Rethinking Execution

Article Information

  • Author(s): Monika Szűcsová
  • Affiliation(s): Masaryk University, Brno
  • Publication Date: July 2021
  • Issue: 8
  • Citation: Monika Szűcsová. “Rethinking Execution.” Computational Culture 8 (July 2021).


Review of Helen Pritchard, Eric Snodgrass and Magda Tyżlik-Carver, Eds., Executing Practices (Open Humanities Press, 2018), 310 pp., ISBN 978-1-78542-056-6

The notion of execution and its practices, which gave birth to this book, were first examined by a collective of artists, thinkers and researchers calling themselves “Critical Software Thing” in two workshops in Aarhus, Denmark and Malmö, Sweden between 2015 – 2016.1 With these discussions, the group, interested in thinking things and objects from the perspective of Software Studies, aimed to “open up the concept of execution [from the] perspective of code and its execution, and more generally towards a wider discussion in relation to datafied culture and everyday life” and to “explore the concept of execution in the form of artistic and critical practice”, respectively.2

The book begins with two very different examples of the execution of software code, namely the implementation of programming for ENIAC in 1940s and the broadcasting of computer programmes on radio and TV. To exemplify the latter, the book talks about the Polish National Radio’s regular Radiokomputer programme which ran between 1986 and the early 1990s, transmitting computer programs and games for early home computers, such as Atari, ZX-Spectrum and Commodore 64.3 On the other side of the wall, the West German television channel WDR broadcast Nam June Paik’s 1963 exhibition Exposition of Music – Electronic Television, —a show that worked with the television screen in creative and critical ways. Both examples focus on the physical experience of receiving and executing transmitted information: in the first example, the noise produced during the transmission and home-cassette-recording of the software code that was later to be executed as a computer game; in the second example, an (execution of) modification to TV sets that led to the warping and deconstruction of TV programmes as they were broadcast. The editors of the book remind us that these are among many stories of execution “which are forgotten in the history of software” and which should be investigated4, even more so when not limited to the narrowly understood computer.

The contributions to the volume, as the editors suggest in the introduction, broadly align with three main categories; Executing Temporalities, Executing Ecologies, and Executing Politics. The editors see the book as “a collection of research practices that intervene in executing processes at differing points and locations to engage with the most important aspect of Knuth’s challenge—the problems of execution”5, as presented during the keynote on Theory and Practice delivered in 1989 at the 11th World Computer Congress in San Francisco. Knuth challenged his audience to “[m]ake a thorough analysis of everything your computer does during one second of computation”.6 Executing this task requires a combination of theoretical knowledge and practice. Making a note regarding the contemporary condition of computers, Knuth also suggested that attempting to resolve his challenge could tell us a lot about how to improve the use of computers.

Referring to the wide range of modes (both theory and practice-oriented) by which the authors of individual chapters of the book approach the subject of execution in the complexity of its forms, the editors clarify that, “Executing Practices alerts us that access to instructions that drive execution is only one account, and even then, our understanding of execution might always remain partial and speculative”.7 Execution is thus not only seen as occurring strictly in relation to computation and its processes, but as something happening outside of its territory.

A well-known example of such an argument is Florian Cramer’s example of Tristan Tzara’s instruction for writing a Dadaist poem. Here the process of executing a poem (or algorithm) requires no computer: “[i]f software is generally defined as executable formal instructions, logical scores, then the concept of software is by no means limited to formal instructions for computers”.8 A mental, intellectual (or conceptual) or even a physical execution of a software algorithm (without involving hardware) is possible as long as it can be executed by a human being. As the first chapter of the book puts it: “execution has the quality of being both a thought experiment at the same time that it is a matter of practising this experiment in the world”.9 To back up this claim, Collins et al. (2003) describe an early Slub system, a live coding performance, where the programmer writes code to fulfil the specific needs of the performance executed in a particular environment. Explaining the process of such execution, Collins notices: “[…] the code is not just running in the computer. To explain; when programmers are watching a computer execute their own programs, the code is also executing in their minds. They have intimate knowledge of the process, and so can imagine it running.”10

