Submitted by Sandrine Galand on
JODI is the pseudonym chosen by artists Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans. The duo is considered by most art historians to be among the pioneers of net.art, mainly because they began very early to experiment with what Christiane Paul calls “technological abstraction”: “With Jodi.org (both a URL and the name chosen for themselves by the website’s creators), Joan Heemskerk (1968) and Dirk Paesmans (1968) became the first to take up the challenge of purely technological abstraction”(Paul, 2008: 40).
The question of the aesthetic value of computer language is among those that drive their work, as can be observed in 000 Text. The piece, created in 2002, is composed of a multitude of screens displaying abstract images produced with coloured pixels and elements of ASCII language. The purposely low-tech colours call to mind the range of 256 hues rendered by 8-bit colour graphics (on this subject, see Wikipedia). With regard to the history of Web art, the anachronistic nature of 000 Text’s visual aesthetic appears to be voluntarily provocative. At a time when graphics and information visualisation techniques are continuously evolving, it is rather daring to create a piece so “old-fashioned” in appearance, using only html. The artists’ main interest lies in computer code manipulation and its visual results. Of this, 000 Text is a compelling example; it seems the duo simply produced a number of HTML code variations in order to create the combinations of colours and forms which are displayed on screen. One has only to look at the source code to understand that the variety of visual results rests on very slight alterations in code.
000 Text is thus a play on programming variations which result in a number of abstract colourful combinations. Navigation within the piece is very simple: every screen is divided into a multitude of hyperlinks, each leading to a distinct page. The user clicks on a section of the screen to pursue his navigation among the abstract pages that compose the work.
Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans are self-described amateur programmers. As they themselves state in an interview, they do not master computer languages and their attempts to modify complex codes (those of videogames for example) proceed by trial and error. The following is their explanation of how they transformed code taken from the video game Quake:
We are not master programmers, so we need the documentation all the time. For example, to make the total black-and-white version of the game would not be possible without changing the code because the shading effects or the shooting explosions are implemented there. So you cannot just change the pictures. So we had to literally erase a lot in the code. I prefer the word «erase» than «change» because with Untitled Games we were taking away all the time (Hunger, 2007:156).
The fact that both artists are amateur programmers has had a decisive influence on their artistic process. As such, the notion of error is at the heart of their reflection. For example, regarding the piece http://wwwwwwwww.jodi.org, Dirk Paesmans explains that a programming error led to the page which can now be seen online:
[...] In the case of «Location» (http://wwwwwwww.jodi.org), the truth is that the green code, and the surface versus the source code, had been an error, a mistake I made. We wanted the regular ASCII you can see in the HTML source code, but I had forgotten a bracket. So suddenly this destroyed ASCII showed up, and at that time I was really afraid, just like other people later were maybe thinking, that I was destroying the whole computer at this moment (Cramer, 2007:36).
JODI’s artistic process is evidently premised on experimentation and the intent to subvert the utilitarian function of computer languages for aesthetic purposes. Beyond the functional aspect of these languages, the artists seek to discover aesthetic potential. The combinations of colours and ASCII language signs observed in 000 Text are testimony to their will to transgress the current dominant mode of Web representation, i.e. a type of representation that seeks the render the medium invisible by creating ever more realistic images. JODI, on the other hand, works with the Web’s raw material, thus revealing the fabricated, mathematical nature of cyberspace.