This text is subject to prescriptive/predictive rules of a system aesthetic. This text has been written on four computers, two of which are on a network and two of which are stand-alone systems. Each computer is running a different version of a Windows operating systems, (Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows ME and Windows XP). The text is written in Microsoft Word, three are using version 2000 and one is version 97. Three versions are operating with an English dictionary and one (v.2000) is using an American/English dictionary. This text has been written in two locations, Bromsgrove and Woolacombe. This text has been subject to 100's of system protocols, however the structure of the text is predictable; each computer has its own subtle nuances and offers syntax and grammatical recommendations. I am not completely responsible for this text. My main contribution is editing and using the cut and paste facility. If I had attempted to write this in its finished running order, it would have taken me longer to write...my spelling is appalling and my grasp of grammar is minimal...the written word is not my preferred method of expression. This text would not exist without the existence a system. The aesthetics of the system is responsible for the proliferation of the written word; this is a double-edged sword.


Jack Burnham (and others) predicted network-based artwork(?) The expression ‘System Aesthetics’ exists. I would argue that this prediction is a convenient method of explaining the system-based artwork. In reality science and technology has moved on politically and physically since these visionaries of the 1950’s and 1960’s and their position of prediction is no longer valid. The examples of ‘systems’ Burnham describes in Systems Esthetics (‘Artforum’ September, 1968) are not really computer systems they are other simpler systems. What he has provided us with is a language that conveniently explains our contemporary situation. He has not however provided us with the complete idiom.

Art has, in many cases, dissociated itself from creativity and drifted into conformism.  Art as a commodity has become the archenemy of real creativity, reduced it to decoration and wall hangings. (This is not a new phenomenon.)  Art is an integral part of contemporary society and 'new' art exists as a creator/inventor of new forms of expression and media, providing a glimpse of what can be. There exists (and as existed within Avent garde movements) a healthy sense of Froebelism, where the simple pleasures of creation are paramount and the exploration of what is creative cannot be confused with naivety.  Is the computer system and its peripheral incarnations, the new territory that the Artist is colonizing? The non-organic infrastructure of boxes, wires, cables and satellites, servers and relays that underpin computer networks are, in turn, generating a new society. Any constructed environment can promote alienation, but it can also enhance communication to form a quasi-organic platform for human interaction. The fact that most of us have an on-line persona suggests that computer communication enables us to visit places and have discussions with people we would normally avoid. We are engaging in the pseudo-anonymous system/society. Underground activities have migrated out of analog media (the printed word, film etc.) into cyberspace. Cyberspace has evolved into a global system with multiple layers in which new authorities compete to control its uses; platform wars, chip races, and operating system alliances. [1] The pseudo-identity of the user is being exposed; law is punishing non-conformity, censorship and the rules of globalization have invaded the system. The Klondike Spirit has taken over the open system and turned it into the homogenized high street we all know.

The element of failure is important to the success of a system.

(A non-homogeneous system, whose terms and relationships are not constant, allows language to break up, to stumble over the rules of its grammar, by necessity it has to respond radically to other linguistic components, creating a new linguistic order and syntax. [2] )

There are artworks [3] , which as art could be mistaken as science/technology. Such works rely on networking, robotics and systems. (You could include Internet works in this category. [4] )  When viewing/understanding Artworks that are based on networking, systems, and communities how do you subconsciously and verbally criticise the aesthetic or concept?

The true aesthetics of the system is not the peripheral. The aesthetics of the system is in the understanding of its detail. A system incorporates the aesthetics of failure, a system that is reliant on external forces or structure will always have an element of built in probable failure. (This is a prediction.) The only way to achieve total reliability is to have a closed system, this however discourages growth and system expansion and thus becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and sterile.

The problems, in commercial terms, with closed systems and ‘open source’ environments are when the 'open source' develops software or fixes for the 'giants' of the commercial sector. Intel had to change its licensing laws to allow Red Hat [5] access to their code. The corporate giant had to consent to open development; it is cheaper and not constrained by commercial protocols, by doing this they gained invention and uncluttered clarity, a maverick spirit but above all value.  'Intel's move illustrates the legal complications that crop up as the open-source community intersects ever more frequently with the closed, proprietary world of the traditional computing industry.' [6]

This is in many ways a counter-revolution, the open system gave birth to these commercial possibilities, now the patented authorities recognise the true value of ‘open source’ and again there are opportunities to exploite and radically change the ‘system’. A perfect environment for the Artist.

