matthew fuller on Sat, 8 Jun 2002 00:58:31 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> the form, the social, the rest. re: 'Concepts, Notations, Software, Art'

Dear Florian, 

Thank you for your useful essay, 'Concepts, Notations, Software, Art'
recently posted to nettime.  In the spirit of it being a new version of
an old text, I'd like to suggest a plug-in.

At the very least, a brief patch may be required if we are not to have
a repetition of the usual scission, in the last few paragraphs, between
the simply 'formal' and simply, and woollily, 'social'. (The twentieth
century is dotted with too many of such debates.)  I'd like to make two
short suggestions:

1  'Formal' operations do not occur alone.  There is clearly a current
of art using computer networks or instructions which believes itself to
be primarily formalist.  However, this belief is the result of a
particular perspectivalism that cleaves the work from it's more messy
or productive implications and connections.  In order to clarify this,
two examples drawn from the text:

1.1 Hugo Ball's poem Carawan.  Do we misunderstand the work if it is
read in relation to certain of the Dada Zurich artists' ostensive
reference to 'African' speech and symbolism, to further read this in
relation to the predatory colonialism of Europe, or in relation to
Ball's own yearning for a mystical language of immediacy (along the
lines of that which you usefully describe in 'Language as Virus') which
could be accessed via such poetry?

1.2 Sol LeWitt.  LeWitt's work exists both as a series of instructions,
and their execution.  There are two ways in which we can understand
this simple formalist limit to the work as requiring an expansion.  

1.2.1 Organisation: the work is addressed to a possible executor - a
socius of two or more is thus composed. This at the very least allows
the work to be carried out and shown without any trouble to the artist,
one can also note that it is one of the mechanisms which allowed
conceptual exhibitions to be mounted by post and by phone in across the
world in several locations at low cost.  (See Katherine Moseley's
excellent catalogue, 'Conceptions, the conceptual art document'.)

Further, if you wish to include an authorised LeWitt in an exhibition
it is necessary to contact his representative in order to receive
permission to carry out the particular set of instructions you wish to
have realised.  As is common in much of the conceptual work begun in
the sixties there is a deployment of a particular set of apparatuses
which define roles, often by contract: representative,
artist/instructor, executor, and so on.  It is clear that such
arrangements are immediately 'social' in a variety of ways.  Making the
notary an explicit rather than implicit transactor of some art systems
is one of the minor ways which certain conceptual works addressed
themselves to the political and economic dimensions of such systems.

1.2.2 Material 'substrate':  one of the problems of an approach which
allows for a simple formalism is that it reduces the components of its
realisation to a simple 'substrate' through which the work is realised.
 A kind of matter is captured and given form by an idea.  What might
usefully be proposed instead is that particular works, including those
you discuss, operate by arranging combinations of material,
organisation, perception etc.   LeWitt's work here for instance might
be seen to operate as a particular realisation of a certain combination
of the propensities of: postal and fax networks; orthography, geometry,
and the materials wall/paper and pen/pencil for their actuation;
alphabetised language, linguistic technologies of description; art
economies of desire, command, and authorship, art economies of objects
and spaces, of publications, or theorisations and naming; the pleasure
of repetitive exercise and expectation in the person/s of those
actuating the work, the conditions of employment of gallery assistants
who carry out such work; etc.

The particular compositional terms by which such an arrangement is
made, correspond in some way with what is reductively described as the
'formal'.  However, such a way of engaging with a work immediately
connects art to the question of what to do with life, with the world,
without loosing any of the power assigned to it under the schismatic
and reductive term, 'formal'.  

2 Such compositional terms are dynamics are generated in order to be
launched into an outside.  To name or describe such a system, the modes
of a dynamic, the terms of an arrangement, calls it into being - with
one or another degree of virtuality.  Each such act depends on the
arrangements that it is part of in order to become actuated and

For purposes of presentation,, for instance, uses both the
actual script and the operation of the program within a computer where
a sound / graphics generation program is also running.  Forkbomb
'competes' with this program for resources as it gradually uses them
up.  As the number of fork commands increases it gradually makes the
operation of this other program impossible, producing variation in
sound and image.  

This variation allows the perception of the two programs' interactions
to become perceptible in a different way - to different senses and
aesthetic codes, and in terms of duration.  The production of sound and
image is also notably varied by the configuration of the particular
machine that the work is being run on.

Part of the work in deciding how to best mobilise Forkbomb is
therefore to bring it into some kind of arrangement with the contexts
it operates in, as well as cpan and the normal routes for code
distribution, these include exhibitions and conference presentations. 
Part of a work is also its means of promotion, its mobilisation in
'secondary' contexts, the way it appeals to certain kinds of
interpretation, or of remobilization by or participation in  certain
kinds of discourse - such as this.  Utilising various ways of making it
'sensible' are a way of generating its operation in an 'outside', the
contexts in which it appears and to which it is addressed.  (This does
not of course preclude things occurring or being repurposed in other

To remove the possibility of such a work being understood as 'social'
would therefore seem to deny part of what is important in what is
brought together in its different actuations.

I have not touched up the presence of what you describe as simply
'formal' in the those works you describe as simply 'social' because for
the purposes of this text that would be unnecessary.  The work
mentioned, other related work, as well as the texts around them give no
grounds for the repetition of this doubly useless scission.

The above couple of proposals of course make only a slight amendment to
the tail-end of what is otherwise a valuable argument - I look forward
to seeing more!

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