The green room: Where Every Surfer Wants to Be

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The Independent Culture
Digital artists use computers instead of canvas, and software instead of paint. Their aim is to create an art form that has little connection with traditional techniques. Not surprisingly, the art world is dismissive of their efforts. Digital art is gimmicky (so it can't possibly have any content). It's geeky (the proverbial boys in their bedrooms). Digital artists are worse than conceptual artists; frauds who attempt to make art out of simulated images and then present them as authentic aesthetic experience. Where's the craft, when all you do is click, drag, highlight and move? And what's the subject, apart from the shared alienation brought about by the technology that has created this so-called art in the first place?

But some artists like their digital colleagues. They like the large, open spaces of the web, where art appreciation is unbiased and democratic. It's where concept and execution are organically fused (where else can you consume ideas so freely?) and the artistic imagination can evolve through new tools.

Hypertribes (www.hypertribes. org.uk) is a good site for digital detractors to visit. Anyone in the world with 50 megabytes of hard-disk memory can access two electronically reproduced weeks in the life of Sheffield city centre. Cross the grid map with your cursor and you will alight on hypertext buttons which take you to the artists' work. Each one is caught in the act of re-appraising their city's cultural life in a series of installations involving the community, and each piece has a strong web presence. At Union Street, Mike Lawson Smith presents Vanishing Points of View. It's a "location specific memorial", but don't be put off by arid net jargon. Lawson Smith took photographic portraits of supporters of Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday. He shows a boy's face in grainy black and white, framed by the clubs' respective strips. A colour shot of one footballer tackling another is superimposed between his eyes; double click on it and it explodes into view. If the boy can't hold this image permanently, he can access it through memory; or, like the surfer, with a double-click of his mouse.

At Sheffield Town Hall, the link opens on to Provincially Provisionally by Andrew Stones. His page focuses on the reviled "egg box": the town hall's extension, due for demolition by the millennium. It's a digital essay on regionalism that started as an installation. He placed lighting units around the top floor of the zig-zagging extension. On the page, they flash spasmodically. The extension houses various council departments and the neon lights "hint at the bureaucratic processes, and a sense of terminal equivocation". This sense of the ephemeral is captured perfectly on the web, where surfers go to and fro, and technology expresses their digressions. The site is maintained by Lovebytes, and its images will be updated and/or archived as its users see fit. How democratic can you get?

Lilian Pizzichini

Next week: Antony and Cleopatra find new heaven on the web

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