Joline Blais  & Jon Ippolito on Joseph Nechvatal

-      From At the Edge of Art (Thames & Hudson)





Joseph Nechvatal

Where Information Can Go, A Virus Can Go With It


Another artist who trusts to static perseverance for his dynamically generated forms is Joseph Nechvatal, whose paintings are derived from the trails left by artificial organisms programmed to scavenge colors from a digital image. Given Nechvatal’s high-tech process – employing cellular automata, viral mutations, and even a spray-painting robot – it is ironic that the final output is an acrylic painting on canvas. Furthermore, each virally modified Nechvatal canvas stands alone, in the style of an artistic masterpiece rather than the time-lapse photographs and diagrams that are so instructive for biological and artificial-life research. Once frozen on a single surface, the scientific allusions in his work take a back seat to artistic ones, whether the organic ornament of the graphic artist H. R. Giger or the ingratiating palette of the fabric artist Miriam Shapiro. Although he has recently experimented with interactive and animated formats, Nechvatal’s primary ambition for a-life is to bring painting back from the dead. p.213




infectOrOlOg delictO

computer-robotic assisted acrylic on canvas

44 x 66”   © 2003 Joseph Nechvatal




The analogy between technologies and viruses is complex but works at many stages of ‘infection’. Technologies, like viruses, are perverse: they are constantly mutating into new strains (or new software and tools). Technologies, like viruses, are arresting: they halt a cell’s (or a society’s) normal operating procedure and hijack it for their own ends. Technologies, like viruses, are revelatory: they elicit responses latent in the (social) body’s own systems but had never been revealed – sometimes even in the body’s own immune response (or society’s cultural practices). Finally, technologies, like viruses, are executable: a virus’s instructions hijack the body’s operating system (or the social body’s institutions). p.10