PhD project

Software Curating

Software Curating: The Politics of Curating in/as (an) Open System(s). Joasia Krysa, July 2008

Date:
2002 2008

The thesis examines how information technologies have changed the practice of curating. It proposes an interdisciplinary approach that directly links curating (often understood as an activity of artistic programming), computing (the activity of computer programming) and a relatively recent interest in software art (in which programming is understood as artistic practice). Although there is much contemporary critical work and practice that is described as art-oriented programming or software art, the thesis aims to explore a perceived gap in discussions around software curating.

Curators working with online technologies are presented with the challenge of how to respond to new artistic forms that involve programming: for instance program-objects that display dynamic and transformative properties, and that are distributed over socio-technological networks. Although there are many examples of social platforms and highly relevant examples of online ‘art platforms’, these still largely operate in display mode replicating more conventional models of curating and the operations of art institutions in general. The tendency is for these curatorial online systems to concentrate on the display of executed code and pay less attention to source code. New sensibilities are required that simultaneously reflect the significance of source code as art, and software not as a production tool or a display platform but as cultural practice that is analogous to curating. What is distinctive about the thesis is that it speculates on a curatorial model that emphasises the analogy to programming. Consequently, the thesis argues for online software systems that display properties of curating but reprocess established definitions by deliberately collapsing firm distinctions between the fields of programming, artistic practice and curatorial practice.

To consider these issues, the thesis brings together a number of inter-related fields of critical inquiry and situates curating in the context of theories of immateriality, a critical discourse around software art practice, and an understanding of open systems. The key issue for the thesis becomes how power relations, control and agency are expressed in new curatorial forms that involve programming and networks; in other words, the thesis is concerned with the politics of curating in/as (an) open system(s). Indeed, curating itself can be described in terms of open systems, implying a state in which there is continuous interaction with the socio-technological environment. The system is opened up to communicative processes that involve producers/users and to divergent exchanges that take place and that disrupt established social relations of production and distribution. Thus, and importantly for an understanding of the power relations involved, software opens up curating to dynamic possibilities and transformations beyond the usual institutional model (analogous to the model of production associated with the industrial factory) into the context of networks (and what is referred to by the Autonomists as the ‘social factory’). The suggestion is that the curatorial process is now closely integrated with the dynamic socio-technological networks and with software that is not simply used to curate but demonstrates the activity of curating in itself. Consequently, the thesis offers an expanded description of curating with respect to software in which agency is reconstituted to include alternative dynamics of networks.

The curatorial model is not only theorised but also deployed in the production of experimental software for curating source code (softwareKURATOR) that forms the practical part of the doctoral research. In addition to a written thesis and software, two further projects produced during the registration period 2002-2008 are included in support of the overall thesis: a conference Curating, Immateriality, Systems (Tate Modern, London 2005) and an edited book Curating Immateriality: The Work of The Curator in the Age of Network Systems (Autonomedia, New York 2006). softwareKURATOR is a further development of the conference and subsequent book, and offers an online, user-moderated curatorial system for further public modification. In so doing, the argument is that the curatorial process is demonstrably a collective and distributed executable that displays machinic agency. This is what is referred to in the thesis as software curating.

PhD thesis (13 July 2008) pdf download JoasiaKrysa(PhD).pdf