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Lev Manovich | 2004

Abstraction and Complexity


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What kind of images are appropriate for the needs of a global informational
networked society the society which in all of its areas needs to represent more
data more layers more connections than the preceding its ind!strial society"
#
$he
comple% systems which have become s!per-comple%
2
& the easy availability of real-
time information coming from news feeds networks of sensors s!rveillance
cameras& more fragmented and limited access to the senses of any s!b'ect in a
cons!mer economy all this p!ts a new press!re on the kinds of images h!man
c!lt!re already developed and !ltimately calls for the development of new kinds(
$his does not necessary means inventing something completely !nprecedented
instead it is apparently )!ite prod!ctive to simply give old images new legs so to
speak by e%panding what they can represent and how they can be !sed( $his is of
co!rse e%actly what comp!teri*ation of vis!al c!lt!re has been all abo!t since it
beg!n in the early #+,0s( While it made prod!ction and distrib!tion of already
e%isting kinds of images -lens-based recordings i(e( photographs film and video
diagrams architect!ral plans etc(. efficient more importantly the comp!teri*ation
made possible for these images to f!nction in vario!s novel ways by /adding0
interactivity by making t!rning static images into navigable virt!al spaces by
#
1 rely here on the infl!ential analysis of Man!al 2astells who characterises new
economy which emerged in the end of the twentieh cent!ry as 1nformational
gobal and networked( 3ee Man!al 2astells $he ri*e of the 4etwork 3ociety( $he
1nformation 5ge& v( # second edition -6lackwell 2000. p( 77(
2
Lars 8vortrop 9ypercomple% 3ociety :eter Lang :!blishing 200;(.
opening images to all kinds of mathematical manip!lations which can be encoded in
algorithms(
$his short essay of co!rse will not be able to ade)!ately address all these
transformations( 1t will foc!s instead on a partic!lar kind of image software driven
abstraction( 3hall the global information society incl!de abstract images in its
arsenal of representational tools" 1n other words if we take an abstraction and wire
it to software do we get anything new and !sef!l beyond what already took place in
the first part of the twentieth cent!ry than the new abstract vis!al lang!age was
adopted by graphic design prod!ct design advertising and all other
comm!nication propaganda and cons!mer fields"
After Effects
Lets begin by thinking abo!t abstraction in relation to its opposite( 9ow did
comp!teri*ation of vis!al c!lt!re have affected the great opposition of twentieth
cent!ry between abstraction and fig!ration" 1n retrospect we can see that this
opposition was one the defining dimensions of the twentieth cent!ry c!lt!re since it
was !sed to s!pport so many other oppositions between /pop!lar c!lt!re0 and
/modern art0 between /democracy0 and /totalitarism0 and so on( <isney against
Malevich :ollock against 3ocialist =ealism M$> vers!s ?amily 2hannel(
@vent!ally as the lang!age of abstraction took over all of modern graphic design
while abstract paintings migrated from artists st!dios to modern art m!se!ms as
well as corporate offices logos hotel rooms bags f!rnit!re and so on the political
charge of this opposition has largely dissolved( 5nd yet in the absence of new and
more precise categories we still !se fig!rationAabstraction -or realismAabstraction. as
the defa!lt basic vis!al and mental filter tho!gh which we process all images which
s!rro!nd !s(
1n thinking abo!t the effects of comp!teri*ation on abstraction and fig!ration it
is m!ch easier to address the second term than the first( While /realistic0
perspective images of the world are as common today as they were thro!gho!t the
twentieth cent!ry photography film video drawing and painting are no longer the
