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Filip Kostic: Personal Computers (2nd Edition)
My Personal Computer is, well... mine. I spend 9 hours a day with it. That is more time than I spend with any person in my life. Sometimes working with it, oftentimes sitting next to it. I hide things inside of it. Half finished artworks that I don’t share with anyone. Notes to myself stashed in the deepest folder directories. It’s personal - I don’t want just anyone to look through it. Other than myself, there are few that I do. I share my most intimate information with it: my credit card number, the date it expires, and even the three numbers on the back. It sees where I go even when I browse privately and agrees to pretend to forget(I think it always remembers, but it keeps it to itself). It is with me in therapy(sometimes it is my therapist). If there was ever a fire, it is the one thing I would grab. I love being on it - many don’t, but I am most at ease when I am on my computer. I’ve been with it for a long time - I built it originally in 2008, although nothing of its original form exists in its current iteration, I still think of it as the first computer I built. It remembers what I shared with it way back when, as a young boy, through the transitive property of its parts. I never changed every part of the computer at once, it was always a few parts here and there. Through this transitivity, my very first hard drive passed down traces of my data from 2008, part by part to the hard drive I’m using today.
The existence of the Personal Computer necessitates the existence of the Impersonal Computer. I am thinking of these outside of the framework of capital - it is about privacy in terms of intimacy, not in regards to property and access. It is privacy in the way that a friendship or a relationship has privacy. The Impersonal Computer is everywhere. It’s clunky and general, it’s the self-checkout station, it’s the gas station pump interface, it’s the touch screen pad that isn’t quite responsive. It obstructs and resists while feigning convenience. It is built to be recognizable while disappearing - safe, clinical, and inconsequential in its aesthetic pursuits. Before defining how then the Personal Computer exists comparatively to the Impersonal Computer, it’s important to delineate the specific kind of Personal Computer I am speaking to. Although most personal devices like laptops and branded desktops share more with the Personal than with the Impersonal Computer, aesthetically their values reflect a market trend rather than a community and self-expressive gestures and constructions. I am speaking specifically to the Personal Computer in this book. A computer built by a Computer Modder that may or may not consider themselves an Artist, but one who shares pursuits of creating meaning rooted in aesthetic language and lineage. The Personal Computer in this book designates space - it sometimes asks you for a room. When it tries to disappear, it crawls beneath your desk collecting your cat’s fur in its fans, forcing itself back into a designated space again. It grows out of its frame alongside you. Your Personal Computer requires maintenance. As you swap its components, the old parts accumulate and become new smaller computers (slightly less personal than the original) and offshoots of its former self.
The Personal Computer is bodily and grotesque - it fetishizes its thingness. It exists in a lineage of aesthetic machines that deal with their inherent constraints as if they are formal challenges to make meaning through. Because the configuration of computer components hasn’t shifted for 30 years it became the frame through which to make aesthetic gestures. These gestures are defined by ‘Computer Modders’ that have been around since the 90’s, building a historical genealogy of objects, and a sculptural language to communicate through. For many artists, myself included, the computer is an object that wholly facilitates the creation of an artwork. It is an idea’s site of inception, the place where the idea is iterated and developed, the tool through which the idea is produced into an artwork, and the object through which the work is exhibited. It is imperative for artists working with computers - particularly in ways that require the machine to display the work - to address the materiality of the computer. That is not to say that artworks that are, for instance using simulation, must center the computer - but, if one chooses to aestheticize it, there is a history and lineage to reference, pull from, and speak to. This book is a curated slice of that history. I have been collecting and categorizing these images since 2014, and the bulk of the collection spans from 2002-2022. It is a compilation of more than 400 builds through which a clear aesthetic language is developed. A vector is drawn between computers made in 2002 and those made in 2022 because of the iterative and constricting framework of the practice, but this limitation is the basis of some of the wildest sculptural gestures and propositions. There is a real sense that Computer Modding is a contemporary folk art: It concerns itself with the aesthetic reflection of a community and that community’s cultural life. Much like other folk art, these aesthetics get folded into contemporary art making without a sense of criticality or understanding of the direct referent. Therefore, the art’s gesture fails to meaningfully contribute to either the culture and community of Computer Modding, or to that of Art. As the use of computers becomes increasingly more commonplace in artists' practices, my hope is that we as artists look to the Computer Modders (the aesthetes of the Personal Computer) to continue and contribute to a sculptural dialogue that was set in motion outside of the brackets of art.
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