9 abstract works made for the web browser
Online exhibition of digital art
19 May – 19 November 2021
The web browser presents several affinities with the canvas, simultaneously playing the role of the frame and of the "open window" on representation, granted to painting by the humanist Leon Battista Alberti during the early Renaissance. Readily borrowing from a vocabulary of open spaces and exploration (from the Net "scape" browser of the 1990s, to Internet "Explorer"), its primary purpose is to be an interface onto the external world. However, it has often been used by artists, sparing all references to the world that surrounds us, to produce purely abstract works, in the lineage of pioneers of computer-assisted drawings like Vera Molnar or Manfred Mohr.
This online exhibit groups 9 creations, from the 1990s – that saw the first "net art" artists develop the idea that a website could be a work of art in its own right – to today. It invites you to explore this form of digital creation, whether built in reference to the history of painting or by exploring the specificity of digital tools.
Created solely for the space of the browser, this exhibit without walls invites you to consult these works just as they were conceived by the artists, on the original URL when it is still available. Some works, interactive or otherwise, were created before the development of touchscreen technology used by smartphones and tablets: a full-screen computer experience is therefore advised.
Translated from Flash to HTML5 in 2020 thanks to the support of acces-s.org
Conceived by Greek artist Miltos Manetas, particularly active on the digital art scene since the 1990s, jacksonpollock.org is a tribute to the painter whose name it borrows. Created by subverting a software that simulates the effects of ink drippings, it allows the visitor to create patterns reminiscent of the "drippings" characteristic of Jackson Pollock’s paintings by a simple mouse movement on the screen.
The physical implication of the painter roaming the canvas on the floor, that largely contributed to generating Pollock’s image as the heroic figure of abstract expressionism, finds itself maliciously reduced to the slight move of a hand, a finger. Though the visitor can influence the thickness of the line and change colors with a click, the process keeps a necessary arbitrariness, and the result, described by Miltos Manetas as "cartoon Pollock", underlines the irreducible differences between the two mediums.
The playful and instantly accessible nature of the work has made it one of the artist’s major successes, that he transposed several years later into an application for smartphones and tablets: Random Pollock.
Though Finnish artist Juha van Ingen has been recently noticed for his work As long as possible, a gif file that lasts 1000 years, he was already creating works that combined abstraction and net art at the end of the 90s. Within his body of works, Web-Safe is certainly the most radical: nurtured by a reflection on the history of the monochrome and American structural film, it consists in a succession of perfect color blocks. These actually display the 212 hexadecimal numerals of color that could be exactly reproduced by first generation web browsers. Therefore, the image is not displayed by a browser but actually produced by it: a work that is both contemplative and purely specific to its medium, that produces a succession of colors displayed in a loop according to their order in the used code.
Through Web-Safe, Juha van Ingen also pursues a reflection on the standardization of the visible order, the limits of copyright, and the spread of images online. A copy of this work is held today at Kiasma museum of contemporary art, in Helsinki and another is being acquired by the Musée national d'art moderne.
Dutch artist Annie Abrahams settled in France in the late 1980s. Her practice then focused on chaotic, expressive and abstract painting, used in installations for which she would soon start conceiving plans on a computer. In 1996 she started making online performances, and the following year created her first net-art project (Being-Human 1997-2007).
Combining both practices, she came up with Moving Paintings in 1998, an abstract composition that the spectator activates by choosing between three fields, discreetly placed in the upper part of the image. Shifting from a moving geometric composition to a space where shapes are blurred, this work seems to dissolve any direct reference to painting. Faced with the growing importance of the design of digital tools, whose intuitive use by spectators and functionality had become essential issues, Annie Abrahams produced an interface where arbitrariness, randomness and uncertainty seem to take over. She suggests a work based on the simple pleasure of shape and movement, that she compared to that produced by the contemplation of flames in a fireplace.
Jan Robert Leegte has presented his online work like a type of web sculpture, whose properties he meticulously explored as if it were a material. One of the central elements of this practice was the pattern of the scrollbar, essential design element of the web browser, that the artist used as a basis for his compositions. From this motif, he built abstract geometric structures, integrating the scrollbar’s automatic movement as a dynamic element, deprived from any practical function, whose absurd dance the spectator can only try to interrupt.
By founding his compositions on digital design elements that vary from one browser to the next, and from one screen format or resolution to the next, he creates works whose visual renderings have strongly evolved in the space of twenty years, and reflects a form of impermanence of productions created for the internet.
A copy of this work is kept today at the Stedelijk Museum, in Amsterdam.
