The Work

Casey Reas edited this page Apr 29, 2016 · 45 revisions

The Work is continuous changing; at each moment it's different than it was before. This is in contrast to a drawing or painting that is largely fixed in time. It's in contrast to a work in film or video that is in constant motion, but has a fixed beginning, end, or loop. Of course these works change with the light in the room, as the materials degrade, and through our experience of viewing them, etc. but that's a different kind of change. This Work is most like a performance that is free to follow variable and unexpected paths. The Work is visual media and it's time-based media, but it's also conditional media. What is conditional media? It's an open work, as defined by Eco in Opera aperta.

In digging deeper into the nature of the Work, it appears to be software, or maybe the source code for the software, but it's not. The Work is more fundamental — it's a set of instructions that defines a System. These instructions exist only to realize visual or audiovisual information, but from the point of view of creating the Work and of conservation, the most important aspect of the Work is the information encoded in the instructions.

The System is sometimes defined in English, but it's most often defined in source code. There's nothing authentic or precious about the specific source code notation of the Work; the instructions can be clearly defined in a number of notations. The notation is essential to the work because it clearly codifies it, but the notation is not the work. The software application or executable that is a compiled version of the notation is also essential for experiencing the Work, but it's also not the Work.

Because it's a set of instructions, the Work is essentially immaterial, but it's always realized as light and/or sound. In fact, the instructions exist only to choreograph images and sounds in time and space. This is similar to how a composer works. A score for music uses notation to define a sequence of sounds in the way instructions for the Work in source code define a visual system. A score is immaterial like code, but the primary goal of the score is to define a sensory experience. Similarly, a script for a theater performance is a notation system that integrates dialog and stage directions, but it exists primarily to be performed. With all, there's a separation of the notation as one form of the work and the performance of the notation as the manifestation.

The software application or executable that encodes the system is the most fragile form of the work related to conservation, but it's the most useful day to day. It's the element that can be installed and run on a computer so people can experience the work. Unlike more traditional media, there is no original version of this software. It's a digital file that can be copied without degradation and each copy is identical. Over time, a few years or decades depending on the context, the operating systems required to run the application will become obsolete and the application will no longer run. When this happens, there are a few courses of action as defined in more detail in the Conservation document. In short, the software can be emulated, migrated, or reinterpreted.

The Work is a precise set of instructions that is encoded in text or source code notation, but it has multiple layers: the implicit instructions, the notation (text or source code), the application, the computer, the operating system, the display hardware (screen or projector). Each component is necessary to realize and experience the Work. This is the primary idea — the instructions define a set of conditions to be experienced.