On May 20, the second “International Browerday” took place in Paradiso and De Balie, organized by the Society of Old and New Media. This competition is part of a long chain of events, all dealing with the cultural politics of new media, the social role of interface design, and the future architecture of the digital public domain.The browser as such may be dead, but the question of how users will navigate information environments remains an open one. As a seperate application for PC or Mac, the browser no longer seems to matter. Who will remember Netscape in a few net.years, after their sell-out to AOL and the simmering open source Godzilla project? But that is all corporate policy. It is hard to keep up with all the mergers these days. The Browersday is about something else. Its assumption may be as naive as radical: design does matter. Get over the general discontent over the primitive screens, let your imagination speak and show the world your wildest electronic phantasies. The closing of the American Internet and their local branches should not distract anyone from drawing up odd looking, utopian concepts.
And so they did, the thirty or so media-design-art students. This year an increasing amount of proposals came from outside the Netherlands (UK, Germany, Finnland). The level had increased dramatically, while remaining the authentic enthusiasm. The quest for navigation tools seems to open up a wide range of models, from obvious director/flash works to performances to interface critique. In general, one could see that the results remain closely tied to the discipline of graphic design. The mythical motives of flying though dark VR-tunnels, which fueled cyberculture in the late eighties, have been replaced by hyperindividual applications for “subnets”, what David d’Heilly, within the Japanese context, describes as the desire for “personal information autonomy”. The Internet as such seems to become so random, amorphous, undefined, that all attempts to classify will ultimately fail. It is simply a waste of time to use generic search engines like Altavista or Hotbot. As a result, complex knowledge is now structured along personal narratives and metaphors; positioned within safe, intimative, password protected Intranets. At least that is the trend, both within the scientific research centers and the creative dreamlands of today’s info desert.
After a tough competition and a second round with five nominations, the jury announced Enzyme by Andrej Mrackoviski as this year’swinner (prize: a large size monitor). Mrackoviski studied informatics and architecture in Sarajevo and continued in Zagreb. In the meanwhile he was a photographer, videomaker and painter. In new media he found the best way to express himself. Now Andrej is a student in the browser class of Janine Huizinga at the Rietveld Academy for Visual Arts in Amsterdam. Andrej also participated in last year’s s competition with his “House between heaven and earth”, a folding-unfolding 3-D space, desktop and browser at the same time. Andrej: “You were able to change the surfaces, a virtual house in which you could replace the wallpaper, send your dog for a search, having a ladder to climb into the sky. A fairytail space and fully functional interface. You could go outside and stretch the form, be active on the Internet, but also stay inside and place your files as books on a shelf, or put the data you do not need in the cellar.” During the Browserday 98 Andrej could not finish his story within the three given minutes, the format of the show, he continued talking after the gong, operated by John Tackera. He was viewed as an overenthusiastic, fanatical participant. A comment which kept Andrej going.
Humans, equiped with two eyes and two brainparts prefer 3-D spaces. According to the mnemonic tradition we place information in space in order to store and retrieve the items. That is why, according to Andrej, we need a spacial structure. It is the role of the enzyme to speed up these processes. Enzyme’s opening page shows a finger as cursor pointing at clouds of data and servers. The design is meant to be light, thin in order to break the barrier between the users and its senses. Then the clouds of enzymes form certain groups. By moving with the finger-cursor we are compiling the enzymes, digital DNA, as Andrej calls it, a new structure which then can be stored and moved around through networks. Like other browers it is a matter of zooming in and out, from overview to detail. Files do not have a solid position, it is all very fluid. The enzymes are easy to approach and move around. Andrej: “I am trying to reduce the material component in order to find the best strategy for survival. The higher you are in the data structure, the more energy you get, depending on needs. If you are processing information, you have accesss to the maximum processing capacity. If not, you fall back. In this system you can be a millionaire for one second, borrow the money with a creditcard, and give it back again in one second.”
For Andrej, the design of browers is a global affair. Potentially, millions of people share the same environment, unlike the design of a house or painting a picture. “It gives you an idea of freedom. But in this design I have tried to reduce the options to a minimum, not having folders, hard disks, applications, downloading plug-ins. Just simple plug-outs.” For Enzyme, Andrej wrote his own Director 3-D engine in Lingo. His aim was to come as close to natural structures as possible, to get as low as possible, not to link to complex molecules or organisms. “In design we are getting close to the heart of the matter, on the molecule level, so to say, finding the smallest component. Is it a point? A string? How could information vibrate, and rotate?” The years in Amsterdam, working with the computer, have changed his view of the world. “In the Balkans the work was more personal, focussed on one’s self. You have to be real in order to survive. Here you have more time to think in global dimensions, and what other people are doing. Time to fantasize. I want to disperse, and not get stuck into the design of houses, apartments, churches. My architecture background is of great help. That is why I escaped the second dimension and started to work in the third. It, as well, opens doors to the fifth and sixth dimension. But the feeling for graphics and esthetics is changing in time. Before I used gold, silver and bronze paint to express heavy, solid statements. Now my work is more liquid, dispersed. Transparent.” Within a few weeks all browers will be available at this website: http://www.waag.org/browser
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