:(){ :|:& };: — Jaromil, 2002
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Any discussion of software as art requires consideration of the whole creative process involved in designing and producing it, which leads to a new approach to operation in the digital domain. Our attention here is focused on source codes [*1] and the fascinating world of algebra and algorithms. That world can be seen in many expressions of form which are dense, can be reformulated and produce meaning.

Source codes, or rather algorithms and algebra, are the tools of the digital craftsman in the modern age with over a thousand years of mathematical theories behind them [*2]. Only for little more than a quarter of a century have they acted as software. Software is a means of creating art and communicating. It is a metaliterature which defines how meaning can be carried and (re)produced by multiplying the possibilities of communication. Just as software is a means of metacommunication, so it represents a "parole," (to quote Saussure), deriving its execution from a "langue," i.e. the grammatical and linguistic universe of the code.

This reference to the metaphysical is to the point here: although many see the source code as merely an obscure cryptogram, it has an indirect effect on the way we communicate and even more on the efficiency with which we do so.

With all this in mind, let us now turn our attention to the phenomenon of software viruses. These are a combination of rebellious poetic gestures, symptoms of politics or structure, attempts to get into the cracks of the net and artificial intelligences, (rarely harmful, just for the record), which have always populated the digital universe.

[*1] Source code means a formulation of “instructions” expressed in a language understandable to a computer and linked in accordance with logical and conditional patterns which, once interpreted and executed, gives rise to a result. This result varies as the external conditions considered by the source code vary and through which we interact with its execution. Every language is defined by a grammar which, in turn, is interpreted by a compiler who “metabolizes” its semantic content (instructions) and so produces a "bytecode" which the computer can execute.

[*2] The term “algorithm” derives from the name of Muhammad Bin Musa al-Khwarizmi, a mathematician living in Baghdad between 813 and 833 A.D.

{Digital Bohème}

In considering a source code as literature, I am depicting viruses as though they were the sort of poems written by Verlaine, Rimbaud et al., against those selling the net as a safe area for straight society. The relations, forces and laws governing the digital domain differ from those in the natural. The digital domain produces a form of chaos – which is inconvenient because it is unusual and fertile – on which people can surf. In that chaos, viruses are spontaneous compositions which are like lyrical poems in causing imperfections in machines ”made to work” and in representing the rebellion of our digital serfs.

It might seem that this notion comparing viruses to lyrical poetry can only be appreciated by those with specific technical knowledge but this is not true at all. This was, in fact, precisely one of the attempts made by the I LOVE YOU exhibition, i.e. to explore the too-often-neglected sides of a "digital boheme.” This has succeeded in making the net we surf today more organic by devising new ways for information to circulate on it and an aesthetic, in the true sense of the term, which has often permeated so-called net-art.


"The last possible deed is that which defines perception itself, an invisible golden cord that connects us: illegal dancing in the courthouse corridors. If I were to kiss you here they'd call it an act of terrorism--so let's take our pistols to bed & wake up the city at midnight like drunken bandits celebrating with a fusillade, the message of the taste of chaos."

Hakim Bey

Now type in :(){ :|:& };: on any UNIX terminal.

{Internet Antibodies}

Just as an organism defends itself against the diseases which infect it, so the net has reacted by producing antibodies attacking the bugs from several types of defective software. One particular type of virus spreading recently is worms, which has done so particularly through e-mail programs and data servers. Vulnerable software manufacturers are still busy trying to improve the safety of their products which, in our case, means the privacy of our communications.

Politically speaking, we see that the reaction from many virus writers, who can be identified on the net as having a profound knowledge of the elements that make up the net itself, has been brought about precisely because of the corporate, monopolistic approach of certain giants on the market who are dreaming of turning the net into a virtual shopping area for their own forms of business, with no respect for the horizontal nature of the citizens who live on it. So far, we have had endless attempts to hamper the speed at which information can circulate, ranging from censorship to copyright restrictions: [*]

"Since the earliest days of the personal computer, Cyberspace was seen as a vehicle to restore disappearing public spaces. Lee Felsenstein, one of the founders of the personal computer, advocated using this new tool to restore an information commons (Felsenstein). Felsenstein and many of his fellow personal computing pioneers envisioned that the Internet could provide a vast public space that would reflect diverse interests and encourage free speech and creativity.

For many years popular discourse framed the Internet as a diverse free speech zone where "anyone can be a creator". But in the early days of the WorldWide Web, public areas of the Internet became increasingly walled-off. In 1994 this author warned of the "colonizing effect" that commercial interests would have on the public space that the Internet then represented (Besser 1994). And in 1995 he discussed how control by large industries would supercede the public benefit and diversity aspects that the Internet had promised. Almost a decade later, we see Internet spaces increasingly fenced off, and peoples' actions increasingly tracked and recorded."

Howard Besser

Viruses are a political symptom of a community which continues to be extremely vast and banning them is not the solution to the problems deriving therefrom. The same holds true for anonymity and hacking.

[*] Intellectual Property: the Attack on Public Space in Cyberspace http://www.gseis.ucla.edu/~howard/Papers/pw-public-spaces.html by Howard Besser, Professor of Cinema Studies and Director of New York University's Moving Image Archiving & Preservation Program, describes how various industries are using their leverage with copyright to make fewer locations on the Internet less public.


A virus writer is interested in exploring the permeability of the net. A rhizome of such and so many dimensions as the internet cannot be represented by any map – many have tried but no one has so far completed this task. Its extension may be traced by following a path, sounding where it wanders off and tracing its directions and connections. Injecting a contrast medium into the organism to follow shape and structure will produce an angiogram showing the typical arrangement of veins.

Let us now make an effort and consider the origins of the Instinct of Exploration as we can represent it in our own history, the history of the organic world as we know it.

Heartfelt thanks to all the team at digitalcraft.org for their attention and interest in our work. It has been an honour for me to contribute to this ongoing collective research for which there has been so much enthusiasm. Very special thanks to Franziska Nori, Florian Cramer, Andreas Broeckmann, Alessandro Ludovico, Garderobe23/Kunstfabrik Berlin, Woessel.

In solidarity with all those who still resist.
To everybody still holding out: right on!