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Computers in Art & Open-Source Copyrights

May 30, 2012

 The artistic movements that we studied this year that most directly relate to my art would probably be Dada. Dada was one of the first artistic movements that was initiated by the artists themselves, rather than art historians classifying artists in one movement or the other. My artwork is heavily influenced by, and I consider myself a part of, the open-source community (which is a self-created movement). I guess I should start out by explaining what open-source is (means).

When a software company writes a piece of software, there are thousands of lines of code that go into creating the final product. Closed-source (or proprietary) software, such as anything written by Microsoft/Apple, releases the program and keeps the code secret. They will continue maintaining the program, adding new features, but the idea is that they are the only ones who can see or edit the code (and if anyone’s code is close to theirs, chances are they will come after you with litigation). Open-source software does the opposite. The software is released with the underlying code for the public to see, modify, and release. This creates an environment where interested parties can add/clean-up existing code, or, take code that’s out there and use it as a starting point for a new project.

Once just in the realm of software and electronics, the open-source ideology has spread to the art world. I manipulate and synthesize audio as a large part of my art, and all the software I use is open-source. If I have a question about the software, I can hop online and ask the people who wrote the software, and even more, with a little computer-knowledge (which I have) I can manipulate the program to fit my needs. Taking it a step-further, once I’ve created my piece of “audio art”, I release the program free of copyright to the public. Anyone that likes the sounds it creates can download all the programs I use (free of charge, free of copyright restriction), open up my program and see how I created the sounds, and use that information to create their own pieces of work. I think this movement has many similarities to Dada’s tendency to create art for artists. Also, the amount of collaboration that happens in the open-source community is in line with the Dadaists’ collaboration.

A piece I’m working on now is a pseudo-scientific radio titled “Radio Therapy for a Hyper-Sensitive Ear”. I’ve dissected an optical mouse and mounted it upside-down underneath a wheel (mechanically similar to Duchamp’s ready-made). The spinning of the wheel changes the “frequency” of the radio tuning so that “stations” can be dialed in via the wheel. Apart from the obvious “Bicycle Wheel” reference, I was influenced by Duchamp’s “Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors”. Duchamp’s lengthy writings detailing the pseudo-scientific mechanism in the piece influenced me to create this world where a “hyper-sensitive” ear is an ailment. With all the electronics in this world, silence is never really silence. For those with the “hyper-sensitive” ear, silence reveals all sorts of electrical buzzings, refrigerators clicking, computer fans whirring… there is literally no way to escape the noise of the 21st century. The “stations” of the radio then (that seek to cure this ailment) are computer generated noises, far from what we consider music, that aide in a sort of guided meditation. Rather than being driven mad by the subtle buzzing of silence, the listener is forced to indulge in various “stations” of hyperactive noises and high frequencies.

When Duchamp started doing ready-mades, he was challenging the art world in regards to craft and what materials can be utilized in high-art. I think this debate is still happening, though now I think it revolves around computers and their place in art. The most obvious argument is the Photoshop artist vs. the painter/drawer/traditional artist. I am not really a visual artist in that sense, so I steer clear of that debate, but I do feel that computers and electronics are going to be seen increasingly more in art and I welcome it. Just as the Industrial Revolution introduced new tools for artists to utilize, the Computer Age is allowing us new opportunities: interactivity in installations, audio production, 3D imaging/sketching for use in architecture/sculpture, etc. Some would say that computers have no place in art, but yet they grovel at a Koons’ piece that 80 years ago wouldn’t even be considered art (at least by the general public).



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  1. I think there are some interesting associations with Dada and your own work, especially since some Dada pieces were intended to be heard (in addition to being seen). I specifically thought of Hugo Ball’s performance of the poem “Karawane” (Stokstad, p. 1037) while reading your post. I also thought of how performance art from the 20th century “forces” the viewer to experience certain sounds and sights, similar to how you said that the viewer is “forced to indulge” in certain sounds.

    -Prof. Bowen

  2. Hemmy Jung permalink

    Seriously, I really want to see your artwork asap! I like what you said “With all the electronics in this world, silence is never really silence”. We are exposed to meaningless sounds and now is it somehow friendly. And you are going to let us hear that sound through your work which is Radio Therapy for a Hyper-Sensitive Ear. I think it is brilliant idea!

  3. LarsVolta permalink

    Interesting post. I can definitely see you’re connections between open source programs and Dada, how they combine and share without restriction. I also agree with you’re point about computers having a growing role in art but I also feel like the ability to draw, paint or sculpt will never totally disappear and could help any artist better their craft in any medium.


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