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Prix 1987 - 2007

ORF Oberösterreich

The Shredder
Mark Napier

The Shredder dematerializes the web. Posing as a browser, it prompts the user for a URL, then appropriates that web page to use as a raw material for its own fragmented output. It exposes the frailty of a medium that relies on software instructions to create the appearance of a consistent environment. A voracious public artwork, The Shredder feeds on the web to propagate its own aesthetic agenda.

This project is about the web as an art medium. This is an object-less medium, yet much of the technology of the web works to re-create the familiar, to create a consistent look and feel, to create a sense of place, of location. We “navigate” through the web. Art on the web often exists as an object in the environment of the web—a specific website, clearly defined and bounded within a larger space.

The Shredder dematerializes art, not just because it is digital art with no physical component, but because the Shredder is an activity, not a thing. It is something you do to something else. It is nonlocalized, non-deterministic—a roaming, mobile artwork. In itself it is content-less, opening with a blank screen. By participating in the interface, the visitor creates and completes the artwork.

By shredding that which is not material, The Shredder applies a familiar “real world” action to a medium that breaks with the familiar. The resulting collision of sensibilities reveals the frailty of the world of web pages, in which content is a fragment of the browser software’s “rendering engine”, and can be radically altered simply by adjusting a few rules. This is where the human inhabitants of the net meet the digital interface, and attempt to recreate the familiar and comfortable nuances of the physical world. The Shredder inserts itself into its medium, like a drug altering the functioning of nervous synapses, and transforms the signals that pass through it to create a hallucinatory world—a web that is parallel to the “true” web, yet is every bit as real.

The Shredder appropriates design, graphics, and text as an input for its own aesthetic algorithm. It repurposes other people’s aesthetic algorithm. It repurposes other people’s aesthetic statements, and communications. A machine-driven aesthetic, the shredder parses HTML into a raw form, analyzes the structure and attributes of the incoming page, then applies a series of rules to the raw data to output a page that is re-engineered yet fully functional: links can be clicked to navigate indefinitely through the shredded web.

Written in Perl and Javascript, The Shredder is not a browser, it is a filter (a CGI script) accessed through a webpage that mimics the browser interface. It’s purpose is not to replace the browser, but to reinvent it from the inside. It is important that the project be technically accessible, public in the technical sense. There are no plug-ins required, nothing to download, and The Shredder works in both Netscape and Microsoft Internet Explorer. Anyone with a browser can shred the web.