A brief look into Form Art

Alexei Shulgin’s Form Art (1997)

Once web art at its peak, Form Art now seems like a forgotten achievement in the infinite world of new media.

Yet, the innovative thinking that came along with the short development of Form Art as part of the net.art “movement” has inspired a plethora of contemporary artists.

Alexei Shulgin was one of the prominent members of the movement. He “created” Form Art, but also collaborated with many net artists such as Olia Liliana, Natalie Bookchin, Heath Bunting, and Vuk Cosic in projects which marked a turning point for new media art in the 90s.

In his perfomance Cyberknowledge for Real People (1997), he handed out printed collections of critical texts, previously distributed only online, to shoppers in Vienna. This showed that net art was not medium specific at all, which until then was the predominant theory; it did not have to be experienced online.¹

Shulgin has also organised several software arts festivals, spent time in Moscow collaborating with the creative arts collective Electroboutique, and gained a reputation with his “386DX” performances.

Form Art was commisioned to Shulgin during his residency at C3 in Budapest in 1997. He affirms to have started developing what became his most popular project at that time out of a simple need to experiment with the formal interface of internet technology and reshape it something different.

“I had those buttons, test areas, checkboxes in my mind for a while. The initial idea was to use them not as they were supposed to be used — as input interfaces — but to focus on their shapes, their position on a page, and to try to animate them.” (Alexei Shulgin)

Rhizome describes Form Art as “an interactive, formalist art site navigated aimlessly by clicking through blank boxes and links”².

The power of Form Art comes from its “misuse” of the browser aesthetic and HTML conventions imposed to users interacting with the web. Unknown behaviours, glitchy checkboxes, and patterns of textboxes are characteristic of Form Art.

By playing with combinations of these “forms”, Shulgin manages to create an abstract work of contemporary art which updates itself over time, in tandem with software’s constant evolution. In fact, the work’s appearance relies largely on whichever operating system [and browser] the viewer is using to access it.²

My extremely minimalistic attempt at Form Art

Giving And Taking, Francesco Imola, 2018

Giving and Taking is a short project I realised in p5js (a JavaScript library for creative purposes). I took inspiration from Michael Samyn’s “1001 checkboxes”, an artwork which won the Form Art competition organised by C3 (Hungary’s Center for Culture & Communication Foundation) in 1997.

Not much needs to be explained about its concept and operation. “Giving and Taking” is an endless loop between discomfort and relief.

This project can be visited here (via GitHub).

This is a snippet of the Javascript sketch which makes the artwork run:

let checkbox = [];
let centerwidth = innerWidth / 2;
let centerheight = innerHeight / 2;
let fr = 120;
let animY0 = 0;
let animY1 = innerHeight;
let isOn = false;

function setup() {
noCanvas();
frameRate(fr);
Checkboxes();
}

function Checkboxes() {
for (var i = 0; i <= 1 ; i++) {
checkbox[i] = createCheckbox();
}
}

function draw() {
let velocity = 2;
let speed0 = velocity;
let speed1 = velocity;

checkbox[0].position (centerwidth - 20, animY0);
checkbox[1].position (centerwidth + 20, animY1);

animY0 += speed0;
animY1 -= speed1;

if (animY0 > innerHeight) {
animY0 = 0;
}

if (animY1 < 0) {
animY1 = innerHeight;
}

if (animY0 == animY1) {
isOn = Check();
}
}

function Check() {
if (isOn) {
Uncheck();
}
else {
checkbox[0].checked(true);
checkbox[1].checked(true);
return true;
}
}

function Uncheck() {
checkbox[0].checked(false);
checkbox[1].checked(false);
return false;
}

You may encounter some issues — which I have not yet figured out — if trying to resize the browser window after loading the page. Try resizing the window first and then reloading the site.


References:

  1. Bosma, J. (2017). A Net Artist Named Google. [online] Rhizome. Available at: http://rhizome.org/editorial/2017/jan/12/a-net-artist-named-google-1/.
  2. Rhizome. (n.d.). Form Art. [online] Available at: http://rhizome.org/art/artbase/artwork/form-art/.

Francesco Imola is a London-based musician, weekend photographer, and current Sound Design student at the University of Greenwich.

w. http://francescoimola.com/

tw. https://twitter.com/francescoimola