Super-Abstract: Software Art and a Redefinition of Abstraction

December, 2002

Abstraction is a prevalent tendency in software art and might be understood as an anachronistic return to the forms of high modernism, or alternatively, as a phenomenon that has its roots within the nature of software itself. Through an examination of both the code and display of some contemporary software works, shared homologous structures are shown to suggest specific reading and viewing practices. It is possible to argue for a neo-Greenbergian notion of “truth-to-materials” within software art, or to assert that abstract software aims at a kind of self-critique. The observation that the visual abstraction of this work is related to notions of abstraction embedded within the language and culture of software itself is significant in properly assigning a relationship to art historical precedent, and in understanding questions regarding abstraction's opposition to representation or instrumentality. Software ultimately exists under a regime of multiple levels of abstraction: it is Super-Abstract.

[This essay was written in 2002 and a version of it was subsequently published as "Super-Abstract: Software Art and the Redefinition of Abstraction," , in read_me: Software Art & Cultures Edition 2004, Olga Goriunova & Alexei Shulgin Eds., Center for Digital Æstetik-forskning, 2004, 298-312. ]

A PDF of the read_me version of the essay is available here.