Art and Culture of the Web

An experimental new track for the Mozilla Festival, London

In the autumn of 2014, following six months of heated online debates about the nature of digital creativity, a group of young “culture phreaks” from around the world met in London for the first time. The goal? To convene the Mozilla Festival’s first-ever Art + Culture of the Web track, and explore through direct practice the ways that digital art and open technologies might re-combine to empower. 48 hours later, a community had been born, or perhaps re-born — one defined as much by its uninitiated as by its veterans.

The #ARTOFWEB story starts, fittingly, with the web itself. We believed that as an Internet connection becomes increasingly ubiquitous around the world, more and more web users had unprecedented opportunities to transition from experiencing the web as consumers (viewing Facebook, watching a TV show, buying a book on Amazon) to experiencing it as creators, merging code, creativity and networks to build surprising new interventions.

What would happen, we wondered, if we released a call for submissions centred on the concept of every participant helping to build a “living gallery” that would live for 48 hours — a place where each exhibit would also be an invitation for participants to create together with the artists and machines? Combined with a series of equally hands-on workshops facilitated by a diverse set of organizations, from Creative Commons to Rhizome, the Internet Archive to the TATE Britain, and Aalto University to Europeana, we hoped the end result would be a new manifestation of networked art, built by the collective hands of a shared creative public.

Leading the curation of this track from its inception with the ever-wonderful Paula le Dieu, I was blown away by the passion of the #ARTOFWEB team from the very beginning. The original rebellious read/write spirit of early net.art movements remains alive and well in each of them. As we struck down the gallery that October in London, we tallied up the final results with surprise.

1,000 visitors to the gallery in 48 hours. 600 copies distributed of a guerrilla ARTOFWEB minizine. 30 new public domain gifs. 12 skill-share workshops, some of them day-long. 10 generative art exhibits, one exquisite corpse of many parts, hundreds of excited kids, a Minecraft fontface. A series of unexpected collaborations between machine, creator and curator. Paintings co-created with a troupe of drawing bots. 10 amazing artists who stayed in the space to share their artworks live across both days, far longer than the 2 “office hours” they had signed up for.

Our experiment in net.art (re)interpretation was both unexpected and inspiring – and it’s impossible to do it justice here. I wrote about the #ARTOFWEB story and how it relates to earlier net.art movements on Medium, and the bot-artists at Meemoo wrote this piece about their own experiences. #ARTOFWEB members, meanwhile, continue to create wonderful works and collaborate globally.