only ways to generate them( 3ince the #+,0s these techni)!es were 'oined by a
new techni)!e of comp!ter image synthesis( Bver the ne%t decades ;< comp!ter
images grad!ally became more and more widespread grad!ally coming to occ!py
a larger and larger part of the whole vis!al c!lt!re landscape( $oday for instance
practically all of comp!ter games rely on real-time ;< comp!ter images - and so are
n!mero!s feat!re films $> shows animated feat!res instr!ctional video
architect!ral presentations medical imaging military sim!lators and so on( 5nd
while the prod!ction of highly detailed synthetic images is still a time cons!ming
process as the role of this techni)!e is grad!ally e%panding vario!s shortc!ts and
technologies are being developed to make it easierC from n!mero!s ready-to-!se
;< models available in online libraries to scanners which capt!re both color and
shape information and software which can a!tomatically reconstr!ct a ;< model of
an e%isting space from a few photographs(
While comp!teri*ation has /strengthened0 the part of the opposition occ!pied
by fig!rative images by providing new techni)!es to generate these images and
even more importantly making possible new types of media which rely on them -;<
comp!ter animation interactive virt!al spaces. it sim!ltaneo!sly had /bl!rred0 the
/fig!rative0 end of the opposition( 2ontin!o!s developments in /old0 analog photo
and film technologies -new lenses more sensitive films etc(. combined with the
development of software for digital reto!ching image processing and compositing
event!ally completely collapsed the distance which previo!sly separated vario!s
techni)!es for constr!cting representational imagesC photography photo-collage
drawing and painting in vario!s media from oil acrylic and airbr!sh to crayon and
pen and ink( 4ow the techni)!es specific to all these different media can be easily
combined within the metamedi!m of digital software(
;

Bne res!lt of this shift from separate representational and inscription media to
computer metamedium is proliferation of hybrid images - images that combine
traces and effects of a variety of media( $hink of an typical maga*ine spread a $>
advertisement or a home page of a commercial web siteC maybe a fig!re or a face
of person against a white backgro!nd some comp!ter elements floating behind or
in front some :hotoshop bl!r f!nky 1ll!strator typography and so on( -Bf co!rse
looking at the 6a!ha!s graphic design we can already find some hybridity as well
similar treatment of space combining ;< and ;< elements yet beca!se a designer
had to deal with the act!al media the bo!ndaries between elements in different
media were sharply defined(.
$his leads !s to another effect - the liberation of the techni)!es of a partic!lar
media from its material and tool specificity( 3im!lated in software these techni)!es
can now be freely applied to vis!al spatial or a!dio data that has nothing to do with
the original media(
4
1n addition to pop!lating the tool pallets of vario!s software
applications these virt!ali*ed techni)!es came to form a separate type of software
filters( Do! can apply reverb -a property of so!nd when it propagates in partic!lar
;
$he notion of comp!ter as metamedi!m was clearly artcic!lated by the person
who more than anybody was responsible for making it a reality by directing the
development of EF1 at Geroc :arc in the #+70s 5lan Hay( 3ee 5lan Hay and
5dele Eolberg /:ersonal <ynamic Media0 -#++7. in 4oah Wardrip-?r!in and
4ick Monfort $he 4ew Media =eader -M1$ :ress 200;. ;+4(
4
1n $he Lang!age of 4ew Media 1 describe this effect in relation to the cinematic
interface i(e( the camera model which in comp!ter c!lt!re has become a general
interface to any data which can be represented in ;< virt!al space( 6!t this is
'!st a partic!lar case of a more general phenomenonC sim!lation of any media in
software allows for the /virt!alisation0 of its interface( Lev Manovich $he
Lang!age of 4ew Media -M1$ :ress 200#(.
