Art + Thought / The Web as Canvas

An exhibit project curated by Roberta Bosco and Stefano Caldana

"What is art?", Allen Ginsberg asked William Burroughs.
"A three- letter word", he answered.

Web as Canvas offers a series of artistic proposals conceived for this new canvas and at the same time stage of contemporary creation, which is the Internet. All the projects we think are representative of the new creative tendencies in the Internet and are directly linked to the topic of this year: "stretched painting". This subject is very wide and we are not in favour of huge selections, so we have decided to choose ten projects, which from our point of view materialize what we understand by "painting with code". Nine of these are already existing projects, which have been lent by their creators for Web as Canvas (thank you so much to everybody!) and one of them, World Wall Painters, by the collective Area3 from Barcelona has been specially made for Art Futura 2002. It is an application for the Carnivore Project by RSG Radical Software Group, a project based on the software with the same name used by the FBI to intercept Internet communications. The Carnivore spies on data packages, and offers artists these packages to be reinterpreted in a creative way, turning thus the own computer code into a work of art. After artists such as Entropy8Zuper and Mark Napier (who take part in Web as Canvas with other projects), Area3 has also put one of the great dogmas of art into practice, that is, to use something for a different purpose than it was first conceived. Thus, an instrument of repression and control such as the Carnivore becomes a dispenser of realistic paintings in the case of Area3 and Entropy8Zuper, a dispenser of fractal and abstract images in the case of Joshua Davis and even a dispenser of music in the case of Tom Betts.

The rest of the projects offer different ways to paint with the code and, at the same time, establish clear bonds with the great movements of modern art. The "oldest" project is Communimage from 1999 by the Spanish-Swiss group Calc. Since then it does not stop growing thanks to the netizens' contributions. Entropy8Zuper, the baroque voice in the Internet, presents the last version of Eden Garden, exhibited at the SFMoma in 010101 Art In Technological Times. The project is based on an application that reads the html code of a web page typed by the user and turns it into elements of an artificial 3D paradise, planted with fantastic trees and flowers. For the same exhibition, the SF Moma also produced Feed by Mark Napier, a paradigmatic work of the relationship between and the great artistic avant-garde movements. Feed is a creative browser that borrows the structure and contents of web pages and turns them into a constant flow of pixels using data, codes, images and texts to produce out a computer action-painting. Something similar to what happens with Turux. Lia and Dextro's work has been defined as "a dream by Paul Klee in a Picasso world."
Unfolding Object by John Simon Jr is also more linked to the pictorial tradition than computing. The piece, based on a digital structure that changes according to the netizens' access to the web, links to many artistic experiences from Sol LeWitt to Paul Klee, and even to the techniques used in the Alhambra's design and other Islamic architectures.

In the free-flowing and unlimited space of the virtual creation the limits between art and design have been mixed and faded away. Three aspects represent this versatile area, which feeds from so many different sources, from graphic design to conceptual art. The elegant minimalism of InsertSilence, a shared project between the Israeli Amit Pitaru and the English James Paterson, who started working together when they found out by chance they lived in the same street in New York. The underground and brutalist design of Snowcrash by the American of Cuban origin Antonio Mendoza, whose work mixes the psychedelic aesthetic from the seventies, comics culture, Indian iconography and the girls from adult manga comics.
Typographic variations of Textension by Joshua Nimoy, an artistic research directly influenced by concrete poetry, focused on perception and pleasure of interaction. Finally, the graphic experiments in Electric Sheep by Scott Draves turn into forms of artificial life thanks to a software, which generates complex fractal-shape animations.

Ten projects: ten different forms to paint with code.

a client for CARNIVORE PROJECT - Radical Software Group (RSG)

