Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Art and Design - Faculty of Creative Arts


This thesis focuses on the emerging field of software art. It is concerned with questions that arise in relation to efforts to think the field of software, and software programming particularly, in aesthetic terms. Centrally, how can software as a technical field of production, as a form of engineering and as a space of abstract, instrumentally-oriented, system elaboration, possibly correspond to art? What are the dilemmas that the notion of software art confronts? How can its space of opportunity be conceived? These questions are pursued not only at a general theoretical level but in terms of aspects of my own software art practice. The thesis begins by considering the ambivalent character of software, examining how it mediates between dimensions of machine process and human agency and how this potential has been conceived in cultural theoretical terms. It then outlines the specific formal features of software programming and reviews competing perspectives of software practice. This description of the software medium establishes a foundation for a specific consideration of the field of software art. I trace the historical emergence of the genre, examine how it has been theoretically conceived and consider a range of exemplary works. I then specify three key dilemmas that confront software art: the dilemma of position (how can software art conceive its relation to the larger economic and discursive space of the software industry?); the dilemma of visibility (how can software art conceive its efforts to make code visible when software itself determinedly, structurally, hides?); and the dilemma of recursion (how is software to avoid an exclusive and disabling emphasis on self-reflection?). In the remaining portion of the thesis, these dilemmas are considered within the specific context of examining issues and aesthetic strategies within my own work. My overall argument is that software art represents a permeable discursive space that discovers an aesthetic potential less by resisting the spectre of conventional software than by risking an intimate relation to this alien terrain. Rather than a calm appropriation of software by art, it represents an unsettling of art by means of software.

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