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HTML Color Codes

10/03/2010
Susan Ballard

Curated by Carolyn Kane for Rhizome September, 2009.

#60605 plus #20101 does not equal black, but it looks like it to me. And despite Newton’s insistence, a rainbow is never made from seven colours in neat lines, nor can I see millions of colours on my calibrated monitor. It is more likely that each day I engage with the screen as a greenish-blue glow infused with hits of magenta. Or as it is today: a summer grey of sea fog glimpsed through the rain. Is that a colour? Carolyn Kane curated HTML Color Codes in order to ask these questions of the relationship between colour, code, and subjectivity. Tracing a carefully structured path through twelve artworks Kane seeks to examine whether artists working with the Internet are limited to a ‘ready-made’ colour palette. Asking if digital colours reflect the programming languages that have been adopted, Kane considers whether the Internet adds its own rules for colour through the adoption of the hexadecimal system of colour values. Does the language determine the content?

20090419.html, HTML, 470 x 340 by Chris Ashley (2009)
Untitled, 20090419.html, HTML, 470 x 340 by Chris Ashley (2009)

The answer is, not quite. It all depends on where and how the viewer approaches the screen. Rather than trying to be paintings these works engage with the materiality of digital colour and the manipulation of a different kind of flat predetermined surface – the screen. Chris Ashley gives us rectangles within rectangles, Dlsan manipulates circles within circles, and Michael Atavar offers the blue screen of an empty window with text written as if in the condensation of a cold morning. It is the noise of the digital image embraced by the inadequacy of a gif representation of a treasure heap of digital gold in Jacob Broms Engblom’s “Gold”, or the absence of any controlling frame in Owen Plotkin’s “Firelight” and the flickering spaces nested within and alongside one another in Rafael Rozendaal’s “RGB” that suggest different rules for the digital image. In these latter works the illusion of immediacy raises a spectre of some kind of phenomenological directness.

thethingasitis TM by Michael Atavar (2001)
thethingasitis TM by Michael Atavar (2001)

Twentieth century colour field painting was never a single set of experiments yet it carried within it a set of cultural and formal presuppositions. The digital colour field has its own baggage set. It is inbetween: inbetween code and software, browser and window, network and bandwith. More often than not the experience of the digital colour field is the result of an image within an image or a screen within a screen. Despite its origins in hexadecimal notation digital colour is not a ready-made, but an experience and a process of light and interaction. Anyone who has attempted to capture or translate a colour between screens knows that accidents occur. Noah Venezia’s “The Rainbow Website” suggests that a kind of synaesthesia can be experienced through the screen, that colour exceeds the values assigned to it. Andrew Venell’s “Color Field Television” mimics the flicker of experimental film from the 1970s. Perception becomes a process of seeing the colours inbetween, the work turns back on itself mirrored within a screen. Structural film experiments were about exploring more than perception they too turned back to the medium. Morgan Rush Jones gets even closer with the phased colour space of “Number of ManufacturingIndustriesbyNumberof Product ClassesinanIndustry”. The work is simultaneously overloaded with image and abstracted from it. There is a strange congruence reflected here: in their formality these works do not push new experimental boundaries but reflect older ones.

Colors Combination Tool by dlsan (2002)
Colors Combination Tool by dlsan (2002)

Michael Demers explicitly engages the materiality of the digital medium by establishing a series of systems within which abstraction can occur. Sampling Morris Louis’s oil painting “Where” from 1960, Demers generates a sequence of flat colour planes (windows) from left to right that disappear as quickly as they appear. The drip and movement of Louis’s work is rendered temporal. Brian Piana’s “Elsworth Kelly Hacked my Twitter” also addresses the temporality of the digital. Real-time data orders the compositional frame in a direct chronological sequence. Each square is a representation of an invisible network. Manipulation of the scale, size and shape of the frame is left to the viewer. For me it is Elna Frederick’s “@ = landscape” that allows an interactive experience of the subjective dimension of colour that is specific to the digital. The click of a mouse becomes the experience of putting a finger into a stream of water and disturbing the flow. It is not necessarily the colour that makes the rain but the movement and the belief instilled in us from Super Mario that onscreen fluffy white blobs potentially contain rain. There is a cool sensuousness to the trickle of pixels as it becomes water and when left alone returns to simply being yet another onscreen blue.

Gold by Jacob Broms Engblom (2009)
Gold by Jacob Broms Engblom (2009)

There is a risk of over determination in this show, the kind of visual parity that results from too many works looking at the same thing and becoming somewhat redundant. It is the quiet spaces between the works, the mutable changing structures of the blue screen that resist this limitation. As long as bandwidth remains with us, and the links stay live, these works are infinite and through their repetition we experience an abyss of generated colour and code. These are predominately forms consisting of colour alone, and surprisingly, that is enough. This is how the medium of digital colour should be approached. There is no translucency, but there is an unlimited interplay of substitutions.

Color Field Painting ("Where," after Morris Louis), Browser Windows by Michael Demers (2009)
Color Field Painting (“Where,” after Morris Louis), Browser Windows by Michael Demers (2009)