The covid-19 museum closures have made abundantly clear that accession committees and the web’s corporate overlords don’t have much love for net art. While museums spent the past decade and hundreds of millions of dollars colonising the earth and sky to make space for hoards of painting and sculpture, the web’s billboard-plastered renovations have threatened to steamroll it into oblivion. (Nowhere is this more obvious than Google’s Arts & Culture, an online repository for work from 2,000 museums and collections, whose media include “vitreous enamel,” but not “video”–much less “HTML” or “gifs.”)
They’ve put their collections online, but a PNG of a Mexican mural stimulates about as much as a postage stamp; we need art that comes alive on browsers, and you’re going to have to do a little off-roading into the diaspora of blogs, strange domains, and obscure YouTube channels, to find it. While scanning the web for online artworks for socially-distanced consumption, Gizmodo wondered: how did net artists find net art? Which work led them to fire up their terminals and Photoshop canvases and build out this fragile universe for the public? This week, we’re sharing picks from the community of art-makers and caretakers who’ve created and preserved net art for the world, free of charge.
Firebombed by the Dissolution of Flash
“I used to troll the net searching for ‘digital animation’ a lot and I was really engaged with the work of MUMBLEBOY,” video artist and director Peter Burr told me of his early-aughts inspiration. Burr has, in the intervening years, mastered the medium: His videos feel like mucking around in the unravelling psyche of a video game, where every flat surface is teeming with seizure-inducing static (human skin, walls, etc. are all skinned with flashing patterns) to the hum of a synthesizer, in what he refers to as “infinite dungeons.” His latest full-length film, Dirtscraper, portrays the daily humdrum patterns of a human population unaware that it’s trapped inside an eroding underground multiplex ruled by artificial intelligence. Burr’s animation falls away into abstract patterns and materialises again almost unnoticeably (this has hypnotised me for an hour at a gallery before I noticed that several people were queuing for the headphones).
Burr pointed to the 2000 Mumbleboy video “PAMPLEMOUSSE” as a specific inspiration. The absurdist free-floating sequence of cartoon animals and robots that move and with the logic of a video game, but with no purpose. “No doubt, it informed the painterly dream logic I employed in my early animations like this.”
“Watching PAMPLEMOUSSE again reminds me of why I used to spend so much time searching the internet for keywords around ‘digital animation.’ At that time (2000, 2001) I was in art school and thinking a lot about modernism in painting, especially the concern for a material’s essential qualities. As I was learning new computer technology to make visual art, I was yearning for examples to reference and MUMBLEBOY was one of the few I really clicked with. It’s interesting to observe the perfect vector and gradient qualities that FLASH lends to the shapes, colours, and movements of his work. In a way, [my piece] ALONE WITH THE MOON is in a curious conversation with that, but from a standpoint of the crispy pixel dithering, and other techniques that highlight the cellular quality of LCD display tech.”
“Sadly, most of [MUMBLEBOY’s] work was firebombed by the dissolution of Flash. The dissolution of his work constantly makes me reflect on the precarity of the internet as a cultural platform. Lots of light has shined on that reality, for me, this past decade.”
Featured image: Mumbleboy (Screengrab from “Pamplemousse”)