The computer as an artistic medium

September 2000


The computer was designed, in the 1940’s, as a universal machine. That is a machine able to execute any process, as long as this process is first fully described. This capacity makes it a medium differing radically from its predecessors such as painting, photography, cinema or video. Indeed, on a computer, an artwork can continue to change while we are looking at it, and even because we are looking at it. That means that it has the capacity for autonomy.

Also the computer differs fundamentally from other autonomous systems like the mechanical installations of Tinguely for example, by the fact that the computer artwork contains its own abstraction, and as such is able to transform itself by acting on its own description. The computer artwork exists not only as an active shape, but also as langage of action, and by treating the langage of action like a shape itself, the computer makes it itself active and autonomous. As Douglas Edric Stanley states, “the computer program contains its own future”.

When positioning oneself in the field of computer programming, one ends up in a double problematic of creation: the one of the behavioral object embedded in time, and the one of the object containing its own representation.

I consider that programming (algorithms), constitutes the main conceptual specificity of the computer as a medium of artistic creation, as opposed to its use as a mean of communication (Internet, which offers nothing new conceptually compared to television and telephone), or also as a simple tool to make images and sounds.

To my knowledge, the specificity of the computer is seldom been explored in the artistic domain. By taking interest these very special systems that are the autonomous objects, I of course place myself inside this field of experimentation, while being very conscious to leave many of its facets aside.

The G R A T I N site lists links of interest in the field.