0.1 Defining the Needs of the (Computer) Work Place:

The first step in designing a system (i.e. studio, laboratory, etc..) is to consider how and for what it is to be used.

Considering that Media Art is primarily concerned with exploring the contribution of the (electronic) media to the production of Art there will always be a complex and unavoidable interaction between means and ends. A continuing "Bootstrapping" process (i.e. exploitation of the developed system to develop the next step) is inevitable. Changes in the available media system will probably change the way the system is explored and changes in the way the system is explored will change the way the system is developed.

The installed system will need to have a built in flexibility and autonomy open to change and development by the self-modifying and self-regenerative processes involved in a creative investigation of the media.

0.2 The System as Language:

The equipment available within the Media Art studio should essentially be considered as forming a language within which Media Art theories can be expressed and developed.

The development of a language involves the following phases:

i. Constructing the Language (inventing alphabet and grammar)

ii. Exploring the Language (variations and comparisons)

iii. Interpreting the Language (using language to construct models)

iv. Using the Language (using the models as a Language)

v. Improving the Language (modifying alphabet or grammar to enlarge range of potential models, to simplify usage or to improve performance)

The individual artistic process may emphasize one or more of the above phases of development -depending on personal preferences or external factors such as the current stage of development of the commercial or social system.

The situation is also further complicated by the fact that each phase may invoke other phases in a nested hierarchy of procedures where labels are defined more by the Intended Role of the phase (and the relative importance of its constituent phases) than on its components in a simple inventory.


1.1 Creating Languages -Construction:

a. What is a Language?:

A two-part construction kit with an optional extension:

-Alphabet (set of basic building blocks) -Grammar (set of mutation rules) -Operations (set of things to do with the building blocks) -Rules (determining what may be done to what and when) -Punctuation (protocol to clarify the construction generated)

Optional is:

-Interpretation (i.e. the binding of one language to another, so that the one functions as a "Simulation Machine" for the other)

b. Types of Language:

i. Semantic and Syntactic:

Essentially there are two types of Languages

-Semantic (i.e. Languages where the Alphabet and the Grammar are based on the intended interpretation)
-Syntactic (i.e. Languages where the Alphabet and the Grammar are not based on any (specific) interpretation)

ii. Real and Abstract:

In painting, Semantic painting styles are often referred to as being "Realistic" or "Representational" while Syntactic styles are often referred to as being "Abstract".

The difficulty with this terminology is that Languages (i.e. artistic styles) derived from an interpretation are in fact "Abstractions" of that interpretation (presumably derived by "Analysis").

The confusion becomes even worse when people extend "Abstract" to mean "Meaningless" -which is not the same as "Without Specified Meaning".

iii. Message and Medium:

By playing with Languages strongly bound to an (area of) Interpretation it is often difficult to escape the original meaning and we usually cannot avoid making statements about the original area of Interpretation.

By playing with Languages that are not tied to a (specific) Interpretation we can play more freely and possibly gain insight into how Language itself works.

Obviously, Interpretation cannot be taboo. If we are to understand the relationship between the Message and the Medium which expresses it then we shall have to play with Interpretation.

If we are to understand the Message and the Medium we should at least try to understand which is which so as not to confuse them with each other (i.e. "The finger which points is not the same as the Moon which it is pointing at".)

c. Inventing a Language:

i. Techniques:

Essentially, creating a Language is rather like creating a traditional English Christmas Cake; after the Ingredients are mixed together a part of the resulting cake is saved as an Ingredient for the next cake.

So how does one create the Ingredients?:

-Analysis (of existing systems into component parts)
-Dissection (of existing libraries into useful parts)
-Recombination (of useful parts into new systems or libraries)
-Modification (of existing parts to be more useful)

ii. Sources:

Other Natural or Artificial Languages (i.e. Social, Biological, Technological, Scientific, Artistic, Linguistic etc.).

iii. Models:

-The Periodic Table of Elements
-Recombinant DNA Techniques
-The Interstellar Galactic Process
-The Development of Language in Children
-The Development of Language in Computers

iv. Originality?:

-If everything is just different mixtures of (modified) bits of something else
                  -Where did it all originally come from?
-If everything is just different mixtures of (modified) bits of something else
                  -How New is something New?
-If everything is just different mixtures of (modified) bits of something else
                  -Does it really matter which mixture we use?