A case where the work of an artist and the execution of the work are separated is Sol LeWitt’s work Wall Drawings. Here, the process of execution is not intended to work in a computational environment at all. Instead, LeWitt writes instructions for people to execute and interpret the work at a later date. By contrast, an intersection of physical and computational execution, at which the artist is present as well, is shown in this book by Olle Essvik’s The Chance Execution (2017). This work consists of a performance (shown at Berlin’s Transmediale in 2017) and an artist’s book. Spread over several pages, Rethinking Execution presents a sequence of pages from the artist book about computers concerning chance and marbling. Consisting of artist-written software code to execute marbling effects computationally and marbled papers found in an old auctioned drawer, this project deepens our experience of the relations between digital and analogue material. Here, the form of execution found in the practice of bookbinding is materialised in a book through marbling, chance, repetition, algorithms and endpages. Traditional techniques such as bookbinding converge with programming and code.11

Aside from the territory of the physical and/or computational, execution can also be carried out on a metaphorical level, as in cases that are known from the conceptual art of 1960s. For example, La Monte Young’s Composition 1960 #10 to Bob Morris from October 1960 comprises of a simple instruction “Draw a straight line and follow it”.12 Since this command cannot be physically performed, this set of instructions becomes metaphysical and conceptual. However, looking through the perspective of computation, Florian Cramer refers to this conceptual work as a performance score, whose instructions are “formal enough to be also executed by a machine and adapted as a computer program”.13 What these approaches share is the prevalence of the idea and process over the output, as well as the notion of immateriality.

In his contribution to the book, Yuk Hui investigates the meaning of execution ‘in the age of machine automation’. Pointing to René Descartes’ fascination with automata, Hui remarks that linearity “is present in the mechanisation of the world” and reflects on “the making of automata as the realisation of this linearity”.14 Lining up philosophical and techno-scientific developments, Hui investigates a shift of cognitive schemas from linearity to recursivity; a development from the linear (simplest) form of execution that is based on pre-defined procedures and possesses a (Cartesian) cognitive schema of linear operation, towards non-linear thinking, represented through new findings in natural sciences from the eighteenth century onwards. Such a concept from the field of biology is found in Jakob Johann Baron von Uexküll’s “functional cycle of a tick” from 1934. The insect, sensing butyric acid, launches from its position on a branch to fall, hopefully biting into a mammal’s surface exterior and then, once sated, climbs back up another tree again to wait for another chance to drop. This sequence demonstrates Uexküll’s notion of “subjective environments of the ‘perception world’ [Merkwelt] and their co-constitutive productive counterparts from the ‘effect world’ [Wirkwelt]”15 where those functional cycles are activated. Eric Snodgrass further draws upon von Uexküll’s findings to add, “in such a schema recursively identifiable subjects and objects interact in a generative fashion, perceiving and bringing forth perceptive-effective marks [Merkmal and Wirkmal] and their rhythms and melodies of interaction from the interlinked perceptions and effects”.16

Focusing on linearity, understood as step-by-step instructions, in execution, Krysa and Sedek (after Knuth in The Art of Computer Programming, 1999) used the example of a recipe to draw a similarity between executing a cookbook recipe and a set of instructions that are performed in a computer: “the source code of a particular program reveals information about the software in much the same way as the ingredients and set of instructions of a recipe reveals information about the dish to be prepared”.17 Exemplified in their project, which consists of re-writing the cooking recipe of barszcz soup in various programming languages, they compare algorithms to cooking recipes in that both “provide a method, a set of defined formal procedures to be performed in order to accomplish a task in a finite number of steps”.18 Hui, however, argues that recipes are not interchangeable with the notion of the algorithm, even though these two concepts are comparable in that that they both specify specific procedures to be followed. However, to substantiate his notion of ‘algorithmic thinking’, Hui foregrounds recursion.19 The concept of recursion, or recursive function “as concrete expression of ‘feedback’”20, is Hui’s response to Gilbert Simondon’s notion of feedback. In the process of execution, characterised by the recursivity of machines, recursive functions play a role in creating a cognitive opacity (“black box”) for human users’ capacity of calculation. In this context, Hui suggests, executability should be understood as recursivity, where executability is partly enabled by the presence of a user that leaves a record of their own temporality within a database. Deriving from the theory of recursive function, one that calls itself, Andrew Sorensen (2013) uses the term “temporal recursion” for “any block of code (function, method, etc.) that schedules itself to be called back at some precise future point in time”21, hence, with a temporal delay. Time becomes a key consideration for the book as a whole.

