I spent some time looking at LeWitt’s wall drawings this weekend at Dia: Beacon, and this passage from media theorist Boris Groys’s In The Flow came to mind:
Radical avant-gardists, from Malevich and Mondrian to Sol LeWitt and Donald Judd, practiced their art according to machine-like programmes in which deviation and variance were contained by the generative laws of their respective projects. However, these programmes were internally different from any ‘real’ programme, because they were neither utilitarian nor instrumentalizing. Our real social, political, and technical programmes are oriented toward achieving a certain goal - and they are judged according to their efficiency or ability to achieve this goal. Art programmes and machines, however, are not teleologically oriented. They have no definite goals; they simply go on and on.
If instruction-based techniques become art through intentional non-utility, programming languages become theoretical or esoteric through similar means; they give up practicality in the pursuit of exploration and experimentation. Since it is not easy for us to use them to program, we’re forced to take a step back and consider why the language is this way, what the work is saying.
If we think of LeWitt’s pieces as code and performance, perhaps the most relevant of his works to esolangs are the pieces that refer to instructions themselves, such as Wall Drawing #248 (above) from Dia’s collection. These are not truly quines (the writing that appears in the piece are not the instructions for drawing the work), but they are instruction-like enough to create self-referentiality and a mix of instruction and performance (the lines) on the same plane. There is no way to consider the work purely aesthetically, the words force us to consider their conceptual framework.