1.2 Playing with Language -Exploration:

Exploring Languages essentially involves inventing (or borrowing) them (i.e. finding a suitable construction kit) and then finding out what they do -by applying the grammar to the alphabet to discover what can be built (i.e. How the basic alphabet can be extended).

Obviously, mechanical application of the rules (of the grammar) can be rather boring (which is why Computers are useful) so to make the (Language of the Generation) game more interesting one can invent new (Languages which Generate) variations allowing one to compare Languages (i.e. Develop the Language of Comparison).

Although people are free to develop their own Language for the Development, Comparison and Definition of Related and Unrelated Languages a few simple games (to start the ball rolling) can easily be suggested:

-Comparisons within language

-differences caused by applying Rules in different order?
-(i.e. difference <<X+Y>*Z> and <X+<Y*Z>> )
-(i.e. difference <<X+Y>*Z> and <Z*<X+Y>> )

-(internal) topological differences (punctuation!)
-(external) interpretational implications

-Comparisons between languages

 -similarity of Rules, different Alphabets
               -(add or subtract elements or generate new set)
-similarity of Alphabets, different Rules
               -(add or subtract rules or generate new set)
 -similarities between languages with no common Grammar or Alphabet.
               -(similarity of Form, Function, Result, etc.?)

-Problems of Interpretation

-What does it "Mean" when different Languages generate seemingly identical objects/statements?
-What does it "Mean" when a single Language generates a seemingly identical object/statement in different ways?
-How do we know if things are truly similar, truly identical or truly different?
-How do we know if two things appear similar that they are two different things and not the same thing slightly changed? (i.e. the butterfly and the caterpillar -the same or not?)

1.3 Interpreting the Language:

While Verbal Language has evolved techniques to instruct, control and command -even to talk about itself, Non-Verbal languages have generally remained at the level of Demonstration. It is also generally for the viewer to decide or to know what is being demonstrated and possibly why.

So (Non-Verbal) Language can be considered as being essentially a construction kit for the construction of static or dynamic models (Demonstrations).

Models are essentially Simulations and enable us to investigate phenomena around us and to gain experience of them especially when dealing with the real thing may be difficult, dangerous or impossible.

If Art is the study of Simulation and Language is the medium for Simulation then Art must also be concerned with the study of Language.

i. The Role of Models:


-Achievement (Simulating what it does)
-Performance (Simulating how it does it)
-Appearance (Simulating sensory presence)


-Existence             (Simulating real, not real)
-Knowledge          (Simulating known, not known)
-Understanding     (Simulating understood, not understood)
-Potential              (Simulating possible, not possible)
-Time                    (Simulating past, present, future)
-Emotion              (Simulating desirable, undesirable, threatening)


-Games                 (Simulating uncertain systems)
-Entertainment      (Simulating pleasant systems)
-Knowledge          (Simulating interesting systems)
-Tools                   (Simulating useful systems)
-Communication   (Simulating the things we want others to know)
-Introspection        (Simulating the things we want to know)

ii. The Effect of Models

a. Models and Technology:

Simulations can be used to explore and explain things, but they may also be used to do things (i.e. the things that were done by the thing they are simulating).

So if Languages exist which generate models which can do (sometimes better) the things which they simulate then it is possible that new languages can be created which can generate models (of things which do not yet exist) which would do the things (not yet existing) which the originals would have done if they existed!

The exploration of Language is not only the basis for the expressive and explorative models within Art and Science, it is also the basis for the practical models within Technology.

Language may be a Medium, it can easily be used to generate Tools.

b. Tools and Media:

Tools are automated procedures which allow specified aims to be realized as efficiently as possible. In linguistic terms they are specialized statements (i.e. constructs within the language) which generate specific results: for example "Give me the Bread" or "Put it down over there!".

