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Paul Prudence Interviews Mitchell Whitelaw [Theory]


Mitchell Whitelaw, #climatedata proposal (2009)

One of the most articulate and accessible voices within the generative art scene is undoubtedly the Canberra-based scholar/practitioner Mitchell Whitelaw. Given his relative (internet) silence over the last year, news of an interview—conducted by Paul Prudence, no less—published in the most recent issue of Neural magazine, is cause for minor celebration. Mitchell posted the transcript of this conversation to his blog last night and it is noteworthy for several reasons. First, the opening response about the utopian nature of software art acknowledges some ideological underpinnings that are seldom discussed – and Paul’s query as to “where is the dystopian software art?” is both provocative and on point. Secondly, the comments about look vs. process and how even the glossiest eye candy often embodies a “narrative of systems” is a useful means of considering the ‘performative’ capabilities of generative art. Finally, Mitchell’s description of algorithm popularity as ‘a memetic ecology unto itself’ is exactly the kind of meta-commentary that is desperately needed in (generally) uncritical software art circles.

A particularly sharp passage on system design and pedagogy:

The link there for me is a sense of “procedurality” or “processuality”. In Casey Reas’ work we can see a strong relationship between computational and non-computational procedures such as those of Sol LeWitt. In teaching programming to designers, I have students write and execute a LeWitt style procedure, with pencil and paper. Digital generative systems are just formal procedures, executed by machines. Treating processes as human-executable helps unpack the black boxes of generative systems mentioned earlier, and hopefully reveal them as contingent and hackable.

This notion of “human executable” procedures is a handy frame of reference in introducing agency into system design…

Otherwise: the joy of materiality. Generative art and design covets the lush tangibility of traditional media; and with the wave of interest in fabrication we are seeing ever more generative work realised in “off-screen” forms. The challenge then, for pasty code-artist types, is to match the craft skills of hands-on makers in realising the work.

…and serves as a perfect segue into Mitchell’s thinking about transmateriality (craft/making/material culture). Read the full conversation between Mitchell and Paul here.