| Date: 8.3.1998
From: Tilman Baumgaertel (Tilman_Baumgaertel@CompuServe.Com)
Subject: Data Trash--Mark Napier's "Landfill"
Keywords: participatory, archive, collider, disappearance
Do you want to get rid of your old data? Recycle your bits and bytes?
Dispose the stuff in the trashcan on your desktop? The New York based
artist Mark Napier allows you to do you just that: throw your data into
a virtual trashcan. His net art project "The Landfill"
(http://www.potatoland.org/landfill) is kind of an online compost heap.
Programmed with Perl, you can actually watch different "layers" of
digital garbage disintegrate: With Netscape 4.0 you get the impression
of piles of old data rotting away. Some of the files come from private
trashcans (look for my presentation on net art held at a conference at
Lueburg University which I disposed off online during the speech!),
others are from a number of websites. The material comes from the
homepage of the CIA as well as from Yahoo!, there are press releases
from Microsoft and Playmates from the Playboy website. Whatever this
data was supposed to "communicate" once, at "The Landfill" it is reduced
to graphical raw material.
One could call "The Landfill" a piece of automated Pop Art: The collage
of pop culture icons from the net remind the viewer of the silk screens
of Robert Rauschenberg, even though there is one important difference:
at "The Landfill" it is not the descision of one single artist what will
be included into the work, but the collaboration of all the users.
Like all the best net art projects "The Landfill" reflects the specific
properties of the internet (in this case: its "backchannel" that allows
for interactivity) as well as it's particular materiality--or rather:
its digital immateriality. At the same time it takes the modernist
tradition of collage to the net.
The artist Mark Napier has most recently drawn attention to his work
with a series of pictures of "Distorted Barbies"
(http://www.users.interport.net/~napier/barbie/) that he placed on his
website. Matell, the company that produces Barbie dolls threatened to
sue Napier's internet provider Interport, who quickly gave in and made
the artist take down the images. Now all that's left are images that are
so distorted that you can't tell if they are Barbies anymore or not. In
the following interview Napiers talks about "The Landfill." You can see
his works at his own domain: www.potatoland.org
+ + +
Tilman Baumgaertel: Some of the first art projects on the net dealt with
the net as an archive (Mundatas File Room for example), as a collection
Now there are a number of art projects that are exactly about the
opposite: Getting rid of the data instead of adding new on the the net.
Do you think that this has only to do with the fact that the net has
grown so much, or do you see any "deeper" reasons for this development?
Mark Napier: I see it as a logical progression. People didn't think
about being deluged with Spam back when the internet was populated
mostly by academics and a handfull of intrepid explorers. With the
growth of the net more people are promoting themselves and their
businesses, and the obvious way to do that is through email and
newsgroups. So the focus shifts from gathering information to filtering
out the noise.
Also, when taken out of context digital text can be fascinating to look
at. The Landfill is not really about "getting rid of the data." It's
more about drawing attention to this electronic, textual, digital
"stuff"--take it out of it's normal context and really look at it. As a
thing in itself this textual information can be beautiful. When you
layer it upon itself you get a whole other effect. The juxtapositions of
images, text, phrases, ads, spam, links, forms add up to a constantly
changing, evolving soup of ideas.
TB: Is this project a critique of the information overflow a la Neil
Postman, or would you describe your approach rather as ironic and
MN: Playful, definitely. I enjoy the random and unpredictable nature of
a project that is driven by the viewers. Anybody can contribute to the
Landfill, and everyone brings their own ideas to the piece. Some people
contribute their own digital artwork, some people have added Flash
animations, simple interactive games, others link to their homepages, or
clean out their email inboxes.
TB: You've been working on the net for quite some time. Did you
experiment with other electronic or digital media before?
MN: I used to paint. The nice thing about painting and sculpture is that
those art forms don't crash. Netscape has a lot of potential, but the
bugs and version incompatibilities are a real hassle.
TB: How long have you been working on the net, and how did you get
"there" from being a painter?
MN: I have a BFA in painting. A BFA is basically a license to starve, so
when I got out of school I needed income, and hooked up with some
friends who were working in PC consulting. That was 1984 and PCs were
just starting to be used as business computers. I learned some
programming and found that I enjoyed the creativity of designing
programs and user interfaces. Software design has a very sculptural
quality. Good software design has an architectural beauty to it, just
like a well designed building. So I was hooked, and later learned C and
C++ as well as several database languages.
I worked part-time so that I could still paint. I got my first internet
account in July 1995, put some of my paintings on my homepage, and then
realized that this medium was completely seperate from painting. Just
scanning the images changed their nature, and of course I could create
so many effects with Photoshop that the original painting no longer
existed by the time I posted the image on my site. A few weeks later I
took down all the paintings and started playing with HTML to see what I
could get it to do. I experimented in hypertext "essays" (for want of a
better word) like Chicken Wire Mother and the Distorted Barbie, before I
got into a much more painterly, interactive approach, like what I'm
doing now in POTATOLAND (Gallery1 for instance).
I haven't painted since summer of 95.
[This article and interview originally appeared on nettime.]