Media are loosely defined collections of elements and procedures which may be used to construct a specific language (i.e. a specified alphabet of basic elements and a set of rules <grammar> determining which and when procedures may be applied to modify existing elements.

In linguistic terms a medium is a Super-Set of the specific language used by an artist to explore and express their artistic system. The English language used as a medium for expression might generate the following sentence; "The Dew dropped dawn determines my destiny". Such a sentence can hardly be considered to be a tool for communication as it would seem to be virtually impossible for anyone except the author to determine what exactly was intended by the sentence, even though it does appear to reflect (simulate or stimulate?) some internal state of the author. Presumably, also, only the individual reader can decide what has been "communicated" (i.e. generated in the mind of the reader) by such an undetermined statement. Although there presumably was originally an intention by the author, and presumably also some image generated in the mind of the reader, but when the two seem to be so arbitrarily connected, is it honest to speak of Communication -even though Linguistic processes are obviously involved?

Obviously media can be used to construct tools (i.e. a wooden hammer created by the medium "woodworking"), and tools may be used to operate on, or within a medium (i.e. as a rubber may be used as a tool to clean the paper within the medium "drawing").

In behavioral terms the difference between Tool and Medium is the difference between walking to the station to catch a train or walking in the woods because it gives one pleasure. In both cases the procedure (walking) is the same although clearly it can function both as Tool or Medium. Although obviously relevant to the kind of experiences one may expect to be confronted with, not even the location (or domain) of the activity (or procedure) is however of direct critical importance in determining the difference between Tool and Medium, for one may even walk inside (or in the vicinity of) the station in the same state of mind as if it were a wood. Surely then, it is the Intention (or the Function) of the walk which critically determines the degree of openness with which one reacts to unexpected experiences, possibly allowing them to modify the original activity and possibly allowing it to lead to exiting discoveries (or, of course possibly a disasterous waste of time and energy).

So because tools are primarily concerned with removing possibilities (i.e. removal of the possibility that the result is not as one desires) while media are primarily concerned with encouraging possibilities (i.e. the possibility of expressing something which has not yet been expressed) they are both mutually exclusive and mutually supportive.

So apparently, programming tools can be used to generate computer programs which may then function as a medium for expression, but by using the computer as a tool one will probably be prevented from discovering new insights in the process, although of course the process may be a tool for discovering new insights.

Without people using Tools nothing would get Done but without people exploring Media nothing would get Discovered.

1.4 Using Language -The Search for Meaning and Understanding:

a. What is Understanding?

"Understanding" is the ability to correctly model the situations we are involved in, in order to be able to operate within our environment so that our comfort and/or chance of survival is increased.

b. How does one gain Understanding?

i. Through Experience ii. Through Playing with Language (Simulating Experience) iii. Through the Communicated (i.e. Simulated) Experience of Others

ii. What is "Meaning" and "Deeper Meaning"?

There appear to be different types of "Meaning" -presumably each one of which may also be further interpreted by another level of meaning (the Deeper Meaning), and possibly even a Deeper Deeper Meaning:

Directly related to each of the above mentioned Interpretation Modes are the corresponding Skills which enable them to be implemented.

iii. Simulation, the Universal Tool:

-a substitute for Experience!
-a test of Knowledge!
-a form of Calculus!
-a tool for Communication!
-a medium for Expression!
-a means of Entertainment!

1.5 Developing Language -Modification and Feedback:

As stated in the introduction, the creative investigation of language involves a constant modification of the languages involved.

Not only do languages and models get modified just to see what happens (although this is an important part of the investigation) but also because experience with the system suggests modifications which may help things fit together better, simplify operation or even generate whole new worlds of experience.


2.1 The Universal Touring Machine:

Although the computer theoretically began life as a Universal Simulation Machine it is a common mistake to believe that a single common machine (i.e. paradigm) is a practical proposal.

