Review: Ted Warnell by Jim Andrews

[by Jim Andrews,]

There were some posts a while back concerning code poetry. I’d like to point out Ted Warnell’s work, in that regard.

These are all projects by Ted Warnell: (click and then click “downloads” to get to ) (scroll down)

“Not because of the technology but in spite of it, beauty, that ghost, that treasure, passes undiminished through the new machines.” I read this Rushdie quote on Ted’s codepo blog. When you look at Ted’s work, you can’t help but notice that it’s primarily made out of code. HTML code, mostly, though not solely. And the visuals he achieves, well, their beauty, in a sense, is “not because of the technology but in spite of it.” There just aren’t too many people able to do what he does, and he’s the only one who does it the way he does.

Let’s just say the technologies he uses were not really designed to do what he does with them.

Though, on the other hand, he takes advantage of various things they can do quite well.

Usually the visuals are solely of code though sometimes there’s a mixture of code and bitmap images. When that’s the case, it’s usually very hard to tell where the bitmaps are because they’re tightly bound in with the code.

Often the source code itself is included on the screen. The source code can be of interest in Ted’s work. Not only to note the similarities/differences between the ‘neath text and the browser’s rendering of the code, but to see not ‘the structure’ of the work but another aspect of its structure. I mean, when you look at the work itself, we see structure. Not necessarily the same structure we see when we look at the source code. But related.

Ted quotes Alexei Shulgin on : “Your project has too strong of an ‘art’ component at the expense of ‘software’ component or the other way around.” Shulgin runs, a ‘software art’ site. Shulgin’s remark was probably a rejection of a piece Ted submitted for the site. It’s interesting Ted would quote it, given the quote is probably a rejection of his work as ‘software art’. But Shulgin’s statement is strange. I can see how Ted’s work might be rejected as ‘software art’ because it doesn’t *do* much. He doesn’t seem to be all that interested in creating works that do interesting things. Instead, the emphasis is on a ‘look’. If you look at enough of his work, you start to see–whether you like the look or not–that he is doing work that you would probably recognize out of context. There are some others doing related work. Ted is one of the main people in ‘code poetry’ but there are others who do work that looks similar. But there’s an attention to the overall gestalt in Ted’s work, and a determined visuality to it–I’m not describing it well–that somehow makes his work stand out, or be distinctive.

There’s a sense of design in his work that seems missing in quite a lot of writerly visual work. But, then, his background is that of a visual artist. Yet, while the emphasis is visual, there’s a lot of text in his work apart from the code. And, often, it’s interesting text.

His work is, I find, difficult to write about. It’s curious work. And he’s done so much of it for so long and continues to do it. It’s what he does.

But to return to Shulgin’s remark. “Your project has too strong of an ‘art’ component at the expense of ‘software’ component or the other way around.” The last part of the sentence, “or the other way around”. I don’t think you can have it both ways. It just doesn’t make any sense to have it both ways. Ted’s work seems to have confused Mr. Shulgin. But *that* is understandable. Ted’s work doesn’t really fit many categories. But it is distinctive, whatever it is.

He has also been fairly influential on a lot of the people doing ‘code poetry’. Because of Ted’s work, but also because he is generously collaborative. If you look at or you see long lists of collaborators.

Much of it is also well-suited for print. Poster size or bigger. Or books of this work. Or big digital displays.

He also occassionally does some interesting audio-oriented net art. Such as . This consists of three simultaneous, looping sounds. The loops are different durations. So the rhythms change.

I haven’t met Ted face to face yet. But he’s one of the first net artists I got to know. That was probably in 1996. And he’s been at it for longer than that. And he’s still at it. Over the years, we’ve both seen all sorts of changes in net art and all sorts of people come and go. He’s still doing net art, and his online work is voluminous. Luminous and voluminous.

I hope and, actually, I believe that his work will be on the net for many years to come. He usually does try to build things to last. Of course, that’s a tricky proposition in net art because of the way the technology changes. But the idea is that if you use things like HTML and images and other W3C more or less standard technologies that are central to the Web, the work will at least have a longer life than other less central and standard technologies.

He’s given the world a marvelous gift, really, with his www net art. I think it will be appreciated in future years as it is by some of us now.