The art of programmed forms

February 2004.

Programming is a new kind of material that artists can sculpt and model. From the point of view of Transitoire Observable, such modelling is realized by working through form. It’s a matter of a formal approach to the algorithms/processes duality that constitutes programming. What is pointed out in this approach is not the program as a collection of lines of code, nor the run-time event as an audio-visual reality, but the relationship between the algorithmic nature of code and the pragmatics of reading.

The material on which we work is programming in its double dimension of dialogue. Dialogue by an author with, on one hand, the autonomous process of running which gets away from him, even if he is supposed to manage it. And dialogue with, on the other hand, the pragmatic activity of the reader, activity he also is supposed to guide and manage, but that also always gets from him. This failure of communication occurs by that which the program institutes in fact while running.

The observable transient, which is the multimedia state produced at run time, is the place of the highest stakes. The place of the communication between the author and the reader, it hides a failure of communication by its apparent audio-visual nature. We often hear: “What mechanism in fact, had the author programmed ?” Or: “How does he make this?” The observable transient multimedia event on screen is a trap. It is a trap because it is deformed by the unsaid of the program; it is also a trap for the author. Failure of communication, moreso, because the structures observable in the transient multimedia state are unable to provide access to the meta-stylistic ones which gave birth to them. They are only implemented in the program.

There is success in this communication when the reader understands that his place is not at all the same as in other systems of communication like audio-visuals systems or the system of book. We ask him only to accept the interpretative phenomena which are offered to him in the work. These phenomena cannot be reduced to the one transient state that lives in the space-and-sound of screen. This life by reading is not an assimilation, nor an understanding, nor a completion of the work. Through its dark points, its failures, its shortcuts, its questionings, and its great place of non-meeting, the reading activity fully participates in the work, is a process of it, an intrinsic component of the work. Reading is truly a component of the work as is the running process with which it is confronted. Successful communication occurs when the reader understands that reading cannot be reduced to a simple understanding or interpretation of this other component of the work. That component, the transient observable multimedia event is that which the reader may be tempted to think is the work. The work is a system of which the reading is an internal function.

The work is a complex system which includes the reading and is one in which programming is the material moulded by the author. This material is worked through specific forms that are non-visible at reading because programming is not visible at reading: only its product is visible. These forms take shape in the program and, like watermarks, are relocated in its algorithms. They translate the stylistic intentionality of the author in a logic form. They have no equivalent in any other art because they don’t try to follow a law relative to a visual or audible material. Nor do they have an equivalent in the computing art of programming, that is in the craft of programming. It is not the subject, here, to find a “good method” of programming. The meta-stylistic form we are speaking of is not a computing form that would characterise a well formed program, nor a textual form that would characterise code when it is understood as a producing text. The meta-stylistic forms are totally arbitrary. They only respond to specific intentions of the author. They manage the observable transient event on screen as pulses and constrains. Thus, the forms of surface localised in the observable transient are instances produced by the meta-stylistic form that is never expressed in the work, in any way. It can only be communicated by use of paratext or analyses, which means that the reader, in the role of the one who is reading, is not the receptor of the work. Rather, it is the individual who is temporary playing this role. So the work contains in itself a double part of privacy: that of the program, reserved domain of the author, and that of the reader, through the ergodic manipulation and the cognitive interpretation that he makes.

The work is not designed to satisfy a reader or to be read in the same manner as a book or a video. It is designed to run because physical running is its raison d’être. But it is not designed to be a machine, an automata, a reflex of Pavlov, a parnasse of the-process-for-the-process. It is conceived to confront the intentionality of the author and that of the reader. This double confrontation makes the author very close to the reader because they are together so helpless in its face. It transforms the programmed work into an artistic programmed work and this transformation manifests itself in the meta-stylistic form.

Philippe Bootz, for alire 12, february 2004

translation : Loss Glazier, director of the electronic poetry center of Buffalo