Please, accept cookies in order to load the content.

KK: Generative processes play a role in your work. But does that also mean that it relates to generative artistic practices?

JRL: I strongly associate the generative with pieces of software that make things entirely by themselves. I couldn’t connect with that whole movement of formalist, algorithmic art in the 1990s. But the networked, working with mining is a generative process.[2]

The fact that you can now work with more intelligent systems and with queries and APIs makes everything much richer. Since the emergence of the internet, the term ‘generative’ has a much broader scope. Generative processes are now ubiquitous.

RM: No matter what technology I employ, it’s always tied up in all sorts of complex interactions. I am also part of that. I think that the word ‘generative’ is too stuck in a certain tradition and time. You could use the word to describe aspects of my work but it doesn’t describe the most interesting parts of my work. For example, you could describe the work A Vernacular of File Formats, which has been acquired jointly by the MOTI and Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, as a self-portrait, but then you haven’t grasped its essence. The essence of my work resides more in exposing the rules, the protocols that lie hidden in the technology and that dictate our use of it.

At the University of Amsterdam I studied with Geert Lovink, one of the protagonists of the Tactical Media movement since the 1990s. I see myself as a part of second generation of tactical media thinkers and artists. Though of course tradition belongs to an older generation and the issues and media have developed since then and can’t necessarily be compared.

MPF: I recognise something in the ethos of the tactical media people. But they worked through disruption, by doing something profoundly dissident or antagonistic in short bursts of activity. ‘Bot people’ (like me) tend to make things that will run for much longer, and instead of disrupting it is the opposite: they kind of ‘fix’ it, but in a wrong way. Have you seen the film Brazil ? The Robert de Niro character, the renegade plumber, comes in and fixes it, but not according to procedure.

Within art practices that are developing, you see an interesting move from closed systems to entangled systems, from generative art in software like Processing [link] to much more complex systems that use APIs, or that are outputting to social media.

These kinds of systems that you can construct are also themselves entangled with audiences. They use all kinds of inputs and other sources. That’s what makes such open-ended systems interesting, these more external voices.

I see my work as more in line with a conceptual art practice, where the procedures are the work, and the material output is the trace, the documentation. I want to see what the material output is of a system that for instance utilizes Google search. ‘Bots’ is just one way of framing that type of practice. There are many more interesting outcomes that can be generated with such configurations. 

Much of our daily existence could be seen as the physical output of a generative process. That widening of generative processes is also what makes it relevant to a wider audience. People can identify with their own use of Google, Facebook or Amazon, and they can see for themselves how those systems construct their behaviours, their norms, their lifestyles.

JRL: A friend of mine is a UX (user experience) designer and works on solutions to problems in digital systems in the dairy industry. This sector is totally beyond the difference between the digital and the physical; it’s totally governed by algorithmic processes. A dairy farmer keeps track of the developments in the data and can manipulate various sliders on his screen to determine how much milk he gets from a particular cow at a certain time. The computer also determines how much feed the cow needs. It’s a black box for the farmer.

The cow’s entire life is governed by algorithms. There is some room for manoeuvre but it is entirely robotised. There are probably other unexpected sectors within which these developments are much more advanced than we might assume.

Please, accept cookies in order to load the content.

Reception - the role of the audience

KK: What has been developed in the reception of algorithmical artefacts? Do you notice a development in the public?

RM: The public is more literate. Technology and interfaces have become part of our visual culture. The visual language of digital culture has permeated into the smallest niches of life. I see this development not only within the public but also in the questions I am asked in interviews. People ask more complex questions and reflect more. They accept that the work is not a gimmick, but they are prepared to see more layers. The days when my work was seen just as a beautiful or ugly picture are thankfully in the past. But of course you can’t talk of just a single public. Many people who visit exhibitions are informed and literate, whereas it’s probably different when I step outside of my ‘discourse’.

JR: The visual language of digital culture has been assimilated. I’m now in a commercial gallery! After fifteen years the collectors are coming! And they understand it!

You can distinguish several layers in the group of people around a gallery like that. There are the collectors: their art-historical understanding is better that it used to be: ‘Do I read this in the context of performance art or visual minimalism?’ The post-digital discourse has had an enormous effect: the understanding that computational processes can refer to reality outside the computer and vice versa. That has grown enormously in the past few years. Almost no one sees them now as divided worlds; that is a broad cultural shift. 

"The post-digital has now truly arrived."

