Screenfull.net: THE BOOK - double, trace, shudder, crash.

Posted by Melinda Rackham | Mon Apr 25th 2005 2:02 a.m.

Tempted by Screenfull.net's promise: "we crash your browser with content"
I clicked. I waited. I hoped. I prayed . My screen stuttered and
jerked--but disappointingly the browser didn't crash.

What it does do though is get slower, allowing gaps and rips to appear in
the usual illusory fabric of the seamless internet as the space fills with
raucous and chaotic content. Appearing before me is an art work that breaks
the daily tedium of grazing over cloned and sanitised blog interface
design--those sorts of creepily nice blogs that make me shudder on the
inside with their readable, balanced, cutesy, clean, neat, artless, self
conscious, logical, and organised versions of blandness.

So, okay, I may be a bit cynical after a decade online, but is there
anything wrong with wanting to be thrilled? With craving entertainment? With
desiring to be jolted from my often near comatose screen behaviours of
browse, click, copy, delete, send. And thankfully Screenfull.net does all
that. When the net is looking more and more like a corporately fortified
instantaneous push media, Screenfull is a timely reminder that the internet
is a public space, a theatre of disparate dialogue in multiple and
asynchronous formats, dumbed down only by lack of imagination and the
unchallenged conventions of HTML.

Our protagonists are artists jimpunk and Abe Linkoln--personas who both draw
on iconic associations with disparate and powerful US cultural historic and
animated figures. Together their strength is in working across the history
of networked art, design, aesthetics and theory in this remix of the
phenomenal blogging paradigm. The latest manifestation of Screenfull.net is
grounded in psychedelia and code work, with the seedy cycling and stuttering
of a background colour change JavaScript, producing an atmosphere akin to
flashing broken neon of a 1970's night club. It completely refreshes with
mashed media formats -- TV grabs, print posters, Paris Hilton, Flash
animation, in-process Photoshop files of art historical imagery, and
QuickTimes.

Screenfull is completed with a radio blog--Radio Sounds--which in true
Dadaesque manner, squishes more random cut-up bytes down the internet pipe
to our desktops. But what is really fascinating here is Screenfull.net: THE
BOOK--Guns, Duchamp and Magnetic Lassos. This delightfully illogical
extension of the blog online diary format (heralded as the liberator of
journaling from the page) loops their fulsome screen content back into the
usually serene and sedate corporate .pdf-- paper page based print format.

At last, with THE BOOK, Abe and jimpunk's promise eventuated and the
multimedia content crashed my .pdf viewer. Woohoo!! But it was only alerting
me I needed a long overdue upgrade. Downloaded and upgraded I start to
explore the work.

This formatting tempts me to decode the work into a fixed liner narrative as
screen content is hermetically sealed into discrete page packets with page
numbers. No hypertextual linking here, just numerical jumps and rapid
scrolls. I now very badly need to impose meaning. Will the magnetic lasso
draw threads between this work and the Duchampian forfeiture of the Dadaist
game of art for the equally fascinating strategy of chess?

The thematic of THE BOOK revolves around the almost blasphemous possibility
of shooting our screens, killing our art and our audience, cancelling our
connection. I recommend viewing with Auto Scroll . . . however page numbers
are very helpful locators. You can catch the artists with guns blazing on
pages 20 and 21. The money shot can be viewed on pages 46 and 47. Here the
lasso traces an outline of a bullet hole in glass, the glass we have seen in
the previous few images of guns represented both on computer screens and in
front of computer keyboards. But the magnetic trace renders this image as
the memory of an event past, or the faint and unspoken desire of the present
which can never be fully realised.

This lasso aesthetic, and it continual use thought out the site and book
remind me of the lacy translucent outlines present in many paintings of the
French Symbolist Gustave Moreau. Moreau's strange fusing of human and
inanimate objects, his disregard for the conventions of size and
perspective, and his opium dream landscapes of inward sensation and
contemplation place him as a forerunner of surrealism. His use of the
spidery overlay rendered in the paint technology of the mid to late 19th
century, and Screenfull's image processing lasso overlay, give both bodies
of work a quality of simultaneous surface and depth, of being at once in
creative process and post-operative autopsy.

As well there is a lot of smirky-smart doubling and splitting in these
portrait/landscape papers/screens. The use of images from a landscape
oriented screen, split in half and placed on consecutive portrait oriented
.pdf pages, which most likely will never be printed out and read together is
intriguing.

