This article was written for 'Content-Type' in 2001, which I conceived of as an idea virus, later as the site evolved, I was to think of these texts as symptomatic of the Media/Art Identity Crisis in style of delivery.
"...the Free Software available obviously doesn't cut it for many people, artists in particular. The absence of, for example, desktop publishing software available for GNU/Linux is no coincidence since the probability of finding programmers among graphic artists is much lower than the probability of finding programmers among system operators..." [Florian Cramer]*1
In his review of the CODE conference, CODE: Chances and Obstacles in the Digital Ecology *2, Florian Cramer describes how at the conference most "artists were happy to be 'artists', and programmers were happy to be 'programmers'"*3. This was perhaps because the political issues surrounding open source code and Intellectual Property Rights are so complex, and a part of current broader economic and social change. At least this gives the dilemmas of digital art, open code and programming a certain urgency, highlighted by the conference itself. However, according to Cramer's review, the issues raised by the limitations of free software, in terms of its usability by artists and others, were avoided by the CODE attendees: "While most of them pretended that it was no longer necessary to use proprietary software, their computers still ran Windows or the Macintosh OS." *4
This is not a problem for Heath Bunting and Graham Hogge, who, in a text commissioned by the Arts Council of England especially for CODE, discuss their use of the Linux OS. The Cube Microplex FAQ describes their involvement with The Cube Cinema in Bristol, and their techno-environmentalism, which gives an important context to their use of Linux. In FAQ 4.11, "Is there a quick way to be hardcore?" Hogge answers: "The best way to learn about Linux is to download programs even if you don't know what they do. And then run them." *5 The hacker ethic; an enthusiasm for the computer program itself, is also a work ethic "Hacker activity is also joyful. It often has its roots in playful explorations" *6 This experimentalism is something which can be all too quickly lost in the realm of proprietary software, where an outcome is often overly predetermined by the limits of the program.
Unpacking the computer, demystifying and experimenting with the possibilities of the code, is part of digital art culture. It's sometimes scary for artists, but then it's best to take a martial arts approach, "...You do have to be disciplined to learn it -- it's about conforming and in the end you understand it. It's an act of faith." *7
0100101110101101.org's methods are to make everything as visible as possible, "The only way to avoid control is data-overflow - to heap up and multiply data to the point that it becomes extremely difficult to isolate and interpret... Everything is logged. In systems like Linux this is visible. You only have to look at the bash history or the access log. Each action is potentially reconstructable with absolute precision." *8 This is the control of cultural and creative practices, being challenged by the aesthetics of the data flow, and which Linux OS is enabling artists to explore. Logging into life_sharing is an immersive desktop experience. The freedom of the data is a flow to 'swim' in, and the simulation of the website is removed. "It's like a "lower level language" that abolishes this simulation, allowing the user to directly enter one's computer, to use the data in their own time-space." *9
Artists using computers tend to see through the limitations of purpose built software pretty quickly, but often feel powerless when it comes to writing or utilising code which comes with its own unique challenges. As Heath Bunting says, "When I first put Linux on my laptop, I thought why the hell am I doing this?... It was a challenge to myself." *10 Some are jumping in and braving the currents, both technical and social, which is sure to have an effect over the months ahead.
Sarah Thompson 20.04.01
*1, *2, *3, *4 Florian Cramer, Nettime, 13.04.01, Review of the CODE conference (Cambridge/UK, April 5-6 2001), commissioned by MUTE, appearing in the forthcoming MUTE issue
*5, *7, *10 The Cube Microplex FAQ, Heath Bunting, Graham Hogge, Kate Rich, http://www.cubecinema.com.faq, commissioned by the Arts Council of England for CODE
*6 The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age, by Pekka Himanen with Linus Torvalds and Manuel Castells, Random House, 2001. http://www.hackerethic.org
*8, *9 Data-Nudism, interview with 0100101110101101.org about life_sharing, Matthew Fuller, http://www.axia.demon.co.uk, first published by Gallery 9/ Walker Art Centre, http://www.walkerart.org/gallery9/lifesharing
CODE: Chances and Obstacles in the Digital Ecology, http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/CODE