Nick Montfort & Páll Thayer
Programs at an Exhibition
At the Boston Cyberarts Gallery
141 Green Street, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130
Located in the Green Street T Station on the Orange Line
Phone number: 617-522-6710
The exhibit runs March 6 through March 16.
Opening: 6pm-9pm, Thursday March 6.
Part of the life of remarkable artworks is that they are appropriated, transformed, and made new. In Programs at an Exhibition, two artists who use code and computation as their medium continue the sort of work others have done by representing visual art as music, by recreating performance pieces in Second Life, and by painting a mustache and goatee on a reproduction of the Mona Lisa. Programs at an Exhibition presents computer programs, written in Perl and Commodore 64 BASIC, each running on its own dedicated computer. The 20th century artworks reenvisioned in these programs include some by painters and visual artists, but also include performances by Joseph Beuys and Vito Acconci. All of the underlying code is made available for gallery visitors to read; they are even welcome to take it home, type it in, and run or rework these programs themselves.
The programs (Commodore 64 BASIC by Nick Montfort, Perl by Páll Thayer) re-create aspects of the concepts and artistic processes that underlie well-known artworks, not just the visual appearance of those works. They participate in popular and “recreational” programming traditions of the sort that people have read about in magazines of the 1970s and 1980s, including Creative Computing. Programmers working in these traditions share code, and they also share an admiration for beautiful output. By celebrating such practices, the exhibit relates to the history of art as well as to the ideals of free software and to the productions of the demoscene. By encouraging gallery visitors to explore programming in the context of contemporary art and the work of specific artists, the exhibit offers a way to make connections between well-known art history and the vibrant, but less widely-known, creative programming practices that have been taken up in recent decades by popular computer users, professional programmers, and artists.
The Perl programs in the exhibit are from Microcodes, a series of very small code-based artworks that Páll Thayer began in 2009. Each one is a fully contained work of art. The conceptual meaning of each piece is revealed through the combination of the title, the code and the results of running them on a computer. Many contemporary programmers view Perl as a “dated” language that saw its heyday in the early ages of the World Wide Web as the primary language used to combine websites with databases. Perl was originally developed by Larry Wall, whose primary interest was to develop a language for parsing text. Because of his background in linguistics, he also wanted the language to have a certain degree of flexibility which has contributed to its motto, “There’s more than one way to do it.” “That motto, ‘TMTOWTDI,’ makes Perl challenging for professional programers who have to take over other’s people code and may struggle to make sense of it,” Thayer said. “But it’s one of the main reasons that Perl, a very expressive programming language, appealed to me in developing this project. This flexibility encouraged Perl programmers to explore individual creative expression in the writing of functional code.”
“Páll’s work in Microcodes engages explicitly with the way computer programs are read by people and hwo they have meanings to those trying to understand them, modify them, debug them, and develop them further,” Nick Montfort said. “The Perl programs in Microcodes are quite readerly when compared to my BASIC programs. I’ve tried to engage with a related, but different documented historical tradition — the one-line BASIC program — as it works in a particular computer, the Commodore 64, and to dive into what that particular computer can do using a very limited amount of code, given these many formal, material, and historical specifics. Because my programs are harder to understand, even though they are written in a more populist programming language, I’m including versions of the program that I have rewritten in a clearer form and that include comments.” Montfort’s related projects include a collaborative book, written with nine others in a single voice, that focuses on a particular Commodore 64 BASIC one-liner. The book, published in 2012, is named after the program that is its focus, 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10. Montfort also writes short programs to generate poetry. These include two collections of Perl programs that are constrained in size: his ppg256 series of 256-character programs, and a set of 32-character concrete poetry generators, Concrete Perl. His book #! (pronounced “Shebang”) collects these and other poetry generators, along with their output, and is forthcoming from Counterpath Press.
Nick Montfort develops literary generators and other computational art and poetry, and has participated in dozens of collaborations. He is associate professor of digital media at MIT and faculty advisor for the Electronic Literature Organization, whose Electronic Literature Collection Volume 1 he co-edited. Montfort wrote the book of poems Riddle & Bind and co-wrote 2002: A Palindrome Story with William Gillespie. The MIT Press has published four of Montfort’s collaborative and individually-authored books: The New Media Reader (co-edited with Noah Wardrip-Fruin), Twisty Little Passages, Racing the Beam (co-authored with Ian Bogost), and most recently 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10, a collaboration with Patsy Baudoin, John Bell, Ian Bogost, Jeremy Douglass, Mark C. Marino, Michael Mateas, Casey Reas, Mark Sample, and Noah Vawter that Montfort organized. Nick Montfort’s site, with his digital poems and a link to a free PDF of 10 PRINT: http://nickm.com
Páll Thayer is an Icelandic/American artist working primarily with computers and the Internet. He is a devout follower of open-source culture. His work is developed using open-source tools and source code for his projects is released under a GPL license. His work has been exhibited at galleries and festivals around the world with solo shows in Iceland, Sweden, and New York and notable group shows in the US, Canada, Finland, Germany, and Brazil. Páll Thayer has an MFA degree in visual arts from Concordia University in Montréal. He is an active member of Lorna, Iceland’s only organization devoted to electronic arts. He is also an alumni member of The Institute for Everyday Life, Concordia/Hexagram, Montréal. Páll Thayer currently works as a lecturer and technical support specialist at SUNY Purchase College, New York. Páll Thayer’s Microcodes site: http://pallthayer.dyndns.org/microcodes/
Ten programs will be exhibited, running on ten computers. Two of them, one in Perl by Páll Thayer and one in Commodore 64 BASIC by Nick Montfort, are based on the same artwork, Jasper Johns’s Flag:
Flag · Páll Thayer
Perl program · 2009
After Jasper Johns · Nick Montfort
one-line Commodore 64 BASIC program · 2013
I’ll post more on this soon, but for now, let me invite you to the opening of my & Páll Thayer’s show at the Boston Cyberarts Gallery: 141 Green Street, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130, located in the Green Street T Station on the Orange Line, 617-522-6710.