Brian House argues that the notion of temporality is implacably bound to geography and to the material practice of cartography. To him, “’random access’, a fundamental property of data storage on devices such as hard drives, is already cartographic by virtue of how it encapsulates the contingencies of time”.22 Using the example of Google’s Spanner, the large scale infrastructure behind Google platforms and engine, House discusses temporality in relation to contemporary global network-distributed databases. To do so, Spanner uses a sequence of logical snapshots of globally consistent data. These data snapshots try to limit the uncertainty of experiencing the unknown potentially unwind in time. “[In Spanner] ‘network lag’ is a kind of shorthand for the physical resources and social structures required to build, connect, and maintain millions of computers across vast distances”.23 However, as House puts it, the verb ‘to keep’ does not necessarily mean a lag or slowing down of a network for example. “[To] ‘keep time’ is to mark temporal experience, but to ‘keep’ is also to withhold or suspend”.24 Time is thus in a dual condition.

In her chapter, Winnie Soon approaches the matter of waiting in digital culture via the symbol of a spinning icon (throbber) and the notion of discontinuous micro-temporality which shifts our attention from what is visible on the computer screen to the invisible micro-events and processes running in the background, to the absent present. The (micro-)temporality of code instructions organised by an internal machine clock offers an alternative perspective into how the time of computational processes is structured. In a speculative discussion of Sigmund Freud as a media theorist, Thomas Elsaesser argued that Freud was interested in a temporality that he understood as rupture, gap or discontinuity, while Freud himself also speculated that “time was a dimension that mankind had invented to protect itself from discontinuity”.25 Winnie Soon notes that a gap or delay in a data segment’s arrival in computational culture leads to the appearance of a throbber, that represents the invisible infrastructure and refers to a tension that is “expressed between continuity and discontinuity through the performativity of code”.26 The throbber (a spinning icon), refers to waiting in digital culture, and “represents unstable streaming of the now”27, while the spinning of the wheel also suggests that something is happening in the background.28

At one point, at the turn of the millennium, the world was indeed faced with a fear of computational processes stopping at once (Y2K bug). It was feared that possible bugs would emerge in the field of finance, such as failures in banking and stock markets, and especially in transportation, with the landing of planes. Linda Hilfling Ritasdatter re-explores Year 2000 problem by reflecting on her 2016 Copenhagen exhibition Bugs in the War Room, where the notion of execution was understood as a continuous incomplete process always on the verge of a breakdown. As Ritasdatter explains, due to possible programming issues when turning the computational world to the number 2000, programmers established so-called war rooms to monitor system changes or possible malfunctions of the system. Today, war rooms are the sites of normal production support in global companies, where bugs are identified and corrected for “the networked global economy to continue executing”.29 David Gauthier in his chapter On Commands and Executions argues that debugging as a vagabond and heretical “science” is an effective practice of execution since bugs, errors, or failures ask to be followed in the same way that execution does. To follow these actions is to cross the moments in-between rules, laws, states, or commands. Drawing upon Latour’s theory of “reverse black-boxing”30 and Heidegger’s belief that technology only appears to us in its breaking down, which he calls the “readiness-to-hand [Zuhandenheit]”31, Ritasdatter sums up: “the bug that terminates a running process—a process of execution—draws attention to the relations of which the execution process is part, as well as to the ‘essence’ of the systems that they are formed in”.32

Comparing natural languages to programming languages, Geoff Cox addresses the presence of violence in software, “violence is demonstrated at multiple levels of execution and exerted against information that wants to be free and code that wants to remain undead. […] It is the undeadness of code that seems to allow for this, as action in excess of violence.”33 Referring to Žizěk (2008) who perceives language’s violence in that “it [language] produces meaning”34, Cox points to the violence in natural languages in its capacity to represent a thing. He suggests that similarly to natural languages, source code says something and does something at the same time – “it not only symbolises but enacts violence on the thing during runtime: it quite literally executes it”.35 To speak then is to actualise a meaning, while the intention and production of the meaning happen at the same time.

