| Web technology has made it possible for artists to control
the means of distribution of their work and access audiences outside
the mainstream gallery system. Year Zero One grew out of a desire
to connect with other artists and to showcase and encourage the
new genre of web specific artworks. In this presentation, we will
explore the developing language and aesthetics of the web and
how artists around the world are creating works using this dynamic,
participatory new medium.
Science and art are derived from the Greek word techne. These
two disciplines were interconnected and provided a wholistic
world view leading to the blooming of arts, literature and science
during the Renaissance. The age of "enlightenment" ended this
age of wonder and mystery and encouraged the growth of rationalism
that created a rift between artists and scientists. Each discipline
went their separate way, trying to explain the world.
During the information age, the web developed becoming a tool
for global knowledge sharing between people of different walks
of life, cultures and geographical locations. Information is
converging to form new disciplines such as artificial life,
nanotechnology and fuzzy logic. There was also a resurgence
of old disciplines such as geomancy, astrology and alchemy.
Science is merging once again with art, philosophy and psychology.
Never before have so many people had so much access to so much
information. A wholistic view of the world is re-emerging and
scientists are uncovering "new" theorems such as, the holographic
universe paradigm, confirming what the sages of old knew all
along, that we are all of the same fabric and together we are
greater than the sum of the parts.
The alchemical process is a good metaphor for describing the
potential of the web not only as a tool for artmaking but as
a new medium. On the web, artists are able to connect with each
other to create spaces that are provocative, interactive and
empowering. Alchemy is an ancient discipline associated with
the transmutation of base metals into gold or transforming something
ordinary into something special. Artists now have: accessible
technological tools, the ability to engage and directly interact
with participants, a growing pool of knowledge and the potential
to communicate to huge audiences.
This paper shows a cross section of the web at this moment
in time highlighting events such as: a visit via digital microscope
to a tiny installation where the mystery of human life itself
is occurring, an art collective who was contacted via their
web site by an artist doing work thousands of miles away, a
mysterious shadowbox where participants manipulate lights and
take pictures, a site where one can parent a creature, watch
it evolve, rejoice when it gives birth and grieve when it dies.
This is the ultimate age of alchemy. Let the transmutations
First stop, a site aptly named, "Alchymeia".
The work was on view via web cam as part of the 1998 Nagano
Winter Olympics Ice Art Festival. Shawn Brinkley, its creator,
is interested in the emerging interface between art, science
and technology. Alchymeia was created by introducing the naturally
occurring steroids found in the urine of two Olympic athletes
into "ultra-pure/ultra-cold" water. The water on its own, because
it has all its impurities removed, cannot form crystals because
there is no material from which to create. The presence of the
highly ordered human genetic material forms a pattern which
becomes the mould the ice crystals faithfully grow into.
"The crystals in this exhibition act as amplified recordings
of one's physical presence expressed at a level of telematic
so removed from operational awareness, it becomes a virtual
This site is unique in its approach to art making on the web.
The art creates itself. Shawn has set up a situation where we
become the observers of a minute world where the miracle of
transmutation is occurring in real time via digital video microscopy.
We watch what is essentially human presence being manifested
and amplified through the use of the tools of web technology.
Because of the transitory nature of the piece, and indeed
the web itself, the artwork is no longer accessible in real
personal site now documents the experience, crystallizing
it as it were.
Excess Memory is the title of the current group show of
three international web specific art projects at Year Zero One.
One of the sites jodi,
is a kafkaesque maze of buttons, programming language, links,
icons and collaged 'digital debris' where the visitor will go
on an endless search finding nothing but more links to the virtual
void. Along this claustrophobic and crazy journey an occasional
'bomb' or 'virus' icon appears playing with our collective anxiety
and fear of the ultimate computer crash. Jodi makes us realise
we are never content with being stationary on the web...we will
always be clicking away looking for what's beyond...searching
for the absolute.
"Evolution is a creative process, which acting independently,
has produced living forms of great beauty and complexity. Today,
artists and engineers are beginning to work together with evolution.
In the future, it may be possible for artists to work in collaboration
with evolution to produce works of art whose beauty and complexity
approach that of organic life."2
Artificial Life is the use of genetic algorithms to create
silicon based life forms. In an episode of X-files written by
William Gibson, an artificial life form which was created to
exist on the internet, lashed out into the "real world" and
took the lives of its creators. Via a posthumous message on
the net from one of its designers, the viewer is left with the
feeling that life has gone on and perhaps they are now enjoying
direct communion with their creature creation in another dimension.