But then there’s the very material question that collectors have difficulty with: how can it be commodified? A non-collecting audience is less concerned with the question of commodification and can accept the work more easily. Take the question of authorship. People are used to the idea of a maker producing something, but I ‘subcontract’ an important part of the work to APIs or other computer-generated processes. I can explain that and we also know that from Warhol: appropriation and suchlike. Process-based things also have a long history I can refer to. With a little bit of explanation, the public is on board nowadays.

Please, accept cookies in order to load the content.

RM: I’m not a big fan of the term ‘post-digital’. Many professional sectors have become post-digital, but many others haven’t. For me it’s interesting at this moment to make translations not within art or visual culture but between totally different discourses.

The technology and the language within which we work has now been developed to such an extent that they also have a form in other professional sectors and for me that represents an enormous new wealth of possibilities. People from the legal world or the medical sphere, for example, are also having a discussion about what digital technology means for their material and practice.

MPF: I think of the audience as existing in layers, depending on how distant they are to the performance of the work. If you’re very close, you don’t see the bigger picture. These include the co-users of Thingiverse, where Shiv Integer is operating. Then as you step away, there is a secondary audience of people that read about the project and then see what is happening, and see how these immediate audiences are reacting. Then you zoom out even further, to the documentation of the project in a gallery space, for a third, even more reflective audience, but they don’t have the thrill of being directly involved. These layers help me to not get too universal about the idea of the audience. There is no one single audience. And all audiences are constructed.

The first layer of audience is the most important, because they are really part of the project.  They are interesting because their reactions can be so genuine. However, the other two are also very important. The project only resolves itself when it reaches the third audience. That reflective moment is also what I’m going for. Werner Herzog said in an interview recently that for him a film is not complete until an audience has seen it. They are the final ingredient, when they bring their own ideas, their own experience of the cinema. Only then is the movie making complete.

Please, accept cookies in order to load the content.

KK: In terms of the content of your work or the actual processes at play in your work, is there anything in the development of the reception of those that you find particularly important or fascinating?

MPF: The reactions of the Thingiverse participants to Shiv Integer point to the kind of implicit social norms that appear to be violated. They are not the technical rules, but the human-made rules, although the rules are also generated by the particular platform in play.

One example was that many users were angry that they were getting kicked off the front page of Thingiverse, because Thingiverse is set up so that everyone sees the same front page, which is updated as soon as there is new work. For many people this is their two minutes of fame, when everyone in Thingiverse is going to see what they have just made. If there is a bot that continuously puts up new work, those two minutes are reduced to one minute. That is a big thing for the users of Thingiverse.

So the first layer of audience is angry. The second layer of audience then says: this is a fault of the platform, they have created a system where everyone is looking at the same front page. They see this social routine of getting yourself on the front page, that is also technically constructed, through the way the system is set up. And then the third layer of audience looks at the whole thing as a comment on the reputation economy, on the platforms and such like. Each layer is creating something for the layer above. The first reading of the project is authoring the reading of the next layer of the audience. The work is not finished at the outset, and then there is an audience. It is unfolding. In this quite literal way, the layers of audience are all performing a part of the generative process. The work is not about computation but about the entanglement of culture and algorithms.

Please, accept cookies in order to load the content.

KK: To what extent are you consciously working with different audiences? 

MPF: It is in development. The more success I have with such projects, the more I want to do more of them. For Disarming Corruptor I was designing the software and then people were downloading the software and then supposedly using it, and then there were onlookers who were commenting on that use. I started to see layers emerge. Shiv Integer was putting that into practice. I am enjoying developing that idea.

RM: I’ve noticed that the way my public and I relate to each other has changed. Or perhaps it’s just my role that has changed. In the past I looked mainly at art but today I try to step outside my filter bubble and to be the ‘audience’, the observer within other professional sectors or discourses, such as law or medicine. I enter their field and look and try to understand how they are using digital media. In the meantime, we have matured within our own professional field. We are better equipped to develop the conversations further when we transfer or broaden them.

MPF: The context for such work has developed. So much of our lives are now mediated by computational systems. This also means that these works are not merely technical pursuits (as early generative art often was). They have become more discursive and much more reflective about the world we live in.



1. Application Programming Interface is a means by which a piece of software can ‘talk to’ another piece of software or a database and extract information from it.

2. Mining, the retrieval of unstructured data from the web, is a metaphor and makes an analogy between the mining of raw materials and the mining of ‘raw’ data. 

3. Minecraft can be played in Creative Mode or in Survival Mode. In Creative Mode there are unlimited building materials and no monsters. It is simply a matter of building with digital blocks in a simulated world. In Survival Mode players are beset by zombies, spiders and other monsters and must mine the materials themselves and fabricate tools in order to build.

Sleep Mode was made possible thanks to the generous support of: