IV. Instantiations

December, 2002

I take three pieces from the recent CODEDOC show at the Whitney’s Artport to be representative of a certain strain of abstraction in software art that takes into account both the modernist traditions of abstraction outlined above and a cybernetic version of abstraction that, although it may share some surface characteristics with modernist painting, has a basis in the logic of its own particular essence and modes of production.

The pieces are Mark Napier’s “3 dots”[6], Scott Snibbe’s “Tripolar”[7] and Mark Wattenberg’s “Connect the Dots”[8] all of which are written in Java, an object-oriented programming language, which introduces its own characteristic strategies of abstraction. Object-Oriented Programming (OOP) is,

… based on the concept of an "object" which is a data structure (abstract data type) encapsulated with a set of routines, called "methods", which operate on the data. Operations on the data can only be performed via these methods, which are common to all objects that are instances of a particular "class". Thus the interface to objects is well defined, and allows the code implementing the methods to be changed so long as the interface remains the same.[9]

The works also address the rather abstract commission of CODEDOC in a similar way. The instructions for CODEDOC state simply that, “The code should move and connect three points in space. [This could obviously interpreted in a visual or more abstract way].”[10] The relationship between the code and the work of digital art is confusing here since the instructions refer to what the code should do and then only parenthetically to its potential visual presentation. On the other hand this split is one of the basic assumptions of the show, as demonstrated in the language of the commission, which also lays out CODEDOC’s esthetic concerns:

Digital Art is not a purely visual medium but always consist of a mostly invisible back end–source code or scripting languages–and a front end, the results created by “computer language.” …

the aesthetics of artists who write their own source code manifest themselves both in the code itself and its visual results.

… "CODeDOC" takes a ‘reverse’ look at artists’ projects by focusing on and comparing the back end of the code.[11]

[9] Free Online Dictionary of Computing, (http://foldoc.org/object-oriented+programming).

[11] Ibid.