Eugene Thacker, splash art, 1998
Nobody needs a cover page on the Internet, but that didn’t stop countless slow-loading flash programs from taking off in the late 1990’s. Nor did it thwart Rhizome from commissioning artists to make splash pages for their site at the turn of the millennium. It was part of web culture at the time– a subject worthy of reflection and the driving force behind Splashback, an online exhibition organized by Rhizome’s curatorial fellow Brian Droitcour.
Overall, though, I’m confused about what I’m looking at, and why. Basic design and organizational issues plague the exhibition. A viewer doesn’t know if this is a selection of Rhizome’s commissioned splash pages or all of them (either way there are too many). UPDATE: Splashback presents all the commissioned pages, which is noted in the exhibition description, but not the curatorial statement. No thumbnails are used for the individual artist pages, so users have to click through links blindly. Probably the most obvious problematic decision is listing the artist names alphabetically– an immediately suspect method of organization in any gallery exhibition. The choice suggests randomness in the curatorial process that I’m certain doesn’t exist. Personally, I’d be interested in seeing how the pages changed from year to year, what sets them apart in their programming approach and how the diverse professional backgrounds and age of those commissioned effected the look of the work. None of this is made transparent.
As for the commissions themselves, the quality varies greatly. Were the presentation different, I’m not convinced this would be a problem (as an anthropological look at the page, quality isn’t necessarily a valuable sorting method). But as is, it’s hard to go through more than thirty-five artists and not desire some means of evaluating the work.
That said, the works in the show I particularly enjoyed were Seoul-based Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, Bust Down the Door, a text-based narrative from which the only escape comes in the form of a link to Rhizome’s main page, and cultural theorist Eugene Thacker’s DNA microarray gif and Affymetrix logo redesign critiquing its claim to ownership of human genome information. Although the exhibition does not make this clear in each case, I also liked that not all of the projects still work properly. MTAA’s On Kawara Update, 2001-2002, for example, a project that once consisted of a white on black text indicating the date and culled news stories from the day, now consists only of the last page of a broken work. The piece stopped working in December 2002 when Rhizome reconfigured their servers. In 2007 they relaunched a second version, which can be seen here.
Although MTAA may not have anticipated their piece breaking quite so quickly, there’s a sad poignancy to the inevitable finite existence of most web ephemera, particularly relative to On Kawara Update, an artist who’s date paintings are essentially an abstract archive of experience. A server moves, page links disappear, a browser update no longer supports a program used to run a piece. The great myth of the internet is that it’s any kind of reliable archive. Should the brilliantly conceived exhibition Splashback have made some of these ideas a little more accessible, it would have been a complete success.