spaces. to any so!nd wave& apply depth of field effect to a ;< virt!al space& apply
bl!r to type and so on(
$he last e%ample is )!ite significant in itselfC sim!lation of media properties
and interfaces in software has not only made possible the development of
n!mero!s separate filters b!t also whole new areas of media c!lt!re s!ch as
motion graphics -animated type which e%ist on its own or combined with abstract
elements video etc.( 6y allowing the designers to move type in 2< and ;< space
and filter it in arbitrary ways 5fter @ffects has affected the E!ttenberg !niverse of
te%t at least as m!ch if not more than :hotoshop affected photography(
$he c!m!lative res!lt of all these developments ;< comp!ter graphics
compositing sim!lation of all media properties and interfaces in software is that
the images which s!rro!nd !s today are !s!ally very bea!tif!l and often very
styleli*ed( $he perfect image is no longer something which is e%pected in partic!lar
areas of cons!mer c!lt!re instead it is an entry re)!irement( $o see this difference
yo! only have to compare an arbitrary television program from twenty years ago to
one of today( I!st as the actors that appear in them all images have been p!t
thro!gh a plastic s!rgery of :hotoshop 5fter @ffects ?lame or similar software( 5t
the same time the mi%ing of different representational styles which !ntil a few
decades ago was only fo!nd in modern art -think of Moholy-4agy photograms or
=a!schenbergJs prints from #+,0. has become a norm in all areas of vis!al c!lt!re(
Modernist Reduction
5s can be seen even from this brief and highly compressed acco!nt
comp!teri*ation has affected the fig!rative or /realistic0 part of the vis!al c!lt!re
spectr!m in a variety of significant ways( 6!t what abo!t the opposite part of the
spectr!m p!re abstraction" 5re the elegant algorithmically driven abstract images
which started to pop!late more and more web sites since the late #++0s have a
larger ideological importance comparable to any of the political positions and
concept!al paradigms which s!rro!nded the birth of modern abstract art in the
beginning of the #+20s cent!ry" 1s there some common theme can be ded!ced
from the swirling streams slowly moving dots dense pi%el fields m!tating and
flickering vector conglomerations coming from the contemporary masters of ?lash
3hockwave Iava and :rocessing"
1f we compare 2004 with #+#4 we will in fact see a similar breadth of abstract
stylesC strict northern diet of hori*ontal and vertical lines in Mondrian more
flamboyant orgy of circ!lar forms in =obert <ela!nay working in :aris even more
emotional fields of >asilly Handinsky the orgy of motion vectors of 1talian f!t!rists(
$he philosophical pre-s!ppositions and historical roots which have led to the final
emergence of /p!re0 abstraction in the #+#0s are similarly m!ltiple and diverse
coming from a variety of philosophical political and aesthetic positionsC the ideas of
synestisia -the correspondence of sense impressions. symbolism theosophy
comm!nism -abstraction as the new vis!al langa!ge for the proletariat in 3oviet
=!ssia. and so on( 5nd yet it possible and appropriate to point at a single paradigm
which both differentiates modernist abstraction from realist painting of the
nineteenth cent!ry and sim!ltaneo!sly connects it to modern science( $his
paradigm is reduction(
1n the conte%t of art abstraction of Mondrian Handinsky <elaney H!pka
Malevich 5rp and others represents the logical concl!sion of a grad!al
development of a n!mber of preceding decades( ?rom Manet impressionism post-
impressionism symbolism to fa!vism and c!bism the artists progressively
streamline and abstract the images of visible reality !ntil all recogni*able traces of
the world of appearances are taken o!t( While in general this red!ction of vis!al
e%perience in modern art was a very grad!al process which begins already in early
nineteenth cent!ry
K
in the beginning of the twentieth cent!ry we often see the whole
development replayed from the beginning to the end within a single decade s!ch
as in the paintings by a tree created by Mondrian between #+0L and #+#4(
Mondrian starts with a detailed realistic image of a tree( 6y the time Mondrian has
finished his remarkable compression operation only the essence the idea the law
the genotype of a tree is left(
$his vis!al red!ction that took place in modern art perfectly parallels with the
dominant scientific paradigm of the nineteenth and early twentieth cent!ry(
,
:hysics
chemistry e%perimental psychology and other sciences were all engaged in the
deconstr!ction of the inanimate biological and psychological realms into simple
