If you’re unfamiliar with Net art, it’s worth getting to know — now more than ever, when many of us are screenbound. Here are four artists to get you started.
In an Internet teeming with utilitarian corporate websites, visiting one of artist Rafaël Rozendaal’s websites feels like a small act of protest. Their only purpose seems to be not having one.
Many of the Dutch-born, New York-based artist’s sites haves simple interactive features hinted at in such URLs as openthiswindow.com, or its darker twin, openthatwindow.com. (Click and drag your cursor to “open” the windows — and make sure the volume is on.) Some can be discovered simply by scrolling around, as in lookingatsomething.com. In others, the joy is in observing. You can look out onto a virtual shimmering body of water at nothingeverhappens.com; rise above a blue “landscape,” as if looking out from an airplane taking off, at everythingalwayseverywhere.com; or stare at mesmerizing ombre circles floating around at notneverno.com. It all feels gloriously frivolous.
Rozendaal looks to the shapes and structures of the Internet — as well as to the past — for inspiration: He creates art inspired by the tiled layout of desktop windows, and cites the influence of canonical abstractionists Piet Mondrian and Josef Albers, as if to note a certain prescience in their styles.
For every mood, it seems, Rozendaal has a website: ifeelstrange.com; almostcalm.com; tryingtrying.com (and its counterpart fallingfalling.com). In an all-too-often homogeneous, sterile-feeling Internet, Rozendaal’s playful websites are a much-needed dose of eccentricity.
Rozendaal’s websites can be found at newrafael.com/websites.
If you’re used to being shepherded around a glossy Internet via Google’s search engine or hashtags, the work of the collaborative art duo Jodi — Belgian artists Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans — might feel like another planet. If you can remember using a virus-prone PC in the early aughts, it might feel uncomfortably familiar.
Known for their erratic, scrappy websites that foreground the messy underside of the Web — encapsulated by the unnavigable wwwwwwwww.jodi.org — Jodi burst onto the Net Art scene in the 1990s. The duo’s art riffs on error messages; makes visual experiments out of HTML code; sends your browser window into a twitchy tizzy (allow pop-ups to see the art); and evokes the sensation of being hacked (warning: strobe effect). Their work is foremost an exercise in ceding control. Later, it forces you to acknowledge that you never had it.
Over the years, they have garnered institutional recognition. Last year, New York’s Museum of Modern Art mounted one of the group’s “desktop performances” in their renovated galleries. But in the spirit of Net art’s anti-institutional ethos, Jodi is notoriously evasive, and their work incredibly difficult to pin down. Finding it is part of the fun.
These days we are so used to piecing stories together from scraps across the Internet, we hardly think about it. Our knowledge of a news event is formed from tweets. Our understanding of a friend's relationship comes together, piecemeal, from Instagram photos and Facebook statuses.
Russian artist Olia Lialina’s 1996 work “My Boyfriend Came Back From The War” — which told the story of a young woman’s beloved returning from military service through an increasingly fragmented browser window — was ahead of its time. Made just a few years after the first publicly accessible Web browser, it explored the unique potential of a nascent medium (the Internet). Today, her work serves as a reminder of the disjointed nature of our information ecosystems, disguised by sleek Web design.
In recent years, Lialina’s work has taken on a certain nostalgia. “One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age,” a collaborative piece created with the German-born, New York-based musician and media artist Dragan Espenschied, is a Tumblr account that posts defunct GeoCities pages every 20 minutes, offering a lens into a now extinct Internet defined by kitschy icons and first-person narration. Her latest work, “Hosted,” is also an homage to a more quaint era. A GIF of a swimmer — animated by flipping through images posted to 70 websites — “Hosted” is, perhaps the truest form of Net art: It is not on the Internet, but in it.
A child of Tumblr and an avid collector of dancing-girl GIFs, the New York-based Amalia Soto was born in Puerto Rico but has described herself as “from” the Internet — in the way someone might say they’re from Chicago.
Gleefully messy and decked out with girly digital iconography, Soto’s website is part archive, part shrine to Web nostalgia. To find her work, you have to navigate through the clutter. It’s an experience more akin to surfing the DIY Myspace-era Internet of bling-filled wallpapers than navigating today’s algorithm-oriented world of identical LinkedIn profiles.
For Soto, the Internet is as much her medium as it is her subject. Blurring the line between art and reality and working in a style akin to performance art, she has constructed an alter ego, Molly Soda, who lives across the Web: yearning for viewers on an Instagram live-stream performance; mimicking Selena Gomez on Vimeo; dutifully following YouTube exercises to get rid of a double chin.
Imbued with a gnawing emptiness, so much of Soto’s work seems to teeter on the brink of a breakdown, raising the question, how much sharing is too much? In one video, Soto details the fungus growing in her armpit. In another, her face, wet with tears, glows on a computer screen while she takes iPhone selfies.
On the Internet, it seems, there is no such thing.