Archive: Issue No. 114, February 2007

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The Artthrob site remixed by Shredder

Scrambled, Shredded
by Carine Zaayman

In the last couple of years, I have, in this column, focused on projects that I have enjoyed seeing. Some of these were large-scale and cutting edge, but others were more intimate, small-scale projects. Throughout, I have tried to seek out those projects and artists that understand the creative possibilities of digital media, especially in its communicative function, that is, the way in which technology is able to facilitate contact and exchange.

This is not in any way supposed to suggest that technology is exclusively good and humane - as anyone with a cursory familiarity with say the internet, mobile phones and the like knows, digital technology is often the hand that gives, as well as the hand that takes away. In other words, digital technology can be both the tool of communication, democratic expression and sharing, as well as an oppressive force strengthening the already dominant culture of consumerism and consumption.

It is perhaps then, with a sense of whimsy that, as a parting shot, I look at a project that deals ambiguously with the medium of the internet. The Shredder project by Mark Napier is one that reminds us of the fluidity of form, content and even presence online. The project works as a kind of digital intervention, or put differently, it utilises code that alters the information sent from a site's server to the user's computer, resulting in a 'scrambled' version of that website appearing on the user's screen.

The shredded result is ambiguous, I believe, not only because of the way in which it appears on your screen, all confused and out of sync. More directly, this shredding disturbs the 'surface' of the site, and for me this is an interesting gesture. To elucidate, in my experience, new media works are often considered as 'given' in the sense that they supposedly lack depth, since they are virtual. The medium has, in the minds of some, certain irrefutable characteristics (often phrased negatively). These characteristics include being flashy, difficult to understand and ultimately futile.

Needless to say, as someone with an affinity for new media, these views are not ones I hold myself, and when I come across them I may understand why they are voiced, but I am still excited about all the promise of new media art which those sentiments neglect to see. What Shredder does is make apparent that a website consists of a fragile matrix of finely balanced bits of information, code and composition. It is made apparent that websites only appear to be as seamless as we have become used to seeing. Instead, underneath that surface lies a complex set of instructions, variables and construction in the making. New media isn't just one thing, but a carefully designed set of ideas put into form.

One can use Shredder to disrupt any website of your choice. Yet what it ultimately produces is relatively similar, no matter where you start. You could even say it is useless: the information becomes unclear, and what you see is, for the most part, pretty in the way spin paintings may be, or anything produced by a preset process. Yet I find in this a sense of reflection on the bits that go into the web, and that so convincingly allows us to exist in the world. It would be a mistake, in my view, to read Shredder on the surface only. Instead, I find the project intriguing for what I have already termed its 'ambiguity', in the way it carefully treads between aesthetic, medium and process.

It has never been my intention to suggest that new media art is above any other forms, but rather, to provide readers of this column with some leads to follow to see what new media could be in its many different forms. It has been a great time, as it has led me to explore and read widely, and I have found some works that have made a deep impression. My thanks to the readers for your company, as well as to my colleagues at ArtThrob - it has been a privilege and a pleasure.