{ Software Structures } (2004)

As a starting point for this work, Reas asked the question: "Is the history of conceptual art relevant to the idea of software as art?". Through initial exercises he began to answer this question by rebuilding Sol LeWitt wall drawings via software. From this point, Reas began to develop rule based drawings in the spirit of the work, eventually producing Twenty-six dynamic, software driven drawings.

Full Description

I want programming to be as immediate and fluid as drawing and I work with software in a way that minimizes the technical aspects. I often spend a few days creating a core piece of technical code and then months working with it intuitively, modifying it without considering the core algorithms. I use the same code base to create myriad variations as I operate on the fundamental code structure as if it were a drawing - erasing, redrawing, reshaping lines, molding the surface through instinctual actions. In the past year, I have begun removing code from the process of creation. The concept for the work develops entirely through sketches and the final piece is an annotated written description without reference to a computational implementation. The work develops in the vague domain of image and then matures in the more defined structures of natural language before any thought is given to a specific machine implementation. I'm calling this type of program a software structure.

A defining factor in this shift was the work of Sol LeWitt - specifically his wall drawings. A wall drawing is a set of instructions (a text description and optional diagram) outlining a visual structure to be executed on a wall. For example, the program for Wall Drawing #69 from 1971 reads:

Lines not long, not strait, not touching, drawn at random using four colors, uniformly dispersed with maximum density, covering the entire surface of the wall.

LeWitt has written hundreds of wall drawings since their origin in 1968. Each time a wall drawing is reproduced it is different depending on the site and the draftsperson. There is a complete separation of the concept of the work from its perceptual manifestation. The relation between LeWitt and his draftsperson is often compared to the relation between a composer and performer , but I think it's also valid to look at the comparison between a programmer and the entity of execution. LeWitt writes programs for people to execute and interpret rather than for machines. This difference allows him to work in natural language, rather than the limited formal languages of computer code. He is also able to leave ambiguity in his programs, as they will be executed by skilled draftspersons who are able to interpret, rather than a machine which must be told precisely what to do.

This essay explores the potential influences of LeWitt's work on contemporary works of software. I have created three example software structures. To further define the concept of software structures I have written and commissioned twenty-four implementations of these structures to isolate different aspects including interpretation, material, and process.

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Artist Statement

The catalyst for this project is the work of Sol LeWitt, specifically his wall drawings. I had a simple question: "Is the history of conceptual art relevant to the idea of software as art?" I began to answer the question by implementing three of Lewitt's drawings in software and then making modifications.

After working with the LeWitt plans, I created three structures unique to software. These software structures are text descriptions outlining dynamic relations between elements. They develop in the vague domain of image and then mature in the more defined structures of natural language before any thought is given to a specific machine implementation.

Twenty-six pieces of software derived from these structures were written to isolate different components of software structures including interpretation, material, and process. For each, you may view the software, source code, and comments.

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