Area3 is a collective of artists living in Barcelona, composed by Federico Joselevich, Chema Longobardo, Sebastián Puiggros and Elisa Lee.
Using the same irony of Jasper Johns' flag, area3's World Wall Painters paint constantly the flags of the countries of those webs keyed by the users. The result is a collage that points to the democratic utopia in the Internet and the current reality of accessing information and new media.
"In 1993, when the Internet broke its own shell, the government of the United States proposed the creation and widespread installation of a chip called Clipper in all electronic devices of communication. This decision caused a lot of criticism. In a similar way, the Carnivore Diagnostic Tool was developed and set up by the FBI in order to regulate the data content flowing through the Internet. Orwell and Ballard's most macabre images materialize with their most evil faces, those that become true.
World Wall Painters is a client that exploits and depicts the information Carnivore obtains from the Net. IP addresses are distributed by an international organization among all the countries in the world. With the help from a database, we can know the country an IP address belongs to. And the artists, very skillfully and quickly, paint the official flag of that country. The collage of flags, colors and textures show that, despite the attempts of hegemonic control, the Internet is heterogeneous. Each one is a painter of thousands of flags. Every user gains control of millions of data milling between the computers connected. Each net surfer becomes a juggler of packages, colors and electronic metaphors. And they are not afraid of controlling the eternal, since he feels in control of the infinite."
"On October 1, 2001, The Radical Software Group (RSG), a lose international collective of Internet artists, announced the release of Carnivore Project. The project is a collaboration consisting of two parts. The first part is the Carnivore application, a public domain copy of the FBI surveillance software DCS1000, commonly nicknamed Carnivore. DCS1000 is a program developed by the FBI to "wire tap" Internet data. RSG's Carnivore essentially performs the same task as the FBI's software though runs on Windows 98/2000 as a standalone application and can be downloaded for free from Internet. The second part consists of client applications that turn the raw Internet data captured by Carnivore into art. The two aspects of the project, the software and the client, are collaborative in nature and take advantage of the Internet's strengths as a communication tool. The Carnivore software collaborates with the users it is watching, a process that relies on the open nature of TCP-IP communication, and the artists constructing these clients, who might never see each other in person, are collaborating with the software."
Cory Arcangel - RGS


"Communimage is an art collaborative project, an attempt to entertain a visual global dialogue, which since 1999 it is still growing and developing freely.
Statistic: 30.08.2002, 13:58
Number of images: 19408
Number of contributors: 1724
Number of origin countries: 65
Printing size: 137.47968 m2 (13.0176m x 10.5768m)
The visual interface of Communimage is a grid system that defines exactly the position of each image, which has been downloaded. Communimage is an Internet project based on the idea of a virtual, collective "sculpture". It is also inspired on of Ed Stastny, an earlier collaborative art project. Contrary to Sito, Communimage centers around the creation of one big picture and it's met information facets; the authors of the single patches are not really visible".
Calc (Casqueiro Atlantico Laboratorio Cultural) with the collaboration of Johannes Gees and Roger Luechinger (Asturias)


"The name comes from Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? This idea was inspired by the SETI@home project, but instead of searching for aliens, Electric Sheep brings artificial organisms to life. When the software is activated, the screen goes black and an animated 'sheep' appears. Users can download the flock of sheep at any moment and, around every fifteen minutes, they can attend the birth of a new creature, in a constant digital breeding process. The screen-saver is a window into a visual space shared among all users, which can vote to increase the life of their favourite sheep. Electric Sheep investigates the role of experiencers in creating the experience. If nobody ran the client, there would be nothing to see. However, as more clients join, more computational muscle becomes available, and the quality of the graphics increases, making sheep more lasting, bigger and clear. The more people who participate, the better the graphics look. Both clients and server are open source software".
Scott Draves - San Francisco


"Eden Garden is another way to perceive data from the Net. When the visitor types in a URL, God's hand is put into action, that is, the browser and the Web turn into a new world full of life, and we are Adam and Eve moving to the rhythm of the code.
And God Created HTML and The Garden of Eden works like a browser. You feed it a URL and it interprets the data. The moves Adam and Eve make are based on the traditional moves characters in 3D games. The text becomes the engine that drives the dance of the main characters. And the code defines the world. Each letter of the alphabet represents a move. The letters on the left side of a computer keyboard are Eve's moves, the letters on the right side those of Adam. As the engine moves through the entire document, it makes Adam and Eve move according to the letters it encounters".
Entropy8zuper (Michael Samyn + Auriea Harvey) - Gante


