programmed machines

I wanted to discuss conceptual art, so naturally, I googled “conceptual art.” From the lengthy list of works on the Wikipedia page, Maurizio Bolognini‘s Programmed Machines immediately jumped out at me.

Programmed Machines is a conceptual installation consisting of hundreds of computers that he programmed to generate never-ending flows of random images. These machines have been left running since the beginning of the project in the 1990s. (Apparently, most of them are still working. The former high school Ecology Club member in me wondered how much electricity these computers have been eating up in the name of art.)

Bolognini wrote the following concerning this piece:

I do not consider myself an artist who creates certain images, and I am not merely a conceptual artist. I am one whose machines have actually traced more lines than anyone else, covering boundless surfaces. I am not interested in the formal quality of the images produced by my installations but rather in their flow, their limitlessness in space and time, and the possibility of creating parallel universes of information made up of kilometres of images and infinite trajectories. My installations serve to generate out-of-control infinities.

As with all other conceptual artworks, the concept and idea behind Programmed Machines takes precedence over the finished piece. If I were to go to a gallery and look at Programmed Machines, it would probably take all of half a minute before I had seen all I needed to see. The computers aren’t moving or changing, and as far as the viewer can tell, they aren’t doing anything. It’s all very static.

But if there were monitors that could display images, and assuming that the artist actually did what he said he did, we would see that these machines are actually very busy, tirelessly producing picture after picture using the algorithm that Bolognini had coded. Thus, the installation becomes interesting when you think about the artist’s process and what message he was trying to convey.

Because these computers have limited storage, I would guess that an image is stored for a certain amount of time before being overwritten, if it’s stored at all. In the grand scheme of things, the life of an image on one of these machines is fleeting. To take this to an unnecessary, pseudo-philosophical level, I must ask the question, does an image exist if no one ever sees it?

So individually and aesthetically, the images probably aren’t that impressive. But the idea of countless images being produced ceaselessly by these machines is what’s noteworthy. Staggering, even. How many images have been generated in the past two decades? What did they look like? No one, not even Bolognini, knows for sure.

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