Similarly to Geoff Cox, David Gauthier examines the tension between execution and command by turning towards critiques of violence examined through concepts of law enforced through rules, instructions and commands, to “look at how symbolic commands are made to operate”.36 For him, the law “is a spectre during the moment of execution”37, and this moment of execution means to suspend the law; hence it is “a moment of ‘non-law’, a moment of ‘non-writing’, yet a moment of force and intensity”.38
He emphasises the inherence of violence in software in that it can be seen as a symbolic system acting despotically in its attempts to codify. For Gauthier, the notion of execution and command and control goes side by side with the idea of tyranny and his argument moves “from a conception of software as ideology to a conception of software as tyranny”.39 From the aspect of ideology, directed toward changing the material world “what is crucial in software is the translation of ideological force into data structures and symbolic logic”.40 Gauthier considers various places where the despotic perspective of command and instruction collapse and views execution as an operation that refers to itself and is not perceived only as an afterthought. Analysing the hardware (execution) and software (code) dichotomy, Gauthier turns to Alex Galloway (2006) and his conception of command and control or instruction and execution, where software works as an agent giving commands, “code exists first and foremost as commands issued to a machine”.41 Galloway points to a problematic narrative that exists in the dual understanding of software: “one as computer language [software as a symbolic system] and the other as machine”, where he suggests software is “fundamentally a machine”42, hence its machinic nature is primary, and software as language comes second.

The issue of execution in command and control is also discussed in the chapter Reverse Executions in the Internet of Things by Jennifer Gabrys. Here, she analyses the Mirai botnet attack. In 2016, this malware attempted to execute commands through the Internet of Things (IoT) devices, affecting sites, such as Twitter, Reddit, Netflix and others. The Internet of Things is a network of physical objects that connect with the internet to obtain information such as positioning, tracing or monitoring, to “enable things to be connected anytime, anyplace, with anything and anyone ideally using any path/network and any service”.43 As Gabrys asserts, IoT extends “computation into everyday objects and environments, as well as infrastructures and control systems”44, such as web cameras, refrigerators, smart TVs, or smart cars. She warns that such devices or things are at risk of being turned into monitoring devices or powered off by a system of control. Through examining the Mirai attack, Gabrys attempts to show IoT devices as vulnerable technologies, which present a risk of being “turned into vectors for attacking other computational devices and infrastructures”. She adds that “perhaps the execution that Mirai performs is not one of absolutely crashing the Internet, but of demonstrating that this is the possibility of an unchecked set of executions performed through distributed computing.”45

Gauthier’s chapter, Loading… 800% Slower, unmasks the third-party algorithmic leavings that sit inside our web browsers, as designed assaults, “[contemporary] networks are not networks of perceptible images and texts but rather ones of ambulant and rampant code and scripts that do not warrant direct recourse, let alone signalling, to human sense or perception”.46 Bypassing human consciousness happens at the timescales of machine to machine executions, hence “Loading… 800% Slower amplifies the temporal asymmetry between machine deliberation time and human deliberation time”.47 Comprehending software as a functional threat to the security of the networked systems, this chapter aligns with Geoff Cox’s suggestion that “the issue of security today seems almost reducible to the challenge of managing the inherent vulnerability of networked relations”.48 Malware developers operate by exploiting the potential and known vulnerabilities of the networked system. Such use is likely to lead to more or less violent computational attacks on websites, and hence software and network users. This violence directed towards users, forcing them to upgrade software regularly and demanding their response, is here referred to as “softwar”, a term borrowed from Angela Mitropoulos (2007).

The term “execution” can be understood as literally as an “action to kill.” Susan Schuppli orients her essay towards political and military “execution by algorithm,” e.g. executing the will of those empowered to execute the kill order, followed by execution of the code that manages a remote-controlled drone serving the initial order to execute. There are differences between the ethical/moral and legal frameworks of responsibility when it comes to posing the question of the conditions under which is it acceptable to kill/execute a human being: “[i]s it unreasonable to take an algorithm to court? What is the responsibility of an individual (human or nonhuman) in a complex computational configuration?”.49 This argument gets even more complicated once an autonomous system of armed drones is put in place of human actors: “[t]he delegation of decision-making to computational regimes […] poses significant ethical dilemmas but also raises urgent legal concerns as to whether existing juridical frameworks are even capable of attending to the emergence of these new algorithmic actors and their machine-executable formats”.50

