literature for the works, process, and ideas behind it allowed for a smooth and seamless learning curve. This is probably one of the most well-thought-out drops I have seen in a long time. Initially, I was unsure how consecutive auctions would work, although it seems to have paid off. Kozlowski randomly assigned prices ranging from 0.5-1.5ETH and allowed collectors to engage in bidding wars from there. Most pieces ended within a range of 2-5ETH, with a few reaching upwards of 8ETH. These prices are an absolute steal. Although, I would be wary of selling work consistently through auction mechanics.


The series is based on a technique called recursion, a method of problem-solving that uses a copy of itself to create solutions within a subset. Michael describes this technique as extremely difficult to master and one that he has struggled with dearly in the past.

Mpkoz was intending on making a 1/1 when this project first started. I am very happy it took a turn and ended up becoming a series of 90. The reason this excites me so much is the range of the algorithm instead of having one piece live alone. I'm more fascinated by algorithms than I am by single outputs for any generative body of work. The animation is magnificent, but thank you for changing the concept as I believe it will draw a greater impact. Kozlowski hosted this entire collection on his own smart contract as well, using the brilliant team over at Manifold. I hope to see more artists take this approach.

How Do Traits Play a Role?

This conversation starts out by introducing traits to the artwork. Traits allow a generative work to have visual aspects that are represented by classifications within the code. Michael brings up the example of Pokemon, where some cards are increasingly rare or scarce due to print-run, holographics, symbols, etc. Although Kozlowski encourages defined traits, he actually did not include any in this work other than color palette. Even though the traits are not objectively present, they are subtly introduced on a sliding scale. This is quite different than how I've consumed other generative work, where you can normally see the aesthetics that trigger a specific trait clearly. Mpkoz reiterates that discovering traits isn't just "black & white".

"A feature, not a bug"

I recently posted on Twitter trying to gain a better understanding of the concept of generative art. Big thanks to @caleb_ogg for the explanation.

You can find the conversation here.

Back to Tectonics - the Cubist vibe felt by this work was actually described by Kozlowski as a "happy accident". Just as a painter would let gravity define a brush stroke, a generative artist would let an error become an integral part of the algorithm. What may normally cause many headaches in traditional software development can actually provide artists with direction.

"I view a computer as more of a collaborator than a tool".

The hard part of understanding this concept fully is deciphering the intentions and interpretations of the artist. Kozlowski does a beautiful job in his literature of this series, but generally speaking, I feel there is a lack of clarity in a lot of generative artwork. A lot of the collectors I chat with are only drawing an initial response to the image, when in fact that is actually the last thing that is being produced. The beauty in generative artwork is the process and the story of how it unfolds, which is why I am so drawn to Tectonics. Don't get me wrong, I am obsessed with the outputs but the behind the scenes is pretty damn amazing too.

Color Palette

Color Palette is very important in all forms of art, but especially in generative art. Mpkoz took the approach of assigning equal probabilities of each color palette being selected for any single output. I've seen many artists use bell-curve approaches to assign different probabilities to more favorable palettes. This shows confidence to me in Kozlowski's choice of color. These colors are manipulated to have slight differences in each output by darkening, saturating, or mixing the colors. A job well done and a fascinating approach. The attention to detail in the colors alone makes me wonder how intricate the code may be. It is so important for him to get this right, and you can feel the experimentation within each output as no two are alike from a color standpoint.

Getting The Human Feel

Generative approaches or processes are based on computers. A computer is a perfectionist in the sense that it will follow directions exactly how they are inputted. If you ask it to make a right angle, you can count on it being 90 degrees. So how does a generative artist fight back to insert a human touch? Kozlowski describes it as "post-processing", which comes after the initial output is created. I am not familiar with this process. A big part of advancing your skillset as a generative artist is creating tools or code throughout your career that you can lean on. Basically, instead of re-creating the wheel every time, an artist can utilize older works to manipulate the code and create what is intended. Casey Reas said during an Art on Internet disucssion that sometimes he’ll refer back to code he used many years ago. Kozlowski uses a real-time shader which is fully generative to add what may feel like a human touch.

Mpkoz describes his purposeful imperfection to Tectonics,

"The post-processing I perform in Tectonics uses an edge-detection algorithm to emphasize and distort edges, combined with a blurring of neighboring pixels and an overlay of sorts that creates a very subtle angular flow field of texture, similar to the hatching of a pencil or the brush strokes of a painter."

Reflectivity and Warping, The Final Traits

The Reflectivity trait seems extremely complicated for a beginner. It is described as, "An infinite space is created, each mirror reflecting the other, until all reflected light is absorbed". Before reading the literature about the work, at first glance I didn't notice this trait. It is like a hidden treasure. When you look closely, you can see some larger cubes or spheres actually reflecting what looks like some sort of portal into another dimension.

The Warping follows in a flow field manner. Flow fields are seen amongst a lot of generative art. I am not particularly drawn to flow fields unless they occur only a few times in a collection. Flow fields need extensive creativity to bring something unique to the table at this point. Tectonics has achieved just that. This feature or trait is magnificent and I'm definitely drawn to the flow field works within the series.

One Small Tweak I Would Make

In what is a magnificent collection, the only potential change I'd suggest is re-arranging how the prints are distributed. I don't mind the free print to winners of the auction, but I have a hard time understanding why the prints are offered in multiple sizes. I truly believe artists know how their work should be best displayed and the collector should trust the artists with the one option they pick. It will work better this way in the long run because the supply and the decision is solely up to the artist. I am also curious as to how the prints are numbered, and if hypothetically a secondary buyer can buy a print from the website. Would love to learn more about this!

Applause To You Michael

In this article, I broke down in the simplest way possible what Michael has created using his orderly literature which you can find here. This is one of my favorite collections because it allows us to navigate Michael's thought process and ultimately adds to our understanding of what he has created. A quality collection is one that can push the boundaries of technicalities, randomness, and range. Tectonics not only checks those boxes, but goes far beyond that. If you want to read more about the algorithm you may find that here.

Credit: Micahel Kozlowski

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