nettime's_api on Thu, 25 Apr 2002 12:42:01 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> un-plugged-in digest [sawad, fahey, napier]

Re: <nettime> GENERATION FLASH  (3A / 3) 
     Sawad <>
     "Christopher Fahey [askrom]" <>
     napier <>

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Date: Wed, 24 Apr 2002 14:58:19 -0400
From: Sawad <>
Subject: Re: <nettime> GENERATION FLASH  (3A / 3) 

>A software artist re-uses the language of modernist abstraction and design ­
>lines and geometric shapes, mathematically generated curves and outlined
>color fields ­ to get away from figuration in general, and cinematographic
>language of commercial media in particular. Instead of photographs and clips
>of films and TV, we get lines and abstract compositions. In short, instead
>of QuickTime, we use Flash. Instead of computer as a media machine ­ a
>vision being heavily promoted by computer industry (and most clearly
>articulated by Apple who promotes a MAC as a ³digital hub² for other media
>recording / playing devices), we go back to computer as a programming
>Programming liberates art from being secondary to commercial media. The
>similar reason may be behind the recent popularity of ³sound art.² While
>commercial media now uses every possible visual style, commercial sound
>environments still have not appropriated all of sound space. While rock and
>roll, hip-hop, and techno have already become standard elevator music (at
>least in more hip elevators such as the Hudson Hotel in NYC), it seems that
>the rhythm-less regions of sound space are still untouched ­ at least for


I don't know that programming is as liberatory as is stated here. If 
anything, programming holds the possibility of involving one in a different 
set of relations to product(ion), as well as to a different class of 
worker. I've made some references to this other relation elsewhere.

Mentioning Flash already seems to undermine this libertine vision you want 
to advance. Although the Flash spec were released by Macromedia a few years 
ago, and is considered "open," as far as I understand it people working 
with Flash are still very much using the tools provided by a Macromedia. I 
have seen very limited software libraries written in Java and C (one by 
Paul Haberli) which allow C programmers (and at some point Java programmers 
too) to create Flash-generated imagery on-the-fly from within their C 
programs, but I get the sense that this type of programming is not what you 
mean when you talk about Flash. Flash remains essentially "media," as you 
define it, much as Quicktime. I don't think that scripting separates it 
from being so. For that matter, some "programming" is also possible using 
Quicktime. In many ways, for programmers, Quicktime is much more useful 
because Apple provides an extensive C library through which to access its 
functionality, which extends far beyond making digital videos. In fact, 
what is so interesting about Quicktime is that it is not old-media (film, 
video, sound) specific. Rather, in many ways it is more of a protocol for 
creating, playing, and delivering *time-based information*. In theory, one 
can do much more with Quicktime than what artists have tended to use it 
for. This is not simply a limitation of Quicktime, but of artists as well. 
Mostly of artists and the systems within which they learn. Anyway, one can 
also access Quicktime from within Java, as Apple has made a set of classes 
for doing that easily: Quicktime for Java. I am not defending Quicktime, 
simply pointing out some problematic issues in the distinctions you are 
making between programming and media.

I also think that many non-artist programmers would resist referring to 
Flash as a programming language. Well, they would giggle. Programmers tend 
to think of C/C++, Fortran, Basic, Java as their materials. To be sure, 
there is a bravura at work there. Programmers tend to work with programming 
systems or libraries in order to create their applications, but Flash still 
seems very much tied to the development environment Macromedia sells.

Furthermore, this issue of liberation through programming seems somewhat 
more Romantic than it needs to be. One of the linguistic issues which 
programming languages have made so apparent is the citational dimension of 
all languages, be they social, mathematical, or programmatic. "A software 
artist re-uses the language of modernist abstraction and design ­
lines and geometric shapes ...." Similarly, programmers very often learn to 
program by copying and modifying other programs and, on a more abstract 
level, algorithms. (Beth Stryker and I delivered a paper earlier this year 
at CAA in Philadelphia which sketched out some relations between 
programming algorithms and notions of space and representation in general.) 
Advanced programmers use these same techniques. They also utilize software 
libraries (talked about earlier in the case of Quicktime) which contain 
code which can be referenced ("called") from within one's (own) code. In 
other words, programmers are always already indebted to other programmers. 
The whole GNU project depends on this structure of debt. I don't disagree 
that there is an element of liberation to be studied here, but it is not a 
simple one, and certainly not one that is merely oppositional.

While it is true that Flash currently is implemented upon a vector-based 
set of routines, your use of its attributes to characterize all software 
art is simply synecdoche.

"A software artist re-uses the language of modernist abstraction and design ­
lines and geometric shapes, mathematically generated curves and outlined
color fields ­ to get away from figuration in general, and cinematographic
language of commercial media in particular. Instead of photographs and clips
of films and TV, we get lines and abstract compositions. In short, instead
of QuickTime, we use Flash."

There is no reason that software art cannon use/create "images" in the 
narrowly defined sense of "pictures," or any other form we identify from 
our experiences with so-called old-media. Through software one can create 
images or effect any number of sensuous phenomena. Your position vis-a-vis 
the "modernism" effected by the Flash protocol, which is designed to 
deliver compressed animation over relatively narrow bandwidth seems to me 
mistakes technological limitations for an iconoclastic morality.


>To return to the topic of new modernism. Of course we don't want to simply
>replay Mondrian and Klee on computer screens. The task of the new generation
>is to integrate the two paradigms of the twentieth century: (1) belief in
>science and rationality, emphasis on efficiency, basic forms, idealism and
>heroic spirit of modernism; (2) skepticism, interest in ³marginality² and
>³complexity,² deconstructive strategies, baroque opaqueness and excess of
>post-modernism (1960s-). At this point all the features of the second
>paradigm became tired clichés. Therefore a return to modernism is not a bad
>first step, as long as it is just a first step towards developing the new
>aesthetics for the new age.
>PART 3B will be posted shortly.]