f!rther indivisible elements governed by simple and !niversal laws( 2hemistry and
physics post!lated the levels of molec!les and atoms( 6iology saw the emergence
of the concepts of cell and chromosome( @%perimental psychology applied the same
red!ctive logic to the h!man mind by post!lating the e%istence of f!rther indivisible
sensorial elements the combination of which wo!ld acco!nt for percept!al or
mental e%perience( ?or instance in #L+, @(6( $itchener -former st!dent of W!ndt
who bro!ght e%perimental psychology to the F(3(. proposed that there are ;2L00
vis!al sensations and ##,00 a!ditory sensory elements each '!st slightly distinct
from the rest( $itchener s!mmari*ed his research program as followsC MEive me my
elements and let me bring them together !nder the psychophysical conditions of
K
3ee for instance the e%hibition $he Brigins of 5bstraction M!see dJBrsay
:aris 4ov K 200; ?eb 2; 2004(
,
?or a detailed reading of modern art as the history of red!ction which parallels
the red!ctionism of modern science and in partic!lar e%perimental phychology
see little known b!t remakable book Modern 5rt and Modern 3cience( $his
section is based on the ideas and the evidence presented in this book( :a!l >it*
and 5rnold Elimcher Modern 5rt and Modern 3cienceC $he :arallel 5nalysis of
>ision -:raeger :!blishers #+L4.(
mentality at large and 1 will g!arantee to show yo! the ad!lt mind as a str!ct!re
with no omissions and no s!perfl!ity(M
7
1t can be easily seen that the grad!al move towards p!re abstraction in art
d!ring the same period follows e%actly the same logic( 3imilarly to physicists
chemists biologists and psychologists the vis!al artists have foc!sed on the most
basic pictorial elements p!re colors strait lines and simple geometric shapes( ?or
instance Handinsky in :oint and Line to :lane advocated MmicroscopicM analysis of
three basic elements of form -point line and plane. claiming that there e%ists
reliable emotional responses to simple vis!al config!rations(
L
@)!ally telling of
HandinskyNs program are the titles of the articles he p!blished in #+#+C M3mall
5rticles 5bo!t 6ig 8!estions( 1( 5bo!t :ointM and M11( 5bo!t Line(M
+

While the sim!ltaneo!s deconstr!ction of vis!al art into its most basic
elements and their simple combinations by a variety of artists in a n!mber of
co!ntries which has taken place in the first two decades of the twentieth cent!ry
echoes the similar developments in contemporary science in some cases the
connection was m!ch more direct( 3ome of the key artists who were involved in the
/birth0 of abstraction were closely following the research into the elements of vis!al
e%perience cond!cted by e%perimental psychologists( 5s e%perimental
psychologists split vis!al e%perience into separate aspects -color form depth
motion. and s!b'ected these aspects to a systematic investigation their articles
begin to feat!re simple forms s!ch as s)!ares circles and straight lines of different
orientations often in primary colors( Many of the abstract paintings of Mondrian
7
8td( in @liot 9earst MBne 9!ndred DearsC $hemes and :erspectivesM in $he
?irst 2ent!ry of @%perimental :sychology 2K(
L
Wassily Handinsky -#+2,. :oint and Line to :lane -4ew DorkC 3olomon =(
E!ggenheim ?o!ndation #+47.(
+
D!( 5( Molok MN3lovar simvolovN :avla ?lorenskogo( 4ekotorye margonaliiM
-:avel ?lorenskyNs Ndictionary of symbols(N 5 few margins. 3ovetskoe
1sk!sstvo*nanie 2, -#++0.C ;2L(
Hlee Handinsky and others look remarkably similar to the vis!al stim!li already
widely !sed by psychologists in previo!s decades( 3ince we have doc!mentation
that at least in some cases the artists have followed the psychological research it is
appropriate to s!ggest that they have directly copied the shapes and compositions
from the psychology literat!re( $h!s abstraction was in fact born in psychological
laboratories before it ever reached the gallery walls(
Complexity
6eginning in the #+,0s scientists in different fields grad!ally reali*e that the
classical science which aims to e%plain the world thro!gh simple !niversally
applicable r!les -s!ch as the three laws of 4ewtonian physics. cant acco!nt for a
variety of physical and biological phenomena( 3oon after artificial intelligence
research that tried to red!ce h!man mind to symbols and rules also r!n o!t of
steam(
$he new paradigm begins to emerge across a n!mber of scientific and
technical fields event!ally reaching pop!lar c!lt!re as well( 1t incl!des a n!mber of
distinct areas approaches and s!b'ectsC chaos theory comple% systems self-
organi*ation a!topoiesis emergence artificial life the !se of the models and
metaphors borrowed from evol!tionary biology -genetic algorithms /memes0.
