Rafael Rozendaal's Web

From its inception, the Internet has received both positive and negative reviews, and rightly so. Today its network is so vast and complex it is impossible to comprehend. The Internet is the most powerful tool in the world because it holds the majority of people’s information inside of its own non-existent reality. It is intimidating. Knowledge is power and nobody can regulate the Internet in entirety. Therefore, all knowledge is susceptible to hacking. Nothing is totally safe and yet the world entrusts its secrets to a source that cannot be completely controlled. With such power comes critique, and that is what artists began to do in the early 1990s. Most artists just wanted to be creative with these new tools placed in the world. The most interesting feature for all computer software, browsers, and HTML is that they can be constantly manipulated if they are open-sourced. In the 1999 Year in Review Alexander Galloway stated, “All art media comes with constraints and through these constraints creativity is born. We see it in ASCII art, form art, HTML conceptualism, and anything that can fit easily through a modem.”-1  After the American stock market crashed in the spring of 2000 people became cynical about the Internet since it was driven by information technology. For several years there was a lull in Internet experimentation. Internet-related businesses became more conservative. However, a less intrusive critique on the Internet and HTML conceptualism slowly began to make way with the Neen movement, which would later inspire and create the artist that Rafael Rozendaal is today. 
Rozendaal’s fame began with a simple website he created in his twenties titles of his work are the domain names in which they reside in the Internet). Miltos Manetas, a pioneer of Internet art, saw Rozendaal’s website and invited him to exhibit in his gallery in Los Angeles. Miltos Manetas is a Greek artist that started the Neen movement in May of 2000.-2 He began Neen because he felt that no contemporary art was expressing the current new media generation accurately. The Neen artist’s use and abuse technology in a way that exploits the boundaries of the Internet. They use its rules against itself to create something that it was not initially intended for.-3 Since then Rozendaal has shown work at almost every major Biennial in the world as well as in many prestigious galleries and museums. Displaying immaterial pieces of art is an interesting challenge, but Rozendaal has successfully done so through the use of projectors, mirrors, space and air. After exhibiting for several years, Rozendaal founded the BYOB (Bring Your Own Beamer) series, which is a one-night exhibit that can be curated by anybody anywhere. In this exhibit artists use beamers, which is the British term for projectors, to project anything that they want. On his website Rozendaal describes BYOB as “a celebration of the new world we live in and a glimpse of what computing could look like in the future. Today the Internet is confined to screens. Tomorrow information will surround us, composing our surfaces, defining our spaces, enmeshing itself with the ether. A moving image is never an object, and when it is coupled with the increased flexibility of portable projection, the realm of experience quickly expands.” -4 BYOB has popped up in over fifty cities around the world and each interpretation of the instruction is different. Rozendaal’s concept of BYOB follows the traditional use of an exhibition where a select people are able to see the art if they are present. However, his own art breaks away from this tradition into the new dimension of the Internet where anybody can view art at any time, from any place. 
Several themes run deep and are repetitious throughout Rozendaal’s work. The theme of endlessness and infinity surface in multiple pieces including a wave of color slide across the screen every two seconds. It is always the same shade of blue or green passing endlessly over a pastel yellow. However beautiful and serene this may be, it is not about beauty. Although this piece may seem less interactive than Rozendaal’s other pieces it is actually more dependent on participation. How long can the viewer hold their attention on the screen? This infinity is tentative and it depends on the audiences attention span.-5 This can be compared to the actual Internet itself. Even though the majority of people spend hours on it every day nothing ever holds somebody’s attention for more than a short period of time. A page on the Internet has the potential to be infinite, but people are finite. Infinity is neither possible nor important if nobody is there to witness it. Rozendaal draws attention to this comparison in this piece. Likewise, deals with endlessness and the perception of time. The audience is invited to click on each boulder, which makes it disappear; however, it is only to be filled with the next boulder on top of it. No matter how many times somebody keeps clicking the boulders nothing is achieved and no space is created. There is no means to an end. This piece can be compared to the Greek tragedy of Sisyphus. Can a meaningless task become important if you give it meaning? Rozendaal seems to think so. Time is perceived and people believe it to be linear. But in reality it has been and always will be in one moment, forever. Therefore, anything can be purposeful if you will it to be. Many of Rozendaal’s pieces don’t have as much depth as these pieces and are truly just a means of exploring this new medium and the audiences’ interactions with it. and are examples of this experimentation. On each site the audience is invited to interact with a universally recognizable object. Whether it be a blue hand or a plate of jello, the viewer clicks on different parts of the virtual object and it responds in a normal and straightforward way. The jello jiggles upon each click accompanied by an inserted sound file that sounds like a ‘boing’. The fingers on the hand can be adjusted upon each click in a way that a regular hand movement would occur. Each piece is mundane and silly, and that is the point. Rozendaal is showing that what happens in real life can happen in virtual reality and that even though something like poking a plate of jello may seem simple, people are drawn to it because they can manipulate objects that are out of this dimension. 
The most important aspect of Rozendaal’s work is not the content itself, but the medium in which he creates. The fact that domain names are considered art is very controversial at the moment. One of the biggest controversies when analyzing this work is the question of visibility and ownership. Traditionally, art is shown in a space that people travel too and witness in person. It is made, exhibited, bought, exhibited again and so on. Rozendaal’s art can be visible to anybody at any time. It is not simply a photograph of a piece of art you can view online because the audience can witness time elapse within the pieces and interact with them in their own homes. Interestingly enough, Rozendaal’s pieces are in fact purchased by art collectors and museums. Each domain can be sold but the work remains publicly accessible.  Rozendaal elaborates on what it means to purchase a web-based artwork in an interview, stating: 
“We live in an age of sharing, and everything gets passed around all the time. In this ocean of digital content, nothing has value, except domain names. The old way of collecting is based on keeping a piece of art locked in your house, so you have exclusive access. To collect a website, is the opposite. You own it, and the more people see the work, the cooler it is. People who own a domain name know how this special feeling works because it is your property, even if anyone can walk in, especially because everyone walks in”. -6
This way of thinking is changing the relationship between artist and collector, even the art itself. An object is no longer just an object and an exhibition is no longer temporary. It has the potential to be perfect and infinite. These concepts were explored before the Internet was created; Marcel Duchamp’s ready-made, Allan Kaprow and theHappenings, Guy Debord and the Situationist and Hans-Ulrich Obrist with his Kitchen exhibitions and Interview projects. All of these artists and curators manipulated what was viewed as traditional art. Rozendaal has recognized the potential of the Internet to do the same. 
For the first time, art is moving out of the real world and into virtual reality. Artists have the ability to make an infinite and utopian experience. The question of whether this is a positive or negative move forward is still being explored by artists, and Rafael Rozendaal is one of the few pushing boundaries in order to question the virtual worlds that we all live in.

Cassie Stepanek -
January 5th, 2012

-1. Ibid, 130.
-2. Michael Slenske, “The Web Rafael Rozendaal Weaves”, Interview Magazine, February 8, 2011, (accessed October 28, 2011).
-3. Miltos Manetas, “Telic and Neen”, Miltos Manetas, (accessed October 25, 2011).
-4. Rafael Rozendaal, “BYOB FAQ” BYOB worldwide, October 24, 2011).
-5.Su Wu, “Vis-Ed: Rafael Rozendaal and the Information Superhighway to Nowhere”,xlr8r magazine, February 16, 2011, (date accessed October 23, 2011).
-6. Ibid.