Print it and you miss Screenfull's competitive soundtracks and QuickTime
content; don't print it and the images are cut in half, forcing you to
recombine the split images in your head. It's almost like an anaglyph--a 3d
red/blue overlapping split image. Different right eye image + left eye image
+ glasses = let the brain do the interpretation work. Except they are not
like that at all, they are consecutive rather than overlapping. However the
associations are flowing freely, and isn't that what successful art is all
about? It gives you an immediate hit, as well as leaving you to ponder
afterwards.

Linkoln's previous art curatorial works certainly do that with their
rigorous mix of simplicity and humour. A Thousand Plateaus re-examines the
mountainous graphical stats for net art sites; Net.art: Those that Can't
Teach Do is a cheeky listing of well know artist/educators' course outlines.
His linear blog remix of Olia Lialina's My Boyfriend Came Back From the War
turns Manovich's prime example of a new media logic of addition and
co-existence replacing the cinematic logic of replacement (p 324), back into
a logic of temporal replacement plus (rather than instead of) co-existence.
Recently Linkoln's curation of Pop Up at Turbulence.org, complete with a Pop
Up Manifesto exuding self-evident gems like: "4. Pop up windows neither pop,
nor up.", displays an intelligent and maturing engagement with the unique
qualities of net worked art.

Our co-author, jimpunk, is a talented and elegant artist who capitalises on
the Rococo potentialities of HTML, JavaScript and Flash to create sites of
infinite variability, detail and unending surprise. His works have been
perfectly described by Tricia Fragnito as "a web version of a roller coaster
ride: scary and fun and at the end you want to go again." In true networked
style, jimpunk often works collaboratively across geographical space, and
produces sites which exploit the unique experience of net browsing. He
embraces the pixel and what some would call "bad web design" using web safe
colour, pop up and flashing graphics in works like
www.-reverse.-flash-.-.back-; and in one of my favourites the now offline
www.nowar.nogame.org. Although his breed of network art may have had an
early Jodi-esque influence, we can see from the intimate and poetic musing
of 1n-0ut [meditation], it has grown up to be distinctively "jimpunk."

Scrolling around the Screenfull site, with Radio Sounds open in another
window, I am reminded that even though THE BOOK is a tightly thematic
curatorial collection, the bastard space of the network from which it is
comes is a chaotic, asynchronous, competitive, market place. It babbles with
recombinant, disjunctive, atmospheric content - designed not to be seen not
from a single authoritative cinematic perspective, but to be engaged with at
many levels.

It is for this reason web will emerge as the dominant media of the 21st
century, and as cinema did in the 20th century, it both builds upon and
differs from all that has come before. Networked space's most immediate
lineage is in what Annmarie Chandler and Norie Neumark call "Distance Art."
The activities of telecommunication art--from mail art, sound and radio art,
telematic art, assemblings and Fluxus as well as distributed textual
authorship. Artists and authors working in these distance fields challenged
the stability of the art production and distribution models of the 1960's
and 1970s, so that when the net emerged, new aesthetics were already in
process.

Authoring art in symbiosis with an evolving electronic communications
systems, means working with an as yet largely unknown language. Right now
artists are connecting half visible dots to form a rapidly shifting template
of the future.

In less than a decade aesthetic sensibility has radically altered--7 years
ago, in 1998, when net.artist's were universally obsessed with making tiny
fast clean files and web pages with no more than 4 text lines of text on
screen, the now deceased Estonian web artist Tiia Johannson was making
massive web works of sometimes single images. Puzzled, I asked her why, and
her reply (made even more dramatic by her fabulous Marlene Dietrich accent)
was the foretelling "I like to make them wait."

If jimpunk & Linkoln want to make us wait while they stuff our browsers with
content, we will wait. It is in small shudders of expectation; those sudden
shocks; those intimate reminders of packet rhythms, that make Screenfull, in
all its format manifestations, succeed. It is both flexible and fixed;
distributable and located; doubled and traced; embracing full content and
empty potentiality. For me the characteristics of risk taking and shape
shifting, together with the rigours of knowing ones medium and a sense of
larrikin humour, define networked art. In the words of Johannson--on the
Network "you have to be plastic to survive."

--------
Abe Linkoln: http://www.linkoln.net

Annmarie Chandler and Norie Neumark (eds), At a Distance: Precursors to Art
and Activism on the Internet, MIT Press, 2005:
http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?tid451&ttype=2

1n-0ut [meditation]: http://www.jimpunk.com/1n-0ut/

jimpunk: http://www.jimpunk.com

Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media, MIT Press, 2001:
http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?tid
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