I started bitforms
to explore the realms of
. To redefine categories and levels of artistic
engagement. To discover new art
. To educate both
new and old school collectors.
bitforms represents artists who are using digital tools
as an integral part of their process. These tools offer artists
new ways of interpreting, manipulating and visualizing information.
It’s evolution in art. As a gallerist specializing
in this type of work, it’s important for me to know the
tools. How and why are they being used? Are they necessary? Gratuitous
use of technology for quick impact can be a detriment to both
the artist and the gallery.
Just as with most contemporary art galleries,
the types of work we show at bitforms vary. The categories include:
Reactive sculpture. Data visualization. Sound and video installations.
Digitally derived sculpture. Photo manipulation. Mixed media.
Software art. Although there is a common thread of using digital
tools, the idea and execution of the work are
top priority. Is the idea fresh? Thought provoking? Relevant?
Engaging? Granted, a lot of the answers are subjective, but there
is a historic comparison and discovery process that can be used
to define and position all works. In fact, artists have been using
technology as an influence or tool for many centuries. But the
use of digital technologies is different. Especially the use of
software to create or influence an artwork.
The category of art that has been most challenging for bitforms
to define, market and legitimize has been software art.
How do you collect it? Define it? What is its
value? Future value? Archivability? Maintenance?
There are two categories of software art that bitforms represents,
framed and unframed. The terms may sound traditional,
but the issues involved are very different from framed and unframed
prints and canvases. There are technical and usage considerations
in both types. Other considerations are networked, interactive,
reactive and passive. These are terms that offer the collector
different experiences and may require alternative maintenance
Framed software art
Framed software artworks, like that of Manfred
Mohr, are object oriented and more in sync
with traditional fine art criteria. The software is typically
unique and embedded in a frame or custom housing. Mohr’s
work is based on the fracturing of a cube’s symmetry in
Cartesian coordinates. motion is Mohr’s new presentations
in animation and movement of the system of binary decisions. Displayed
in handmade computer stations and flat screens, these passive
works, generated from programs written by Mohr, offer a subtle
pace – a revealing view into the thought process of Mohr’s
In Daniel Rozin’s "Mirrors #2, #5, #6", he has
created reactive screen-based software art pieces. They involve
the viewer in a mirror type interaction. A video input interprets
the form and each mirror delivers an expressionist compilation
of color, shapes and movement. All three pieces deal with the
way digital images and motion are reproduced and perceived.
Framed works are sold as variant editions or one of a kind and
are typically much higher priced than unframed. With framed works
there is complete control by the artist as to how the artwork
will function and be displayed. Many times the framing or housing
of the software is conceptually tied to the work. Some artists
collaborate to fabricate their objects, where as others have the
skill set to build the entire artwork. The software art objects
need to be robust and easily maintained. Typically there is a
guarantee and a detailed maintenance manual. Since there is hardware
involved, care must be given to usage.
Unframed software art
The unframed software art is a bit more difficult to define and
control. It is sold on a CD and can be framed or displayed in
any way the collector desires. The art can be interactive and
passive. Networked and stand-alone. bitforms has sold stand-alone
pieces in editions ranging from 10 to 250. Each CD is signed and
in a custom package.
At bitforms we are adamant about how the work should
be presented. An education process is necessary. The
education starts with explaining how to present and engage the
work. We recommend a dedicated machine and monitor to run the
works (a software art station). In the gallery we have an ideal
set up, two 18" touch screens floating in a rotating steel
arm. Hidden is a Dell CPU with wireless network, mouse and keyboard.
Presentation is important. To help people manage their software
art, we have created an administrative tool that allows collectors
to add, delete and select pieces. Once the software art is loaded
and added to the system, the collector doesn’t have to go
back to the desktop. This is an important step in creating an
isolated system that is focused on the viewing and interaction
of software art. One system that we recommend for displaying software
art is the all-in-one units from ezscreen.
These are custom units that have both CPU and touchscreen as one
piece of hardware. They come in 15" and 18" versions,
and hang on the wall like a painting or wall sculpture. The simplicity
and flexibility of this system makes it very easy to collect and
present most types of software art.
Collectors of this type of art vary. There are
the old school collectors who are intrigued with the work and
the low entry cost. There are the new collectors who are excited
about the new technologies and the interactive nature of certain
works. And there are museums that want to maintain a link to what
is current and new. Some common questions collectors have are;
what am I actually getting? What is the artist’s role? Is
this really art? The collector is getting a set of rules or parameters
determined by the artist. These rules are the art. They are the
essence of the experience and aesthetic direction. The rules can
be interpreted as the code the artist writes. The questioning
of this as an art form is to be expected.
One of the issues with unframed software art is this concept
of display on a dedicated system. 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, many people 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. The other hurdle is the "screen saver"
comparison. Society has chosen to consider screen savers with
very little regard – they are temporary visuals. Another
challenge for the legitimacy of this type of art.
Another type of unframed software art uses a network or Internet
connection. One example 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.
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.
Software art is empowering. Engaging. Endless.
Whether or not it becomes a valuable collectable, 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.
Text originally published in ArtFutura's 2003 catalog.