Art From Code: A NetArt Story

I’m drawn to the aesthetics of 90s and early 2000s net art, perhaps because I was a young child in the early 2000s and feel a certain nostalgia for graphics that are characteristic of that time. The rediscovery of virtual spaces we once inhabited can provoke similar emotions to wandering through our old neighborhood. Certain works of net art play upon the relationship between space and digital realms, like Yael Kanarek’s World of Awe. Initially, I intended to create a project with more of a landscape.

My project began with a narrative that is approximately 500 words in length. It’s the semi-autobiographical account of an unresolved dalliance, depression, a vaguely unhealthy relationship to food, and existing as a New Yorker in San Francisco. It quickly became apparent that this narrative would drive the project, more so than a landscape. Tonally, I found Martine Neddam’s Mouchette to be a useful touchstone. The piece centers around a severely depressed teenage girl and prominently features a forum in which users suggest methods of suicide. It reveals the callousness displayed by anonymous people engaging in digital media. They’re shameless because they don’t have to look anyone in the eye and answer to their words. My project is meta in that the catalyst for it was poor text communication. The protagonist’s love interest constantly asks after their sweatshirt, which they lent the protagonist, but fails to express interest in or concern for the protagonist.

Aesthetically, the net art narrative that inspired this project the most was Olia Lialina’s My Boyfriend Came Back From The War. It’s an interactive non-linear story that features gifs and hyperlinks. Because I was working in Java and not HTML I couldn’t quite mimic this exactly, but I tried to emulate early personal websites by using Comic Sans and creating pixel illustrations. Essentially, I wanted to create what Hito Steyerl would a poor image. Steyerl writes, “Its quality is bad, its resolution substandard. As it accelerates, it deteriorates. It is a ghost of an image, a preview, a thumbnail, an errant idea, an itinerant image distributed for free.” I liked this idea of a ghost image because ghosts are a sort of memory.

Ultimately, I would like to spend some more time with my project manipulating the strings of text and connecting the images I created, making the project more interactive. I’d like for the images to appear in response to a keyPressed and for the screen to be filled with new windows, creating a cluttered, claustrophobic feelings.