Mark Napier

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Shredder 1.0, 1998

Technologies: HTML, Javascript, Perl

Keywords: algorithmic, formal, interactive, remix


What we see when we browse the Web is a carefully designed veneer, an orderly facade that conceals the jungle of code used in its making. Mark Napier's Shredder 1.0 lets us peek behind the curtain, revealing a colorful jumble of text and images. Enter a Web address in the location field at the top of Shredder 1.0's Web interface, or choose from one of two dozen pre-selected URLS, and the Shredder literally deconstructs the original site, slicing and dicing its text, imagery, and source code to form abstract compositions.

Shredder 1.0 works by passing the code in which a Web page is written through a Perl script, a rudimentary program that parses and rearranges the original code before handing it off to your Web browser. Napier wrote the Perl script in such a way that the results are always visually similar?the signature style of the algorithm that produced them. Although traces of the original site's design and content can sometimes be identified in the distorted logos and fragments of text that remain, 'the shredded versions more closely resemble the non-representational paintings of Hans Hoffman or Gerhard Richter than the slick interfaces of the Web sites from which Napier's compositions derive. Napier's approach to Net art reflects his own background as a painter; the images that Shredder 1.0 generates demonstrate a refined awareness of color and shape. Hoffman and other Abstract Expressionists reduced painting to its intrinsic formal characteristics, such as the flatness of the picture plane and the plasticity of paint. Napier draws our attention to the fundamental technological properties of the Internet, from the complexity of code to the variability of images.

Like many of Napier's later works, including Landfill and Feed, Shredder 1.0 is both interactive (in that it requires us to provide or select the address of a Web site to shred) and generative (in that it runs an algorithmic process that produces the work anew each time). "My works are not objects but interfaces. The users become collaborators in the art work, upsetting the conventions of ownership and authority," Napier writes in an artist's statement. "By interacting with the work, the visitors shape the piece, causing it to change and evolve, often in unpredictable ways. The user is an integral part of the design."

Napier extends this notion of collaborative interaction to his collectors in Waiting Room (2002), a Software art project that the artist describes as a "moving painting." In this project, user input (ideally via a wall-mounted touch screen) produces abstract shapes and renditions of shadows and walls. Napier has worked with Bitforms, a New York gallery devoted to New Media art, to offer to collectors fifty ownership shares in the work. Collectors receive a copy of the art work on a CD-ROM. Each instance of Waiting Room is connected via the Internet to the others, so that when one collector interacts with the work, the resulting forms appear on every collector's screen.

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