In 2021, I declared an ambiguous point of view on cryptoart and NFTs. You can read that post here: Waiting for Stakes. At the time, very little was clear to me. I described both pros and cons to participating in the space. On one hand, achieving permanence through on-chain provenance is incredibly appealing. I participated in BBS’, developer platforms (open and closed), and other technology based communities for many years that have long disappeared. To make digital art with a longer timeline in mind fascinates me. On the other hand, proof-of-work is energy intensive and the financialization of digital imagery (both the still and moving variety) perplexed me. The last 7 years have been a slow burn to understand Web3. I have found:
I like supporting artists. NFTs offer an increasingly easy way to do that for those working in digital media. The proliferation of platforms and interest has also introduced me to artists I was not previously aware of.
NFTs are not terribly interesting. As someone wedged between creative practices and the tech industry, I care more about the expressivity in a Smart Contract than the powers NFTs hold. There is something that feels alive about Smart Contracts and its potential. NFTs are some of that potential bottled up and sold as collectibles.
The Web3 community criticizes Web2 economic models, but increasingly relies on Web2 technology and practices. Major Web3 platforms all have Web2 tie-ins for various reasons. For example, user verification is often punted out to Twitter, Facebook, or Google. It makes Web3 platforms feel more mainstream, but also dilutes early crypto ideals, principally: anonymity and liberation from centralized entities.
These takeaways offer new clarity on a murky subject. For me, and hopefully for others in this space too, the art is, can, and will happen(ing) in the software. The combination of the legacy web, Smart Contracts, blockchain ecosystem, and communities hungry for change offer powerful ingredients for artists to collaborate, concoct, and realize unique expressions of self, of community, and of culture through the creation of software. Software as Artwork or (SaAw) is both a moniker and provocation of this potential to practitioners in the space.
This manifesto is made to declare and laud the conscience practice to combine the discipline, practice, and humility of art creation with the democratic and open principles that first sparked the Internet. As its creator, I also use this manifesto to actively declare my participation in the Web3 space. I have been working on a new kind of collaborative project for the last year. It mixes music and PFP style generative systems. The project is not ready. However, today I am thrilled to share this manifesto with you all in the form of two limited edition (x25) NFTs: one in English and the other in French.
The NFTs (videos) explain Software as Artwork using emerging text-to-speech, speech-to-text technologies, and custom software for rendering graphics all while satirizing the state of developer culture.
The sale of these NFTs, along with a grant from Unnamed Fund, enable me to collaborate with musicians for this new project. I will use the money raised to pay musicians in advance to create works for this experimental endeavor. I will also use the money to reimburse licenses for the typeface used in the manifesto and the music project: GT Walsheim by Grilli Type. In return, your NFT will grant you beta access to this new project. Lastly, your wallet address, name, or handle — if you wish — will be listed on the credits page of the music project.
I hope you will join me! To all the artists out there making Software as Artworks.
My name is Jono. I have a history of making interactive experiences. You may know my digital instruments, Patatap and Typatone. Or perhaps you have seen a music video or two I helped create. On rare occasions, I have been sighted making visuals at concerts. Whichever the case, I believe that technology can play a potent role aiding creative expression. I spent the better part of 20 years refining my creative, technical, and conceptual acumen to bring you digital experiences that are uniquely human — experiences that stir curiosity. Instead of minting work I had already completed to capitalize on the moment, I airdropped some new experiments, a.k.a sketches, to people who read my monthly newsletter. This manifesto marks a new chapter in my artistic growth. Now is the time for that chapter to be written.
New to SaAw? Welcome!
If you’re just starting to explore the concept of SaAw, this is the place to find out what SaAw can do for you, see how SaAw is different, identify questions about SaAw, and learn more about developing SaAw applications.
What is SaAw?
Software as Artwork (or SaAw) is a template for artists who develop software in order to express themselves. The set of criteria that qualifies a SaAw is meant to buoy artists and give them encouragement to produce works for digital environments that go against corporate norms. SaAw combines the discipline, practice, and humility of art creation with the democratic and open principles that first sparked the Internet.
A good way to understand the SaAw model is by thinking of a painting, a sculpture, or a performance. All of these are artifacts of an artist’s vision. Here, an artist’s vision is set within the context of technology. This both sets ideas free to a vast audience, but also restricts artifacts to a common, always moving, denominator: the platform. This paradox offers artists with a unique and challenging way to speak up.
An “artifact” meets the key characteristics of the SaAw model:
A multitenant critique, in which audiences experience an artist’s software, is an artistic position on both the running output and the underlying technology. Whether positive, negative, or occupying the gray, there are clear public statements the artist makes with their software. At the same time, there are hidden and embedded meanings within the software through source code, library selection, and deployment environments.
SaAw model promotes the cultivation of simple and effective strategies to produce works. Audiences of SaAw works are asked to consider the limitations of the individuals creating such works. Please do not cast them or their works in the same pool as large companies and their product offerings. In this way, technology underscores human scales and questions the necessity of features instrumental in attention, data, or other extraction. Human simplicity also suggests an openness to expose what’s hidden, whether by license or by gesture. SaAw is a kind of remediation for human-to-human touch.
The artifact has or continues to run within a platform, whose terms are both controlled by an external party and updated frequently. For example: The App Store, a Web Browser, or a Raspberry Pi. These difficult circumstances create the unique paradox of expressing precise artistic ideas bound to time, space, and bits — a premise fit for greek tragedy.
SaAw Harnesses Audience Participation
An artifact made of software is distinct in that it both produces an experienced artifact and it itself is a system. As a result, audience interactions are key to its experience. These interactions illicit nonlinear interpretations and vast circumnavigations of the artifact’s system; they are emblematic of the rhizomatic form the Internet takes. In certain cases, the artist’s vision is passed along to the audience through the audience’s own ability to express themselves.
Artists around the world are now developing artifacts in the SaAw model that you can experience on your phone, web browser, computer, TV, watch, and various other devices. This model of artistic expression is in response to the consulting firm Saugatuck Technologies' label: “third wave” software adoption. Here, post-third-wave software arms artists and audiences alike with questions and aspirations for a more equitable digital landscape, where humans, not technology, progress, or capital, are valued.
The Future of SaAw Cloud computing and SaAw have come a long way in a short time. Despite advances in the fidelity of experiences and paradigm shifting technologies, the future is both bright and dark. For instance, the uptick of Web3 presents a new opportunity, where fundamental shifts can change people’s lives for the better while also perpetuating many hierarchical structures that plague society. This compels artists of the SaAw model to confront challenges and persevere.
Those who collect this post, Waited for Stakes, will have the option to add their wallet address or handle to the credits page of my new music project. Thanks again for reading and see you in the metaverse.