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From: "Christopher Fahey [askrom]" <>
Date: Wed, 24 Apr 2002 17:36:00 -0400

  I agree with Eryk that NN/m9ndfukc/nato epitomizes the "software
artist" to a certain extent, but there are several mitigating factors I
would like to add to this discussion:

  FIRST, programming is hard work! The "individual-artist-genius" model
of art criticism is hard to apply to Manovich's vision of this new
"software artist" creature simply because programming is commonly done
by more than one person. While individual artists like Praystation or
Golan Levin may often work individually, we are increasingly seeing
software artwork produced collaboratively. Multi-artist collaborations
(like Alex Galloway's Carnivore collaborations) and murky artist
collectives (the excellent c404) are able to produce works greater than
the sum of their parts - also, they can frequently achieve greater name
recognition as a group than as one person. It is widely believed that
NN/m9ndfukc/nato may be at least five different people, any one of whom
might have a hard time achieving that kind of notoriety by themselves.
The amount of labor and specialized skill it takes to produce certain
kinds of software artworks is comparable to the labor in making a film
or a building. And like with films, it is often impossible to attribute
the artistic vision of a single person to the final digital product. 

  This "collaborative model" borders on a kind of "corporate model". Jon
Ippolito recently advocated that digital artists should give up on
making money as artists and keep their "day jobs". I would extend that
idea even further to say that the production of software art is so
similar to the production of commercial digital products that the two
modes benefit from close proximity. It is not uncommon to find that
digital artists have day jobs working for digital companies, or to find
artists who actually OWN or are principals of a commercial enterprise
closely linked to their artistic production (examples include,,, and even my own comparatively staid Increasingly we are seeing artists who
do not hide their day jobs from the art world, who are not embarrassed
by their day jobs - and these artists tend to be digital artists.

  This is not to say that I exactly buy into the McElroy model of
marketing artwork as a corporate product (to me his position often reads
like a parody of the artist's aversion to corporate thinking), but I do
agree that the separation of art and commerce is unnecessarily
artificial and does not lend itself well to the production of software
artworks of any level of complexity above D.I.Y. 

  I do not think that complexity=quality, but I do know that many
artists (like myself) have dreams and visions of building artworks that
are simply beyond the ability of a single person to realistically
complete. While this has always been true for many art
practices(fabricators and artists assistants are common even among plain
ol' oil painters), it is particularly true for digital artists who
cannot specialize in every digital production tool in the world. Someday
we may have digital artists with their own (paid) programming staffs in
much the same way a Nam June Paik likely has a nice little staff of
fabricators and video technicians. 

  This also ties quite closely with Ippolito's advocating that artists
employ the General Public License method of copyright/patent-free
production. The GPL itself was born out of the idea that building
software products *requires* large teams of people: If a large team of
developers is producing something just for fun, then they at least need
some assurance that one of the members of the team won't just take the
whole product and sell it as their own. The GPL allows development teams
to form without worrying about who is the real "owner". And online
source control systems like CVS provide the infrastructure for
developers to work as close-knit virtual teams without stepping on each
other's toes and without corporate management.

  While I find the collaborative model more politically interesting than
the "single-auteur-genius-with-a-staff-of-technical-assistants" model, I
would also give my left arm to have five hotshit programmers working for
me building my most elaborate ideas. 

  SECOND, I think that "software artwork" needs to be subdivided
somewhat. I think the net/not-net debate is less important than the
interactive/non-interactive debate. We are living in a moment where we
see an increasing number of artist-programmers whose work manifests as
either "Autonomous Algorithm" or "Interactive Experience". 

  "Autonomous Algorithm" describes a work that is entirely
self-contained, where the software is executed and it does its thing
regardless of what any human audience does to or with it. This category
includes a wide variety of works, from 'artificial life' applications to
automated data visualization systems to even plain old fashioned video
and film and performance. Actions occur over time according to a
pre-arranged plan. The plan may be simple, as is the case with a video,
or it may be very complex, influenced by intricate algorithms,
dynamically scraped data, random seeds, etc. Such works often have some
interactivity to allow the user to browse through the product or change
perspectives, but this interaction is not critical to the overall

  "Interactive Experience" includes everything from mouse-following
Flash toys to Playstation games. In such a product, the interactivity is
central to the experience. The user is invited to be involved, and the
artist's intention/emotion/message is communicated through the user's
actions and decisions. The experience can be physically immersive,
visceral, or tactile... or it can be psychologically immersive or

  I am essentially trying to make a distinction between experiences that
are meant to be *seen*and those that are meant to be *used*. 

  It is my feeling that the Interactive Experience model is the only
truly new art form because it alone introduces a fundamentally new and
different kind of experience to humanity. Browsing and clicking freely
from page to page on a web site and seeing different pictures,
animations, and texts only scratches the surface of what interactive
artworks really can be. Browsing, in fact, is not even the same as using
or playing. AutoIllustrator and NATO, or Quake III and Grand Theft Auto
II, are qualitatively different kinds of things from most web sites -
they invite the user to stop being a viewer and to start forming goals
and plans entirely within the context of the app/game. They involve a
mental transformation, a mode change in the mind. They ask the user to
invest a bit of their own consciousness into the machine's
protoconsciousness, to put a stake in what the program does next. 

  Just as experiencing traditional media is different from experiencing
unmediated real life (this difference is disappearing in our
media-saturated world, but this was not the case 100 years ago when
seeing a movie was a jarring experience), experiencing interactive media
is different from traditional media in a fundamental phenomenological


[christopher eli fahey]

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Date: Thu, 25 Apr 2002 00:16:06 -0400
From: napier <>

 >>> 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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