Control Panels. Programming as artistic practice

05. April 2002 - 05. May 2002 hartware medien kunst verein

Software artists develop computer programs that exceed the boundaries and possibilities of conventional software or reduce their functions to absurdity. The focus is not on the perfect and optimal function of the programs, but rather on the programs' "dis.functionality" and momentum, which is presented as a playful experience. However, the artists do not see the software as a tool, but rather view the code as fundamental aesthetic material for their artistic creations. While most PC users accept the possibilities and above all the limitations of commercial software as a given, software artists demonstrate all the active and creative possibilities by developing their own independent programs. "Do it yourself!," the motto of the 2001 transmediale, is the slogan with which artists defy the software monopolies.
The metaphoric of user interfaces, i.e. "control panels" (Kontrollfelder) of the current operating systems promises freedom, but freedom from what? "Software is mind control," writes the artistic group I/O/D. Artists/programmers pull down these fields in their art and put them under the control of their software. Whereby the hype surrounding the Internet, as well as, topics like simulated environments in computer games are thematically dealt with.

Within the framework of the project, media activist and designer Micz Flor will also be offering a workshop on music production and DJ-ing with computers for pupils from 15 to 19 April. Songs and play lists are generated, mixed and prepared for online distribution through an Internet radio program using the Linux operating system and open source software, thereby stimulating creative ways to use the computer as well as promoting media competence and autonomy.

The Artists

LAN -Local Area Network, Meilen, Switzerland
Tracenoizer, 2001,

The people behind Trace Noizer are LAN, a group consisting of students, media workers, artists and designers working under this name in varying compositions, sharing skills and resources in their locally networked environment and beyond. LAN creates network-oriented interactive projects. "Tracenoizer" is an Internet-based program. First of all, it is a service and not autonomous software. The actual functions are hidden behind what appears to be a commercial Web interface. Once the user enters his or her name and e-mail address and selects a password, it creates a personal Website e.g. on Geocities' server (Geocities is a service provider for free private homepages). The program generates personal data that has been "randomly" plucked from the Internet. Instead of bundling "usable" user data as Yahoo hopes to achieve using its automated homepage system, Tracenoizer produces "dis.information" about the person. According to the artists, creating obscure, fictitious identities on the Internet is the only way one can limit the degree of surveillance.

Scott Draves, *1968, San Francisco, California, USA
Electric Sheep, 2001,

Scott Draves a.k.a. Spot is a visualist and programmer residing in San Francisco. He received an Honorable Mention from the Prix Ars Electronica in 1993, a PhD in Computer Science from Carnegie Mellon in 1997, and has since worked for a series of technology start-ups.
Electric Sheep links numerous computers with one another over the Internet to generate an arbitrarily controlled, permanently updated screensaver. Linking the computers together catalyzes the computing capacity. Electric Sheep quotes the title of the book that was the inspiration for the film "Blade Runner" (Philip K. Dick, Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep?) and in a rather poetic way plays with the idea that something like inspiration of technology is possible. This is illustrated by the small program "electric sheep." The computer falls into a state of rest when the user is not at the computer. It displays what appears to be a normal screensaver, but instead the computer - along with a fluctuating number of connected computers - counts "sheep" and displays it on the monitor in the form of rotating clouds, each differs in color and form.

Antoine Schmitt, *1961, Paris, France
"Vexation 1" 2000 und "22 cubes ensemble", 2001,

