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NEW-MEDIA-CURATING  2001

NEW-MEDIA-CURATING 2001

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Subject:

Re: Software as Art

From:

Patrick Lichty <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Curating digital art - www.newmedia.sunderland.ac.uk/crumb/

Date:

Tue, 3 Jul 2001 13:15:09 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (199 lines)

A few glancing ideas...

Many choose to look
>at the coding and the programming and the "how to" aspects of
>art-as-software, often overlooking the immensely fertile territory that can
>be addressed through a broader look at the phenomenon: why is it important?

There are two views I can think of regarding the use of software as art - one
applies to off-the-shelf, the other to hand-coded...  To me, programs like
Photoshop offer few real opportuntiies to redefine its own kind of
interactivity, so I relegate it to the category of 'tool', rather than
'expression'.

I think for one that there are functions and aspects of the technonlgies that
are not being addressed by off-the shelf software.  This is the programming
argument.  There are larger threads here such as engagement with the technical
part of the electronic culture, which has its own fascinating set of protocols.


>What implications do this trend have on our general understanding of what
>art-making is all about?

Well, it's merely an extension of craft placed within the immaterial milieu if
computers, yes?  It's very funny that a great deal of excitement is based
around artists makign their own code.  It is a direct attempt to break with the
commonly held public perception that computers are easy and cheap, and thus so
is the art created with them.  Many times I have gotten the "How long does it
take you to create that?" question.

This is a very Marxist question.  Much of commodification of art has to do with
use value ascribed to the degree of labor expended.

It's an attempt to translate craft to the digital.

Many more broad questions come to mind: why are artists
>attracted to software?

I'm not sure what you're getting at here.  To use a computer, you have to have
it.  It's the yin to the yang of chips.  As to why artists are drawn to code, I
think it's a tug of war between the traditional breaking of extant boundaries
(or at least pushing them, which is a ubiquitous theme in art since Modernism)
and the necessity of having to create code to get a computer to do what you
want it to do.

Myself, I tend to be modular in combining functions of many off the shelf
programs.  So, in this respect, I would count myself as a hybrid under my own
rubric; a pastiche artist in regards to code.

  How does their awareness of software, and its
>availability, influence their art-making strategies?

I think it's quite relevant to how the work is contextualized in regard to the
medium (digital technologies).

How do institutions
>need to respond to this growing interest?

First, the audience for this art is pretty much a niche at this time.  For
example, there are a LOT of people out there who still do not know how to
create a folder on their hard drive (trust me), and to them, this art is
largely meaningless, or the subtleties are lost.

Secondly, the institution (in my experience with it) is trying to update
itself, but for the most part, lags far behind the artists.  Until recently,
the Smithsonian servers only had RealServer 2.0 (we're at something like v.7
now).  Also, the technical support for the work is quite specialized, which
compounds the problems.

Should an institution have a highly trained tech staff for a relatively small
collection, or subcontract?  What are the relative costs, logistics, etc?

Is incorporating software nothing
>more than a technology fetish?

NO.

  More specific concerns can arise: what
>happens to "improvisation"?

That's dependent largely upon the mode of expression.  In the case of off-the
shelf software, the mode of improv is tied to finding novel uses for extant
functions, and in the case of coding, the novelty of codecraft and finding
interesting ways to weave the concept into the code,

To me this is a very important point, for much of this post, it seems that the
conversation has been centered around technique and production, and NOT
CONTENT.  This is the technolpolic distraction.  In my opinion, with software
as art, code is little different than steel, or clay, or oils.

You can choose to make scenes incorporating banal seascapes, or amish buggies,
or _Guernica_. Maybe I use too broad of a brush here :), but I hope you see my
point.

Now, if you get into the realm of generative art, such as algorithmic music,
Auto-Illustrator, and so on, this is another angle entirely, and sets up
questionsof authorship between programmer and audience, and similar questions
of authorship.  In the case of Auto-Illustrator, the statement becomes central
to the question of origins and synergy.  Same for generative music software.
In nato software (an addon for the Max programming language for cideo
processing), how much of the intent is the artist's, and how much is nn's?

However, I think I would return to my Bryce analogy.

 How is the notion of chance incorporated in
>this type of art?


>What are the boundaries of
>software as an art-making medium?

I think there are boundaries at many levels, both technical and cultural.  For
example, one is limited by the technical capabilities of the hardware to
perform certain functions (sound quality, interfacing, graphics), the software
as a certain set of functions and rules that define a protocol, and the culture
defines certain parameters which limit the level of engagement between artist
and audience, depending upon the context within which the work is created.  The
challenge is to see whether the piece engages with the public within its given
cultural context in a way that is compelling, and not merely amazing.

I'm tired of being amazed.  I want to be confronted by a piece.

A nice example of this is clip.fm by Angie Weller.  She has set up phone icons
depicting sensitive subjects that one can send to another via WAP-capable
phone.  On one hand hit has some level of technical facility, but on the other
hand, it engages with me in a really visceral way.

  Can one talk about software-generated art as ever being
>"finished"?

I have been having a talk about this with a colleague, and we seem be more of
the mind that this is more tied to process than product.  This seems to even be
the case with net art anymore.  Even with pieces that are supposed to have a
terminal point, in many cases, it seems to be going through endless revisions.

> Do software artists have to be programmers?
To be virtuosic, I would agree with this, at least to an extent.

What is the social
>life of software?

Interesting question.  Please elaborate.

>The algorithm seems to replace the creative will of the artist, in many
>cases.

I'm not sure I agree.  Perhaps I have a more sculptural approach to this
topic.  Does steel replace the creative will of the sculptor, or in Calder's
case, does the motion of the mobile replace his intent?  In the case of
generative art, we could go back to Duchamp, Cage, even Mozart.  Once again we
arrive at artistic discourse centering upon process, rather than the object
itself.  This is a topic that I've been thinking about for quite some time, as
I work in algorithmic sound/video a great deal, and I feel that the end result
is performative in nature.  For the reason why I don't believe that it's
performance, I can post a text version of my "Cybernetics of Performance" text.


To take it from another angle, consider the landscape program Bryce.  For years
I saw endless megabytes of stunning neo_Adamseque landscapes, holding firmly to
the paradigm imposed by the program.  However, as time went on, people like
Bill Ellsworth took the application and used it to create incredible
non-representational imagery, and so on.  They became intimate with the
software to the point of virtuosity.  To me, this is key, or at least the
ability to make novel inferences about the context and function of the
technological tools in question.

This is exciting to me not because it is technologically marvelous,
>but because of what this implies in how the artist and the audience
>understand each other.

Seriously, do you feel that there has to be some baseline of technical
familiarity in order for that communication to be more satisfying?

>Software is a set of rules.  It is the grammar within which a vocabulary of
>computer code makes sense.

And so is language.  Arguably, language has been thought to represent a major
portion of how we percieve reality and operate upon objects, both metaphorical
and physical (and vice versa).

My question to you is how the two contexts differ.

As British sociologist Anthony Giddens has
>pointed out, we understand our reality as already existing and seek to
>write scenarios that allow us to act out a role within that reality.  \

Good point, but I will not accept this as a priori.

The
>software seems to be the scenario, but it relies on users to act it out.
> What makes software come alive is precisely its social life: how these set
>of instructions are interpreted and enacted.  And understanding this
>process of interpretation, of behavior, can fill up pages and pages.

That's engagement with the audience.  And, I wonder how this is facilitated by
artists and curators, and wheter there is required a certain common set of
cultural currency in order for the interaction (read: I'm being purposely
ambiguous here) to engage the audience.  If not, then how does technology
become transparent to the point where it is almost purely expressive?

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