Unfortunately the problems of fragmentation and confusion that exist within more traditional art practices, such as painting and sculpture (in the broadest possible context) are mirrored in new art practices. Within these technological and new media categories, diverse concepts and imagery has been lumped together to form a hodgepodge of non-related methodologies and artworks. What is this direction?

How do we relate to this in Artistic terms? Language and critiques that originate from previous decades, language that explains date/time specific artworks and its redundant terminology, the metamorphosis of meaning and outmoded methods of art practice, do not help in the assessment of ‘new works’. It would therefore make more sense to invent a new language to describe our ‘up-to-the-minute situation’ and leave terminology that was invented in the 20th century back in its own context. However, for the time being, I will have to use (a common) language of critique that already exists.

Conceptual Art [7] is probably the closest comparison to System based Art. The primary aims of Conceptual Art in the 1960's was to carry out a theoretical examination of 'art' and through understanding propose 'concepts as art'. Two and three-dimensional art was in the doldrums, the essence of creating was the new Holy Grail. This was considered to be a bold step, proposing an idea as a work of art left the Artist with very little to exhibit or sell, the written word was usually all that was physically evident.

The  'world of art' and the 'world of everyday life' had already been discussed in Dada. "Life and art are one," proclaimed Tzara. Ultimately Dada reduced itself to vandalism, drawing moustaches on the Mona Lisa, instead of destroying the Louvre, something a real revolutionary movement would consider as the first option.  It increased the status of the most banal object or event into something that ultimately provoked nervous laughter, a childish prank that has been taken seriously ever since. Conceptual Art attempted to be more serious in its approach. Unfortunately the original aims became diffused and the quality of thought became diluted and suffered a similar fate to Dada.

The aesthetics of the system can explained and validified by using the critique of Conceptualism. [8] Language is used to communicate a conceptual idea, language within a network/system is the armature that holds everything together, and both rely on a process of understanding and intelligence. The fundamental difference is we understand the spoken and written word (unless it is in an alien tongue) but the digital/binary/script/code language of the computer is only understood by a minority and is virtually invisible; it is the most powerful language we have created, it controls practically every microscopic detail of our lives. How good is your credit rating and what are your politics?

If you look deeper into network/systems it soon becomes apparent that it is not a stable environment and is prone to malfunction. Which in itself is a metaphor for the process of creative contemplation and practice. The aesthetics of failure, a crucial component of a system, is not Auto Destructivism; Auto Destructivism is a process where machines (or systems) are built to fail. The parameters of Auto Destructivism include various practices, including painting with acid and fire. The aesthetics of failure is not total destruction; it is the disappointment of failure.  Failure, although contained within the framework of prediction can either engender invention or depression. The disappointment felt by painters when the image in the mind is far greater than the image physically in front of them is in reality an exact position. To produce a painting that is better than the image in the mind is to give rise to a product of catastrophe. (To achieve exactness by design and skill is to reach a point of exhaustion and famine.) It is therefore acceptable to assume that an artist that is categorised as a genius has infact failed more successfully than one who is mediocre. This maybe a syllogistic view but it suits my purpose.

Colin Chapman’s [9] philosophy on the design of formula one racing cars was a radical reaction to durability. His designs were built to fail. His argument was that a racing car that was being pushed to its limits reaches its optimum efficiency at a point just before failure. This precise position is very similar to creating paintings, at a certain point a painting comes to a conclusion and at that point to add another mark would destroy it.  Chapman’s aim was to design a car that would cross the finishing line and after that point disintegrate into its component parts. That was his goal. This philosophy 40 years later has been adapted. A modern formula one racing car is now a peripheral to a system. The points of optimum efficiency, telemetry, fuel consumption etc. is controlled in the pits by a crew of programmers who can relay modifications to the racing machine via its driver. The success of the racing car is dependant on the system, in many ways the hardware; the car (which itself a product of a system) and the driver are superfluous.