Antoine Schmitt, artist and programmer, tackles fundamental problematics like free will, chance, destiny and being through the realization of artworks and installations featuring abstract artificial beings. The spectator is confronted to the mode of being of these entities, through the visual and/or audio perception of their manifestations, and it is this mode of being (the cause of the being) that Antoine Schmitt carefully crafts, endlessly hunting down human nature, using algorithms drawn from various fields such as artificial life, artificial intelligence and video games. His work has recently won various prizes in international festivals : First prize Net Art at medi@terra (Athens, 1999), First Prize of outdoor installations at Interférences (Public Jury, Belfort, 2000), Honorary Mention in software art at transmediale (Berlin, 2001). He was also member of the jury for the software award at transmediale 02 this year. In contrast, Antoine Schmitt crosses the mechanisms and the dictatorial power of code, time and space in an abstract and at the same time narrative manner in his work, "Vexation 1." A puck that moves within the four walls of a rectangle and produces sounds is displayed on a brittle interface, which is reminiscent of the early generations of computer games. The dictatorial system that appears to push the puck also constantly runs up against resistance. The viewer witnesses how "something" runs counter to the aim of the puck. "22 cubes ensemble" appears to work in a similar manner. It is a program that does not allow any interaction. The way it appears and sounds goes along the vein of traditional minimalism, and it is dedicated to the composer Steve Reich. Twenty-two visual and audible cubes are displayed that independently rotate on their respective axes. Every cube is programmed to move independently, but a visible and audible rhythm and its mutations can still be seen. The program's manifest independence and mechanisms’ refusal to be influenced by the flow both challenges the idea of the interactivity of digital systems.

I/ O/ D, IO Dencies
Web Stalker, 1997,

I/O/D existed in Cardiff and London between 1994 and 1998, in that time the group's members, Matthew Fuller, Colin Green and Simon Pope produced four issues dealing with investigations of software, interface and digital culture. The group's work is archived and downloadable at
The exhibition would like to present an artistic software production by the British artist group I/O/D's - the "Web Stalker" browser, which is now considered a "classic" net.artwork. Web Stalker does not display the smooth surface of Web sites. Instead, it allows the user to view the underlying structures and networks. These objects, which usually remain invisible, makes the viewer see and realize that the metaphors of surfing, networking and other linguistic terms are used to give a name to the endless number of files on the Web.

Thomas Kamphusmann, *1961
Delphi V. 2.1, installation, 3 x 1 meter, microphone, computer, printer

The artist has inserted a pair of digital components into a brittle shelving unit from a DIY store and created a completely functional computer. However, the computer only responds to one program - Delphi V. 2.1. The name alludes to the famous oracles of Ancient Greece. And just as one has to interpret the oracles' message for himself, the viewer must also interpret the message from the approximately three meter high installation, since the words from a database that are spit out over a dot-matrix printer by a random generator are fit together using a complex algorithm and suggest they make sense. This is in no way manifest. The viewer asks his or her question into a microphone and gets uncertainty as the answer in return. This work also questions interactivity and at the same time caricaturizes it. The medium, as Marshall Mc Luhan's media theory appears to confirm, is solely concerned with presenting itself.

Joan Leandre, Barcelona, Spain
RETROYOU R/ C, 2000 -2001,

retroYou r/ c is based on a commercial computer game. The artist changed the rules, which are oriented on the real world, upside down by gradually reprogramming a car race and manipulating rules that simulate space, movement, gravity, etc. And yet the game still continues to function. In this strange world of images, the viewer has no other choice but to ask himself from time to time whether or not the program responded to his commands.

Simon Schießl, *1972, Berlin, Germany
Roter Tropfen (Red Drops), 2001,

In defiance of the experience of visibility, "Roter Tropfen" displays the movement of a polygon. The viewer initially sees a red ball coming towards him, and he can move it with his mouse. If the figure comes close to the edge of the deep blue screen the ball bursts and its origins appears from a polygon. The work is based on a program that simulates the effects of gravity on a ball. A programming error leads to the artistic effects, to the system's unpredictability, because after all it appears to work. But the viewer does not see that it does not function correctly.

