Thursday, June 28, 2007

Collecting Software Art: the Swapable Gallery

This is a repost from Rhizome: a neat little interview with Steven Sacks (founder of NY-based New Media gallery Bitforms and, conducted by Domenico Quaranta. Here's an excerpt:

DQ. About experiencing the work, you talk about a dedicated machine, "a
software art station". It seems to me weird and provocative at the same
time. At the beginning, Net Art and Software Art tried to introduce new,
democratic ways to experience art: but, entering the art market, they
usually lost this visionary approach, looking for more traditional,
“materialized” interfaces (prints, videos, sculptures and so on).
softwareARTspace seems to look for a viable way to re-propose that
visionary approach. Do you think that we are now ready for totally new
ways to experience art?

SS. There are some very simple reasons why we are all ready for a
change. Access and price. It is now very easy to access computers and
screens and the prices have dropped dramatically. The thought of having
2-3 screens devoted to software or video art is not unreasonable and in
fact will broaden and diversify most people's collection. Also, for some
works of art it is ok to rotate between pieces on one screen which also
offers collectors a nice option for easily and quickly changing their

DQ. What I buy when I buy one of your multiples? Is it like buying video
art? Or more likely buying a software or a game? Why do you make
editions of 5000 instead of 50? Is it still art, when it costs 125 $?

SS. It is not video. It is code - Software Art. The work is on a CD and
must be viewed on a computer with a decent graphics card.
This is not about “collecting” and value. It's about experiencing a
sample of work from important software artists. When these artists
produce more “fine artworks” they will have the attention of a wider
audience who may be interested in smaller editions or unique objects.

This is pretty much right-on and an idea I have been playing around with myself, in devising ways to put my own work out into the world in a non-gallery context. When it comes to 'New Media Art' and 'Net Art', I don't really get all the hand-wringing that usually accompanies discussions about the preciousness of quote-fine art objects-unquote and why this method of object creation needs to necessarily be dismantled. Does it matter if this object is encountered in an art gallery as opposed to, say, a design gallery such as Moss or Moroso? Does it matter if the methods of distribution of a video or software piece are more similar to that of a design-commodity, when you in fact have many artists working today who straddle that precipitous line between design and art already?

The interesting thing about 'Software Art' (or art that is otherwise generative or digitally interactive in nature) is that it is a (sometimes disharmonious) marriage of Visual and Conceptual practices. That is to say, there is a visual, collectible artifact which is a result of an idea manifested in the labor of code and the hand of the artist who either established the parameters or guided the results. Unlike much Conceptual work, which is tied to a performance, unique act, or free-floating meme, this work is potentially mass-producible, archival, and non-degradable---pending viruses and crashes, of course.

Filmmakers, photographers, printmakers, sculptors, and every other creative who works with editions, multiples, and reproductions--by the very nature of that practice--don't have to defend the uniqueness of their work or its value. However, it would be very cool if some of these Factory-style artists, who just churn work out, could take a cue from the design world they emulate and offer some cross-affordable editioned artwork as well. I don't feel this undermines the (quite necessary IMO) role of the collector to own unique slices of the artist's overall vision. The question from the interview "Is it still art if it's only $125" is quite (excuse the pun) priceless in this regard. Is the value of the idea diminished if it's distributed across a greater spectrum of audience?

While I'm on the subject, what's the big deal about making democratic art anyway? Is there some kind of crisis in people's ability to enjoy and view art? The art world is an economy of uniques, really. I don't believe this country is suffering from a lack of more things, more pleasure, more consumption opportunities. There is more creative stuff being made available right now than, like, ever before. I think many folks are throwing around the word 'democratic', thinking they are using it to mean 'participatory' (another over-used term the art world needs to get a grip on), when really they mean 'freedom to consume.' Or something like that.


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