AESTHETICS OF THE SOURCECODE, SO TO SPEAK
Flaminio Gualdoni [epidemiC]
"Nowadays itís no longer possible to shock"
Marcel Duchamp, 1966
I read Krivoj Rog (Vierika virus author) in a politically correct newspaper: "If by hacker one means someone who arms themself with software with the aim of studying and challenging themselves then yes, I am a hacker". This reminds me, whose job is to question myself about signs in art, of the story of the marvellous artisans possessing and then being possessed by technology, exoteric in useful things and esoteric in acts of bravura carried out for themselves and for their own circle of adherent colleagues, to the point of becoming a sect (this is what Paolo Galloni has been saying so far in Il sacro artefice) and then, I add, becoming the world of art, with its sensational repertory of simulations of crime and small real crimes.
Many questions need to be made. Not if I study bon ton computer manuals; a few more if I read De Kerkhove, which seem to be artistsí dreams scintillating enough to be able to make themselves useful to the world with their handicraft; others if I read Valvola, which adds political tension and the dream of Debord: by the way, there are those on the web who put in the copyright (!) the order not to read the files out loud. The real problem of Dadaism is the involuntary genius of these people.
The questions I have been asking Luca for years are probably paradoxical. Since the invention of modernity, each technological novelty produces an avant-garde (including the prototype of globalisation, world war with Dadaism annexed: the real one, I mean). Where did we lose the avant-garde which has been produced by computer technology?
Those who looked for it in the compound of artistic avant-garde had missed the target, as usual:
there things arrive after mediation and metabolism. Artists with computers have played with us, en amateur, just as they have done for decades with other things, from photography to cinema to video: easy designer games. Get it? Another time, perhaps; I quote Pazienza & Scozzari & compagni: first you pay, then Ė maybe Ė you understand. They worked, when they tried, with images, with a different way of doing things which we already knew. Or rather, after a century of reasoning about codes, languages, logos, and structures, the question was still that of image. No kidding.
Yet it isnít possible that it wasnít, that it isnít. A bit further inside the means, maybe. However, we have spent the best part of ten years talking about what good photography was to Monet, who was a painter, forgetting to look at what was useful for Le Gray, who was a photographer. For example.
Letís try not to get the question wrong. The question, as paradoxical as we want it, is not where and how a possible, supposed, hoped-for artistic computer technology is. We couldnít answer because the units of measure, the reference terminology we use doesnít allow us to do so. They are not much use in art, let alone here.
Yet how much the conceptual and behavioural mechanism of who operates in this field, and how much all of this has or can have anything to do with the avant-garde code in a cause/affinity effect/diversity relationship is relevant to an artistic attitude - travailler en artiste Ė, is surely a legitimate and feasible question; and perhaps not even a stupid one. And however much the virus can be assumed as the revealer, the focus of the crisis and of the problematic and conceptual interchange is a fact which can be seen by everyone.
The virus is the monster, thatís for sure. It is the anomaly in relation to the norm. Yet at the same time it is the confirmation and application of the norm, of its existence, like all mechanisms which we symbolise with the aspect of a shadow, of the double other.
It is the point in which the method, finding its falsification, also finds its own ratification. It is cheating at games, but because the game is in progress and the rules of the game are accepted with the maximum seriousness, somehow it becomes sanctified.
Apart from every other consideration, we can read the thing from the point of view of the vulgar mass media. This is making sacred in progress, the beatification Ė with unresolved animistic implications Ė of the web, the only thing missing being someone who starts to see the virus with goatís hooves and red horns, smelling of sulphur. Reading the computer technology experts in the pages of I love you, seeing them and hearing them on TV, recalls the indignation of maestro Pfuehl dei Buddenbroock regarding Tristan and Isotta: "This isnít music...believe me...I always thought I knew something about music. This is chaos. This is demagogy, blasphemy, madness! This is a perfumed smoke struck by lightning. This is the end of all morals in art". The moral of the web, so healthily modern and utilitarian, withdraws in the face of scandal and iconoclasm: in the face of Evil.
This is a perfect case of the interweaving of scandal and research. This is a possible birth of the avant-garde. The Masscult has finally decided that the pc is not Evil (phase 1: acceptance of the new medium and of the notion of modernity), that it will not kill off the pen of Mr Biro (which in its own time was considered a vulgar and scandalous invention, whose aim was to kill off the fountain pen, etc etc....), and someone, generally an exponent of Midcult, has even managed to grasp that there are advantages in all of this, thus beginning the collection of fountain pens and biros. However, the Masscult realises that within his/her pcís stomach things unforeseen by the code of approval so painfully learnt can happen (phase 2: wave upon wave of successive flows, unleashing the contradiction within the code) and someone, generally an exponent of the Midcult, transfers the malignant attribute to the contradiction, standing up as the defender of values which two seconds ago he was scandalised by. Etcetera. It isnít him who doesnít see how precious the mechanism of scandal and research is on various levels, which is how we have been reading art for centuries.
