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Code-Based Artworks that Reinvent Themselves Every Day

Neil Mendoza, "The Selfie-Selfie-O-Matic," days 1-6
Neil Mendoza, “The Selfie-Selfie-O-Matic,” days 1-6 (all images courtesy ‘it’s doing it,’ all GIFs by the author for Hyperallergic)

Nine artists are putting a digital twist on instruction-based art, removing the aspect of in-person engagement fundamental to such works by Marcel Duchamp to Yoko Onoit’s doing it, an online exhibition that launched this week, features computer-generated images that follow sets of rules written by artists. One image from each artist’s instructions — scripted in the form of a computer program — is produced every day over the course of 45 days, replacing the former work; so, if you visit the show on different days, nine new works will greet you every time.

If the project’s name rings a bell, that’s because it’s doing it is a direct reference to do it, superstar curator Hans Ulrich Obrist‘s IRL art exhibition that since 1993 has been circulating artist-written instructions to communities around the world, inviting people to respond to and thus build upon each one. Mirroring do it, it’s doing it also includes traditional English-language instructions alongside each work. But while Obrist’s project highlights the creative variation that results from different human interpretations, it’s doing it cuts out the physical marks of our minds and hands, exploring the space and boundaries of technology.

Hans Ulrich Obrist, 'do it: the compendium,' (2013) co-published by Independent Curators International and D.A.P. (image via curatorsintl.org) (click to enlarge)
Hans Ulrich Obrist’s ‘do it: the compendium’ (2013), co-published by Independent Curators International and D.A.P., compiles years of instruction-based artworks. (image via curatorsintl.org) (click to enlarge)

“The main focus is to explore topics like instruction-based art making, randomness, and currentness through a digital lens,” Matthias Dörfelt, who initiated the project, told Hyperallergic. “The traditional gallery context oftentimes falls short as a platform when it comes to computer-generated artworks. Questions about artificial intelligence, data, digital aesthetics, etc. that are tightly coupled to the nature of those works either get lost or feel too didactic in that scenario. it’s doing it is an experiment/attempt to create an exhibition context in which those important topics naturally remain part of the exhibition.”

The show builds on software-based instruction works, such as Cory Arcangel’s Photoshop Gradient Demonstrations and Casey Reas’s ongoing Process Compendium, that also explore the permutations of set codes. And although written code generates the art, human expression is still present in the posted instructions. Rather than a list of technical orders explaining how the computer should create the work, these directions are poetic, curious, and humorous, penned to only suggest how each series will evolve: read an operation manual and talk to the computer, dictates Kate Hollenbach‘s “Simple Business Machines” — which results in visual reconfigurations of buttons, knobs, and sliders of a control board.

Miguel Nóbrega, "Metamorphic Drawings," days 1-6
Miguel Nóbrega, “Metamorphic Drawings,” days 1-6

Although we’re not literally required to follow these instructions, as viewers we’re drawn into the many works that stimulate our senses. David Wicks‘s “Push Pull,” with the instructions, “Slide, shift, push, abrade. Subduct, fold, erode,” evokes motion and sound; the resulting overlaid and fragmented photographs of rock formations play with our perceptions of texture and dimensionality. Poet Allison Parrish‘s “Auto-Minimalist” generates Aram Saroyan– and David Melnick–inspired poems, making one consider the sounds of words. Dörfelt’s own “Daily Donut” consists of baking instructions a human could actually follow that end in a command — absurd, in this context — that teases the tastebuds: “Take a bite.”

Reading these instructions also sparks the imagination, coaxing one to consider the inscrutable connection between inspiration and product. Miguel Nóbrega‘s “Metamorphic Drawings,” for instance, offers the vague lines, “1. Think of something. 2. Think of something even smaller than that. 3. Now, imagine it backwards.” The generated works are geode-like objects with surfaces that ripple and shine — not what I would have immediately visualized, but certainly compelling. The surrender of control to a computer still yields surprise interpretations — the reason why Dörfelt argues that software-based artworks are no less creative than something produced for a project such as do it.

Part of the fun is not knowing what exactly the next image will look like,” he said. “Will it glitch? Will the colors look good? It’s these moments of anticipation that make software so satisfying as an artistic medium. So I think the interesting questions are about the implications of using software on the artistic process. What is the meaning of the unique original when you can generate an infinite amount of unique artworks?”

it’s doing it could theoretically last forever, but the possible appearance of software bugs requires its makers to keep a close eye on it. The artists also want it to have some semblance of a traditional exhibition, with start and end dates, and are considering incorporating the works into a physical space when the 45 days are over. Neil Mendoza‘s “The Selfie-Selfie-O’Matic” actually does consist of a physical installation: the selfie-snapping figurine is set up to press a small pink button every day, triggered by code. For now, however, the final works exist only online; you can access all previous iterations of each series by changing the date at the top of the website.

Kate Hollenbach, "Simple Business Machines," Days 1-6
Kate Hollenbach, “Simple Business Machines,” days 1-6
Gottfried Haider, "Simple Oscillator," days 1-6
Gottfried Haider, “Simple Oscillator,” days 1-6
David Wicks, "Push Pull"
David Wicks, “Push Pull,” days 1-6
Allison Parrish, "Auto-Minimalist"
Allison Parrish, “Auto-Minimalist,” days 1-6
Matthias Dörfelt, "Daily Donut," days 1-6
Matthias Dörfelt, “Daily Donut,” days 1-6
Daniel Schwarz, "Morning Routine," days 1-6
Daniel Schwarz, “Morning Routine,” days 1-6

 

Adam Ferriss, "Signed Autograph"
Adam Ferriss, “Signed Autograph,” days 1-6

it’s doing it continues online through January 25, 2016.

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