The challenge that an apprentice required to become a Painting Master is no longer necessary; it is possible to create visual and non-visual works of art without scholarly wisdom or practical experience. However without the foundation of knowledge and skill, the aesthetics of failure cannot be understood. New Media embraces, by its very nature, everything that is innovative. The skills that are required are in many cases prescriptive, an understanding of the aesthetic of the system is not necessary and therefore the ‘imagery’ being produced is becoming predictable, driven by the limitations of the system’s software and not the imagination of the Artist.

The criteria used to discuss and evaluate technological and New Media art, falls short on comparison. It is not acceptable to compare a work of art based on computer networking with (historically) normal installation pieces or happenings. (Maybe Site Specific, unless the system has a non-specific site, a multiple of sites or random sites.) To do so is to admit a lack of understanding of the nature of the network/system. It also transcends the critique of Conceptualism. A system or network is physical (this is not necessarily true) the idea or concept is bound together by a digital language which is then sent to a peripheral (this is also not necessarily true). The ‘thought process’ it goes through is not a random organic process but one that is structured by rules and protocols. A system could be described as a fascist organism where extreme compliance is the only protocol acceptable [10] ; any deviation would lead to anarchy and total collapse (aesthetics of failure) [11] .  You could compare an aesthetic system with a natural system, using traditional methods of criticism. It is increasingly important that an awareness of growth, fecundity, regeneration and genetics is applied to the observation of system-based art. It has never been acceptable to say A looks like B and unfortunately even this easy critique is gradually going to disappear. (That is my prediction.)

Basic Prediction

Horoscopes in newspapers are based on star signs and birth dates; these predict the day’s events. These predictions are based on the laws of probability and chance. You could read your daily horoscope and make the prediction into a self-fulfilling prophecy, you could go out and find that ‘Tall dark handsome man’ or go on ‘A long journey’. Alternatively you could read your horoscope late in the evening and interpret the day’s events and adapt them to the mystical words. ”Yes I did meet someone important today”. The interesting thing about prediction is that you could meet a tall dark handsome man, go on a long journey and meet someone important and never read your horoscope. Does this mean the day’s events were not predicted? Similarly these rules can apply to system-based art and art in general.

 For more than three quarters of a century, art has repeated itself, each repetition feebler, more inane than the last. Surely today, where the signs of a new world order are on the horizon, a radical position within modern art must be taken up again and taken up more coherently and more seriously. It is not enough for art to hide in its practice when smart bombs, dirty bombs, anthrax and terrorism are threatening us with Armageddon. People are struggling for survival; the artist cannot reject or turn their back on them, cocooning him or herself in a cozy, creative duvet.

The reduction of everyone to the role of a passive and isolated spectator, forced to surrender his or her own individual desires and to accept a purely fictitious possibility is absurd.  This is also a problem when explaining things that have happened. The environment that something was created in is impossible to recreate, if it happened outside our own timeframe. We cannot relive a history that was not part of our own history. We can only rely on first or secondhand accounts or create a myth about its origins in tradition and allegory.

[1] After witting the disclaimer above. I abandoned the closed system of Microsoft and switched my operating systems to Linux, which is an open system where users are encouraged to contribute to its development.

[2] Paraphrased/adapted from notes given by A. Conio on a lecture on Delueze (4th March 2003) Original source unknown.

[3] Ref: "I, Robot (Phase Two)" at Metapod Digital Arts Festival in the Custard Factory Gallery, Birmingham. 28th Feb. – 4th March 2003.

[4] The commercialisation and exploitation of the Web has lead to a system that is controlled by the minority for purely political gain. The ethos of freedom of information does not exist on the Web. It must therefore be considered a tainted medium that has its own set of aesthetic rules, where the politics of the system have priority over other issues.

[5] Red Hat a Linux developing, retailing, open source company.

[6] Stephen Shankland, CNET News.com 'Intel, Red Hat cure open-source hiccup' 09:09 Monday 17th February 2003

[7] Process Art is also a possibility….discussed later.

[8] You could also argue it is Neo-Neo Dadist. Elevating the computer system to Art Object.

[9]   The founder of Lotus Cars.

[10]   Scientists have already placed a remote controlling device into a rat’s brain, bio-digital systems therefore exist.

[11]   Heart pacemakers are the best example of mechanical/electrical/natural devices working together.