Essay for SOFTWARE, exhibition by Suzanne Treister at the Union Gallery, University of Adelaide, South Australia. 1994
Software. Suzanne Treister
A little knowledge is a wonderful thing.
In an interview with William Gibson (it would have been nice to get through this without mentioning him, but here we go...) he mentioned some disappointment, when, after writing Neuromancer with its projections of vast computer spaces and networks existing in cyberspace, he finally got around to buying his own computer. He had written Neuromancer on a manual typewriter. His book had been written using a misconception of the interior of a computer, which he'd seen as some sort of electrical galaxy in which information flashed and floated. He was very put out to find that his new machine made a whirring noise, and that inside was a rotating ceramic disc. Not a million miles away from a Victorian gramophone. If I'd known that, he said, I would never have written the thing.
Hardware is hard and boxy. Why is Software hard and in boxes too?
In discussion, the pages of Mondo 2000, and in the artist's and the press's musings on Virtual Reality, Gibson's mistake has become a model for projections of the future. Ideas of V.R. slip off hipsters lips with a crazed prolixity. Virtual sex, virtual war, virtual space, virtual medicine, virtual etc. Which is a lot of worlds to be spinning off the grooves of a Victorian gramophone. V.R., as it stands is a clunky crude twopenny thing, nothing that you'd want to go to bed with and not even as good as Lawnmower man, which is pretty bad. These visions of potentialities and babbled towers are built in a space that is in fact the virtual space of our language and our desires, not the computer. Like William, most of us don't even know how a computer works. Or how the program works. Which is a strength when thinking about them, as you don't get blinkered by practicalities. It also means that we aren't really thinking about computers at all; rather the idea of them provides a space for open ended constructions and plays, in which virtual paradises and virtual hells are constructed, reflected and rotated, without limitation or boundary. It's language really. An enigma wrapped in a mystery and so forth. Marcel D, the famous french flaneur, had fun with ideas of the fourth dimension that in fact were totally potty. Concepts and approaches from these were used in the construction of his work even though he knew that, in mundane terms they were not 'true'. The programs represented here – with hooks, books, candles and fur would have problems slotting into the disc drive of a Macintosh SE. Or any other model. Fun fur fucks your RAM, But what they do do is refer to a space – that is not necessarily cyber – in which many things may happen. It is a space that, even though we do know the language, we don't know how the language works. What the programs might effect that operate between the monster box and the fun fur disc is open to conjecture, literally, but these conjectures are described in the distance between parameters that we contain and construct (and are contained and constructed in) in the spaces of language and image. You are now entering a virtual paradise.
Richard Grayson 1994