napier on Thu, 25 Apr 2002 06:14:01 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] Re: RHIZOME_RAW: GENERATION FLASH (3A / 3)

 >>> Lev Manovich wrote:
>Thirty years of media art and post-modernism have inevitably led to a
>reaction. We are tired of always taking existing media as a starting point.
>We are tired of being always secondary, always reacting to what already
>Enter a software artist  the new romantic. Instead of working exclusively
>with commercial media  and instead of using commercial software  software
>artist marks his/her mark on the world by writing the original code.

An interesting term: "original code".  Is this:

         machine language (binary)
         assembly language
         BIOS calls
         OS API calls
         C, C++
         Flash Actionscript, Lingo
         HTML, DHTML, Javascript, Perl

A programmer can code in any one of these.  What distinguishes hard-core 
coding from soft-core is the level of access to features.  To an assembly 
level programmer Java is a lightweight language, but to an HTML programmer 
Java is hard-core coding.  The more power, flexibility and control a 
language provides, the more we think of the language as "original code".

Is IOD "original" code (written in Lingo, the programming language of 
Shockwave -- a commercial product).  Is Netomat "original" (where screens 
are generated by a scripting language that is built on XML and 
Java).  These authors of these works have found a point in the technology 
where they can accomplish their goals.  IOD could be implemented inside the 
browser, using Perl, GIF images and Javascript.  Is this less a product of 
code than the same piece written in Lingo?

>Programming liberates art from being secondary to commercial media.

As much as I'd like to believe this...

Progamming may produce new forms outside of commercial media, but 
programming puts the artist into new relationships with other existing 
forms.  If I dabble in 3D rendering then my work could be competing with 
Pixar, Toy Story, and Shrek.  Can I accomplish what teams of Silicon 
Graphics programmers can pull off?  No, but that's not my role as an artist.

A low tech example: Is an rtmark sabotage secondary to the corporate image 
being sabotaged?  The two are certainly related, and the sabotage can be 
seen as a reaction to the corporation.  But this sort of action has it's 
own presence as well, it's own aesthetic impact, that relies on leveraging 
existing forms, much as software artists leverage existing forms.

Artists look for leverage points in the technology.  Flash is one such 
point, where powerful features are available with relatively little 
effort.  Comparatively, Java has lagged behind in usage because of it's 
steeper learning curve, despite being versatile, powerful, and an early 
standard in browsers.

There is a prejudice that a downloadable EXE is "real software", maybe 
because it appears to be more like the corporate software products we're 
familiar with.  Yet this is a 1980's approach to software.  For years 
software has been breaking into pieces that can talk to one another through 
specialized programming interfaces.  Today the browser is an engine that 
can be embedded in email clients, Word documents, and 
spreadsheets.  Software components provide services to other software 
components, and languages frequently become the glue that connects 
pre-fabricated components together.

To use these powerful and complex tools the software artist has to find 
ways to create maximum impact with relatively little coding.  Very few 
artists have access to a team of eager programmers.  And many artists are 
unwilling to invest the time to learn low level languages like C, given the 
inevitable dent it will make in the time they spend on aesthetic issues.

The artist has to decide where they will operate within this structure of 
interdependent software.  HTML is a form of high-level code that instructs 
the browser environment, much as Java can instruct the Windows OS, or 
assembly code can instruct a chip.  All of these code forms require 
investment of learning time, and provide access to features of the 
computer.  The question is not "does the artist write code".   The question 
is: how much leverage does the artist get from their knowledge.  What is 
the bang-for-the-buck of HTML vs. Java, or C++.

What this means, though, is that the artist never completely "rolls their 
own" software.  The artist never gets back to the world of pigment, oil and 
canvas.  In the medium of software, there is always interdependence.  Even 
suppose that I find a team of C programmers that are happy to code low 
level graphics routines for me, then I become dependent on that team, still 
a far cry from the romantic image of a solitary studio painter.

My role as an artist is to crack open the technology and find the humanity 
at work under the tech veneer.  If I can do that with a Perl script, then I 
will.  When that form is too limiting, then I turn to Java.  But any tool I 
use requires that I work in relationship to other tools, environments, 
products and media.


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