Runme.org is in its own words, “a moderated database to which people are welcome to submit projects they consider to be interesting examples of software art.” Launched in January of 2003 it is a truly unique site. The design maintains a very 2003 feel while linking the visitor to some of the most interesting “2010 styled” sites on the web. Runme.org is an extension of the Readme Festival, a physical event dedicated to software art, which brings up interesting issues of materiality in and of itself. The physical Festival appears to be defunct while runme.org is still very much alive although not updated very often. The Festival was as Appadurai would say, “Only [a] momentary aggregations of material.” (1)
It is interesting to examine runme.org on the heels of the words of Christiane Paul (2) last week. While digital exhibitions shy away from the derogative description of a glorified database, runme.org wholeheartedly embraces it. From its design to its functionality to its own description it is just that, a database.
The site is a simple collection of hyperlinks laid out in an overtly linear Web 1.0 manner. The colors are a drab, gray, purple and white. This is basic HTML with not a wisp of Flash or anything of its kind. However, once one begins to click on these links and explore the database the collection is some of the most compelling examples of web art and digital functionality.
The administrators Alexander, Olga Goriunova, Alex McLean and Alexei Shulgin. As well as designer Alex McLean have purposely strayed away from the bells and whistles of a Smithsonian’s online exhibition or a Whitney. Their site is egalitarian and populist in a truly fundamental way. The administrators do serve as quasi-curators but in many ways runme is self curated. Software artists from multiple disciplines submit their work and add meta data. There is a panel that critiques and accepts or denies project but for the most part Runme is the digital middle man/exhibitor/arbitrator.
The layout does not prioritize one type of software art over another. It is democratic, laid out alphabetically. Categories include: ‘algorithmic appreciation’, ‘appropriation and plagiarism’, artificial intelligence’, ‘artistic tool’, ‘bots and agents’, browser art’,’ games, political and activist software’, and ‘text manipulation.’ The decision on how to lay out the exhibition reminded me of the issue Timothy Ventimiglia wrestled with producing the Native Alaskan exhibit for the Smithsonian. (3) How do you display the works of these tribes without ruffling feathers? His answer was geographic, theirs is alphanumeric.
Continuing its Web 1.0 sensibility the audience for runme is somewhat homogenous. This is for developers moreso than for ‘the civilian’ or the public as it were. One could go so far as to classify it as more of a forum than an exhibition. Runme, the brand is not the focus. Their business model is also very stripped down. They are not trying to drive traffic to a physical location like the Smithsonian. Nor are they hampered by the need to deliver a ROI to a Board of Directors. The site exists for its own sake.
One of the most interesting parts of the collection was AMEN – AN INTERACTIVE BREAKBEAT EXPERIENCE by Neil Gavigan. Its mission: learn about the history of breakbeats and hip hop and drum n bass production techniques in a unique interface based on symbols created to represent different drum sounds informative, intuitive, inspirational.
Amen is in many ways as simple as Runme itself but the functionality is fun, informative and addictive. They transform each element of popular break beats into images. In Demonstration mode AMEN show you how composers arrange these sounds to produce the building blocks for Hip-Hop, Drum N Bass, Jungle and the like.
I thought the encoding and decoding essence of the site jived well with Bill Brown’s discussion of the use of objects for interpretation. “We look through objects because there are codes by which our interpretive attention makes them meaningful, because there is a discourse of objectivity that allows us to use them as facts.” (4) Turning these sounds into objects has augmented their power.
Another great site was Urban Remix. The site combines GPS, Geo-tagging and music to create a unique web experience
By using your Droid or iPhone you are urged to capture sounds that naturally occur. Then by uploading the content, users can create a musical landscape based on the actual physical landscape. Real (or material) places become sounds and are bound together and amplified via this site.
The most compelling and engrossing site was Destroy The Web
The concept of Destroying The Web is one that I think addresses the issues of our class. The issues we wrestle with, or the issues that interest me is maintaining or creating a physical space in our mediated, digital world. Essentially keeping an analog storehouse to accompany the digital stockpile. This is a difficult concept to wrap one’s head around, as the new generation sees no need for the analog and the older generation views the digital as a lesser form of artistry. Runme’s mission is to show how the two concepts can coexist. The Destroy The Web site is an interesting way to illustrate this mission as it allows the visitor to do something heretofore unheard of. Dismantle a web site much like we can rip up a piece of paper. As sophomoric as it is I think it addresses many issues of materiality. I personally want to focus on the need to be able to take online concepts offline there is much to be said (and done) about doing the opposite.
Overall, the lesson that can be learned from this exhibition is one of branding. The outward appearance of the site does not accurately represent the content of the site. At first glance this looks like a high school web design project. Runme needs to take a page from more refined online exhibitions and focus on the superficial a bit more. Our McLuhan reading this week revolved around the myth of Narcissus. (5) Runme as well as our class could do well to sprinkle a little narcissism into its execution.
On the positive end I think the open door policy of the runme is a model we should adopt. I am a firm believer in the democratization power of the web. The days of the static exhibition lead by the buttoned up curator are over. To be truly effective an exhibition must leave itself open to a steady stream of new ideas and new contributors. The digital platform allows that to happen in ways the static, analog cannot.
1. Arjun Appadurai, “The Thing Itself” Public Culture 18:1 (2006)
2. Christiane Paul, Ed., Lecture, The New School, September 21st, 2010
3. Timothy Ventimiglia, Lecture, The New School, September 21st, 2010
4. Bill Brown, “Thing Theory” Critical Inquiry 28:1 (August 2001)
5. Marshall McLuhan, “The Gadget Lover: Narcissus as Narcosis” In Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, Ed. W. Terrence Gordon (Corte Madera, CA: Gingko Press,  2003)