The HTML Color Codes exhibition features a selection of internet based artwork that address the topic of digital color. The central question that the exhibition poses is whether or not artists working with the internet are in fact limited to a “ready-made” color palette, a premise that many artists working with film, photography, and mass produced, standardized paint sets have assumed. The rationale for this question stems from theories of perception that argue that color is a not ready-made object found in a paint set or machine, but rather it is an experience that results from a complex process of light interacting with the retina and human nervous system.
The exhibition begins and ends along a polemic. On one extreme, color is viewed exclusively in terms of its “ready-made” code, indicated by the programming language that the artist has used. In order to use color on the internet, one must adopt the standardized hexadecimal system of color values. This system involves designating a six-digit code combined of letters and numbers (such as 0000cc for a deep blue), which is then interpreted by HTML for online visualization. HTML (HyperText Markup Language) is a programming language conventionally used for coding and structuring the elements on a web page. Software applications such as Macromedia Dreamweaver or Adobe Flash automate coding so that designers or artists can manipulate the space and plug in graphics without memorizing code. The first four artists featured in the exhibition (Chris Ashley, Michael Demers, Brian Piana, and Owen Plotkin) demonstrate the some of the possibilities for hexadecimal values in color-based, visual, internet art.
Look, See is on an ongoing series of HTML drawings that Ashley begun in 2000. The drawings are made using HTML tables in the WYSIWYG editor in Dreamweaver, a software application used to create websites. The WYSIWYG editor (What Your See Is What You Get) is a tool used for editing a web content that, unlike writing source code, allows for the direct manipulation of the colors and shapes that will appear online. The HTML table is a grid with a designated number of rows and columns. After making the selections for the table, Ashley assigns a hexadecimal value to each square in the grid, giving it its color and code. A new HTML drawing is made every day. The selections for this exhibition are the set of drawings from April 2009. All the images vary to some degree. However, a general aesthetic is at work throughout---solid and mostly opaque colored squares and rectangles that create a larger square shaped image. At the same time, the trick is that there is no image. It is solely code and its execution. If a user tries to click on the “image” to save it, she will find this impossible. Look, See plays with the intrinsic grid that structures most content on online (vector based images are the exception). While still retaining reference to this constraint, Ashley also manages to make each drawing visually elegant.
Ellsworth Kelly Hacked My Twitter is a real-time data visualization of Twitter postings retrieved from a set of people that Piana is tracking on Twitter, a social networking technology that uses mobile phones to update subscribers. The composition is structured as a flexible grid that can be altered by changing the size of your browser window. Each colored square in the piece represents an individual tweet that has been sent through Piana’s feed. The top-left hand corner square represents the most recent post. The actual messages that are being sent in each tweet are not available. Instead, a color code appears and information about the author, time, and date of the post can be viewed by rolling over that color. Like Ellsworth Kelly’s painting Colors for a Large Wall (1951), several multi-colored squares are arranged in an arbitrary sequence. Unlike Kelly’s piece, Ellsworth Kelly Hacked My Twitter is a representation of an invisible information network—a real-time ordering of a system that is without visible form.
firelight uses static color fields in a way that is similar to Ashley’s work, but pushes the block style in order to formalize a representation of firelight. Plotkin has chosen a subject that is ephemeral, changing, and hard to capture in a static image. As a result, his mathematical and systematic geometricization of such an infinitely nuanced phenomena abstracts it beyond any visual likeness. This piece is selected from Plotkin’s series, “Colorbots,” a set of works that further point to the automated and often homogenous look of computer visualizations of natural phenomena.
While an online color always exists as a hexadecimal value, it is also a phenomenon that exceeds these codes, standards, and systems that attempt to calibrate and harness it. In this alternative view, color comes into being through its relationship with other colors, its environment, and human perception. For instance, a neutral grey color may appear bluish when placed on an orange background, but then it may appear orange when placed on a blue background. The middle section of the exhibition includes artists (dlsan, Michael Atavar, Jacob Broms Engblom, and Elna Frederick) whose work addresses this subjective dimension of color while also maintaining reference to the digital codes intrinsic to HTML color.
thethingasitis™ consists of a single web page full of “blue screen” blue . This is the shade of blue that a video and monitor display when a signal is sent through the circuit, without image content. The blue plays at being pure and unmediated. However, this purity is also undermined by the soft blue text that is animated on top of it. The text varies, but it generally recounts Atavar’s personal accounts of using HTML code for color design. Some of the text includes direct references to HTML color, such as, “html colours are completely undervalued,” or that these colors should be looked at “in themselves”—a reference to a kind of metaphysics where “to see,” and is to know a thing as it is in itself, or, the thingliness of the thing, that is, its essence. But here, Atavar has intentionally offset the possibility of accessing an essence. There is no possible essence for HTML color, as it involves a two-tier process from hexadecimal code, through its execution as visual content. The thingliness of the thing reveals that there is no one thing, but several things, (culture, convention, commercialism) that make the thingliness of thing appear essential.
