Dirt style marches on

The fact that this is a M.I.A. song is less interesting to me than the fact that Hype Williams directed it. Either way, enjoy:

Is computer programming an art form? Let's get specifical.

The talk I gave at CUSEC last year, Blind Men and an Elephant, compares computer programming to a number of other types of work, with an eye towards finding both similarities and differences. In order, I compare writing code to: math, engineering, writing, law & politics, business, and … art.

I almost left that last one out. Whether or not computer programming is an art form is a subject that attracts a lot of attention among certain groups of people, and I see this more acutely than most since I know a lot of hackers and a lot of people in the new media arts field. But I find the resulting discussion can generate a lot more heat than light. And certainly for computer programmers I dare say that it’s not a very important question. There are plenty of other questions to ask yourself instead, such as “how can I get better at writing code?”, “how can I make sure the work I’m doing is worthwhile?”, and “should I be a programmer at all?”

Perhaps it is worth a discussion, but it would probably be most useful for us to speak from some specific experiences, and not steer ourselves into a morass of vague metaphors.

So let me start, with something I’d written in a comment to Tom earlier today: I don’t think computer programming is an art form. That doesn’t make programming better or worse than art, just different. And the specific experience that leads me to say this goes something like this: In all my years writing code, and in all my years making artistic work, I can’t think of a single time when it was useful to treat one like the other. Even when I was writing code to build net-art, during that the time that I was writing code I was putting on my software engineering hat, and really not thinking artistically at all. Because when I try to write code like I’m an artist, it ends up being buggy, mysterious, and unmaintainable. And when I try to make art like I’m a computer programmer, it ends up static and inorganic.

But maybe other people have had different experiences.

Programmers: If you believe computer programming is an art form, how has that made you a better programmer? What has art taught you about programming that you couldn’t have learned from anything else?

Artists: If you believe computer programming is an art form, how has that made you a better artist? What has programming taught you about art that you couldn’t have learned from anything else?

Size matters

I’m down in D.C., having come down for the inauguration, and today, I decided to zip into the Smithsonian Hirschorn Museum. Got to see Ron Mueck’s “Untitled (Big Man)”, which, I gotta say, is really something up close.

I’ve seen plenty of photos of Mueck’s work, and up close the technical proficiency is on full display: The wrinkles and folds of skin, the liver spots, the hairs. But what really nails it is the obvious: That man sure is big.

In the past, I suppose I had somewhat dismissed Mueck’s work. Sure, from the photos you could tell his sculptures were uncanny imitations, but I think I had felt that just making something lifelike and big was a bit of a parlor trick. But when I stood in front of this massive, lifelike body, and relaxed my gaze on it, the effect was just so damned disorienting. You’re not supposed to see human bodies this big, but that’s what I was looking at. My gaze kept on slipping in and out of focus, as if my depth perception had been suddenly crippled. I can’t quite explain why that qualifies as more than a parlor trick, but there you have it.

Wild horses

Speaking in Rochester

I’ll be in Rochester, New York on Saturday September 29, speaking about conservation issues in new media art. Often with these sorts of talks I’m presenting as a techie with a touch of conservation experience, but in this case I’ll be presenting on one of my own works and talking about conservation issues from the point of view as a new media artist. Even better, I’ll be sharing the session with the terrifically talented Jennifer and Kevin McCoy.

In the odd chance that I have any readers around Rochester who’d be interested in coming to this, please contact me, because I think I can wrangle some sort of discount.

Media arts preservation panel, Wednesday June 6

This Wednesday, June 6, I’m going to be taking part in a panel discussion on media preservation presented by Independent Media Arts Preservation and Electronic Arts Intermix. My part on the panel will be to talk about new media arts preservation, in particular the work I did on Shu Lea Cheang’s work Brandon when I was at Rhizome. The other panelists are Ann Butler, Jeff Martin, and Glenn Wharton.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007
6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI)
535 West 22 Street
5th floor
New York, NY

For more info, check out the full announcement over on Rhizome.

Rhizome benefit on Monday, April 16th

Image by Takeshi Murata
Image by Takeshi Murata

Rhizome is having a benefit concert on Monday, April 16th. I left Rhizome just about a year ago, but I’m still involved with the organization, and I’m happy to see them put together such a cool evening.