Reflecting mainly on the study of projector and screen devices, Carin Klonowski’s work focuses on the means of creation, reproduction and deterioration of the technological image. In the lineage of this research, the work Img214270417 is based on the exploitation of a display anomaly, through a protocol repeated for one month, until its system update kept it from going on: "Everyday, the blog presents a new animated gif, sum of the previous one and of a new image: the same one as the day before. The images are the result of the saved Img214270416.jpg image, and of a screenshot of its miniature, then of the saved file of that miniature and so on… a display error modifies the image little by little, as the original one deteriorates every day."
Carin Klonowski was also struck by romantic painting and the American abstraction of "colorfield painting". She develops with this piece a reflection on the alteration of digital images, whose collapse is the source for new shapes, independent from any formal control, and any link to reality.
Attention photosensitive persons: this work shows flashing colours and lights of a certain intensity.
Since its first developments at the end of the 2000s, Jonas Lund’s works build on a critical look at digital technologies and the art world. This work, titled What you see is what you get, echoes a computer science expression that refers to intuitive interfaces that allow to immediately visualize final results on the screen: it actually consists of a device that saves the resolution of the website’s different users’ screens and reproduces them in chronological order by display of rectangles of corresponding sizes.
Though this evolutive work finds an echo in the reflections, led through the history of abstraction, on the frame as a determining element in the composition of a work, it firstly underlines the way that all of our online presences can leave a trace.
This question of online surveillance, recurrent in Jonas Lund’s work, was also considered through abstraction in his 2014 work Studio Practice: it allowed online spectators to observe his studio work through video, and to follow a process of production and collective selection of painted works.
Collection Nur Abbas
Since the beginning of the 2000s, Rafael Rozendaal produced over a hundred online works, that rely on a fascination for the movement of images and interaction in their most elementary forms.
into time .com is the first work within this corpus to explore the question of abstraction, sweeping the screen with a constant gradation between two randomly chosen colors. Each click from the spectator divides the screen in two, adding a new gradation. Through these simple rules, Rafael Rozendaal suggests a reflection on the composition of the image, where every plane possesses its own movement, its own breath. He also creates a work that plays with its medium’s own specificities: a great capacity of change, within which the public plays an active role, yet that is not able to exceed a protocol whose details are inaccessible, and in which an element of randomness remain central.
Rafael Rozendaal notably pursued his reflection on online abstraction in 2016 with the accomplishment of the Abstract Browsing extension, that allows browsers to transform the data they receive into abstract compositions.
As a French artist settled in Vancouver, Nicolas Sassoon has been particularly active with his .gif productions, minimal forms of digital animations that have strongly nurtured the internet’s meme culture, after having been an essential decoration element for personal pages and blogs of the 1990s and 2000s.
This technique allows him to create figurative compositions, yet he has also used it to develop his Patterns, hypnotic planes of moving abstract motifs, relying on a moiré effect obtained by the layering of two images. Therefore, he inscribes himself in a genealogy dating from early 80’s computer graphics, themselves inspired by textile motifs from the first programmable looms that appeared at the beginning of the 19th century.
Through the declination of simple geometric shapes, Nicolas Sassoon’s works, whose patterns have in turn been used in a 2017 collaboration with an important group of the textile industry, echo in a digital form the history of the link between abstraction and decorative arts.
Since the end of the 1990s, Claude Closky has been one of the French artists that has dedicated themselves most constantly and prominently to online art, creating one of the first works of that domain to be acquired by the MNAM (Calendrier 2000). Amongst the websites made by the artist, many are those that take an abstract shape. Monochromes from Red Alert to Black Hole, to the full set of One Minute Drawings published day and night, minute by minute, all throughout 2010.
In the context of "Les Nouveaux Commanditaires", Claude Closky was solicited in 2015 by the Paste association, gathering alumni from the professional Sciences and techniques of exhibitions Masters’ from the Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne University. He then proposed Rectangulaire: a website generating a geometric composition from the name of the visitor, who can then obtain a printable business card as a .png file. The result will always be the same for a given name, but the arbitrary process that brings the shape about remains invisible to the visitor.
Through the work’s title, Claude Closky refers to the format of the business card as well as to that of the frame. He therefore maliciously places the system of production of shapes in the lineage of geometric abstraction, certain representatives of which have also imagined systems of composition using the alphabet as a starting point.
À retrouver dans le Magazine
par Philippe Bettinelli
Claude Closky : « Internet est omniprésent, je m’efforce d’en rendre compte en le questionnant de l'intérieur. »
Entretien inédit avec l'artiste