ne!ral networks( While distinct from each other most of them share certain basic
ass!mptions( $hey all look at comple% dynamic and non-linear systems and they
model the development andAor behavior of these systems as the interaction of a
pop!lation of simple elements( $his interaction typically leads to emergent
properties - a priori !npredictable global behavior( 1n other words the order that can
be observed in s!ch systems emerges spontaneo!sly& it canJt be ded!ced from the
properties of elements that make !p the system( 9ere are the same ideas as
e%pressed in somewhat different termsC /orderly ensemble properties can and do
arise in the absence of bl!eprints plans or discrete organi*ers& interesting wholes
can arise simply from interacting parts& en!meration of parts cannot acco!nt for
wholes& change does not necessarily indicate the e%istence of an o!tside agent or
force& interesting wholes can arise from chaos or randomness(0
#0
5ccording to the scientists working on comple%ity the new paradigm is as
important as the classical physics of Newton, Laplace, and Descartes, with their
assumption of the "clockwork universe." 6!t the significance of the new approach
is not limited to its potential to describe and e%plain the phenomena of the nat!ral
world that were ignored by classical science( I!st as the classical physics and
mathematics fitted perfectly the notion of a highly rational and orderly !niverse
controlled by Eod the sciences of comple%ity seem to be appropriate in the world
which on all levels political social economic technical appears to !s to be more
interconnected more dynamic and more comple% than ever before( -5s =em
Hoolha!s has p!t it recently /globali*ation is abo!t connecting everything to
everything else(0.
##
3o at the end it does not matter if fre)!ent invocations of the
ideas of comple%ity in relation to '!st abo!t any contemporary phenomenon from
financial markets to social movements are appropriate or not(
#2
What is important
is that having reali*ed the limits of linear top-down models and red!ctionism we are
prepared to embrace a very different approach one which looks at comple%ity not
#0
3ee
http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/complexity/complexity.html.
##
2B4$@4$ =em Hoolah!sABM5A5MB section on :rada stores e%hibition at
4e!e 4ationalgalerie 6erlin 4ovember 200; Ian!ary 2004(
#2
?or e%amples of works which apply the ideas of comple%ity to a range of fields
see Man!al de Landa $ho!sand Dears of 4on-linear 9istory -M1$ :ress #++7.&
9oward =heingold 3mart MobsC $he 4e%t 3ocial =evol!tion -:erse!s
:!blishing 2002.& 3teven Iohnson @mergenceC 2onnected Lives of 5nts
6rains 2ities and 3oftware -3cribner 200;.(
as a n!isance which needs to be )!ickly red!ced to simple elements and r!les b!t
instead as the so!rce of life something which is essential for a healthy e%istence
and evol!tion of nat!ral biological and social systems(
Let !s now ret!rn to the s!b'ect this te%t is abo!t contemporary software
abstraction and its role in a global information society( 1 am now finally ready to
name the larger paradigm 1 see behind the vis!al diversity of this practice from
stylish animations and backgro!nds which pop!late commercial web sites to the
online and offline works which are e%plicitly presented by their creators as art -a
wonderf!l and caref!lly created selection of software works in the 5bstraction 4ow
e%hibition represents this diversity very well.( $his paradigm is complexity( 1f
modernist art followed modern science in red!cing the medi!ms of art as well as
o!r sensorial ontological and epistemological e%periences and models reality to
basic elements and simple str!ct!res contemporary software abstraction instead
recogni*es the essential comple%ity of the world( 1t is therefore not accidental that
often software works develop in a way that is directly opposite to the red!ction that
