A Re-Declaration of Dependence - Software Art in a Cultural Context It Can't Get out of
Jacob Lillemose

Author: The coining of the term ”software art” followed by festivals like Read_Me has opened up a wide range of discussions about the aesthetics of software art and its position within the field of contemporary art. The discussions tends to be divided between those who argue for an aesthetics that focuses on the formal and expressive qualities of software art and those who turn towards an aesthetics that focuses on software art’s conceptual, social and political engagement within the culture of software.
“Belonging” to the latter group I will take Jack Burnham’s metaphorical connection of conceptual art and software/information technology and his idea that art through the use of computer technology is integrate in the surrounding world, as an art historical point of departure for a discussion of the aesthetics of software art in relation to conceptual art. Or more specifically to a trend in conceptual art concerned with art’s relation to society’s institution and power structures and its possibility to intervene in, criticize and ultimately transform these institutions and structures.
The Austrian artist and curator Peter Weibel has termed this trend “Context Art” referring to its use of art’s institutional, social, economical and political context as an aesthetic content. Weibel lists three generations of contextual artists. The first generation is the conceptual art of the 60s and 70s that criticizes the art institution as a political ideology symbolized in “the white cube”; the second generation which surfaced in the late 70s and 80s criticized and sought to transform the art institution’s representation of the surrounding social reality; and finally the third generation, the contemporary art of the 90s and today, replaces these symbolic actions with real actions in the sense that it wants to participate in the construction of the social reality which is why Weibel calls the artists from this generation “Partisans of the Real.”
I will present software art as a possible fourth generation of contextual art, which prolongs the concerns of the third generation into the culture of software as a new social reality that is up for negotiation, experimentation and reconceptualization; software art that wants to participate in the construction of this new reality.
An important theoretical partner in this reading of software art will be Matthew Fuller and his idea that software as a tool “engineers humans” in the sense that it produces concepts not only for the specific use but for thinking and acting in the culture of software on a general level. I will put this idea into perspective through Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s (and Felix Guattari’s) concept of the production of subjectivity, the power of the collective and biopolitics in the new global empire as well as Nicolas Borriaud’s “relational aesthetics.”
Thus my text aims to outline a discursive field in which software art and contemporary art share a common ground and a fruitful and needed dialogue between the two can be carried out.

This essay was written for Read_Me Software Art and Cultures conference and is published in read_me Software Art & Cultures Edition 2004 .

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