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Guest Column: A Love Letter To Computers Club

A from still from the CCHQ video by Nicolas Sassoon.

Since the first post on May 2, 2009, I have been addicted to Computers Club. The project, a group site dedicated to sharing art made with or by computers was launched by artist Krist Wood, and has been lauded as one of the preeminent locations of so-called netart and artists working with computer generated/manipulated imagery. Although the template of the site follows other previous group-based projects, I’ve never been completely thrilled with the idea of calling Computers Club a blog. This is probably due in part to how the content found within Computers Club has, since it’s origin, been a place where artists/members have been able to share work that typically reaches beyond the standard fair of netart.

When I talked with many of its members over the course of several weeks, they discussed how previous engagements with other group projects and/or personal blog-based sites had influenced the kind of experience they expected or hoped for with Computers Club (henceforth abbreviated to CC). Former outlets had similarly served as a way of showing work, but some members felt as though those projects didn’t offer avenues to push their practices beyond some self-induced restricting labeling of “netart” and whatever that label implied. As a way to combat these anxieties, CC members found ways to address more broad artistic concerns that were not solely located in computer-based art by creating works that could be conceptually considered through the lens of illustration, painting, performance, experimental video, and even music. The passion and willingness to explore how the computer as medium can filter and influence the production of artwork found amongst CC members shows how this site provided a shared context for visually sophisticated work to mature beyond the scope of the screen.

When asked how joining CC influenced and engaged this desire to challenge standard receptions of so-called net.art, Laura Brothers commented:

I was well aware of the implicit restrictions that I have placed on myself when making work for out4pizza [Brothers’ LiveJournal that acts as her main art-publication site]. Basically, it began very carefree and natural and fun and, over time, I felt that I had established unforeseen rules for myself that I attempt to adhere to. Tiny things—like even the consistent desire to post on black. So, I figured I could try and make my contributions to CC a way to branch out from my own invisible boundaries—a place for personal explorations that to me were something slightly different.

“Disco Drown” by Laura Brothers.

I think that, taken collectively, the exploration of ideas and techniques that occurs within the many pages of CC provides striking evidence of a dramatic step towards expanding the scope of what netart can visually undertake and encompass. Much discussion around this topic has emerged in simultaneity to CC’s growth and development over the past two years, and the work that members have created on CC has played no small part in enabling a discourse about how the net can be viewed as a viable space for developing exhibition platforms. Many members, for instance, have shown in various web-based exhibition platforms including jstchillin, The State, and recently a newer project called bubblebyte.

In tandem with these online projects, members of the club have also had numerous physical mountings of work, domestically and abroad, including both digital objects and physical fabrications of works. That’s not to say that Wood and the founding members had this in mind when the project first launched. Rather, the development of the side and its community of artists and enthusiasts has seen how that push for self-discovery has informed an opening up of curatorial and traditional gallery rigidity (at least this is the case for myself).

I think I should stress here that these developments, and considerations of the “influence” of these makers and CC as a project, are not necessarily a dominant focal point for those involved. Instead, a sentiment that Duncan Malashock shared with me seems more apropos:

When it comes to how it affects me to have my work presented and shared in the midst of the rest of the work in the group, I’d say if anything, it creates an unspoken reinforcement of our status as “amateurs” (meant in the most positive sense—that we are making what we make because we love it). If I had to guess, that’s probably a lot of what brought us together in the first place… In my opinion, the common link is that participation in the group sets up the expectation that you ought to post what you’ve put care into, which doesn’t bother me at all as an ideology—I think care is the mark of good work anyway.

Still from “itsalwaystimetochillforever” by Duncan Malashock.

I agree that the use of “amateur” as a non-pejorative term—a sentiment borrowed from an essay by Ed Halter—is an essential part of understanding the power of CC as a whole, as well as the individual works displayed. Even if there isn’t an inherent “togetherness” to the group—an expectation I had assumed, but didn’t find direct affirmation of—the affinities the work and members have for one another can be addressed through this deep sense of exploration of the computer as a portal for making and sharing. That process of discovery, or re-investment, of tools and applications native to the computer for art making purposes, and the net as a site of distribution, has been a revelation for many members including Nicolas Sassoon:

…the main influence working on CC has had on my work was to make me consider websites more as spaces to discover, more than [spaces with] restrictions. On another level, discovering the work of the other artists was a huge influence… especially because of the variety of practice. In Vancouver, there is this idea that an artist is someone who works locally, who becomes involved with communities, as well as an observer of his/her own surroundings. Being in CC was making these notions completely obsolete or reductive. I don’t think it’s necessarily an obsolete notion for everyone, but for me and my work, it is. I’ve got two local hangouts.

Recently, CC decided to expand its digital property by creating the Computers Club Drawing Society (CCDS) as a way for original members and newly asked participants to create work using in-browser custom drawing software. An initial exciting component of CCDS is that this platform welcomes artists to submit drawings to be considered for potential membership. This more open environment for artists to share work and sketches is no longer limited to the hand-picked membership of the original club, which I hope will create an even greater sense of community and affinity amongst computer artists. Another fascinating part of CCDS is that all participating artists are restricted to the same limited tools to create their work. By preventing artists from resorting to the familiar tactics, tools, and filtrations of their regular practice, CCDS challenges drawers to maintain a personal aesthetic even in the face of a limited and shared tool palette. With this knowledge in mind, the variety of drawings from CCDS members is a testament to the strength of each artist’s visual style and how these aesthetics can still transcend technical barriers imposed by a shared light-weight software. Robert Lorayn put it well when discussing some intention behind the design of this platform:

I feel it all drapes a core desire to see someone’s character clearly—as clear as that can be shown over this medium. And to be honest, I feel the computer (or the internet) gives us the opportunity to see a person a bit differently. That being the case, I think Computers Club gives space for its members to project those voices—to show that character. And the Drawing Society takes another approach by necessitating [the use of] the same tools. In that environment, every member creates alongside the other members with tools and practices that might be unfamiliar to them. Those challenges and explorations, then, become a shared experience, yet the end result is a unique one—their unique voice. In my opinion, that feels like the backbone of CC.

“Syn -, Conscious Drift” by Robert Lorayn (made on CCDS).

As a recent inductee into the CCDS, I personally feel as though the Computers Club project as a whole does provide a unique and valuable site and community for computer artists to be able develop their voice. Seeing how my own artistic practice has developed and been influenced by the content of the Drawing Society, in combination with my efforts to bring together voices from participants of Computers Club into this article, can hopefully be evidence of the significance of this project for others to also appreciate.

Nicholas O’Brien is an artist, writer, curator, and researcher in net-based practices and new media art forms. His work and writing has been featured on Rhizome.org, Networked_Performance, Art:21, and he is a regular bi-monthly contributor for contemporary art blog Bad at Sports. His visual work has been been mounted and presented in many national, international, and online exhibitions including the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the Xth Biennial of Lyon, and tank.tv. For more info visit his website.

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