(Letter answering to the algorist artist Pierre Berger)


What is the purpose of  putting into place algorithmic procedures in the creation of works of art ? There is no doubt that this aim is to continue the history of art, which has almost totally lost its way since Duchamp,  since creative individuals are condemned “constantly to invent new ruptures and new provocations” (according to Pierre Berger, in Peinture et Machine, in this blog). In other words, because profound ruptures are lacking all that remains is provocation. Contrary to the title of a celebrated exhibition, “When Attitudes become Forms” (Kunsthalle, Berne, 1969: commissioner Harald Szeeman) such  provocations, which are of great interest to sociologists, are not necessarily works of art. There is therefore an entire element in the history of art that up to now remains virtual, but which could be inscribed as departing from two historic references. These act as markers between which we can reflect and found our historic legitimacy.

From Technical Reproductibility to Productibility 

The first marker is Walter Benjamin’s essay The Work of Art in the Era of its Technical Reproductibility (1936) which opens the way to reflection on the new conditions of existence of art in a society dominated henceforth by the progress of technique.

Among the consequences of these new relations of art and technique there is one that Benjamin evidently could not foresee, because it only became possible with the appearance of informatics at all levels of modern life.

This passage to technical productibility is essential in guiding us towards the clarification of operative modes and in giving us the means to affirm the continuity of an artistic modernity that no longer fears being instrumentalised by technique.

Alas, faced with this technical progress, the surrealists reacted by rejecting it and by insisting instead on a return to the values of dream, instinct, the unconscious, automatism and the occult. They contributed to the hatred of progress and the valuing of fetishism as a mental archetype.

In addition they wanted, more or less directly, to embody in their work a political content. Let us not forget that in 1930 André Breton officially placed his movement “at the service of the Communist Party”. This desire to subject art to politics greatly influenced  the codes of perception and evaluation of the surrealists, thus excluding the minority that did not share the same ideology.


Now, in cultural reality, it is certainly the surrealists, via Duchamp, Miro and their numerous spiritual descendants, who have influenced and still influence the near totality of what is known as contemporary art.

Personally, I do not find my place in this logic. If I had at all costs to find an artistic genealogy I would have to go back to those who were contemporary with the surrealists, the futurists. Contrary to their competitors, the futurists grounded their essential values and convictions in modern technology and its amazing progress (with all due reserve for the later political orientation of the movement).

Technical productibility now suggests operative modes that are resolutely modern.

Iteration up to the Instant T

Like you, I defend the “picture”. But there is no contradiction with modern operative modes. A picture is not necessarily the unique site where art can be deployed, but one must not deny its pertinence and overwhelm it with abuse. However modern the operative modes, they produce their effects in a very traditional materiality, that of the painting - “an object that one hangs on the wall like a hunting rifle or a hat”, according to Heidegger – a surface plane on which colours are assembled in a certain order.

Consider the picture from the good old quotation of Maurice Denis: “Before becoming a battle scene or a naked woman, a painting is essentially a matter of pigments of colour assembled according to a certain order on a plane surface”.

But everything depends on the nature of this order. As for me, may I remind you that the order determining my assembly-paintings, or e-paintings, is not one of representation or self-expression, or evocation of tangible forms of experience, or even of a message directed to social or political spheres. It is the order of iteration – a differential repetition.

In order to give existence to the order of iteration, to realise it as much as possible, I found it necessary to invent a new tool, a new operative method. This method has its concrete reality in the fine-tuning (mise à point) of my art software (software art) EXPLORER 2002. The latter continually generates a visual spectacle based on the combination of a certain number of elements in perpetual transformation.  The spectacle is always different within the limits of its own identity and according to the values given to the different systemic parameters. The new role of the subject-artist, excluding any compositional temptation, is to choose privileged moments in this continuity. This is the instant T , where one presses on the stop key, fixing the image destined to be printed, which thus becomes a painting validated by its “instantaneity” – if you will excuse the neologism.


For our Movement to Emerge at the Cultural Level

In a more general manner, are these regulated effects of phenomena that artists have imagined and that computers have realised so powerfully as to go beyond the initial concept – are these algorithms capable of producing forms to come, which without being really “new” , will be determined  by qualities of autonomy, internal coherence and relevance? Will they, in other words, appear as paradoxes free from the codes inscribed in the existing context of creation and thus endowed with renewed seduction? For, however important is the operative mode (in its power of determining the work) it is limited by the induced results:  it will be a setback if they turn out to be the same as the art of the past. To overcome this very real danger, the visual aspect that it realises must translate its algorithmic and hence stochastic structure in the light of categories of appreciation and judgment which should be capable of emerging at the cultural level.

This is the question: are the works of some 40 “algorists” appearing on our site to be considered as part of contemporary art or are they, rather, examples of engineering or industrial graphics? In the former case, do they naturally constitute,  if not  a movement, at least the potential for a great exhibition, which could have the willingly provocative title, “Bye Bye Dada”?


Christian de Cambiaire, (March 2007)

(Trad. John Girling)