mieke gerritzen on Wed, 2 May 2001 13:49:56 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> International Browserday NYC/ by Matthew Mirapaul NYT - Arts Online

Arts Online: Innovative Webmasters Chase Fame at Browserday


Jonah Brucker-Cohen doesn't surf the Net so much as he takes it for a
spin. To visit a Web site, he types its address and watches as a blank
page pops up on his monitor. Then he grabs the handle of a device
connected to his computer and cranks it furiously, as if he were revving
up a Model T. The more quickly he rotates the handle, the faster the page
appears digitally on the screen. The system's benefits are that "you
control your own bandwidth, " Mr. Brucker-Cohen explained, referring to
the size of the data-delivery pipeline, "and it increases your fitness."

Mr. Brucker-Cohen, an artist and a research fellow at New York University,
demonstrated his Crank the Web project on Thursday during International
Browserday, a design competition whose finals were held at Cooper Union in
the East Village. Browserday allows college students to illustrate their
visions of how people will interact with the Internet as it evolves.
Although no one expects Mr. Brucker-Cohen's prototype to become a real
product, it was clearly the crowd favorite and earned its maker the
contest's top prize, a laptop computer that does not require bulging
biceps to access the Internet.

This was the fourth annual Browserday and the first held in the United
States. Mieke Gerritzen, 38, a graphic designer in Amsterdam, helped found
the contest in 1998 to encourage students in the visual, performing and
graphic arts to participate in the future of computing. Alternatives to
Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator, the dominant Web-browsing
programs, are just starting points for their musings.

Ultimately, Browserday, located at internationalbrowserday.com, is a sort
o= f poetry slam for artistically inclined techies. Although the
presentations, which range from vague lecturing to prototype
demonstrations, are prepared in advance, they have the feel of free
associations on a common theme. Contestants, who also face a three-minute
time limit, must make an instant impact, much like a well-made Web page.

In addition to computer-generated images, the presentations by the
competition's two dozen finalists included video art, a political
manifesto and a dance choreographed via e-mail. There was also one
outright spoof: th= e InterPet, an alternative Internet created to "solve
problems as animals would." (Alas, time expired before its workings could
be described.)

The technological entries ranged from the whimsical to the utterly
pragmatic. In the former category were Mr. Brucker-Cohen's crank- driven
We= b browser and the Scrtch Machine, by Roel Wouters, a student at the
Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam. Mr. Wouters's device applies to Web
navigation the motions used by D.J.'s to scratch records. A user would
spin a turntablelik= e mouse, for example, to fast-forward through a video

But there were serious proposals as well. The contest's first runner-up
was Active Cursor, by Koert van Mensvoort, another Sandberg student. He
envisions software that would enable a cursor to change its movement as it
encounters onscreen material. When, say, the cursor passes over a
photograp= h of an icy surface, it slides rapidly. "He's giving volume and
texture to th= e screen of the computer," said Paola Antonelli, curator of
design at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan and one of the
competition's judges.

Perhaps most provocative was Tap, by Mark Argo, a digital artist in
California. He proposed a wearable device that would plug into a publicly
accessible information source and display data in a style chosen by the
wearer. Years from reality, it still appeals to the imagination: no more
squinting at tiny, ornate script on a restaurant's menu; plug yourself
into the restaurant's computer and, voil=E0, there is the information in
big, blocky type.

With such a device, "you can carry your own environment with you," said
Ken Perlin, director of N.Y.U.'s Multimedia Laboratory and another
Browserday judge. "It really reconceptualizes what the Web is. It becomes
a personal thing. It's an alternative to the tyranny of walking up to a
screen and being stuck with what's there."

"Being stuck with what's there" is what many of the competing artists saw
a= s the obstacle to overcome. It's also the challenge for those working
in the digital realm. In 1997 I/O/D, a London-based trio, developed the
Web Stalker, widely considered the first artist-made Web browser.
Available at bak.spc.org/iod, it creates a three-dimensional map of the
connections between Web sites. More recently Maciej Wisniewski, a New York
artist, produced his own alternative Web browser, Netomat, which retrieves
Internet text and images and sends them floating across the screen. The
program, which is at netomat.net, can also be seen in the "Data Dynamics"
exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

"Browsers are important because they affect our world," said Alex
Galloway, director of technology for Rhizome.org, a digital-art resource.
"They sculp= t the data we read every day. Sculpture has always been part
of art-making, s= o the move into software art makes a lot of sense to

At Browserday, however, few of the presentations involved the basic
browser= . Has its battleship-gray frame become so pervasive that it seems
invisible? "It's not about the browser anymore," said Carl Goodman, the
curator of digital media at the American Museum of the Moving Image. "It's
about interacting with information and communicating with people over the
Internet." Introducing aesthetic elements to those activities makes them
more appealing, he said.

There was no denying the visual allure of many of the Browserday
presentations, which reflected their creators' strong graphic-design
backgrounds. Indra, a prototype for a search engine that displays results
a= s a honeycomb of related findings, is far snazzier-looking than Yahoo!
or the bare-bones Google.

Oddly, several presentations involved themes frequently explored in
science fiction or already in development in media laboratories, like
wearable computers. This trend may indicate that some of the contestants
need to spend less time at the keyboard and more in the real world.

Ms. Gerritzen acknowledged that the presentations were not as theatrical
as those at the earlier competitions held in Europe, but she said she
intended to continue to present Browserday in the United States. "It's
important tha= t people get more freedom to design," she said. Otherwise,
she added, "the world is going to be more ugly, and more the same, every

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