Thursday, October 12, 2006

Generative Art and the Authentic

It could be argued that authenticity is about being genuine and original. Paradoxically, we live in a world in which the concept of authenticity is routinely reproduced, packaged, sold, and bought.

We live in a society that is also permeated with mass-produced images. The idea that only a one-of-a-kind image can be authentic holds little currency in our world. (124)

cover sturken and cartwright practices of lookingThis quote is from Sturken and Cartwright’s Practices of Looking got me thinking about the concept of a “one-of-a-kind image” and what that might look like. Certainly the idea of the unique image as original—original photo, original painting, etc.—is difficult to imagine in our “digital” world. (However, this seems like a difficult concept to imagine in general; many works of art exist in multiple editions made at different times.)

More specifically, where does flash art fit into this definition? Here’s a short article on Josh Davis in Wired Magazine, who writes code in programs like Adobe (née Macromedia) Flash to create “generative art,” which, in using randomizing elements, can be always unique (within the boundaries of the program). (You can check out some of his artwork at praystation—see esp. “synthetic sinewy . pr.Ay.BC” and any of the “grounding the background” links on the left-hand panel).

Joshua Davis print for Tool guitaristSome questions: What is the art in this situation? The software? The code? The final “product”? In the Wired article, Davis comments that creating single prints of his work changes it from being “ever changing” by “eternalizing” it, and he wonders if this goes against what he is trying to do (he uses more colorful language). While it seems that Davis is fine with his works being “sold and bought” as Sturken and Cartwright note above, it is not easy for me to see how this kind of work fits into the mold of the mass-produced copy. Undoubtably it is mass-produced; a new “version” is created each time someone visits the websites listed here. However, there is no real “visual” original that is being copied: only code. Who is the artist in this situation? And, semi-finally, does this “one-of-a-kind” work—where there can be no real “copies”—count as truly “authentic”? Maybe the definition of “authentic” just doesn’t work here—or work, period.

More links: once upon a forest and Gallery of Computation.

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