took place over the n!mber of years in MondrianJs paintings from a detailed
fig!rative image of a tree to a composition consisting from a '!st a few abstract
elements( $oday we are more likely to enco!nter the oppositeC animated or
interactive works that begin with an empty screen or a few minimal elements that
)!ickly evolve into a comple% and constantly changing image( 5nd while the style of
these works is often rather minimal vector graphics and pi%el patterns rather than
an orgy of abstract e%pressionism -see my /Eeneration ?lash0 for a disc!ssion of
this vis!al minimalism as a new modernism
#;
. the images formed by these lines
are typically the opposite of the geometric essentialism of Mondrian Malevich and
other modernists( $he patterns of lines s!ggest the inherent comple%ity of the world
that is not red!cible to some geometric phenotype( $he lines c!rve and form
#;
5vailable at www(manovich(net(
!ne%pected arabes)!es rather than traversing the screen in strict hori*ontals and
verticals( $he screen as a whole becomes a constantly changing fields rather than a
static composition(
When 1 disc!ssed modernist abstraction 1 pointed o!t that its relationship to
modern science was two-fold( 1n general the red!ctionist tra'ectory of modern art
that event!ally led to a p!re geometric abstraction in the #+#0s parallels the
red!ctionist approach of contemporary sciences( 5t the same time some of the
artists act!ally follow the red!ctionist research in e%perimental psychology adopting
the simple vis!al stim!li !sed by psychologists in their e%periments for their
paintings(
3ince designers and artists who p!rs!e software abstraction are o!r
contemporaries and since we share the same knowledge and references it is easy
for !s to see the strategy of direct borrowing at work( 1ndeed many designers and
artists !se the act!al algorithms from the scientific p!blications on chaos artificial
life cell!lar a!tomata and related s!b'ects( 3imilarly the iconography of their works
often closely followed the images and animations created by scientists( 5nd some
people act!ally manage to operate sim!ltaneo!sly in the scientific and c!lt!ral
!niverses !sing same algorithms and same images in their scientific p!blications
and art e%hibitions( -Bne e%ample is Harl 3ims who in the early #++0s created
impressive animations based on artificial life research that were later shown at
:ompido! 2enter in :aris(. What is less obvio!s is that in addition to the e%tensive
cases of direct borrowing the aesthetics of complexity is also present in the works
that do not !se any models from comple%ity research directly( 1n short 1 arg!e that
'!st as it was the case with modernist abstraction the abstraction of the information
era is connected to contemporary scientific research both directly and indirectly
both thro!gh a direct transfer of ideas and techni)!es and indirectly as being part of
the same historically specific imagination(
9ere are some e%amples all drawn from Abstraction Now e%hibition( 1 decided
to test my hypothesis by systematically going from piece to piece one by one rather
than selecting only one a few works that wo!ld fit my preconceived ideas( 1 have
also looked at all the accompanying statements none of which as far 1 co!ld see
e%plicitly evoke the sciences of comple%ity( My e%periment worked even better than 1
e%pected since almost all pieces in the online component of the show t!rn o!t to
follow the aesthetics of comple%ity invoking comple% systems in nat!ral world even
more often and even more literally than 1 e%pected(
Eolan LevinJs Yellowtail software amplifies the gest!res of the !ser prod!cing
ever-changing organic-looking lines of constantly varying thickness and
transparency( $he comple%ity of the lines and their dynamic behavior of the lines
make the animation look like a real-time snapshot of some possible biological
!niverse( $he works perfectly ill!strates how the same element -i(e( abstract line.