Peter Traub, *1974, Menlo Park, California, USA
Bits & Pieces, 1999,

Peter Traub is a net artist currently living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He received his Master's Degree in Electro-Acoustic Music from Dartmouth College in 1999. He has composed numerous works of electronic music, and is currently focused on the exploration of music and sound on the Internet. His works include 'bits & pieces,' 'Netsong,' a collaborative work with Amy Alexander , and 'sibling revelry', a collaborative work with his brother, Gregory Traub. Peter Traub mainly focuses on the creation of digital sounds. In this context, he uses the Internet as a surface, but also as a reservoir and a storage area. bits & pieces especially is a continuous composition that gets its source sounds from the web. Every morning a special search process looks for web pages with links to sound files. If links are found, the sound files are downloaded. The day's 'catch' is then used to create the pieces in bits & pieces for          the next 24 hours. Every 15 minutes a sound generating process randomly picks a few sound files to work with. Once a sound generating process is complete, its output is converted into two mp3 files (one for high bandwidth and one for low). Your mp3 player will play back the ten most recent pieces from newest to oldest. The source samples change daily, so check back in occasionally to hear the latest catch.

RSG – Radical Software Group
Carnivore is created by the RSG, an all-star collective of computer artists hand selected from cities around the world. Carnivore is their first public release. Carnivore artists include Mark Daggett, Entropy8Zuper!, Mark Napier and Praystation.
Carnivore is inspired by the FBI surveillance software project DCS 1000 alias Carnivore. The program should analyze data traffic on the internet and display it graphically. But without the millions of tax money from people, free software tools provide the same functionality without any costs than man power. RSG mixed these programs, and different net artists created different interfaces to visualize network traffic. Within the exhibition framework the major “carnivore” server in New York will be connected and displayed via three different interfaces. Beneath the aesthetics of control a political aspect appears: Free software is disregarded when a global lobby worker starts his strategy to convince the office. The work receives actuality in regard of the forthcoming evaluation of the Linux software for the use at the German administration.

Adrian Ward, *1976, London, GB
Signwave Auto-Illustrator 1.0 (2002),

Adrian Ward works as a software artist, creating generative audio, visual and process-based applications for a variety of uses. He is mostly concerned with issues surrounding authorship and the extension of aesthetic subjectivity into code - an activity which he believes has been happening since the first programmable devices were invented. Currently collaborating with a range of musicians, conceptual and performance artists, he also uses his software for live musical performances and installations. He is involved with a number of educational software projects that actively engage the user by exploring interactivity within a generative context. Ade has had his work published by Lovebytes (Sheffield), Media Space (Plymouth) and Rhizome (New York), had software exhibited at 291 Gallery (London) and the New Museum of Contemporary Art (NYC), and has presented papers at two International Generative Art conferences (Milan) as well as giving a guest lecture at Cornish College of the Arts (Seattle). His most ambitious project to date - Auto-Illustrator, a generative vector graphic design application - co-won the Transmediale.01 Artistic Software award (Berlin) and earned an honorary mention at the 2001 Prix Ars Electronica (Linz) in the Interactive Art category.
The Auto-Illustrator fakes all mechanisms of an ordinary software product. From the appearance, the look and feel to promotion features such as automatic reminders for software updates: all is realized in this nifty tool. But it is also resistant to its obvious function as a graphic designer‘s tool put underneath and confronts the user with some kind of disfunctionality experience. Thereby the program reflects all the strategies of software companies and furthermore carries these things too far in a humorous and very clever way. It shows how deep the influence of the interface on the user‘s creativity really is.

Funders and Partners

A project by
medien_kunst_netz dortmund
> hartware > Museum am Ostwall > Kulturbüro Stadt Dortmund

In co-operation with
transmediale, Berlin
Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung NRW (Workshop)

Curated by
Andreas Broeckmann, Matthias Weiß

Ulrike Möglich, Tabea Sieben

Technical directors
Hans D. Christ, Uwe Gorski

The Artists
Karl-Ernst-Osthaus Museum, Hagen (Thomas Kamphusmann)

Support Exhibition
Ministerium für Städtebau und Wohnen, Kultur und Sport des Landes NRW
Kulturbüro Stadt Dortmund
LS 7 Informatik der Universität Dortmund
Knobeldorff Computer GbR

Support Workshop
Landesbüro NRW /
Ministerium für Städtebau und Wohnen, Kultur und Sport des Landes NRW
Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung NRW

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