January 27, 2005

Software Art: Defining a new category

by Steven Sacks

founder softwareARTspace and bitforms gallery

I am the Director of bitforms gallery in NYC and Seoul. We are devoted to emerging and established artists who embrace new media and contemporary art practice – resulting in new languages and artistic experiences. One such practice that emerged through the gallery was the creation of software art, which led to the idea of softwareARTspace.

Sofware art is derived from custom code that is written by the artist. The code is a set of rules or parameters. These rules become the art. They are the essence of the experience and aesthetic direction. In traditional terms, the code represents paint or clay that the artist uses to create. It is molded, tweaked, massaged, layered until the artist is happy with the results of the executed code. The results, just as with all art, can vary drastically. The works can be simple. Complex. Abstract. Figurative. Narrative.

One of the most important distinctions is that software art is alive. It is not a video loop or static experience. It can be interactive, reactive or passive. It is typically generative, which means it can build upon itself or through your interaction. Software art is not a screen saver. A screen saver has a very different purpose. The name defines it. They are designed and perceived as functional software that protects screens from burnout. Screen savers were not designed to be experienced as artwork. They are peripheral distractions to your computer and the environment – not that there’s anything wrong with that.

softwareARTspace was started to distribute unframed software art pieces – art that is delivered on a CD and is viewed with a computer and screen of choice. The computer can be a standard Mac or PC with certain graphics card and CPU specifications. The screen can vary greatly in size and price. You can easily and affordably set up a station with a 17” flat screen mounted on wall. The other extreme can be a 60” LCD. The interaction with the work can be with a wireless mouse or touch screen. Touch screens typically are only available in smaller sizes so we recommend wireless mouse for the larger screens.

Although you can use software art on existing systems, it is my belief and conviction that software art should and will become a dedicated experience, just as you hang a painting or a photo. Once you have a software art station in place, you can easily switch amongst your collection.

What’s interesting, is that even though the cost of a flat screen and CPU have come down drastically over the years, it is still a psychological hurdle to dedicate a computer to one task. So, people may choose to buy the work and place it on their everyday machine with all of their “stuff”. I equate this to buying a print and putting in a magazine. It is a distraction and takes away from the experience.

Another type of unframed software art uses a network or Internet connection. One example, available through bitforms gallery is Mark Napier’s Waiting Room – a collaborative network piece within a virtual space that 50 users share through the Internet. In this space the visitor becomes a participant in a moving painting. Their actions activate and shape the artwork, shifting the screen through moods, from hard-edged to atmospheric, from dark to light, from quiet to chaotic. Each click creates a shape, a shadow or a wall, a suggestion of architecture or a dissolving light. Since there is only one piece that exists on a server, we sold this work in shares. 50 shares at $1,000 per share. A grass roots way of promoting this work was through a software art party at a collector’s home. We had the Waiting Room running at the party. The collectors who couldn’t attend were connected to the piece and interacting with those at the party. Mark Napier was there to discuss the piece and answer any questions. This was an ideal way to experience the true beauty of the collaborative network art concept in a social setting. It also let people see how to live with the art in a variety of ways. 14 of 50 shares have sold thus far.

Works from Golan Levin and Casey Reas have ties to abstract expressionism. Their works are organic interpretations of form, motion and interactivity. In Floccus, by Golan Levin, ductile filaments drawn by the user swirl around a shifting, imaginary drain centered at the user's cursor. These filaments--torn by conflicting impulses to simultaneously preserve their length, yet also move towards or away from the user's cursor – find an equilibrium by forming gnarly, tangled masses. Tissue, by Casey Reas exposes the movements of thousands of synthetic neural systems. Each line in the image reveals the history of one system's movement. People interact with the software by positioning a group of points on the screen. By positioning and re-positioning the points, an understanding of the total system emerges from the subtle relations between the positional input and the rich visual output.

The artists we have chosen for softwareARTspace are the leaders in this new genre of art. And we will be adding many more artists and titles in the near future. We have decided to offer the first 10 titles in an edition of 5000 at $125 each. The goal is to make this work accessible, affordable and feasible for a wider audience – educating people about the merits and creativity of software art.

Software art is empowering. Engaging. Endless. I am convinced that it will be a part of the art nomenclature. It’s beauty and possibilities are too alluring. The artists are too talented. And the world deserves a new creative outlet.

Posted by Steven Sacks on January 27, 2005 at 04:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)