Amy Alexander writes about Jimpunk and Josh Larios

The word “network,” at least in a social sense, seems to have a connotation of closedness. Think of the term “networking” – it refers to making connections with people within a fairly tightly defined circuit. A network can be a “community” – and that’s a Good Thing. But it can also become a clique, sometimes missing ties to other networks with interesting commonalities.
I have a somewhat mixed/mixed-up professional background, possibly due to my short attention span. Maybe that’s why blurry taxonomies always made more sense to me than crisp ones. Art and programming always seemed to me to make sense together – both somehow teeter on the edge of verbal and non-verbal subjective expression. But the combination of the two has
proved in some cases to result in something much different than the sum of its parts – leading us to something that’s come to be called “software art.”

A nice thing about software art is that it’s experiencing an identity crisis – sometimes it goes by the name “software art,” at other times it’s called “artistic software.” Which word to put first? It can also sometimes be found under even more puzzling labels like “interesting software,” “strange software” or “Hey, check this out!” The point is that it’s both art (if you like that term) and software (fewer complaints about that one, somehow) – and that it’s made by self-described artists, self-described programmers, self described none-of-the-aboves, and self-described all-of-the-aboves.

So, to get to the point: when Eduardo asked me to invite two people to this project from my “network,” I decided to invite two people I didn’t know, but whose work I find interesting – so as to try to extend out the network a bit. I invited Jimpunk and Josh Larios, who both create software projects in which algorithms exude strong “personalities,” at the same time revealing something about contemporary culture.

Jimpunk works in the explicitly “art” side of software art. His projects, including “Gogolchat” (with Christophe Bruno) and “d2b vs. Jimpunk” use text, images and sound from the Internet as their data material. But software is algorithms as well as data, and it’s Jimpunk’s algorithms that distinguish and personalize his work. Through deliberate algorithmic sequencing, juxtaposition, and timing, net data a la Jimpunk becomes choreographed net-cinema narrative, rather than what could otherwise turn out to be a nihilistic, random, data-overload mush.

Josh Larios comes from the “software” side of things – my favorite works of Josh’s are his algorithmic text generators: Turing tests with a twist. Traditional artificial intelligence algorithms try to convince the audience that computers “think” coherently – which presupposes that humans think coherently as well. But projects like Josh’s “The Adolescent Poetry Generator” are more modest regarding their assumptions about both computers and humans – they admit that computers don’t make much sense –
and often, neither do humans. In the case of The Adolescent Poetry Generator, random bits of angst-filled text flow into one another not-quite-seamlessly. The fun is not in the algorithm’s transparency, but in its opaqueness – instead of an AI bot amazing us with how much it acts like a “smart” human, we’re reminded that humans can often amaze us with their disturbing similarity to AI bots.

So, while Josh and Jimpunk work with different content and have different approaches to software, both work with the subjectivity of algorithms in a cultural context. Hopefully their combined presence in the P2P network will somehow spawn even more strange and exotic things… perhaps an adolescent net image generator – oops, no, better strike that – we don’t want any algorithms winding up behind bars…

– Amy Alexander
November 2003


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