Communities are being developed around "A-life" where participants
are becoming emotionally invested in their life forms.
hosted in Japan, is a world with a maximum of 500 lifeforms
where humans can look through the "Picto Book" and "buy" cute
little globular creatures. No cash changes hands but there is
a point system. New members start out with enough points to
"purchase" ten creatures and when offspring result, accumulate
more points. Each a-lifeform comes endowed with 50 kb of DNA
data. Statistics are compiled and available via the picto book
which lists ratings for vitality, size, preference for and adaptability
to various substances. Every hour there is a detailed text based
report of the goings on of the Garden where one can monitor
all the creatures within the ecosystem.
One of the most colourful forms of life here, is the human
component. Tesh Nakamura is the keeper of the grounds and originator
of the garden. He wrote the program as a concrete application
of his PhD studies in self evolving designs and neural networks.
Since then, it has become home to members from all over Europe,
North America and Japan. There is a sense of community and impassioned
discussions occur around issues that affect the ecosystem. Several
members expressed outrage at the idea of introducing "artificial"
ways of controlling the environment.
A site which exemplifies the convergence of scientific and
artistic principles as well as embodying the concept 'interactive
art form' is called
Shadow Server. A professor of engineering at The University
of California Ken Goldberg, who holds a degree in robotics,
built a box containing five halogen bulbs and various objects.
When the lights inside the box are illuminated the 'mystery
objects' cast a shadow onto a scrim. A camera records the black
and white image and transmits it back to the viewer across the
Internet. On the web site interface there are five buttons where
the viewer can control the lighting within the box. There are
32 possible shadow combinations.
Goldgerg's work is concerned with how viewers perceive electronically
mediated images over distances - questioning both the new technologies
and that which they are seeing. The objects inside the Shadow
Server are never seen directly, only as muted silhouettes cast
upon a sheet. Goldberg was inspired by Marcel Duchamp's Ball
of Twine (With Hidden Noise), an artwork made in 1916 where
he requested a patron to hide an unidentified object within
a ball of string, which was then secured with screws between
two steel plates and sealed in shellac. Duchamp never knew what
was inside and since both he and the patron are dead, nor will
anyone else. We can draw a parallel between this idea and the
experience of visual perception on the web. What is beneath
the ephemeral images?... something intangible and outside the
realm of objective experience.
The web not only has provided artists with a new medium it
has also led to an entire arts related resource network where
artists can connect and collaborate with other artists. The
Toronto based artist collective Symbiosis
recently hosted a site specific exhibition in a vacant
Royal Bank of Canada. The collective invited several guests
artists whose work previously explored issues around money,
banking and systems of exchange. Jerelyn Hanrahans
Gesture as Value was 'found' on the web and the collective
requested her to bring her project from Bern, Switzerland to
Bank of Symbiosis in Toronto. The Gesture as Value project
uses an ATM Bank Machine which dispenses bill sized 'artworks'
after the individual inserts their bank card and deposits their
own 'gesture'. Jerelyn collected the gestures from diverse sources
such as schools, old age homes, and psychiatric wards with the
intention of using the bills as a type of "exchange as
social value minimising national borders and offering individuals,
using the machine, a broad perspective on other realities."
Shortly after the launch of their web site, Symbiosis received
a request from an artist, Rene Rusjan to participate in the
Triennale of Art in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Via the web, the artist
requested Symbiosis members to answer several specific questions
she proposed - either through text, images, video and/or audio
- for inclusion in a physical installation in three parts: the
Room with a View; the Room with Memory and the Room With an
Ear. The visitors to the gallery were given the opportunity
to interact with the various 'answers' collected from artists
around the world!
Categorizing the new genre of "web specific" art is like trying
to hit a moving target. The landscape changes at an alarming
rate with the proliferation of new art sites that challenge
the boundaries of art. Scientists are becoming artists and artists
are becoming scientists. New tools and techniques develop as
the new work demands. The common denominator is that the web
is integral to the work. As a gallery that exists solely on
the web, Year Zero One has become a witness and a catalyst for
the alchemical acts that are occurring.
1. (1998) Winter Olympics Ice
Art Festival http://188.8.131.52/Alchymeia2.html
2.Ray, Thomas S. (1997) Evolution
as Artist http://www.hip.atr.co.jp/~ray/pubs/art/art.html
ATR Human Information Processing Research Laboratories
3.Hanrahan, Jerelyn (1997) Gestures
as Value http://artnetweb.com/gesture.html