A painter and software developer turned digital artist, Mark Napier has been making art for the web since 1995. He is the creator of the award winning potatoland.org, a conceptual art studio dedicated to exploring the aesthetic and interactive potential of the web. His projects are available at Potatoland, and he is continuously involved in exhibitions and projects in Europe and the USA.
For the pages in the printed magazine Hvedekorn Napier has used his cross-content browser RIOT (June 1999). RIOT works much like a normal browser in which this text is being shown, except it interprets the HTML code differently. Text and images are deconstructed and scattered all over the page in a multilayered collage of visual fragments. And unlike other browsers RIOT adds to the collage when a new page is entered. So visiting a number of sites becomes an act of breaking, shattering, deconstructing and piling layers of different content, intentions and graphic style into one big mess. The original content is lost, but reappears in fragments as part of a new whole, provoking a simultaneous layered associative thinking on the basis of the new visual structure. Furthermore the concepts of territories, copyright and domains are challenged and the structure of the Internet as a medium is brought to light.
In one of Napier's earlier projects called Shredder (December 1998), there is that same rebel feel due to things being turned upside down or disturbed. Shredder gives you a tool to visually tear web pages to pieces. Chopped up and rearranged, the web has been turned inside out and illusions of the screen as a meaningful surface with a "desktop", "pages" and "windows" are broken. A strategy also found in the avantgarde movements of 20th century art and now used on a new medium in order to challenge and raise awareness of conventions.
©Bots (February 2000) asks related questions, this time with a satirical political edge about the invasion of the mind by the cultural industry in the form of meme figures (meme: memory). Meme characters appear in commercials, television and movies designed to represent a product or a company. But they also enter our subconscious and become part of our inner lives, populating our private mythologies.
Companies try to protect their meme figures from outside influences through copyright laws in order to control the communication and significance of their investments. But with the help of image editing software and the Internet, it is easy for private individuals to share their manipulations and inventions with each other.
©Bots offers a chance to reclaim your own mind by constructing meme figures out of body parts taken from famous popular icons and characters, and exhibiting them in a gallery space on Napier's site. Visitors can vote for the posing meme monsters and an alternative culture of grotesque and cute figures is established where the imagination has found a freezone away from corporate control.
p-Soup (September 2000) and the forerunner Ripple (1995) are more formal graphic approaches to the Internet and the computer, using the possibilities of the Internet as an interactive shared space for creating aesthetic experience.
p-Soup is a Java(tm) applet that incorporates graphics, sound and networking. The applet connects viewers through a server, much the same way a chat room works, but instead of seeing text on the screen the users communicate through a visual 'language' of animated geometric shapes and tonal sounds. The clicking of the mouse sets off movements that go on without any further participation from the user until the next click is made and another combination of shape and colour unfolds in combination with the first, and so forth adding to the complexity.
Pulse (May 1999) uses the movements of the mouse as the outset for shifting combinations of colour and rectangular shapes in what looks like a TV test screen to perform a rhythmic graphic dance. Together the two projects, p-Soup and Pulse, offer an experience of the special saturation and hue of monitor colours in varying combinations and continuous movement. The automation of image production is a fascinating dream born out of the relation between art and the machine or computer. In these examples the user and the software is involved in a dialogue that exceed the most simple definition of interaction as merely stimuli-response.
Digital Landfill (June 1998) ends this introduction to Mark Napiers net art. Landfill is the digital dumping site for emails, html code, images, webpages and text. Visitors can paste in their trash or plot the address of a site that should be turned off. It is a comment on the huge amount of bad, crappy sites on the ever expanding Internet and the loads of files stored on every computer harddrive that ought to be trashed because they are no longer of any use or were a mistake in the first place. The massifs of digital landfill offer an interesting cross section of what is happening in our culture and in our digital lives at present.