Art, Code and Computation

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The memory and the code: the phantasm of digital culture by Javier Toscano/ Dancing Code, shake your parameters by Alessandro Ludovico/ Computational Drawing: Code and Invisible Operation by Brogan Stuart Bunt/ The interpenetrating boundaries between coding and computation during livecoding performance by Gabriel Menotti Gonring
Tuesday, 20 September, 2011 - 14:45 - 16:05
Chair Person: 
Valérie Lamontagne
Javier Toscano
Alessandro Ludovico
Brogan Bunt
Gabriel Menotti Gonring

The memory and the code: the phantasm of digital culture

by Javier Toscano

The aim of this paper is to analyze the physical concatenation of technological devices, specifically between memory capacities and qualities (a database, an archive) and the code that regulates its performance. The code is here pursued as an “element” as concrete as an object, and with a specific cultural history (a code as a program, and in a wider realm, an ethos as a code). But opposed to the fetishism of objects, a code would be conceived of as the aristothelic energeia, a process with an end in itself, an instruction that “produces” a qualitative operation upon the database, the archive, on which it is inscribed. The consequences of this analysis would yield some illuminations on the way certain digital phenomena behave in our time, relating information databases to the ways the information itself is shaped, generated, disseminated and understood. It would thus contribute to understand from a cultural parameter diverse entities, from wikis to viruses, from the assessment of financial algorithms to software art, from social media to the outbreak of political events such as the one raised recently by the site. In the end, a set of specific issues would be addressed, for if the manipulation of code can sensibly affect strategic data on a functional level, we could raise questions on a historiographical, a technical, an esthetical, but most importantly, an ethico-political level. The conceptual articulation between memory and code is thus an open topic which will introduce a different dimension to our common experience of the political in the midst of a seemingly reshaping theory of knowledge.   

Dancing Code, shake your parameters

by Alessandro Ludovico

Humans have a unique ability to build formal languages. We use them for both communicate among us, but also to communicate with the machines we assemble. Computer programming languages and natural languages are both formal languages. Nonetheless they stay at the antipodes: one is close to our anthropological way of communicate and the other is close to how the inner machine logic works. But, they both instantly establish an understandable abstract environment to describe processes. Their point of contact is centered in the way we're able to write programming language code closer to our natural language (English is the universally adopted one) transversally modifying the way we formulate what we'd like the machine to do, and so generating a significant output. This formulation is a hybrid territory where pure language, explicit dynamic structures and simple to complex formulas collide. Loops, cycles that run depending on value-driven decisions are outputting computed meanings. Words and numbers, meaningfully sequenced are directing the formation of a text, a drawing, a picture, a sound, a movie, or a combination of all the above, with the programmer acting as an open scriptwriter and the user acting as a temporary director and spectator at the same time. These two actors (the programmer and the user) have an invisible and time-delayed relationship that is defined through the programming code, and the same code embodies the many adapted and twisted senses mutating the natural language. This is the territory where historically "software art" steps in. Playing with language and its power to generate impressive output thanks to its ability to use a readable formal language, that is potentially generating infinite sense (as the natural language does). 

Computational Drawing: Code and Invisible Operation

by Brogan Stuart Bunt

Drawing inspiration from Sol le Witt's privileging of drawing concept over the material space of actual drawing, computational art typically focuses on the conceptual logic of the software program rather than the electronic space of program execution. The latter is positioned as secondary – a mere technical means. My aim in this paper is to argue for a more equal and complex relationship. This is not lend the computer some awkward creative agency (or even to envisage a dimension of generative semi-autonomy), it is to consider the labour of the computer – to think through the implications of its iterative event-space. Programming itself demands thinking in terms of this labour. Creative concepts do not simply precede computation but are developed in relation to a language of data-structures and algorithms which has its basis in the possibility of non-reflective mechanical operation. Of course, the actual texture of computer labour is largely invisible – happening so quickly and at such an alien scale that there is no adequate human way of observing the process. This does less, however, to obliterate the importance of computer operation within computational art than to highlight its poignancy and power. The terrain of execution takes shape as the spatially and temporally obscure space in which the conceptual logic of the program gains concrete realisation. The two are tied together, neither subordinate to the other. If anything, in its silence and disappearance the plane of execution provides the well of darkness from which the potential for creative conceptualisation emerges. This paper explores this relation within the context of traditions of computational drawing and through a specific examination of the development of one of the author's own drawing projects.

The interpenetrating boundaries between coding and computation during livecoding performance

by Gabriel Menotti Gonring

Critical code studies draws heavily on a literary tradition that assimilates computer code to text. Their preferred method of analysis, the close reading of code, finds limits to cope both with the ongoing process of computation and with visual programming frameworks such as Puredata and vvvv. The aforementioned languages follow a paradigm called dataflow, which organizes algorithms as diagrams throughout which information circulates. Mechanical in themselves, these languages are impossible to be properly quoted and notated. Even the idea of writing would be insufficient to describe them, as it does not consider the necessary, reflexive engagement of the system to human operation.

Since these frameworks are becoming increasingly popular and turning into an important standard for the creation of art pieces, it seems necessary to define a proper method for their analysis. This paper aims to indicate some preliminary references for such method. It departs from the assumption that code is a manifestation of the computing mechanism’s performance (i.e. the concrete operation of carrying something into effect), and in that sense being equivalent to the computer’s mediatic surface effects, such as aural and visual outputs. 

We test this hypothesis by comparing of the activity of computation to the very process of coding as it is enacted by the user’s performance. For that, we chose to analyse the practice of livecoding, which seem to be a particularly well-suited object because its condition of spectacle entails the most intense feedback not only between computer code and its effects, but also between the computer and the user.

Our particular case is Dave Griffiths’ highly constrained BetaBlocker software environment/ performance. Similar to dataflow languages, BetaBlocker’s mode of input consists of position-sensitive coloured patterns. These visual mechanisms, which are code itself, are also the program’s only visual output, creating confusion between control interface and surface effects. Thus, the nature of coding is revealed as the dynamic interplay between the programmer and the machine.

Finally, we look for a horizon to both the performances of coding and computation in Marina Abramovic’s Rhythm series, considering issues of agency, awareness and consciousness in computer operation.