Pipe Bomb: Exploding Code in the Work of Rene Margritte and Jodi

Critical Writing
Record Status: 
Abstract (in English): 

Following Michel Foucault's brief works of art criticism, Rene Magritte's paintings, and Jodi's websites, this essay performs a close reading of HTML code using the aesthetic logic of the calligramme. To begin I construct a genealogy of critical image production surrounding Magritte's now classic 1928-29 painting La trahison des images. A slowly decomposing relationship between language and images begins with Scott McCloud's reductive materialism in Understanding Comics (1993) in which McCloud's comic book avatar lectures on the material and mimetic aspects of Magritte's pipe for purely ironic effect. Unlike McCloud's attempts to distill materiality down to traditional media types, Henning Pohl's La trahison des images numeriques (2009) implicates both pipe and text within a transcendental image-space beyond medium specificity which, like Giselle Beiguelman's //**Code_up (2004), promotes the fantasy of diving into data. Douglas R. Hofstadter's clever calligramatic sketches in Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid (1979) inject language into the system via a paradoxical operation similar to that of the Liar Paradox in which Epimenides, a Cretan, declares "all Cretans are liars." Finally, in Michel Foucault's five part procedural analysis This is Not a Pipe (1973)--inspired in part by Guillaume Apollinaire's calligramme Fumees (1914)--a method for reading wwwwwwwww.jodi.org emerges. wwwwwwwww.jodi.org is a frequently discussed digital media artwork by Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans (collectively known as Jodi) in which meaning is produced specifically through the dynamic interplay of imagistic code reminiscent of the atom bombs' schematics and neon green, alphabetic output suggestive of nuclear fallout. My work picks up where Alan Sondheim, Peter Lunenfeld, John Cayley, McKenzie Wark, Alan Liu, and C. T. Funkhouser each end his criticism of this iconic work. Instead of reading narrative or ironic causality between code and output, I perform a Foucauldian reading which emphasizes the disconnect between these two orders through the intervention of the calligramme. Though at first the website appears decodable, a dynamic exchange oscillates between mimetic representations of exploded code and linguistic trauma of speechless, unintelligible text to trigger an affective explosion. wwwwwwwww.jodi.org relays the trauma of the atom bomb through the history of digital media and art evokes digital media's academic history, technical precursors, and direct ties to the US military-industrial complex. Rendering the bombs and the process by which they function on the web implicates two important historical figures: Vannevar Bush and Alfred H. Barr Jr. Bush acted as the first Presidential Science Advisor, developed the infrastructure for the Manhattan Project, and invented the Memex, an influential thought experiment in the history of new media. Alfred H. Barr Jr. was the founding director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York who advocated a permanent collection via calligrammatic diagrams of a "torpedo moving through time" whose nosecone noncoincidentally points at the soon to be explosion of 1950's Abstract Expressionism. Thus in the moment that Jodi is engaged is semiotic destruction it is simultaneously implicating itself within a particular cultural narrative regarding the relationship of digital media to art history and American militarism.

Works referenced:

Platforms referenced:

Title Developers Year initiated
HTML Tim Berners-Lee 1991
The permanent URL of this page: 
Record posted by: 
Audun Andreassen