In technologically-mediated life, “[l]iving matter itself becomes the subject and not the object of enquiry and this shift towards a bio-centred perspective affects the very structure and the interaction of social relations”.51 Advances in technology have turned humans into subjects of bio-power (Braidotti, 2007) and this politics of life itself is at the core of discussions in the realm of posthuman theory. With the focus on post-human curating that is performed through algorithmic processes of aggregation, RSS feeds, annotation, or automated curation, side by side with content creation and circulation executed by a human, Magdalena Tyżlik-Carver argues that post-human curating “executes complex processes of subjectivation while being constantly engaged in reaffirming and reproducing the self as data, and as such, it is an active biopolitical force”.52 She perceives curating content as “a transformative act where the self becomes data in the truly post-human gesture of human-becoming-other”.53 Together with Andrew Prior, Tyżlik-Carver presents the chapter Ghost Factory as a curatorial mediation of Ghost Machine, a collaborative curatorial installation, a laboratory experiment, and the offer of a different, posthuman experience that mutually transforms human and non-human (human flesh mutated with data and algorithms) into what they call “ghosts of the database.” When playing with Ghost Machine devices, the human leaves the body and becomes “data fiction,” or “another body part.”

Leaving traces of the digital self in the digitally networked environment that stays behind as ghosts in the virtual space connects to Goriunova’s notion of the digital subject that is “neither necessarily an extension of the human into digital networks (it is not a self), nor a representation of the I, but comes into being at a distance between the living being and the data pointers”.54 Tyżlik-Carver argues that the execution of curation “participates in the creation of particular publics which use online platforms and content as source material for practices of individuation and subjectivation”55, where individuation is an expression of difference, becoming of a self, a new persona or a thing, different from other things or persons. She further emphasises that individuation is “[the] becoming one not as a subject but as an other as data. And it is the other as data that is the subject of content curating while data itself enters a process of individuation”.56 Goriunova’s digital subject is also distinct from the physical self, as a “constructed persona from data, profiles, and other records and aggregates” that reside in and is collected through the digital network. Abstracting this digital persona from the living self requires “new ways [of understanding] how it connects to the subjectivities of living persons”.57

A lesser data-oriented and more visual case of finding one’s own identity is provided by Roel Roscam Abbing, Peggy Pierrot and Femke Snelting, who seek to uncover the identity politics behind contemporary communication practices using emoji. The authors suggest that although emoji could be considered as a “pop curiosity—a lighthearted way to inject some humour, emotions or flirtation into otherwise dry text messages”58, over time they “have become a pre-coded form of identification”.59 Emoji are hence not only forms of emotional expression or harmless socially. They are politically unengaged agents of inter-personal electronic communication, with aspects, such as “[t]he skin tone modifier mechanism [that] insists that you are what you type. You are typed”.60 Here, identity politics is being recycled and “transformed from a cultural issue into a technical challenge”. 61

A recent request for implementing another emoji icon in the next emoji update, one symbolising a guillotine, was delivered to the Unicode Consortium on the July 17th, World Emoji Day. 62 Lisbon-based artist Carrozo’s proposal for the new emoji states: “In a time of global unrest and revolt against rising inequality and authoritarianism, the Guillotine Emoji would serve as a reminder to states and elites to not take for granted the Hobbesian monopoly on violence they have been entrusted with by their peoples. It is time for our global visual language to leverage the representation of this historic object in the global digital commons, before it is too late and real guillotines are erected in our public squares”.63 While Carrozo states that the application was a serious proposal, since the world-leading corporate technology companies (Microsoft, IBM, Google, Apple, to name a few) hold full membership in the Unicode Consortium, and have the power to decide on what will be stored in this table of characters, it is uncertain if the applicant will succeed. In turn, Roscam Abbing, Pierrot and Snelting suggest that the Unicode Consortium should become aware of the socio-political implications of its actions: “[t]hrough the encoding of emoji, it creates and normalises a set of representations of humanity. […] As a consequence, possible projections of the body and non-standardised languages are being reduced to stereotypes while sexual or sexually connoted deviant uses of emoji are controlled”.64