that in modernist abstraction represented the abstract str!ct!re of the world now
evokes instead the worldJs richness and comple%ity( -$he piece by Manny $an also
can be !sed as an e%ample here.( 1n other words if modernist abstraction ass!mes
that behind sensorial richness of the world there are simple abstract str!ct!res that
generate all this richness s!ch separation of levels is absent from software
abstractions. What they show !s instead is the dynamic interaction of the elements
that periodically leads to certain orderly config!rations(
Insertsilence by Iames :aterson and 5mit :itar! works in the same mannerC a
click by the !ser immediately increases the comple%ity of the already animated line
cob making lines m!ltiply break m!tate and oscillate !ntil they Ocool down0 to from
a comple% pattern which sometimes contains some fig!rative references( While the
artistsJ statement makes no all!sions to comple%ity sciences the animation in fact
looks like a perfect ill!stration of the concept of emergent properties(
5s 1 already noted often software works deploy vector graphics to create
distinctly biologically looking patterns( 9owever a m!ch more modernist looking
rectang!lar composition can also be reworked to f!nction as an analog to the
comple% systems st!died by scientists( $he pieces by :eter L!ining =et!rn and
Iames $indall evoke typical compositions created by st!dents at 6a!ha!s and
>hk!temas -=!ssian e)!ivalent of 6a!ha!s in the #+20s.( 6!t again with a single
click of the !ser the compositions immediately come to life t!rning into dynamic
systems whose behavior lo longer evokes the ideas of order and simplicity( 5s in
many others software pieces which s!bscribe to the aesthetics of comple%ity the
behavior of the system is neither linear nor random instead we are witnessing a
system which seems to change from state to state oscillating between order and
chaos again e%actly like comple% systems fo!nd in nat!ral world(
While some of the software pieces in 5bstraction 4ow e%hibition adopt the
combinatorial aesthetics common to both early modernist abstraction and #+,0s
minimalism -in partic!lar the works by 3ol Leavitt. this similarly only makes more
apparent a very different logic at work today( ?or instance instead of systematically
displaying all possible variations of a small vocab!lary of elements 5rp code by
I!lian 3a!nderson from 3oda 2reative Ltd constantly shifts the composition witho!t
ever arriving at any stable config!rations( $he animation s!ggests that the
modernist concept of /good form0 no longer applies( 1nstead of right and wrong
forms -think for instance of the war between Mondrian and $eo van <oesb!rg. we
are in the presence of a dynamic process of organi*ation that contin!o!sly
generates different forms all e)!ally valid(
1f the works described so far were able to reference comple%ity mainly thro!gh
the dynamic behavior of rather minimal line patterns the ne%t gro!p of works !ses
algorithmic processes to generate dense and intricate fields which often cover the
whole screen( Works by Elen M!rphy 2asey =eas <e%to Meta @d 6!rton -also
from 3oda. all fit into this category( 6!t '!st as with the works described so far these
fields are never static symmetrical or simple instead they constantly m!tate shift
and evolve(
1 can go on m!ltiplying e%amples b!t the pattern sho!ld be )!ite clear by now(
$he aesthetics of comple%ity which dominates the online works selected for
5bstraction 4ow show is not !ni)!e to it& scanning works reg!larly incl!ded in other
e%hibitions s!ch as www(whitneybiennial(com -c!rated by Miltos Manetas. 5rs
@lectronica 200; or ?lash ?orward festivals demonstrates that this aesthetics is as
central for contemporary software abstraction as the red!ctionism was for early
modernist abstraction(
$he space limitations of this te%t do not allow me to go into an important
)!estion of what is happening today in abstract painting -which is a very active
scene in itself. and how its developments connect -or not. to the developments in
software art and design as well as contemporary scientific paradigms( 1nstead let
me concl!de by ret!rning to the )!estion that 1 posed in the beginningC the need for
a new types of representations ade)!ate for the needs of a global information
society characteri*ed by the new levels of comple%ity -in this case !nderstood in
descriptive rather than in theoretical terms(. 5s 1 already s!ggested practically all of
the developments in comp!ter imaging so far can be !nderstood as the responses
to this need( 6!t this still leaves open the )!estion of representing the new social
comple%ity symbolically( While software abstraction !s!ally makes more direct
references to the physical and biological than the social it maybe also appropriate
to think of many works in this paradigm as s!ch symbolic representations( ?or they
seem to )!ite acc!rately and at the same time poetically capt!re o!r new image of
the world world as the dynamic networks of relations oscillating between order
and disorder always v!lnerable ready to change with a single click of the !ser(