2.2 Dematerialization and Differentiation:

The increasing digitalization (and accompanying dematerialization) suggests a shift from material categories to conceptual categories. (the way something is done and why something is done <ontology and motivation> may become more important than what is done in a traditional sense).

Certainly with computer systems external (i.e. functional) similarities can mask internal (i.e. ontological) structural differences which cause apparently similar systems to be totally incompatible.

Increasing dematerialization also generate practical changes on a social level:

2.3 Levels of Creative Freedom -The Fight for Control:

i. The Universe of Discourse -Document, Documentation, Documentary:

In the early days of video, work was categorized in terms of Documentary, Artistic Documentation and (Autonomous) Video Art. Documentaries were considered informative and not artistic, Artistic Documentation (of performance, land or other obscure and intangible art) was of course Art but not Video Art -even though it was recorded on video-tape.

In printmaking existed a similar problem: Photographic reproductions of paintings or other artistic (or non-artistic) images could be printed using lithographic or screen-printing techniques but could not be considered to be (original) prints. On the other hand -any image, irrespective of how it was made or where it came from, which existed only within the confines of a limited (signed and numbered) edition was considered to be a legitimate form of printmaking. Obviously, a hand printed limited edition of a photograph of an image transmitted by public television could be a bit of a problem (which is probably a good argument for somebody making it).

Of course there are commercial advantages in selling a print at possibly more than ten times the price of an equivalent poster (if an equivalent exists). However the similarity between the behavior of Printmakers and Video Artists suggests that people truly need to define their areas of activity in order to discuss and compare situations within a common Universe of Discourse.

Printmakers and Printers use the same techniques -the makers of Video Documentaries, Video Documentation and Video Art also share a common technique. However, their intentions are different, the function of the result is different and the problems with which they are concerned are different.

Possibly Printmakers and Video Artists have more in common through the shared exploration of media than their colleagues who exploit the same medium. Gamekeepers and Poachers have a common interest -but for conflicting reasons!

ii. So Why Programming?:

The question why should a Computer Artist write computer programs instead of using (commercially) existing programs is perhaps similar to the question "Why should a Painter paint their own pictures?".

The easy answer to this last question is that artists don't always construct their own work. Artists assistants (often as part of their training) have long been a normal part of artistic practice -although a romantic belief in "the personal handwriting of the artist" made their role rather unpopular and difficult to deal with in regard to the attribution of "Authorship" when "Authenticating" ancient masters. Sculptors, in this respect are slightly worse than painters in so far that work may be carved in stone, constructed, or cast in metal (or other material) by external companies where the artist is more client than employer.

Perhaps then the question should be rephrased as: "When should Computer Artists write their own programs?" To which the simple answer is; "When Necessary!". In other words, because that which needs to exist can only become existent by being made by the artist.

So one can easily conclude that computer artists rarely need to develop their own programs, except for the fact that presumably, for many artists, the only things that are truly interesting are those which need to exist but can only become existent by being created by the artist.

So do you want to be able to change the Rules of Perspective in your 3D. Image Generator -to change the lens on your video camera or investigate the growth of pattern on butterfly wings? Are there products available which allow you to do these things? If they are not available you will have to invent them yourself!

iii. Drawing and Modeling:

Are generally concerned with simulating (i.e. reproducing) the sensory (form) impressions of existing things. As such, they would appear to be contrary to artists assumed desire to create and investigate new things.

In practice, Drawing and Modeling are traditionally an important part of Art education -simply because they are a good way of understanding how things are constructed in order that they may be understood, modified and integrated into the artists own language system.

In some sense, computer programming is a conceptual equivalent to Drawing and Modeling. It primarily involves a conceptual analysis of the object or system to be modelled -whether it exists or not.

The main difference is, that a drawing or clay model is static, while a computer program consists of a set of instructions which are dynamically interpreted by the computer under conditions which are not always identical to those considered by the programmer when the program was written.

iv. So Should Video Artists build their own cameras?

a. The Evolution of Video from Visual Medium to Recording Tool:

Yes, in theory Video Artists should be prepared to build their own cameras -only now it is virtually impossible. In the early days of video, (video) artists could easily experiment with the medium. Open reel recorders invited investigation of time delay loops, clumsy electronic and optical systems invited invasion, modification and variation while component signals were available for capture and extra processing.

