From the Rhizome Archives: Code As Creative Writing--An Interview with John F. Simon, Jr. by Jon Ippolito


In this series of posts, we will be reblogging content from Rhizome's Archives, available here. This interview with John F. Simon, Jr., conducted by Jon Ippolito, comes from Rhizome's former publication, the Rhizome Digest. It was published on March 23, 2002. You can peruse old editions of the Rhizome Digest here.

Big thanks to Rhizome's curatorial fellow Natalie Saltiel for help with this post.

Date: 3.12.2002
From: Jon Ippolito
Subject: Code As Creative Writing--An Interview with John F. Simon, Jr
Keywords: software, programming, design

This interview took place in January 2002, on the occasion of the Guggenheim's acquisition of John Simon's Unfolding Object. More info at

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Jon Ippolito: You've been working on or near the cutting edge of digital art since the mid-1980s, when you were programming image-processing routines for CCD [charge-coupled device] photography. Yet you often cite sources of inspiration from the world of pen and brush rather than the world of pixel and browser, and I see some of these influences of Modernism-for example, the influence of Paul Klee in your plotter drawings [1994-95] and Sol LeWitt in Combinations [1995]. What is it about those artists that speaks to you?

John F. Simon, Jr.: I am interested in analytical approaches to creativity. A new technology doesn't erase a life's work of thoughtful, creative production. The ideas are bigger than the medium. There are many examples in art history where artistic practice could be described as algorithmic-an approach to experimentation by rule making, including LeWitt and Conceptual artists in the 1970s also Paul Klee in the 1920's along with many other Bauhaus professors.

An even older example would be Dominican priest-scholar Sebastien Truchet's 1722 work on the use of combinations in tile design. His study uses square tiles of two colors that are divided diagonally. He assigned a letter to each of the four possible orientations of this kind of tile. He then made lists of letters describing the sequence and orientation for laying out the tiles. The lists functioned like instructions or programs for constructing the design. Craftsmen would pick a pattern out of his book and use the lists of letters as assembly instructions. Another even older example would be the analytical techniques used in the design of the Alhambra and in much Islamic art.