It’s going to be a great event—beyond supporting a great organization, you get to hang out at the Hiro Ballroom and check out Gang Gang Dance, Professor Murder, YACHT, and M.C. Cory Arcangel. I have seen YACHT live, and can vouch for his spazzy awesomeness. Cory is also terribly charming. You should not bring any significant others who get easily crushed out on lopey artist boys. Consider yourself warned.

Tickets start at $35 and can be bought online at http://rhizome.org/events/benefit/.

Wiremap at Dorkbot NYC, Nov 1

Most of my friends have heard me rave about my brother Albert’s cool Wiremap project before, but it’s a difficult thing to fully grok without actually seeing it. Wiremap uses a single projector to project fully 3-dimensional images; instead of projecting on to a flat screen, it projects on to a series of wires strung vertically at varying depths to fill out a rectangular volume. By knowing which wire is at which depth, the single projector can project volumes 3-dimensionally; for example, one of the Wiremap demos involves a globe that floats towards and away from the projector itself.

Much of the impact is lost if you can’t see Wiremap in person. But if you live in New York City, next Wednesday you can do just that at Dorkbot NYC.

Dorkbot NYC
Wednesday, November 1, 7 p.m.
Location One
26 Greene Street (betw. Canal and Grand)

For a new media artist working solo, Wiremap represents a daunting technical achievement. The computer driving the projector has to have intimate knowledge of each wire and what depth it’s at; and just physically calibrating the volume to the projector is an exacting task.

If you want more info, Albert has a pretty extensive wiki page up, and a long, explanatory video on YouTube. But trust me, the online representations of this work pale in comparison to seeing the real thing.

The perils of image swiping

Back in 2004, when I posted the Unauthorized iPod U2 vs. Negativland Special Edition on eBay, I wasn’t really surprised by the attention it attracted online, but I was surprised by how the facts got shaved down as the idea spread. It’s a fairly complex idea, I’ll admit—to explain it you’ve got to bring in U2 and Negativland and iPods and Island Records and Kasey Casem and Downhill Battle—and more than one entry said that the iPod was a project of Negativland or of Downhill Battle. I wasn’t personally upset by these misattributions, but it did serve as a personal reminder of the way that the accuracy of many blogs is probably a little closer to that of office gossip than of high-quality journalism.

Recently I noticed a different sort of mistake: One of the iPod images was being swiped for a Chinese blog, for an entry on a new edition of the U2 iPod that had nothing to do with Negativland:

It’s easy to imagine how this happened: This blogger wanted to pass on an Apple press release but also wanted to spruce it up with some pictures, so she entered “U2 iPod” into an image search engine and stumbled upon this photo. Not knowing anything about the Unauthorized iPod U2 vs. Negativland Special Edition—if there’s been anything written about it in the Chinese language, I’m not aware of it—she blithely included it in her blog post and never gave it a second thought.

I find it amusing to imagine some random reader of this blog seeing the unfamiliar band name in the iPod display and maybe doing a little Googling on the subject. And since discovering this, I’ve been trying to figure out if this dynamic can be exploited more generally, to dupe image-swiping bloggers into carrying subtle political messages on their own blogs … nothing comes to mind, alas. But maybe I’ll come up with something.

"Post post modern" panel discussion next Friday at SVA

Next Friday, I will be part of the Post post modern panel discussion hosted by NYC Artists Talk on Art . Here’s some info:

Friday, April 28th 2006, 7pm
School of Visual Arts. 209 East 23rd Street,
(between 2nd & 3rd Ave.)

Artists Talk on Art is pleased to present “Post Post Modern,” an examination of the newest trends in art. Artists, writers, dealers and alternative space directors will show and discuss cutting-edge art, considering how societal, political, and technological developments influence these trends.

How has globalization, the information explosion and cybernetics contributed? In what way does the distribution of art through art fairs, digital prints, and websites impact the work? Finally, what could the future hold?


Moderator: Chris Twomey, artist, writer

Lea Rekow, artist, founding director of Gigantic Art Space
Francis Hwang, net artist, writer, software engineer, former director of technology for Rhizome.org
Joel Beck, co-partner of Roebling Hall Galleries
Ben Goldman, artist, director of City Without Walls, founder/president of United Visual Arts Inc.

Organizers: Chris Twomey, artist, writer and Tamara Wyndham, artist

$7.00 general admission, $3.00 students/seniors with ID, free to passholders/SVA students