My work was chosen by turbulence.org guest curator Rubaiyat Shatner into a National Endowment for the Arts funded exhibition, “look art“. The exhibition was executed entirely in the form of MUSH (Multi-User Shared Hallucination) or MUD (Multi-User Dungeon), a text based game platform common in the 1990’s. These early network games were the progenitors of the visually sophisticated contemporary games.
My proposal to construct a painter’s studio in the game platform was one of only three projects selected to be a part of this creative technology revamp. I wrote and programmed a text based experience of the studio environment which also included portraiture completely constructed from text (see exhibits xx – xx). I included a ‘hidden’ library for experienced game users to discover as a nod to the historic MUSH/MUD fantasy narratives.
I made ASCII (text) portraits of a number of my colleagues in the field. This technique has been a popular form in new media since the advent of networks. There are numerous generators available on the web to automatically create ASCII images, but I chose to lean on my history as a painter. I spent hours carefully constructing the text portraits ‘drawing’ one character at a time; then looking at the image from a distance to carefully edit the picture.
The MUD/MUSH media are all about the community, the participation, and the social. In the gallery, I have chosen to honor members of my community, the CADRE Laboratory for New Media. These images are of the people I deeply respect for the collegiality, high standards, generosity, and even the fights and disagreements from which all colleagues are constructed.
I first approached the Look Art project with a desire to explore the fundamental process of encoding images as demonstrated by Sol LeWitt. When I considered the nature of the Multi-User Dungeon as a site for art practice I saw an immediate affinity with LeWitt’s methodology of pattern, codification, algorithm, and especially instruction sets.
The correspondence to the tradition of the Multiple and the subversion of the Original are two corresponding concepts to the MUD found in the Lewitt wall drawings. In the MUD environment, as in all computing, the idea of the original becomes completely disoriented. As Lewitt wrote on Diagonal Lines in Two Directions, Superimposed (Plan for Wall Drawing, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York), 1969: “The wall drawing is perceived first as a light tonal mass… and then as a collection of lines. Neither the wall drawing, this drawing in ink, or the photographic record of the wall drawing are definitive, but all are of equal importance.” The Multiple is the native form for all computing but especially in the case of the MUD/MUSH. This is an ecology based on communication and without replication the domain collapses. Lewitt’s instruction sets for drawings and the text of the MUD environment figure as the coded architectonics for both.
The ‘magic’ for the MUD as well as LeWitt’s work happens in an interstices between form and apprehension. This operation is guided and executed as language. In the MUD of course language is the stand-in for our native perception so that a player may react to environment and stimulus. Language especially as exhibited in the wall drawings of LeWitt operates as a similar mediating force. The instruction set for a LeWitt drawing that functions to guide the craftsman to render an environment which becomes the perceptive stimulus for the gallery game.
This environment had encouraged me to confine my designs within a few fundamental variables that are historically true: 1. images would only span 80 characters wide (thanks to Mr. Morgan for reminding me of this) and 2. the images are within to be rendered in light colored text on a dark background. Both of these rules were encoded as a respectful nod to the interface of the original MUD’s and to try exercise the work in the purest sense of the form.
As I started encoding images for the exhibition, I soon grew tired of the pattern images. Patterns while true to the inspiration fell short of being native to the project. The patterns gave way to portraits, which I discovered was another affirmation of the nature of language and communication. The MUD/MUSH environments are about the community, the participation, and the social. In the gallery, I have chosen to honor members of my community, the CADRE Laboratory for New Media. These images are of the people I deeply respect for the collegiality, high standards, generosity, and even the fights and disagreements from which all great friendships and peers are constructed.