Introduced with the re-launch of whitney.org in 2009, Sunrise/Sunset is a series of Internet art projects commissioned by the Whitney specifically for whitney.org to mark sunset and sunrise in New York City every day. Unfolding over a timeframe of ten to thirty seconds, each project accompanies a transition of the website’s background color from white (day) to black (night) and vice versa.
Christiane Paul, the Whitney’s adjunct curator of new media, notes: “What distinguishes these projects is that they use whitney.org as their habitat, disrupting, replacing, or engaging with the museum website as an information environment. This form of engagement captures the core of artistic practice on the Internet, the intervention in existing online spaces.”
To see sunset or sunrise, be anywhere on this website. Sunset today: 8:12 PM, New York time. Sunrise: 5:51 AM. Time in New York now: 7:40:08 AM.
“goodmorning goodnight” by JODI explores visual and textual representations of sunset and sunrise in the online environment. Overlaid on a grid of latitudes and longitudes of the area surrounding the Whitney Museum are location-specific images of sunsets and sunrises culled from Panoramio, a photo sharing website. Viewers of “goodmorning goodnight” can follow the visual path of these sunsets and sunrises in different locations around Manhattan. Superimposed over the sunrise and sunset images is a layer of text comprised of scrolling lines and comments scraped from livedash, a website that allows users to search for particular words or phrases on national television. Meanwhile, a progress bar at the bottom of the webpage keeps track of the thirty-second duration of the project in real time. In JODI’s signature style, the web is turned inside-out by foregrounding its iconography, processes, and codes. “goodmorning goodnight” collapses user-generated and media representations of time and space into a single view of Manhattan seen through a browser window.
JODI (Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans), or jodi.org, started pioneering Web art in 1994. Based in the Netherlands, they were among the first artists to investigate and subvert conventions of the Internet, computer programs, and video and computer games. JODI stages digital interventions that destabilize the relationship between computer technology and its users, radically disrupting the very language of these systems. They use a wide range of media and techniques—including installations, software, websites, and performances—to challenge our relationship to the technologies that we depend upon every day. JODI’s work has been featured in numerous texts on electronic and media art and exhibited worldwide at venues including Documenta X, Kassel; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; ZKM, Karlsruhe; ICC, Tokyo; CCA, Glasgow; Guggenheim Museum, New York; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Eyebeam, New York; FACT, Liverpool; and MOMI, New York.
“Light and Dark Networks” consists of two online “data performances”— taking place at sunset and sunrise, respectively—inspired by the structures of natural networks and affected by weather and environmental changes. Visitors encounter depictions of a spider’s web at sunrise and a mushroom’s mycelium—a network of hidden branching filaments that absorb nutrients for the mushrooms to grow—at sunset. Virtual creatures, a spider and mushrooms impersonated by the artist, are activated to perform different “data dances” according to the changes in their habitat, which is defined by current New York City weather and carbon dioxide (CO2) levels. The spider web is blown into different locations on the Museum’s website according to wind direction and speed in New York City, and the number of mosquitos buzzing around the web is determined by the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Stretched across the Museum’s website, the mycelium changes its size on the basis of temperature and grows more mushroom videos in response to humidity levels, while the size of mushroom caps and number of spores are driven by CO2 levels. “Light and Dark Networks” explores networks as living organisms—be they spider webs, mycelium, or the Internet—as they are constantly changed by different artificial or natural parameters. Taking a look at the networked nature of both data and the physical environment, as well as their deeper structures, the work playfully examines how our physical and virtual existence are embedded in networks.
“So many journeys may the sun and moon” by R. Luke Dubois, the third project in the Sunrise/Sunset series, is a piece of software art based on the works of William Shakespeare. The artist-written software locates couplets in Shakespeare’s works that contain the word “sun” and “moon,” respectively. It then chooses the next word based on a database of words that follow “sun” or “moon” in the original text—a technique called a Markov chain. This choice is repeated for each word in sequence: every two words can be found together somewhere in a Shakespeare text, but the project navigates through all of Shakespeare’s plays. The result reads like a never-ending remix of Shakespeare’s language and metaphor, with his use of “sun” and “moon” as starting points in each sunset and sunrise sequence that is overlaid onto the pages of whitney.org. The artwork’s title—taken from a couplet spoken by the Player Queen in the play-within-a-play appearing in Act III of Hamlet—hints at the artist’s intent to explore hyper- and intertextuality within canonical cultural texts.
The second commission in the series is “Outlook: Untitled” by artist Stephanie Rothenberg. At sunrise and sunset, a frenzy of faux pop-up advertisements referencing the current world economic crisis take over the screen space of whitney.org. The advertisements are interrupted by a spinning globe that turns into a Magic 8-Ball fortune telling game, inviting visitors to “try me.” The Magic 8-Ball delivers ambiguous messages or cryptic advice about our possibilities of shaping economic structures or affecting the state of the world at the click of a button. “Outlook: Untitled” employs the strategies of mediated Internet culture in which all meaning is delivered instantaneously in visual packets of bits and bytes, yet at the same time, it generates messages that disrupt and question this creation of meaning.
Flash Developer: Jose Raymond Rodriguez-Rosario
First in the series of commissions is “Untitled Landscape #5,” a project by the collaborative ecoarttech, (Cary Peppermint and Christine Nadir). At sunrise and sunset, fluctuating orbs of light disrupt the “digital landscape,” and the information environment of whitney.org is disordered by ecoarttech’s visuals, suggesting a natural phenomenon. The size and speed of the orbs will vary based on the number of visitors to whitney.org since the previous sunrise (for sunset) or sunset (for sunrise); higher visitation results in larger, slower-moving orbs. ecoarttech’s work has consistently explored relationships between landscape, technology, and culture, and their commissioned work for whitney.org metaphorically explores the museum’s information landscape as it is shaped by its visitors.