For an Imperfect Website: The most vandalized form of art in the 21st century

In 2020, Nicolas Jaar was about to release his new album called Telas. The first time I heard the news was during his first DJ set on Twitch during the pandemic. During his short introduction speech, he mentioned that he was working on it. As a big fan of his music, I was very excited. I couldn’t wait. The second time I heard about the upcoming release of his new album was through his Instagram account as well as his website. This time, the almost-release of his album was accompanied by a website.


Posted on Wed, 15 Jul 2020

the website { } is where telas lives in its liquid form. it was created by abeera kamran and somnath bhatt with sounds by nicolás. somnath and nicolás started working on illustrations for telas in january 2018 and the website was developed alongside abeera in the last three months.

I understood his ‘liquid’ form as some sort of a teaser for the ‘solid’ form of the album that is to be released through a conventional process (on, distribution of record players, CDs, etc). Although the pandemic canceled most physical events and enhanced our digital reality, there’s more to be justified behind choosing a website to be an accompanying format to one’s art.

When you enter the website, the page immediately gives you the feeling that you’re about to enter a new reality defined by its plain colors and sharp graphics. A fixed frame around the screen and a note enter right in the middle of it, builds the user suspense. I am definitely excited to see what this boy is up to and whether I should expect his digital avatar to play upon my entrance. However, clicking enter leads to disoriented navigation through the screen. The music instantly starts playing as the illustrations of digital stitches fly around. Digital dust follows the movement of the cursor and makes the space feel three-dimensional. As I struggle to understand what my user role is, the music intensifies. It feels like I am not supposed to know what I’m doing here and dwell in that uncertainty. It feels like I should trust that the music will guide me through my user experience.

In this example, there are three digitally translated artworks to be experienced: Nicolas’ music, Somnath’s illustrations, and Abeera’s code that captures the experience of all artworks on the interface. Although the main purpose behind the project was to promote Nico’s album/content, the website makes it seem like we are looking at a staged collaboration where all three artists get an equal share of the stage. It doesn’t feel like they’re taking turns here, but simultaneously playing their parts during the user’s session.

Is this an example of an interface that serves as a meeting point for artistic differences? Whatever its main function is, this website is its own piece of art.

Please go on any website. Hold Ctrl + right click and click the last option from the toolbar: Inspect. Either at the bottom or right side of the screen, the website’s code will appear. What you are looking at is the core production of the interface – the logic of its grid.

Each website project begins with a grid. Its first borders are defined by the developer’s preferred screen dimensions which at a later stage of the website’s development are coded to adjust to different screen dimensions. This means that the grid will look the same from whatever device you look at it. Within the major grid, mini-grids are developed where the future content will be placed and repeated. A composition of these mini-grids can be called a website’s content curation.

The structure of the code is called the webpage’s HTML, which lists every component on the webpage from top to bottom. If you happen to be on, top to bottom components are: advertisement text, advertisement images, e-flux header with subscribe, search and menu button, announcements block with announcement text and announcement, journal block with journal text and journal…

If this is your first website inspection, it must look magical. People’s first impression of a long code is “Wow”. Long code shows a long thought of a developer, a cognitive craft of some sort. The thesis goes that: the longer the code, the smarter the developer.

If you inspect many websites, you’ll start seeing the same patterns of HTML structures. They will start looking the same. That’s because HTML structures have their own logic and for components to be readable on the interface, they must play by the rules of this language. Each HTML component must have a class name in order to be further manipulated (styled or given a function). Reading the given class names brings us closer to the developer of the website/its creator. These can be unique, funny, poetic, or they can be universal. Universal class names reflect the developer’s desire to be understood by the whole world of developers.

If we inspect it even further, we will learn that website’s scripts can seem universal too. Scripts are documents that give HTML components behaviors and make the viewer’s experience dynamic. For example, if you have ten different images, you might want to put them in a slideshow. But let’s get technical later.

