6 February 2002
Sean Dodson visits the small but perfectly formed Minus 20, an exhibition of internet art produced with less than 20kb of code.
Opposite a giant, rusting gas tower, on the fifth floor of a former council block, is the physical site of E-2, an online art gallery that borrows its name from its Bethnal Green postcode.
Founded in 1997 by Simon Faithfull and Peter Moore, E-2 has been commissioning artists to create work specifically for the internet. Since its inception, it has introduced recognised artists such as Tomoko Takahashi and Anna Best to new media.
Last week, E-2 launched its first group show. Minus 20 features nine online works, chosen from 150 open submission entries received from across the globe. The aim of Minus 20 was to focus on works of powerful immediacy with a fast download time – hence all the artworks had to be less than 20kb in file size. A measly sum by today’s standards.
Minus 20 proves that small file size doesn’t mean work of little interest. Take a piece like Ellie Harrison‘s Minus 20 kJ. It features a number of pixelated pictures of food such as a cherry tomato and a peanut, complete with their value in kilojoules. The pictures are viewable only for as long as it would take the average computer to consume the same amount of energy. For example, a stick of celery lasts 12 seconds, about the same amount of time as it has taken you to read this paragraph.
More ephemeral is Phil Coy‘s goodvibrations – it uses 15 different frames of colour to respond to the sounds generated from a tiny loop of the eponymous Beach Boys classic.
But the piece most likely to attract repeated visits in Paul Allit’s bewitching betweenspace016. An interactive, abstracted work so complex that you marvel in its author’s ability to condense it into such a miserly piece of computer code. Most of the other works, although pretty enough, do less than this.
Minus 20‘s conceit is a remarkable one – most commercial websites run on anything between 80kb and 150kb – but it is not entirely new. Now in its third year, a Canadian competition – the 5K – rewards web pages operating on a quarter of E-2’s current allocation. The 5K even offers a cash prize – $51.20 (£36): a cent a byte.
E-2 claims that it exists outside the recognised net.art fraternity populated by Slovenia’s Vuc Cosic, Belgium’s JODI and the East End’s own Mute magazine – in part because E-2 also has a reputation for using artists who have never used the net before. Perhaps also because it produces commercial web sites: the swanky new website for the Royal Academy of Arts – launched last week – was also produced in Bethnal Green.
“We sit somewhere in between the net.art tradition and the more established art world,” says Faithfull. “We don’t work exclusively with artists who haven’t approached new media before, but we are trying to bridge the gap.”
And thank God for that. E-2 commissioned Tomoko Takahashi’s Word Perhect two years ago. It became the first online work to be nominated for the Turner Prize and a defining piece of internet art. Takahashi had never worked on the internet before she made Word Perhect – she didn’t even own a computer. But under E-2’s guidance, she produced a remarkable work that mimicked the workings of Word Perfect. Using Flash animation, Takahashi produced a working word processor that used her spidery handwriting as its only font. It displayed her digits, not on business letters or blank pages of A4, but on simulacrums of bus tickets and till receipts. All of which could be printed out on standard office printers.
Now E-2 – which also includes former Chisenhale Gallery director Sue Jones, Peter Edwards and Rebecca Waldron – is building a web-based piece for another Turner Prize nominee, Mark Nelson. Expect something “very special in June,” they say.