The opening is 6pm-9pm on Thursday March 6.
The exhibit (which will be up March 6-16) will feature ten programs (five in Commodore 64 BASIC by Nick Montfort, five in Perl by Páll Thayer), each running on its own computer. The programs re-create aspects of the concepts and artistic processes that underlie well-known artworks, not just the visual appearance of those works. They participate in popular and “recreational” programming traditions of the sort that people read about in magazines of the 1970s and 1980s, including Creative Computing. Programmers working in these traditions share code, and they also share an admiration for beautiful output. By celebrating such practices, the exhibit relates to the history of art as well as to the ideals of free software and to the productions of the demoscene. By encouraging gallery visitors to explore programming in the context of contemporary art and the work of specific artists, the exhibit offers a way to make connections between well-known art history and the vibrant, but less widely-known, creative programming practices that have been taken up in recent decades by popular computer users, professional programmers, and artists.
Flag · Páll Thayer
Perl program · 2009
After Jasper Johns · Nick Montfort
one-line Commodore 64 BASIC program · 2013
There’s a nice article by Illya Szilak, with a discussion/reporting by Melinda White, about the Library of Congress Electronic Literature Showcase. This ran April 3-5; I was down there to read from Ad Verbum and Taroko Gorge and to speak about electronic literature’s history with libraries on the last day of the event and exhibit. And it was an excellent exhibit.
Thanks to Dr. Clara Fernández-Vara, the Trope Tank has a new technical report, TROPE-13-01: “Electronic Literature for All: Performance in Exhibits and Public Readings.”
This report covers readings of interactive fiction done by the People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction, the Boston area IF group, and the exhibit Games by the Book, discussed previously on here. But there is much more detail in this report about how these attempts managed to share computational works (works that are both games and e-lit) with the public. If you are interested in outreach and presentations of this sort, please take a look.
Games by the Book
Videogame Adaptations of Literary Works in the Hayden Library
The Hayden Library (in MIT’s Building 14) is hosting an interactive exhibition starting on September 7th. Visitors to the second floor will be able to play four videogames that are adapted from literary works, from Sophocles and Shakespeare to F. Scott Fitzgerald and Douglas Adams. The exhibit explores the range of approaches taken to create video games of literary works, The result is often whimsical, turning the worlds of these stories into spaces to be explored, often transforming them according video game conventions.
The games featured in the exhibit invite players to become Nick Carraway, the narrator of The Great Gatsby, dodging drunken partygoers in his way to meet Gatsby; explore the world of Shakespeare’s plays; carry out an exercise of introspection based on Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus; or revisit the events of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Games by the Book, curated by Clara Fernández-Vara and Nick Montfort, will be open to the public until October 8th, in the Humanities library, on the 2nd floor of the Hayden Library. Further details can be found at:
The exhibit is sponsored by the De Florez Fund for Humor, the MIT Council of the Arts, the MIT Game Lab, the Electronic Literature Organization, and Comparative Media Studies.
I went last weekend to visit the Big Reality exhibit at 319 Scholes in Bushwick, Brooklyn. It was an adventure and an excellent alternative to staying around in the East Village on March 17, the national day of drunkenness. The gallery space, set amid warehouses and with its somewhat alluring, somewhat foreboding basement area (I had to bring my own light source to the bathroom), was extremely appropriate for this show about tabletop and computer RPGs and their connections to “real life.” Kudos to Brian Droitcour for curating this unusual and incisive exhibit.
A few papers of mine are probably the least spectacular contribution to the show. There are three maps of interactive fiction games that I played in the 1980s and my first map of nTopia, drawn as I developed Book and Volume. The other work includes some excellent video and audio documentation of WoW actions and incidents; fascinatingly geeky video pieces; the RPGs Power Kill, Pupperland, and Steal Away Jordan; player-generated maps; a sort of CYOA in which you can choose to be a butcher for the mob or Richard Serra; and an assortment of work in other media. Plus, the performance piece “Lawful Evil,” in which people play a tabletop RPG in the center of the gallery, is running the whole time the show is open.
Which, by the way, is until March 29.
And, the catalog is excellent, too, with essays and other materials that bear on the question of how supposedly escapist role-playing tunnels into reality.