Nowadays everything is miniaturized, integrated and automated. Little can be done but point and shoot.

b. A Similar Evolution with Computers?

Computers used to be formal systems, requiring knowledge and skill to use. Image Generating and Processing techniques had to be invented by the artist and this involved intensive thought regarding the nature of the system to be invented.

Now there are many techniques to simplify the use of the computer. In the short term these often give the user the impression that the computer is a magic box which can do anything. In the long term, it generally becomes clear that a high level of mental discipline is required to acquire the technical knowledge and develop the creative skills required to transcend the standardized operations inherent to the computer -which make it so abhorrent to traditional romantic artists.

Luckily, although computers become simpler to use, there is also an underlying (and slightly contradictory) tradition of open and flexible usage (i.e. generalized programming languages for the Universal Simulation Machine) which is also commercially sound -because one can sell more identical systems to different people for different purposes.

Although some developments do tend to reduce the creative freedom of computers, they are almost the only machines available today which offer almost total freedom to explore and develop new conceptual or practical (software) paradigms without enormous manufacturing investment.

The computer, when kitted out with multiple processors, an efficient operating system, sophisticated programming and processing tools, accurate and reliable interfaces and an intelligent user must surely be a formidable tool for investigating Media.

c. A Comparison with Photography:

On the one hand there has been an evolution in photography away from being simply an objective tool for mechanical reproduction of the visible world towards it also being a subjective medium for artistic expression and exploration. Having forced painting into claiming a position of subjectivity, photography has quickly followed to deny painting the exclusive rights to this area.

In a sense, this is parallel to the development of the computer as a Medium for subjective expression as opposed to being a Tool for objective calculation.

On the other hand, photography is also rapidly becoming a closed system where the camera is designed to make the decisions and not the photographer.

v. So What is Programming?

In fact programming is little more than being able to exercise control over the machine.

However there are probably two different modes of control:

a. Direct Control (operation)

i.e. the operator is in constant control and can always intervene if desired.

b. Autonomous Control (programming)

i.e. the machine is under direct control of the program so that an eventual operator can only terminate (or over-ride) the program in an emergency. There is in fact a permanent dispute over final control between machine (programmer) and operator -because presumably the machine is more efficient, which is why it is in use but the operator may observe conditions which have not been satisfactorily anticipated by the programmer. So how does one determine in advance if the program is failing or the operator unjustly panicking?

So programming involves a total understanding of the (real or simulated) process to be controlled. Of course the program (nearly) always fails at some point -and so it enables knowledge to be tested and encourages one to improve it when proven faulty.

vi. Art and Science, Design and Technology:

Tools as Media for Investigation or Media as Tools for Action?

Surely action without investigation is rather foolish, as one may not fully oversee the consequences. On the other hand, action can be a form of investigation (so the mental state before, during and after is of critical importance). However, investigation without action is surely rather useless (unless the investigation happens to show that action is unwise!).

So Science and Art should not involve themselves with Social Relevance -because it will distract them from the more subtle tracks they must follow. It is the task of Design and Technology to be concerned with the Social Relevant Implementation of the discoveries of Artists and Scientists.

Designers and Technologists may need to look in the kitchen but they should learn to keep their fingers out of the soup!


3.1 Current Trends:

Current (and indeed recent historical) technical trends clearly and consistently exhibit the following main tendencies:

i. Miniaturization and increased component complexity per cubic unit.

ii. Reduction of relative price (i.e. increased component performance per unit of price).

iii. Increased ease of use through ergonomic improvements in control interfaces (i.e. user friendly systems) and increasing automation of installation and operating procedures (i.e. 4th & 5th generation development aids and authoring systems).

iv. Increased integration of previously independent (analogue) systems in single digital system (i.e. multi-media communication and presentation systems).

v. As material differences decrease, the importance of conceptual differences (categories) are becoming more obvious (i.e. the categorization of media through "Mark-up Languages" -the problem of internal structure, innovation and compatibility and the evolution of programming paradigms in developer systems).

vi. Increasing conflict between (cheap and mass-produced) standardization as a commercial strategy and diversity as pragmatic necessity.

