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Re: <nettime> Don't Call it Art: Ars Electronica 2003
Florian Cramer on Thu, 25 Sep 2003 11:22:55 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Don't Call it Art: Ars Electronica 2003

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Am Montag, 22. September 2003 um 23:25:41 Uhr (+0200) schrieb august:
> First of all, something that had been addressed many times at this years
> README festival, especially by the curators themselves, was that a certain
> kind of drive hides behind this push towards software art.  Some may call
> it an agenda.  Strangely enough the push is coming more from curators and
> writers (most of which have no or little programming experience) rather
> than from the practicing artists.

Being one of the read_me/runme.org "experts" (and ae speakers) myself, I
agree that the term "software art" is a coinage of curators and critics.
But I don't think that's a bad thing at all; all the more since it was a
reaction to a clear, observable trend towards working not only with, but
on software in digital/net art. The earliest literal mention of
"software art" I know of is in Alex Galloway's 1999 writeup "Year in
Review: State of net.art 99" <http://switch.sjsu.edu/web/v5n3/D-1.html>:

   Software art is not new. Ever since a collective of British outlaw
   artists wrote the code for I/O/D 4--a carnivorous browsing application
   known as the "Webstalker"--artists have been twisting and tweaking
   the very tools we use to surf the web. Yet with artist/programmer
   Maciej Wisniewski's Netomat (www.netomat.net), which premiered earlier
   this summer at New York's Postmasters Gallery, we see a new level of
   intensity, a new commitment to coding.

Saul Albert's longer essay "Artware"
<http://twenteenthcentury.com/saul/artware.htm>, which appeared in the
same year, draws even more elaborate connections between early concept art,
software by artists like John Simon and Mongrel, hacker culture and Free
Software. In 2000, Andreas Broeckmann created a "software" category for
the transmediale festival as a consequence of his own observations which
were similar to the above.

> But, Judd was writing his own critiques, wasn't he?  I didn't see a
> history of art-categorism in Manovich's text.  Maybe that is part of the
> larger context to which he is alluding?

What I don't understand in Lev's text is his argument that software art
was not "contemporary art" just because contemporary art wouldn't
support art that is bound to specific media (or material). My own
perception of contemporary art as it can be seen in galleries,
art fairs, museum exhibitions and art journals is quite different: It
seems to roughly fall into two categories, which themselves are strongly
bound to specific media: (a) large-size painting and photography for
private collectors, (b) installation art (often involving video) by and
for academics trained in cultural studies. No contemporary art system is
agnostic to media/material for the simple reason that it needs artwork
that fits its into particular exhibition architecture and economical
framework (and that applies to an exhibition like Documenta just as to
ars electronica).

My personal reason to care for software art and other digital arts at all
is not that it is software or digital, but that there is remarkable
contemporary art being made in its realms.

> But, maybe the question is whether art is soft?
> By that, I mean after a slow and consistent breakdown over the last 100
> years of paintings on walls and sculptures on pedistals down to
> installations in space and concepts at large, wouldn't it be relatively
> easy (and maybe naive) to construct softer borders between categories of
> art.  'New Media' was once called intermedia or integrated media, wasn't
> it? Besides that, Sol Lewitt was making software art long ago, nay?

I see one important difference between early conceptual art and
contemporary software art in that the former strived, as Lucy Lippard
called it, for "dematerialization" and, where it actually used the term
software (such in Jack Burnhams 1970s exhibition of the same name or in
the "Radical Software" magazine), understood it as a puristic
intellectual laboratory construct. In contrast, contemporary software
art treats software as an unclean material (involving bugs, crashes,
incompatibities) which is not purely syntactical, but loaded with
cultural semantics, aesthetic associations and even politics;
experimental web browsers and and game modifications are cheap, but
still good examples.

> Another understanding at README seemed to be that software is becoming
> more and more entrenched in our daily lives, and that it is quite
> 'natural' that this mixture of art and software should come about.

Yes, and I see this viewpoint embedded into the contemporary software
art itself.

> really aiming at situating both software and art in larger contexts.  With
> CODE as its title, it _appears_ as if the Ars wanted to address art and
> software and culture and society....and on and on., which would be a
> positive step away from a software art label.

The problem, as it also turned out at the ars electronica symposion, is
that "code" is by no means a clear term and used in all kinds of
metaphorical ways. A legal theoretician who speaks of "code" means
something quite different from a cryptographer pronouncing the same word
(which, as Friedrich Kittler showed in his helpful, encyclopedia
article-style opening lecture, is just a etymological slippage going
back to the fact that law books were called, like other books,

> Generally speaking, I think 'art AND x' says something completly different
> than say 'art OF x' or 'x art' [substitute x with politics, activism,
> telecommunications...etc].  The combinatorial function of AND is expansive
> and open.


> So with much respect to those writing and organizing festivals around
> this topic, to call it 'software art' is IMHO generating a narrowing
> rhetoric which is equally insignificant to artists and software makers
> who are quite _naturally_ doing both.

It seems to me that this critique (which is also implied in Lev's text)
is not so much about "software art" in particular, but about the
viability and value of the concept "art" in general. In other words,
criticizing the term "software art" often appears to be a smokescreen
for questioning "art"; and indeed, there are (non-Western) cultures who
could do fine without a concept of the liberal/ autonomous as opposed to
the applied arts at all. I agree that, before the large-scale
introduction of the term "software art", the field of software
programming especially in hacker and free software camps and software
experimentation in the digital net art camp was open in a sense of the
pre-modern concept of "ars" as "artisanship". On the other hand, with
applying a more rigorous, maybe aestheticist concept of art to this
field, one can make (in my opinion) helpful critical distinctions.
Likewise, for example, there is no self-evident need to define
literature as a high-art concept when there's a universal human culture
of storytelling and songwriting, no need to define music as a discipline
against popular musical practice, and so on.

> And, now that net.art has lost status, and no one really cares anymore
> if it is art on the net or in the net, some may [at least partially]
> opt to drop the excess baggage and suspicious categories and "...not
> Call it Art" altogether.

Again, you can bring up this argument against anything that has the
word "art" attached to it. But (unlike in the late 1980s where I was
involved in a number of anti-art campaigns including the "Art Strike
1990-1993") I would mind ditching this concept including the freedom and
potential for speculation and excitement it still provides.


<shameless plug>
This posting is, to some extent, a preview of a freshly completed
text called "Ten Theses about Software Art" which I was commissioned to
write for an upcoming Software Art reader published by the media lab of
Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin.  Editor Gerrit Gohlke kindly asked me
not to spread my text in public before October when the publication will
be available in print and in the web, but I will make it available as
Open Content as soon possible.
</shameless plug>
GnuPG/PGP public key ID 3200C7BA, finger cantsin {AT} mail.zedat.fu-berlin.de

----- End forwarded message -----

GnuPG/PGP public key ID 3200C7BA, finger cantsin {AT} mail.zedat.fu-berlin.de




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