Declarations is an ongoing artistic research into the poetic materiality of the CSS web-standard. Declarations is a love letter to the crafts of designing with language.

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A presentation of Declarations

An oral, short and contextual presentation of Declarations for its first semi-public moment by Doriane


Transparency of context

In the context of the first worksession at Constant from the 1st to the 5th of April, Declarations was orally presented to a crowd.

Declarations is an ongoing artistic research project into the poetic materiality of the CSS web-standard and its echoes on design and artistic practices.

CSS ?

CSS tells a browser, screen, phone, smartwatch - and devices from the past or yet to be imagined - how text flows, spaces are structured, typography materialises, hyperlinks are clicked, menus unfolded, and notification bubbled. It takes care of colors, mouvement, scrolling, animations and responsiveness. Every "sentences" of the CSS language is called a declaration.

CSS is a declarative programming language, meaning it "expresses the logic of a computation without describing its control flow". Programming languages that we most often use and quote aren't declarative, but imperative: we precise explicit steps for the program to execute, called algorithms - like a recipe. Here we don't explicit algorithm, but we declare (or describing) the outcome directly - more like the description of a meal .{.self}

I think it's important to talk a bit about the context, I don't want to fix what Declarations is or is not, but (similarly to CSS) I will situate its context and my intention in it.

what does it research?
why does it research?
who research?
how does it research?
over what time is this happening?

Research coordinator

I am the research coordinator (best word i ended up with), meaning I wrote a dossier proposal, nourrished by my own practices and the ones of my peers, and now I play this game-master-like role of gathering, proposing and setting up.

I am a developer, designer and artist, with a particular interest in the crafts of designing with language. I am part of Open Source Publishing since 2021, where I makes websites, conversations and experiment with the blurry edges of HTML & CSS as a poetic medium and textual material. Since 2023, I coordinate an artistic research on CSS and the crafts of designing with language, called Declarations.

Collaboration & Networks

I felt the need for such research to be collaborative.

Motivations

The desire of "bringing together networks" resulted from an observation. I see lots of sensibible exploration of declarative web-languages online, or at conference, or in designer practices. I thought of those as crafts.

"I want our personalities to come through not just in the words or links we share, but in the URLS we use and the code we write."

— Zach Mandeville, Basic HTML Competency Is the New Punk Folk Explosion!

But the downside of crafts is that they often are taken for something of a purely technical nature, or a superficial visual effects.

I think that when the web in such present in our live, or put differently: when such a big part of our interaction with technology happens through a layer of declarative design, those crafts can become means or resistance, and valuable explorations of our interaction with technology.

"In today's highly commercialized web of multinational corporations, proprietary applications, read-only devices, search algorithms, Content Management Systems, WYSIWYG editors, and digital publishers it becomes an increasingly radical act to hand-code and self-publish experimental web art and writing projects."

— J.R. Carpenter, A Handmade Web (2015)

If I have to say my personnal motivation in one sentence it would be: to create moment where Declarative artistis and Web-artisans can valuate their crafts outside of the comportimentalisation or capitalisation of their practices, and explore the materiality of what we are dealing with.

FRArt

At first Declarations was a proposal/application for the FRArt 2023 (Fond de Recherche en Art), who subsidize artistic research. I guess artistic research can be a lot of thing, but in our case I see it as:

Language

"My favorite aspect of websites is their duality: they're both subject and object at once. In other words, a website creator becomes both author and architect simultaneously."

— Laurel Schwultz, My website is a shifting house next to a river of knowledge. What could yours be? (2018)

The questions I initially formulated for the research are from the angle of language.

We inspect a shift in design practices emerging from the nature of the web: as it is made of text, designing become writing. This fundamentally differentiates it from other design paradigms that imposed themselves as the normative way to publish with software (namely Adobe software). We no longer place elements or delimit spaces with gesture but with words.

As with every standard, it would be naive to ignore the power dynamics that are at play here. Technical decisions lead to cultural impact, we can only imagine how the choices of what words makes it to the CSS standard could have redefined our attention and perception, even outside of the space of the screen.

In her video essay Why Is CSS So Weird? (2019), Miriam Suzanne presents how this declarativeness is specific to the complex technology that is the web: to design for "a multitude of unknown canvases", CSS answers that we have to "accept to give up control" and embrace the vagueness of declarative language, letting it gracefully break.

From that wondering lots of other questions followed

Time

In the research proposal, it was divided in three parts.

from December 2023Companion tools@OSP
from April 2024Worksession@Constant
from November 2024Worksession@???

The first one was motivated by a need for tools to research. I formulated those tools as the companions tools, because they don't have a precise something to solve, they're just there as companions we can use in different situations.

There are already new things emerging out of those 3 moments!

Such as writing articles on specific experiments, and a night of performance.

Synthesis

what does it research?the poetic materiality of the CSS web-standard
why does it research?to show how "crafts" (often taken for something of a purely technical nature, or a superficial visual effects) can become means or resistance, and valuable explorations of our interaction with technology
who research?Doriane as the research coordinator tries to bring together networks of Declarative artistis and Web-artisans to research during sessions
how does it research? by being together in the same space and performing CSS in a transdisciplinary / transversal way
over what time is this research happening?over one year, divided in 3 chapters, that will hopefully leads to other things