3.2 Future Developments:

As a result of these and other trends we can predict the following, already visible, developments will become more pronounced:

i. Interconnectability between open hardware systems.

ii. Importance (and economic value) of software will increase in relation to hardware.

iii. Introduction of suitable system of payment for network transactions will force the network into being a major economic element both as a source of employment in system development and as a medium for communication of information, advertizing, customer support and (software) product distribution.

iv. The network will become increasingly important for presentation and distribution of information and products in the field of art and culture (as it already is in the field of science).

v. Competition between commercial and non-commercial systems within the network may lead to supremacy of one over the other, to separate systems or to a form of cooperation.

vi. Art, science, entertainment, sport, tourism and communication will become increasingly more economically (and politically?) important and involved with each other.

vii. In a complex, fast moving (and possibly ruthless) market only the very competent (or the well hidden) will survive.

viii If everybody (including artists) uses computers, what will be the specialty of the Media Artist?

3.3 A Concrete Model:

The continuing integration will probably lead to a single three part digital model:

i. Multi-medial input:

i.e. The abstraction of information into data. -still and moving images -sound and other sensory information -text and other not yet digitized images -measurement and control data -processing instructions

ii. Data processing:

i.e. The algorithmic based manipulation of data. -controlling (determining process) -processing (connecting output to input) -generating data -modifying data -ordering data -transmitting (exchanging data streams-intern/extern) -storing (temporary/permanent, intern/extern)

iii. Multi-medial output:

i.e. The interpretation of data as information. -dynamic interactive systems -moving sound and image -printed text and image -opto/magnetic recordings

3.4 An Abstract Model:

In fact, the model above can be further simplified to a two part system:

i. Process (data manipulation) -independent of information content (syntactic process) -dependant on information content (semantic process)

ii. Interface (data and information conversions) -process instructions -control data -application data

This leads to a simple categorization of systems in relation to the input/output topology:

i. Processing systems      (input and output)
ii. Generative systems     (only output)
iii. Consuming systems   (only input)
iv. Autonomous systems (no external input or external output)

Obviously, the presence of input and/or output interfaces suggest the possibility of (and in fact, the need for) connecting inputs to outputs so that we eventually have:

i. Connected systems (generating, processing, consuming)
ii. Autonomous systems (internal feedback, further unconnected)

In fact, a truly (physically and mentally) unconnected system may be ecologically unique (like an undiscovered island) but, like the island, unconnected means undiscovered which means unknown and discovery (connection) means interference and change. So in practice, unconnected systems do not exist and there are only different degrees of connectivity.

Also there is no Programming and Not-Programming, just different degrees of freedom to redefine the current system. However, the investigation and use of that freedom is not just a trivial thing but should be the distinguishing characteristic of Media Art. If one is to successfully explore the system then the tools should be the open and flexible tools of the investigator and not the closed and efficient tools of the communicator.

3.5 The Concrete Studio:

 -What do we put in?
 -What do we do with it?
 -What comes out?
 -What happens to it then?



Maintaining University model of

 -Research (extending knowledge base)
-Education (preparation for participation in research)
 -Communication (exchange of knowledge)

With Research Facilities for:

 -Undergraduate students developing artistic skills.
 -Post graduate students with technical, artistic or communication skills.
 -Practicing professionals on sabbatical leave.
 -Practicing artists requiring developmental assistance.


-Practical initiation to undergraduate students.
-Practical working experience as artists assistants.
-Practical teaching experience to research students.
-Practical communication systems for exchanging knowledge.


-Develop autonomous research projects regarding the artistic use of media.

Trevor Batten
Amsterdam, November 1996