"Is GHB toxic? Is it addictive? Does it induce serious convulsions, drowsiness, hallucinations or confusion? Does it cause aggression and self-injurious behaviour?
Does it cause heart attack, coma and death? Or serious physical harm? Is it new? Is it a design drug? Or is it a date rape drug?
Not exactly...
cannabis ? addiction
alcohol, tobacco = addictive
Turux protests against the lack of future of the Austrian government, which represents a further milestone at incredibility and greed for the most obtuse and long-established power.
Dextro protests, moreover, against the criminalization of cannabis consumers, and simultaneously they help the market and consumption of alcohol and tobacco.
Tobacco advertising is a crime against humanity and so is the ban of cannabis".
Lia + Dextro - Viena (Austria)

"In keeping with the end of intellectual property rights, my work has been created using images, sounds and scripts pirated from magazines, books, CDs, and corporate and pornographic web sites. My sites work like meta-collages in which the hyper-linkage between pages acts as an active element in its assembled logic. From the autistic web paradise of Subculture, full of information but stuck in annoyingly repetitive patterns, to the digital epileptic seizure of Snowcrash: loud, retinal, and disturbing, with data behaving in ways they shouldn't be behaving. A big-bang which changes the computer's interface into a chaotic universe, combining slogans, impossible forms and recycled material from the Internet, which make the user surprised and almost dazed."
Antonio Mendoza - Los Angeles

"Feed is an online artwork, designed to exist in the Internet and to explore the ideas of ownership, authority, territory, and communication in the virtual world. Many of my pieces appropriate the text, images and data that make up the web. The software uses this information as raw material to create an aesthetic experience. As I program these interfaces, the coding process creates unforeseen possibilities that add another dimension to the work. The technology reveals unprecedented possibilities. Accidents happen and mistakes in the code produce unexpected but wonderful qualities. This creative chaos extends to the works themselves. My works are not objects but interfaces. The users become collaborators in the artwork, upsetting the conventions of ownership and authority. By interacting with the work, the visitors shape the piece, causing it to change and evolve, often in unpredictable ways. The user is an integral part of the design. Technology provides the interface through which the user engages in the aesthetic process. The artwork is not a thing, it is a process, an interface, an invitation to participate in a creative act".
Mark Napier - New York


"What if I could blow bubbles with my words? What if I could play them like sounds on a phonograph record? In Textension, a viewer experiences how it feels to type in interactive forms such as soap bubble blowing, DNA, a simple video game, phonograph record, trees and abstract forms. Textension is a collection of 10 creative variations on a typing word processor, a series of 10 interactive typing expressions, written in C++, inspired by typewriters. Its goal is to explore metaphors and aesthetics used for designing automated typesetting process on the personal computer beyond the traditional convention of typewriting. Each of the ten pieces is a typing experience. I created these ten pieces in response to a world of such dry computer word processing. My goal is to inspire a more imaginative exploitation of the unique capability of computers: creating expressive typing experiences otherwise inefficient to implement, or physically impossible."
Joshua Nimoy - New York

"My work can be seen as an effort to apply music-production methods towards visual design and motion. I'm currently learning how to create work through a balance of design and performance. This is not a new idea, jazz musicians have been doing so for years by improvising on musical structures. In many cases, I cannot find the tools to create what's in my mind, so behind the scenes I am developing custom tools that enable this exploration. James and I share a mutual interest in accessing the connections between sound, visuals and motion."
Amit Pitaru - New York
"I use a computer the same way I use a sketchbook. I work all the time, developing small ideas. When I stumble over one or a combination of ideas that I find interesting I will take them further and develop them. Both Amit and me are inspired for music first and foremost."
James Paterson - New York

"Programming is a kind of creative writing. Unfolding Object is an endless book that rewrites itself and whose use dictates its content. When you visit the Unfolding Object, you see a blank square on a web page that unfolds in response to clicking on any of its edges. Each page is patterned with a graphic that reflects the state of the object. For example, a page that has been opened four times in the past is marked with four horizontal lines; a vertical line stands for ten unfoldings. The idea for Unfolding Object comes from many sources. Physicist David Bohm theorizes about a level of information below the quantum level where all matter is interconnected. In his terminology, the object unfolds information about itself. The outward expression of an object is the unfolding of this potential. I detected a similarity between Bohm's description of nature and software objects. The potential for the Unfolding Object is contained in the source code, which is unfold by the interaction of the user. Another source was Klee, who wrote about how a drawing is defined by its cosmogenic moment, when the symmetry of the blank page is broken by the first mark, the first decision of the creator."
John Simon - New York

Text originally published in ArtFutura's 2002 catalog.