This interweaving produces a series of interesting corollaries, which are worth at least outlining. The malignant and contradictory element, the virus, is not the diminution of the code, but an extension and intensification. Or rather, as with sacred artifices, the operation happens adding a plus of bravura, ability and conceptual lucidity regarding functional mechanisms, and above all a super-valence of awareness: or rather, the abstract capacity for thinking of a code in essence, like eidòs. When does art Ė the avant-garde Ė start feeling that it is gifted with intrinsic truth? When it starts thinking of itself and talking about itself in terms of autonomy: from Gautier onwards, from when we started talking about art for art: and the next big step will be art on art, and then Duchamp and the guarantee code of art itself.
So, we have a code which serves something, which begins to be aware of being beautiful, which can play with itself: in order to exist, this game puts in crisis its everydayness, searching for its limitations, pushing the rules and regulations to the limits, until it expands or makes the very code change colour. this is possible in agreement with a total and final awareness of the code, of an ability which is substantial not modal, for which it is important, more than making itself be admired, of being applied, even if it incurs the displeasure of those who are ordinary users of the code. Thus the monster is born, which we call art Ė avant-garde Ė or virus.
The virus is made by someone who not only knows the code, because he has mastered it, but who becomes part of it, a substance capable of generating: in another field this would be called creativity. His demiurge is the same as that of the god who can also play dice (abolishing jamais le hasard). This isnít for us. His dialogue is with the code itself, with himself in the code. The god who doesnít rest on the seventh day, but plays: and to play he talks about how that almost perfect device, just by wanting it, can be derailed by its own rules. This is what the Greek gods did: this and other things.
It is crucial that this attitude, this act, is part game, gratuitous (in the web, in all senses: the main thing to understand about our mediocrity is the maximum intellectual effort in producing something which cannot be transformed into money: with art we have managed to make money with the gratuitous, though I donít know how). It is crucial because it represents that pleasure, possible beauty, is generated and made use of by the necessary act of the creator only. His narcissistic and demiurgic nature is such Ė here in a way that art has never experienced Ė that not only is beauty not intrinsic, taking pleasure in its perfect solitude, but it is also anonymous, in contempt of the residue conventions which hold that the artist is a person for whom we hold no esteem Ė he is crazy, useless, etc. Ė but for which we offer in exchange a visible social respect.
Parenthesis regarding the mad, useless artist. The hagiography of Allen, Gates and co. who invent the pc in the garage, with the American environmental framework of the Nerds Comeback excepted, seem to be the final chapter, that which the authors didnít know how to write yet, of the Legend of the artist of Kris and Kurz. From the "O" of Giotto to silicon, it always ends up that you are respected and stinking rich: they are the only rich people who are admired because they have made their money in a bizarre way, which doesnít even seem like work, and they can even dress badly and no-one says anything. "I was thinking about what you have to do nowadays to be successful in America. Once you had to be reliable and wear decent clothes. Looking around me, Iíd say that today you have to do the same identical things as before, but not wear nice clothes" (Warhol).
The proto-virus is an exemplary case of narcissism, a sort of negative aesthetic so introvert that nobody sees it, it is a relationship of agonistic and agonic codes between the spirit of the pc and oneself. Basically the macro-virus are cases of vulgarisation already corrupted by this sort of conceptualism, those which act on the vision, on the expectations of visual and functional normality: those are made to be seen, at least: the first were a sort of definitive flash.
What I think is less interesting, even though it is more macroscopically evident, is the political implication of all this. There is, from an elementary and voluntary level of the demo scene and connected radicalism (a classic case of a situation of the avant-garde: exclusive, self-referential and vaguely alchemical: among the congregation and that which the Goncourt called the public díatelier: work by experts for other experts who recognise themselves by their excluding identity) up to Linux and the guerrilla warfare on intellectual property, which was ambitious and highly motivated, both conceptually and qualitatively. It is its dream of democracy, of the brain which means more than the machine (which is also a brain: in fact, who hasnít got much of a brain, needs to tell everyone how it is the biggest Pentium there is - a bit like saying you have a big penis: while I have met people who do crazy things with a 386, even today), of consumerism without purchase, of the fact that you donít have to stay in New York but even the suburbs of Manila are absolutely fine, of the actual possession of all the memory there is because itís all there, with no hierarchies, like an ocean which is better than the labyrinth of Borges (even if he didnít see other labyrinths: but thatís another story).
I think itís more intimately political, as Luca says, the possibility of doing an Arthur Cravan, who challenged the boxing champion of the world; and further more, that of demonstrating the old equation in the 1918 Dada Manifesto: "Novelty is as much like life as the latest apparition of a cocotte demonstrates the essence of God".