Software | i |
title: Software
date: September 16, 1970 – November 8, 1970

This exhibition investigates the relations between computer art and concept art, emphasizing software as opposed to hardware.

Its aim was to “demonstrate the effects of contemporary control and communication techniques in the hands of arists”(cited after 258).

The term Software refers not only to systems of programs and data, as in computer science. It explicitly differentiates between hardware and software. Both rely on each other but are different in their ontological states. In the context of this exhibition, the word Software is also used as a synonym for communication258.

The exhibition tried to “focus esthetic sensibility on the fastest growing technology in our culture: the information processing systems”(cited after 259).

In opposition to exhibitions like The Machine, as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age this exhibition was not about getting artists and technologist together or to duplicate effects of previous art forms. It rather delt with systems, processes and concepts, and as Software’s curator Burnham, Jack states

“it may not be, and probably is not, the province of computers and other telecommunication devices to produce art as we know it; but they will, in fact, be instrumental in redefining the entire area of esthetic awareness”(cited after 260)

Beginning with the opening, the exhibition was plagued with several problems: A short circuited computer ruined some electronic gear on the opening day and didn’t work for a month after the start of the exhibition. A series of five films documenting discussion on “Software” where destroyed, and the museum was charged by two contributors for censoring their works.

The technical problems with the exhibition’s major computer (a PDP-8) where the source of some rumours, even sabotage was discussed.

The films where allegedly destroyed after “a dispute over unauthorized additions to the film of statements by Mao tse-Tung”258. The remains of the films where exhibited nevertheless.

The charges in question where raised by two artists, Les Levine and John Giorno, who also threatened to withdraw their works from the exhibition.

Levine stated that the museum had edited “a little nudity” (eight minutes of sexual intercourse) out of one of his shown works258.

Giorno supported Levine and criticised the museum for not allowing him to broadcast taped writings of Eldridge Cleaver, the Black Panther Party leader, within one of his installations.

Burnham’s broad usage of the term software in opposition to the usual interpretation became the topic of a series of critiques in Leonardo (256, 261 and 262).


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