As in today’s digitally mediated culture virtually connected bodies become desiring subjects, we might ask how are networked bodies “executed and engage in blurred, erotic processes [?]”.65 Marie Louise Juul Søndergaard and Kasper Hedegård Schiølin question how and if the language of eroticism is useful in understanding aspects of execution. Through reading specific sections in Georges Bataille’s novella Story of the Eye, the authors investigate the matter of eroticism forming part of the “emotional state of present computational culture,” as they want to “explore the transgressive potential of the excessive, blurred connection of desiring subjects and executing objects”66, and the realisation of desire in, or through technology. They research the matter of eroticism using a speculative design intervention by Marie Louise Juul Søndergaard, Marcelle (named after a character in Bataille’s novel). Marcelle, a wearable sex toy, consists of a pair of white cotton briefs with built-in vibrators that are executed by the surrounding WiFi network landscape, striving to explore the intimate aspects of network connectivity. The control of the vibrators’ intensity and rhythm is delegated to the networked landscape of autonomous networks. This conceptual piece thus presents an artistic experiment, Søndergaard and Schiølin argue, through which the interaction between human and non-human bodies can help understand the commodifying, yet violent and liberating potentials of erotic technologies.

Eric Snodgrass exemplifies the idea of executability in the experimental works of the artist Martin Howse, who researches the nature of computational enclosures. More specifically, Howse is concerned with key questions of the nature of computation, such as “where exactly software executes,” that according to the artist “has to do with our skin and the Earth.” Similarly to Schiølin and Søndergaard’s Marcelle, Howse’s research into execution becomes rather material and physical. He strives to bring the computer and its user into close contiguity, as demonstrated in his piece pain registers (2011). “[Howse is] shifting the site of execution of code from the instruction pointer over to a machine-operated needle that carefully executes an up and down rhythmic pricking upon the skin of its user, writing patterned, piercing inscriptions on the skin’s surface according to the currently executing processes running on the user’s computer”.67 A continual investigation into the materiality of discursive practices is inherent in Howse’s work and, as Snodgrass asserts, in pain registers the pricking of the skin as a sensitive surface that forms it into an “epidermal border” “involves not only the code calling the ptrace function but also the creation of the modified hardware setup”.68 Comparing this bordering quality to Turing’s machine model, where the computable instructions are executed through the instruction pointer, in pain registers the instruction pointer takes on a form of a needle “impressing its mode of execution onto the user”69, Snodgrass explains. The work pain registers can be denoted as a materialisation of Florian Cramer’s “[w]ords becoming flesh, the symbolic turning physical” illustrated by the Gospel of John in the New Testament as “a speech act that affects physical matter instantly and directly”.70 As Cramer argues further, in Kabbalism for example, the execution of code is “a materialization of the divine […] The step from writing to action is no longer metaphorical”.71 He concludes that words are not just “made flesh,” “but words and codes [are] being flesh”.72

Discussing the Critter Chips project, a detection system for petrochemicals, Helen Pritchard works on developing an understanding of capitalist practices of computing. The chips contain bacterium HK44 as a “technical component,” designed to signal the presence of toxic hydrocarbons. This facility forms the key part of the “new biotic subject” Critter Chips, where the bacterium “is the excess or creative force (i.e. its potential to renew)”.73 Drawing from what Donna Haraway and Karen Barad describe as “entangled intra-relating,” the existence of such semi-living structures is propelled into and also depleted by scenes of what Pritchard calls “toxic execution.” Through engaging with toxic execution “we might attend to the ways that injury and death are enrolled with the computation of the environment that generates (so-called) real-time (big) data”.74 Drawing on queer theory, Pritchard pays “attention to damage, injury and the constraints placed on the possibilities of life and brought about through computation”.75

A form of death or commercial extinction as an “operative mode of death,” or, in other words, commercial extinction as an “exception to the concept of extinction” is presented by Gallardo and Samson. Using a critical example of the extinction of the brown shrimp (Crangon crangon) that flips between “commercial extinction and social death,” they speculate about such extinction and death from social or economic realms as “an emerging mode of living,” where mutated forms of death “are emerging with neoliberalism’s biopolitical financialisation of life”.76 The commercially-driven extinction inherent to the concept of population measure, which “defines death from economic, social or cultural realms”77, is to Gallardo and Samson a form of extinction that represents “slow death.”