Gold signifies something that cannot exist online. Traditionally, gold refers to things like money, jewelry, stardom, awards, a standard, and excess, all things from the “offline” world. Gold’s natural shine and sparkle is here translated into a series of animated gif files, heaped together in a treasure chest assemblage. However, the obvious problem is that this gold’s glitter hardly evokes the same measure of brilliance and shine of “real” gold. Rather, Engblom’s gold is ironic gold, a digital animation with a frame rate that is slow enough to even make the animated “glitter” looks naïve, like a banner advertisement on a website that catches your eye, but is perhaps the least desirable thing to pay attention to on the page. Similar to Magritte’s series, The Treachery of Images (1928–29) where one image features a pipe with the text, “Ceci n'est pas une pipe,” written underneath it, Gold also shows what it is not, namely, the auratic shine of inflated value and glamour. In destabilizing the abstracted exchange value of so-called “real” gold, Engblom’s gold points out that is in fact something else: Internet gold—the land where all that sparkles, whether banner add or artwork, seems to be equally de-valued to the same level of flatness and mundane repetition.
Similar to Gold, Elna Frederick’s @ = landscape, takes a humorous look at online representations of nature: sky, clouds, and rain. The rain is hyper-geometric, consisting of thick blue lines, all of equal width, and all falling from right to left consistently. The visual effects of the blue lines appear one after the other, resembling the mechanized movements of an ink-jet printer filling in the lines of a page––far from the painterly style of fluid brush stokes and nuanced colorism that has long esteemed classical landscape painting.
Colors Combination Tool gives users a visual display of color combinations available online. The composition space is divided into a center sphere and an outer square. The color selection tools on either side of the center image allow users to separately alter the amount of RGB quantities in the space. However because color is, by definition, relational (a color appears differently depending on the context it is in), the Colors Combination Tool visualizes the gap between the range of perceptual phenomena possible with the set of hexadecimal color codes.
The last four pieces in HTML Color Codes move further in the direction of subjective color. This includes the works by Andrew Venell, Noah Venezia, Morgan Rush Jones, and Rafaël Rozendaal, each of whom challenge the viewer’s sensory response to varying degrees. Rozendaal’s RGB, for instance, the piece that concludes the exhibition, seems to demand the most of a viewer’s attentive capacities. With its bright R-G-B patterns flickering at a speed that is almost too fast to register, the colors begin to exceed human recognition. From Chris Ashley’s Look See to Rozendaal’s RGB, the exhibition does not portent to cover the full range of possibilities for color in internet art. However, these twelve works begins to broach this new field of color studies within the genre of internet art.
Color Field Television is akin to watching an abstract painting on television, on speed. Animated to 12 frames per second, different color sections appear in each frame. The sections are not homogenous, yet they are all formed in the shapes of rectangles, stripes or squares. They appear in several different bright colors, and due to the high paced animation, they leave little time to absorb each color on its own. Unlike the color field paintings, where a viewer would wander in a gallery and presumably ponder over a single composition before moving on to the next—there is no time for reflection, only stimulus-and-response. Second, unlike traditional television which has classically assumed a passive, narcotic, receptive state of media consumption, Color Field Television, demands a more active response by directly engaging the viewer at a closer proximity and more demanding pace.
The Rainbow Website uses the entire browser window to code a continuous animation of the seven major spectral colors in the rainbow. The colors gently fade between the layers from Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet, and back again on a loop. The color selections derive not only from the HTML codes needed for color visualization, but also the standard spectral colors in an iconic, seven-band rainbow. The number seven originates from Newton’s thesis that white light contained seven other primary colors. While engaging the color codes and standards for primary colors, The Rainbow Website also animates these codes to reveal the phenomenal nuances nested in between.
NumberofManufacturingIndustriesbyNumberofProductClassesinanIndustry is difficult to look at. Not because the material is offensive or rude, but rather, because it increasingly challenges human perception. The background consists of several multi-colored gif animations, on top of which is bright yellow bold face text written down the left hand side of the browser window. Arranged in patterns, the background flashes on and off, as the eye strains to focus and read the text. The words waver between legibility and illegibility, depending on whether or not that particular letter falls on top of a darker or lighter area of the screen. If one can manage to read the text, some of the following phrases can be deciphered: “Rhetoric of Boredom…or maybe an overabundance of information…packing is really better than the thing…being afraid of disaster means listening and taking things in, internally.” The text resembles Jenny Holtzer’s use of run-on text with little to no punctuation, ongoing fragments of thoughts and incomplete sentences. The text’s lack of finitude mirrors the ongoing visual animations behind it, both metaphors for the tension between absorption and boredom experienced in a culture of endless mass-produced commoditities that the work takes its title from.
As soon as one launches RGB, the viewer is struck by the vibrant red, green, and blue color animations that flicker on the screen. The rate of the flickering increases at the same time that the size of the red, green, and blue shapes get smaller, in effect, making the image more chaotic, blending the primary colors into a mixture that looses their identity. One of the tenets of the theory of color perception is that solid colors, if seen while animated at a fast enough rate, will appear mixed in the eye. Blue and red make purple. The work is placed last in the exhibition because it begins to ask questions about the relationship between human and machine vision. In the age of electronic color and the internet art, is critical new media art a question of increased stimulation, absorption, or new strategies that thwart the so-called clarity of vision all together?