/ txt / Code Acts (2004.03)

published in the Abstraction Now catalogue

Das Projekt ABSTRACTION NOW - die Ausstellung wie die vorliegende Publikation - präsentiert aktuelle Tendenzen non-repräsentativer Kunst unter besonderer Berücksichtigung audiovisueller Medien und interdisziplinärer Ansätze.
Authors: Marie Röbl, Christian Höller, Lev Manovich, Sandro Droschl, Miguel Carvalhais, Norbert Pfaffenbichler, Marc Ries. ISBN: 3-900508-51-8

Net-, Web-, Online-art always seems to be something of a problem.
As anything exists in a given media, how far does this media "contaminate" it's nature? Should all art that is online be classified as Online-Art? Or is this not clear?

Our view is that Online-art, as a general category, can be broadly applied to any piece that is distributed in the internet or exists through it, be it along the World Wide Web and its familiar protocols, be it trough any TCP/IP-based system and the global network. However, this categorization should only be applied whenever such systems are not used merely as a vehicle for information or promotion of the art pieces, but they are rather at the very core of the piece itself, helping to define not only its form but also its inner essence. If these distinctive characteristics are not fulfilled, what generally happens is a transposition to another medium, and so far as with any other media transposition in History, we can talk about reproduction of an art work and not so much about a genuine creation in and for the new medium.

So what’s with the www and its protocols? We should of course start from the plain html, the code that builds up most of the browser centered online experience, where we also have the standard file formats and programming languages such as java, php, shockwave, etc. We have other protocols in the internet, such as email, or artists are even free to implement their own sets of communication protocols driving new tools.
A conclusive definition for what can be defined as Online-Art is therefore more difficult to achieve than for more or less traditional art forms as cinema or painting. The core question,in a broader sense is that if an art work is in the internet, if it (as we discussed above) exists online, then it is online art. When curating this section of Abstraction Now, we chose to select artworks that would fall within this definition. Not art that uses the web but art that is in the web.

In the broader spectrum of digital arts, a locus of fusion and intersection, what is the role of online-art nowadays? After the likes of Jodi or Nullpointer deconstructed the medium’s language codes or Mark Napier explored the rhizomatic nature of the network, the fuzziness of the flow of information and its organization within systems and their users as in Feed Usa in the exhibition or in Net.Flag, a subject close to the one chosen by Golan Levin in his The Secret Lives of Numbers. The connections made possible by having multiple users contributing to a system, providing inputs that are simply collected or fed simultaneously to an algorithm are also strategies that emerge in such projects like soda’s constructor or Lia’s %. Such projects create communities or search these communities for variables they can feed to the system. We find out however that more and more digital artists are not so much involved in creating these more complex systems but rather work on online pieces that may stand to these much like drawing stands to painting. Most of the pieces compiled in the Abstraction Now Online Project are smaller experiences, focused systems dealing with specific matters in interaction, reaction, code… We would not like to define them as drafts, because they are not sketches to other pieces, although they may provide the starting point or even be developed as part of a broader body of work. When not carefully analyzed, it may almost seem that the ultimate purpose of many of these pieces is not in the web but that it lies somewhere else. Somewhere in another context or media where they will merge, blossom and mature.

But maybe not.

These pieces are concise. Short. Immediate. Yet concentrating deep experiences. When thinking about Yugop’s Blackribbon, Peter Luining’s Traber 073 and Square 4_4(sp11), Dextro’s A/Turux-B/Det or Lia’s 08, to name just a few, we find that many times these artists push something else to the foreground.

The Internet is electric at its core. As Samuel Morse said of electricity and communication, "intelligence may (…) be instantaneously transmitted by electricity to any distance", and these words on the birth of the electric communications, are not less true today, when we think about digital communication, even less when we choose to focus on such a medium where so much seems more and more to exist and to be valued based on parameters of intelligence, logic and process. We're not talking about the artist’s theoretical approach in the conceptualization of the pieces, what we are stating is that among the main concerns and even pleasures of those artists creating art in the online medium, one of the strongest focuses that we immediately feel is on programming, on developing code and enjoying code, on laying out as much as on understanding the inner workings of a system, almost reverse-engineering it while simultaneously enjoying it on an aesthetical level.

By its very nature, code acts. When algorithms kick in, their nature is perhaps more understandable if and when they are open to user interaction and not built into closed systems. You can feel the same thinking process lying here: whenever you can be a variable in a dynamic system, it becomes far easier to grasp its logic, as you're (literally) at it. The strength of the algorithm is often more relevant to the experimentation of the piece than the final audiovisual, or also interactive product with which we sensibly contact. Online art, even because of its formal evanescence, allows a greater approach to the realm of immaterial things. Maybe that is why often it becomes clear that its ultimate goal is not formal. Yes, it is of course aesthetical, but the idea of beauty is not emerging so strongly from form, but rather showing through the structure and process. This almost naturally leads to the great level of abstraction that we find in the pieces collected for this exhibition. It was not a difficult task to select abstract pieces by these authors, even if our criteria on how far we could go when defining abstraction was in most cases pretty strict, both in the formal level and narrative nature of the works. It is clear that in many cases the form factors are determined by the code lying underneath, color or shapes are selected due to their adequacy to portray the logos of the piece. Not that the more direct formal aspects are in any way disregarded, they rather are, we dare to say, extremelly functional in the way they follow the content, or the programmatic structure of the code. Yellowtail by Golan Levin is a good example of this as well as the pieces shown from James Tindall’s thesquarerootof-1.

The nature of this online work and the work process of these artists makes them very prone to working across different media and to experiment various working relations, therefore it’s not surprising to find works from many of these artists also shown at the Medialounge of the exhibition, in the Maths in Motion video programme or also in the main exhibition. The selected pieces range from software art that has either too high demands or is too specific for the web, to video works where processor intense software pieces are rendered to a more manageable media or ausiovisual linear compositions. Some of them are even systems that easily slip from one media to another, shaping themselves to different contexts and still keeping their identity. Norm’s Sign Generator is such a strong concept, one that equally found its expressiveness in their book The Things, in the Sign Generator 1.0 online piece and in the homonymous installation in the exhibition. Another noteworthy inclusion in the exhibition are pieces from artists that create performance oriented systems, like Telcosytems, Lia or Return. These systems are sometimes not too different in their working principles from some other works presented online or in other contexts, however they differ from these by the double role played by the artist: at once programmer/composer and executant/user. This duality creates an unique experience for the audience of the performances, as in these cases it becomes possible not only to witness an interactive system being deployed but also the specific outcome of the interaction with a very particular user, one that has a deep inside knowledge of the piece’s working system and that can maximize its potential. Most commonly these performances use systems not available to experimentation by other users, but sometimes they are built upon variations of pieces that are accessible to an interaction with a broader audience, like it is the case with Lia’s live acts and the many contact points one can find between the systems used there and those on re:move or other pieces.

We hope that with the selection of pieces in the Online Project and the Medialounge of Abstraction Now, the visitors are allowed to approach the pieces in a context that makes their codes closer, more visible and articulated between their complementary manifestations and the diverse modi operandi from the selected artists.