The aim of this essay is to trace the development and impact of software art and to explore the central debates about its value, legitimation, and social function.
This dissertation will offer a critical presentation of software art and the new experiences it offers by challenging the boundaries between the artist and the viewer, and between institutions and collectors. Screen based software art refers to practices that are assisted by computer software programmes and have a screen output. Such practices process human and electronic stimuli and open new, interactive ways of doing and thinking about art.
In chapter One, I will define my object of study by presenting the multiple forms and technologies of digital art. In addition, I will review the history of digital and software art, its early use and exhibitions, and the gradual rise of its significance.
In chapter Two, I will present the debates about value, legitimation, and reproduction of software art. These are not exclusive to software art; yet digital technology obeys its own legalities and is restricted under corporative and copyright laws.
In chapter Three, I will examine Camille Utterback’s software art installations and Steven Sack’s bitforms galleries, and show how software art practices strive to transgress the traditional boundaries of artistic expression, notwithstanding processes of selection and promotion.
In conclusion, it may be that software art is less tangible than traditional art forms and suffers legal restrictions. However, it offers unique accessibility, storage, and reproduction of experience. In this way, software art provides new means to test and to exceed the limits of human perception and imagination.
Chapter I: Digital art and historical context
The term digital art acts as an umbrella for different art practices that produce works using software, such as computer drawing programmes, or external outputs, such as digitally scanned photographs and drawings on graphic tablets. Further, digital art incorporates technologies of different means and platforms, from interactive video installations to internet browser codifications.
The main features of digital art are accessibility, reproducibility, interaction, and openness to simultaneous artistic collaboration. Multimedia and interactive art aim at the combination of different forms of inputs and outputs, while net art is orientated towards wider accessibility and open participation. In its own right, software art is based on custom-made software programmes, designed and often developed by the artist.
Initially adopted for its educational purposes supporting exhibitions of art proper by offering virtual tours, the digital medium attracted the interest of conceptual artists such as Hans Haacke, and was used to explore notions of interaction, combination, and compatibility. Pioneering exhibitions, such as Cybernetic Serendipity (ICA, London, 1968), Information (MoMA, New York, 1970), and Software (Jewish Museum, New York, 1970), explored digital art’s metaphoric quality to transgress the limitations of traditional art-making means and human capacity.
Another important reason for digital art’s popularity was the constantly dropping cost and the increasing availability of computer equipment. Thus the academia begun to give attention to digital art, which was promoted in international festivals and prizes, such as the Transmediale International Media Art Festival.
Chapter II: Debates about the value, legitimation, and reproduction of software art
Traditionally, digital and software art were being extensively used by the advertisement and game leisure industry, feeding consumerist culture with widely available commodities. Marshall McLuhan (1964) first draws attention to the medium’s form rather than content. Popular for the assertion that ‘the medium is the message’, McLuhan argues that different mediums have different social, cultural, and political functions.
Software art counterpoises the element of the new in relation to the old, and is explicit of the mechanically assisted transformation of external stimuli. According to Fredric Jameson (1999), technology is dedicated to the reproduction of a self-perpetuating aesthetic representation of society, something that is essentially different from any previous modernist visions.
Yet debates about value, purity, and autonomy are by no means unique to software art. A few avant-garde examples include the Dada self-destruction of all autonomous validations of art, Fluxus’ manipulations of traditionally extra-artistic elements and their interactions with the audience, and Pop Art’s glorification of the perpetual availability of the ever-fading experience of art.
Walter Benjamin (1969) explains how art loses direct relation and reference to human experience, through endless reproduction and consumption. On the other hand, Martin Heidegger (1977) argues for a free relation between the human being and the essence of technology that opens the way to a more secular understanding of existence.
At the same time, digital and software art is entangled in legal ramifications of copyright laws and Digital Right Management, and is subject to the Visual Artists Rights Act 1990, designed to control reproduction, use, and manipulation of information byrestricting access and censoring content. As a result, information is not freely circulated, but regulated by capital-generating activities.
Chapter III: Case studies: conditions of exhibition and promotion of software art
To argue for the aesthetics and value of software art, I will present Camille Utterback’s interactive software practices and Steven Stacks’ curatorial programmes. By these two examples, I wish to play off the artist’s freedom to design own tools and to challenge the audience against the reality of curating and commissioning works.
Utterback explores issues of subjectivity and individuality. In Text Rain (1999), the viewer interacts with the images of falling letters, which can be accumulated on the body’s projected shadows and developed in lines of poetry about body and language. With this work, Utterback wishes to capture the mental and physical endeavour of communicating art.
Sacks is the founder of bitforms, a gallery devoted to digital and software art. With branches in New York and Seoul, and the e-shop software art space where one can buy an unlimited-edition of software artworks, Sacks is responsible for commissioning, selecting, and promoting software art worldwide.
Recapitulation of history and techniques of digital and software art.
Critique of and personal view on qualities and limitations of software art.
Future estimations regarding software art in terms of practice (expanded or controlled?), popularity, and critique (incorporated in mainstream art criticism or kept distinct?)
The use of interactive software art allows for new experiences what otherwise would remain