Overall, the notion of execution developed in this book extends to any action or performance having an ability to impact something or be impacted by a recursive loop-like process of the self. This expansive notion of execution ranges from software code executed on a computer to the physical jump of a tick onto a mammal’s skin. Here, the matter of execution is inquired into via the effects of computation on the world or by testing the infrastructures and limits of what is executable through multidisciplinary approaches drawing on ecology, biology, computing, law, politics or art, to name but a few. Rich with provocations about the contemporary world order and a wider politics, it poses questions around the identity and interpretation of execution and its practices. “[E]xecution situates and is situated. Whether via the tongue, the guillotine, the CPU or the synapses, execution produces integral couplings of subjectivity and desubjectivity through systems such as those of language, of judiciary, of computation and of memory”.78 Examining the impact and immersion of execution in the world, the book offers a broad range of critical, speculative, theoretical and practice-based perspectives on the notion of execution. Executing Practices then offers us both the sense not only of an ending but also of a very inspiring beginning.


Author Biography

Monika Szűcsová is a PhD candidate at Masaryk University in Brno, a researcher, and independent curator. Her research is focused mainly on the presentation, documentation, and preservation of software art and net art. She teaches various courses related to new media art’s theory, history and display at the Faculty of Arts, Masaryk University.



  1. Both workshops were carried out under the auspices of the Software Studies Initiative at Aarhus.
  2. “Executions: conversations on code, power & death (version 0.1): Executions workshop,” Aarhus, Denmark, accessed June 21, 2020,*.exe_%28ver0.1%29 and “Executions: conversations on code, power & death (version 0.2),” Malmö, Sweden, accessed June 21, 2020,*.exe_(ver0.2).
  3. Helen Pritchard, Erik Snodgrass and Magda Tyżlik-Carver (eds.). Executing practices (Open Humanities Press, 2018), 11.
  4. Ibid., 12.
  5. Ibid., 10.
  6. Knuth, Donald E. “Theory and Practice.” Theoretical Computer Science 90, no.1 (December 1991): 12.
  7. Helen Pritchard, Erik Snodgrass and Magda Tyżlik-Carver (eds.). Executing practices (Open Humanities Press, 2018), 9.
  8. Florian Cramer, “Concepts, Notations, Software Art,” Read_me festival 1.2., accessed June 8, 2020.
  9. Helen Pritchard, Erik Snodgrass and Magda Tyżlik-Carver (eds.). Executing practices (Open Humanities Press, 2018), 22-23.
  10. Nick Collins, Alex McLean, Julian Rohrhuber and Andrian Ward, “Live coding in laptop performance,” Organised Sound 8, no. 3 (2003): 323–324.
  11. Olle Essvik, “The Chance Execution,” Gothenburg University Publications Electronic Archive, accessed July 8, 2020,
  12. La Monte Young and Jackson Mac Low, An Anthology of Chance Operations (New York: Published by La Monte Young and Jackson Mac Low, 1963), 117.
  13. Florian Cramer, Entering the Machine and Leaving It Again: Poetics of Software in Contemporary Art (Milano, 2006).
  14. Helen Pritchard, Erik Snodgrass and Magda Tyżlik-Carver (eds.). Executing practices (Open Humanities Press, 2018), 26.
  15. Ibid., 238.
  16. Ibid., 240.
  17. Joasia Krysa and Grzesiek Sedek, “Source Code,” in Software studies: a lexicon, ed. Matthew Fuller (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2008), 237.
  18. Joasia Krysa and Grzesiek Sedek, “Source Code,” 236.
  19. Yuk Hui, “Algorithmic Catastrophe—the Revenge of Contingency,” Parrhesia—a Journal of Critical Philosophy 23 (2015): 133–134.
  20. Helen Pritchard, Erik Snodgrass and Magda Tyżlik-Carver (eds.). Executing practices (Open Humanities Press, 2018), 34, notes.
  21. Andrew Sorensen, “The Many Faces of a Temporal Recursion,” last modified May 24, 2013, Accessed July 5, 2020,
