napier on Mon, 29 Apr 2002 14:16:31 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> GENERATION FLASH: Lev / Sawad

This discussion of software (Flash) aesthetic focuses on the appearance of 
the software-artwork rather than on the function.  I doesn't make sense to 
put John Simon, Lisa Jevbratt and Golan Levin in the same sentence without 
distinguishing that Golan's work is meant to be *used*, where the other two 
are not.  In Simon and Jevbratt the work is experienced mostly through the 
eyes (certainly with Simon, less so with Lisa's work).  In Golan's work, 
the only way to "get" the piece is to interact with it.  In Simon's work 
the algorithm drives the piece; it is pre-determined, much like a 
clock.  Lisa's work is determined also, ie. by the structure of IP 
addresses.  Golan's work is open.  The algorithm may behave in a 
pre-determined way, but how the user "uses" the work is not pre-determined.

Software art (Flash, java, etc) can be *used*.  This is a unique aspect of 
this medium that breaks with previous forms.  To discuss software art 
solely in terms of what appears on the screen is like discussing the Spiral 
Jetty in terms of the quality of the rubble used to build it.  What appears 
on the screen is one part of the work, often a fairly small part.  The meat 
of the artwork is in *how* the screen was created.  You can't present a 
Golan Levin as an animated loop, or as a randomly generated output.  Even 
though the appearance may be identical, this would be a completely 
different work that would likely have very little impact on the viewer. 
There is a direct relationship created between the artwork and the viewer 
in which the viewer actively participates to create what they see on the 
screen.  Take that dynamic away, and the user falls back into the familiar 
role of viewer.

Software artwork often uses obvious forms (animation, vector math, collage, 
remix, appropriation) but puts these forms into an interactive structure 
that has an aesthetic value of its own, based on its function and 
usage.  At this point I haven't heard a language for describing this 
aesthetic of interactivity.  The elements of interactive art include 
control, authority (to what extent does the user control the piece, to what 
extent does the artist allows loss of control).  Open-ness.  Duration and 
persistence (what is the impact of a user action, how long does it 
last).  How do users relate to each other through the work.  What 
relationships does the work create between users, the author, and the work 

I don't think it's possible to discuss software interactivity without 
discussing authority.  Software is designed to be responsive to input, and 
that creates a vulnerability that can be exploited by users.  They can 
overload artwork, reprogram the work (in some cases), or subvert the work 
by misusing it (if such a thing is possible).  Prior to software, art has 
been protected from misuse by a strict "hands off" policy.  But the nature 
of software + computer interface allows a "hands on" approach (mediated by 
the mouse), that opens up the work, and opens up a can of worms too.


At 09:09 PM 4/27/2002 -0700, Lev Manovich wrote:
>I am delighted by the dialog and the number of responses provoked by my
>text. I tried to make it confrontational on purpose to stimulate the debate,
>and seems that it worked. Here are my answers to your comment.


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