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Three Gorges

by Helena Wee


An animated artwork in the style of Chinese "Shan Shui"1 or "Mountain, Water" paintings. It is a landscape created by randomness: Perlin noise, I Ching hexagrams, and external twitter data.

Petals float into view. In the distance there are mountains. When a count of the word "landslide" reaches a high enough level the petals turn black, disrupting the serene atmosphere.

Background Research

Chinese “Shan Shui” or “Mountain, Water” brush and ink paintings depict natural landscapes. They often reference Taoist concepts, emphasising the insignificance of humans in the vastness of the cosmos. They follow particular compositional patterns including features such as winding paths, waterfalls or rivers; a threshold for example mountains and valleys; and a focal point or heart.

The “I Ching” or “Book of Changes” is an ancient Chinese text describing sixty-four hexagrams made from eight trigrams2. It is the basis of Taoist theories on the origins of the universe, and was used in divination. It facilitates this through the throwing of yarrow stalks to produce random numbers. It is also the earliest example of a binary system, akin to that used in modern computation. The I Ching has been referenced by many artists including John Cage in his piece “Music of Changes” where the music is created through random numbers taking the artist out of the composing process3.

The Three Gorges Dam project in China produces hydroelectric and solar power for the country. Unfortunately its construction did not adequately take into account the local environment, ecosystem and natural beauty of the area. Landslides have increased since the dam project's building4 5. Many people have had to be relocated. Some rare wildlife species whose habitat has been disrupted are now dwindling in numbers6.

Process and technical features


Live version of “Three Gorges” on display in exhibition


To produce the mountain ranges I used Perlin noise which has the potential to give steadily changing random numbers. I created a series of vertices along the width of the composition which change according to Perlin noise, creating a mountain-like shape.

For the background I drew several horizontal lines which changed gradually from one colour to another. I also used this technique to merge the mountains with the foreground.

The ripples in the water are a set of fractals using hexagrams drawn in a random, recursive manner, similar to the Cantor set7. The random changes create the rippling effect.

For the petals floating across the screen I created an arraylist of petal objects which empties and fills in accordance with the boundaries of the animation. Each petal object includes a set of Pvectors describing its location and velocity.

I used the twitter4j library to import data from a twitter stream8. I counted the number of tweets containing the word “landslide” and made the petals change colour once a certain threshold number of tweets had been reached.

Conclusion and future developments

Initially I wanted to create a composition inspired by “Shan Shui” painting and the “I Ching” that was more random and less like a traditional landscape. However the more I made progress with the work, the more it looked like a traditional landscape, making me think of the beautiful Three Gorges area of China. Whilst researching the environmental concerns surrounding the Three Gorges Dam project I made the decision to include within the composition a visualisation of twitter data relating to it. This serves as a way of disrupting the scene, highlighting man’s effect on the landscape, and connecting to the theme of randomness within the work.

In the future I may experiment further with the random aspect of the composition to produce more abstract forms. I might also change the types of twitter data used by the program and see if it can create new effects within the composition.