  22. Helen Pritchard, Erik Snodgrass and Magda Tyżlik-Carver (eds.). Executing practices (Open Humanities Press, 2018), 117.
  23. Ibid., 125.
  24. Ibid., 126.
  25. Thomas Elsaesser, “Freud and the Technical Media. The Enduring Magic of the Wunderblock,” in Media archaeology: approaches, applications, and implications, ed. Erkki Huhtamo and Jussi Parikka (California: University of California Press, 2011), 100.
  26. Helen Pritchard, Erik Snodgrass and Magda Tyżlik-Carver (eds.). Executing practices (Open Humanities Press, 2018), 110.
  27. Ibid., 99.
  28. Soon uses the throbber icon as a symbol of the cultural and political domain to investigate campaigns or artistic projects that research topics such as internet speed equality, internet freedom, traffic control on the net, or explore perceptions of time or the micro-temporality of computation (an example of which is Soon’s project The Spinning Wheel of Life, 2016)
  29. Helen Pritchard, Erik Snodgrass and Magda Tyżlik-Carver (eds.). Executing practices (Open Humanities Press, 2018), 151.
  30. Bruno Latour, “On Technical Mediation—Philosophy, Sociology, Genealogy,” Common Knowledge 3, no. 2 (1994): 36.
  31. Martin Heidegger, Being and Time (Oxford, Cambridge: Blackwell, 1962), 98.
  32. Helen Pritchard, Erik Snodgrass and Magda Tyżlik-Carver (eds.). Executing practices (Open Humanities Press, 2018), 138.
  33. Ibid., 63-64.
  34. Ibid., 55.
  35. Ibid., 52.
  36. Ibid., 74.
  37. Ibid., 76.
  38. Ibid., 78.
  39. Ibid., 69.
  40. Alexander R. Galloway, “Language Wants To Be Overlooked: On Software and Ideology,” Journal of Visual Culture 5, no. 3 (2006): 325.
  41. Alexander R. Galloway, “Language Wants To Be Overlooked”: 326.
  42. Alexander R. Galloway, “Language Wants To Be Overlooked”: 327.
  43. Keyur K Patel, Sunil M Patel, and PG Scholar, “Internet of Things-IOT: Definition, Characteristics, Architecture, Enabling Technologies, Application & Future Challenges,” International Journal of Engineering Science and Computing 6, no. 5 (2016): 122.
  44. Helen Pritchard, Erik Snodgrass and Magda Tyżlik-Carver (eds.). Executing practices (Open Humanities Press, 2018), 296.
  45. Ibid., 299-300.
  46. Ibid., 127.
  47. Ibid., 127.
  48. Ibid., 58.
  49. Ibid., 20.
  50. Ibid., 87.
  51. Rosi Braidotti, “Bio-Power and Necro-Politics. Reflections on an ethics of sustainability,” Springerin, Issue 2 (2007), accessed June 13, 2020.
  52. Helen Pritchard, Erik Snodgrass and Magda Tyżlik-Carver (eds.). Executing practices (Open Humanities Press, 2018), 172.
  53. Ibid., 185.
  54. Olga Goriunova, “The Digital Subject: People as Data as Persons,” Theory, Culture & Society 36, no. 6 (2019): 142.
  55. Helen Pritchard, Erik Snodgrass and Magda Tyżlik-Carver (eds.). Executing practices (Open Humanities Press, 2018), 179.
  56. Ibid., 184.
  57. Olga Goriunova, “The Digital Subject”: 126.
  58. Helen Pritchard, Erik Snodgrass and Magda Tyżlik-Carver (eds.). Executing practices (Open Humanities Press, 2018), 35.
  59. Ibid, 42.
  60. Ibid., 42.
  61. Ibid., 36.
  62. The Unicode standard derives from English language as the universal language used across most corporate technology companies (Microsoft, IBM, Google, Apple, to name a few) that hold full membership in the Unicode Consortium, and has the power to decide on what and where will be stored in this table.
  63. Carrozo, “Guillotine emoji proposal,” last modified July 17, 2020, accessed July 18, 2020.
  64. Helen Pritchard, Erik Snodgrass and Magda Tyżlik-Carver (eds.). Executing practices (Open Humanities Press, 2018), 50.
  65. Ibid., 197.
  66. Ibid., 197.
  67. Ibid., 245.
  68. Ibid., 246.
  69. Ibid., 247.
  70. Florian Cramer, Words Made Flesh. Code, Culture, Imagination (Rotterdam: Piet Zwart Institute, 2005), 14.
  71. Florian Cramer, Words Made Flesh, 53.
  72. Florian Cramer, Words Made Flesh, 101.
  73. Helen Pritchard, Erik Snodgrass and Magda Tyżlik-Carver (eds.). Executing practices (Open Humanities Press, 2018), 264.
  74. Ibid., 241.
  75. Ibid., 265.
  76. Ibid., 279.
  77. Ibid., 282.
  78. Ibid., 144.