A website usually has a programming language, plugins, a content management system, dependencies. All of these elements are separate code modules written by developers worldwide and combined in a new project. Most of these codes are downloaded from open-source libraries such as GitHub. GitHub is something like a web developers social media platform. Because open-source code repositories can be downloaded for free, I will refrain from saying that downloading open-source code is the first act of vandalism in web creation.

The first act of vandalism in web creation is the archival cleanup that takes place once somebody else’s code (of a website) has been downloaded and set up. Let’s say I download the code of because I want to have exactly the same user experience for my new website. But I don’t want Nicolas’ music, Somnath’s illustrations, or Abeera’s class names. I want my music, my illustrations, and my class names. So I first delete the files from the code components containing sound files and illustrations. I’ll wait with inserting my music and my illustrations because I don’t have them. When the inherited grid is cleaned up of the content and prepared for new content, I can call it my template.

Rosalind Krauss observes the grid as a preliminary figure to all avant-garde art. The grid facilitated the feeling that art gives – its uselessness, that one is born in the vacuum of aesthetic purity and freedom. The grid is the absolute beginning of the picture/a beginning. I especially admire how she describes the grid as a promotion of silence, a refusal of speech. That its absolute state is the lack of hierarchy, center, and refers to nothing. It is anti-referential. Its silence is protection from outside intrusions. The grid was the tool for autonomy, for a pure work of art.

My template, although ready for new noise, is now silent. It doesn’t refer to its origin, or the previous inhabitants. There are no traces of either Nicolas or Somnath – as the website’s main content creators. At this point in my project’s development, I consider their input as just a placeholder.

Krauss further explains that a grid is constantly being rediscovered – a prison at which a caged artist feels at liberty; it is liberating but also extremely restrictive in the actual exercise of freedom. It’s not flexible; it is hard to use in service of invention. When one commits to the grid, one gets stuck in the repetition of their work. Something similar happens in web creation, except with a small difference.

Once the placeholder content has been deleted, the skeleton of the website remains. The skeleton contains classes of its components that are linked to specific functions across the website. Abeera’s class names remain. The new user of the grid (me) is thrown into the logic of the previous user and instead gets stuck in the repetition of their mental work.

It’s time for the second round of cleanup and immediate replacement. I delete Abeera’s class called begin and replace it with start. I don’t want to name the classes too differently from Abeera because I don’t want to get confused when I’ll have to change these names in the scripts as well. It might cause an error I will not be able to fix because it’s not my code. This is the second act of vandalism in web creation. Abeera’s logic becomes mine.

Nicolas’, Somnath’s and Abeera’s ghosts may haunt me throughout my web creation, maybe the same as Abeera was haunted throughout hers. But they don’t. This is my template and now I get to choose the content that fits it. I previously mentioned that I wanted my music, my illustrations, and my class names in them. While the last one can be crossed out of the list, the first two will have to wait until I create the files intended for the template. Or perhaps somebody has already done it instead of me…

The reason why I am telling you all this is because no art today is exempt from being digitally reproduced and because no digitally reproduced art is exempt from being hosted on a grid of a website.

Although I focused on a specific website that belongs to a niche of websites (that being Web Art that is primarily a beautiful experience and secondarily functional), its technical construct, which is shared by other non-artistic websites that play part in the digital ecosystem, makes all other websites equally considerable as forms of art (like e-flux, or…).

A website is to be considered as a part of its subject, not its extension. No matter what the nature of a website is (mirror, addition, promotion), it always points to the intention of the subject it’s online for. represents an artistic collaboration born during the pandemic’s enhancement of digital reality (everybody gets the same amount of credit). represents an ever-growing archive of promising thinkers and ongoing circulation of art-related information.

The reason why vandalism is applied to the first acts of web creation is because we still live in a world(Western) where originality/authenticity is understood as a trophy earned by the one who made it/thought of it first. If a developer uses the code of another developer for their work, then we can certainly call it vandalism. However, there can be no website without an act of vandalism. Although not publicly stated, each website embraces vandalism as its foundation.


Maisa Imamovic