[TISEA 1992] Paper: Richard Wright – Fractal Media and the Overexpressive


And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language… and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
_The Tower of Babel, Genesis 11:6

That awkward term ‘Computer Art’ has finally succumbed to diversity and individual preoccupations, celebrated away by the flurry of grandiose exhibitions, conferences and competitions of the late eighties. All eager to disprove the image of the computer as the advocate of dry and dreary order and logic, they promoted a multitudinous range of applications to cover every facet of artistic activity. From hypermediated conceptual streamlined postappropriation talking pieces to commercial shoot-from-the-hip videographics, they confirmed the computers’ unmatched ability to contribute to the most obscure example of cultural fall-out, completely effacing its own cultural identity in the process. The fractal geometry of computer media endlessly subdivides into new options and alternatives, washing away the bulwarks of cultural praxis and the freedom it offers us threatens to reduce all our language to an incoherent babble. After 50 years of striving to build a mighty tower of the perfect communication machine, the gods have taken their revenge and replaced the Rule of Number by the Licence of Formalism, and Babel has fallen again.

Computer manufacturers have inherited a notion of The Artist as the bearer of a weight of semantic ‘stuff’ needing to be expressed or unburdened and requiring as tolerant a medium as possible to accept all the nuances and facets of their creative will. But this passivity that the computer provides does not make it an ideal medium, a transparent carrier, of pure artistic motions. This subject-centred model of creativity instead makes the computer over-expressive. Each function of a menu option accounts for a little part of the landscape of human imagination, eroding differences and points of reference and making media categories arbitrary. Through computer technology, the medium has now surrendered, it offers no resistance to the desires of the user and overwhelms us by its aimless potential. The problem in engaging such new media is the frustration at not finding the oppositions and difference that build the dichotomy of meaning.

  • Richard Wright,┬áCity of London Polytechnic, UK