Entropy8Zuper! - I don't know about online art, but I know what I like    

When FAD asked me to write a piece about web-art, at first I was stumped. You see, for one thing there's not a lot of it out there. Oh sure, there are a lot of people who claim to be making art online, but more often than not all they have done is discovered a creative new use for Photoshop filters or a clever way of using Flash's ActionScripting - you know the kind of thing "wow, just look at the way these spirals are following my mouse-pointer. Isn't that artistic!"

And for that reason, the world (or at least that part of it which expresses a preference) seems to fall into two camps on this subject. There are those (often with backgrounds in "offline" art) who claim that no meaningful piece of art has ever been created with a computer, and pretty much sneer at the very idea. And there are those who think that the Internet is rife with artistic talent (usually the same people who get excited about screen-savers).

But in a small, well-hidden corner of the Internet (rumoured to be somewhere in Belgium) a dynamic-html-duo have been busily working for 3 years now churning out stuff that could give Leonardo or Hirst a run for their money.

They style themselves Entropy8Zuper! - they being 2 artists formerly known as Entropy8 and Zuper! The Entropy8 part is Auriea Harvey, while Zuper! Is Michäel Samyn. Or perhaps "was" would be more appropriate. Because despite the double-barrelled name, Entropy8Zuper! (let's just call them E8Z! shall we?) is more than a partnership of two halves. Their entire body of work explores the nature of their relationship, the creation of a whole. Their motto: "Information Technology is not the future. We are."

Too engrossed in their work to actively seek out the limelight, they nonetheless won a Webby award (the Internet's equivalent of the Oscars) for their art. The trophy now takes pride of place, on top of the couple's toilet, and the $30,000 prize money allowed them to fulfil a long-held desire to pay for advanced 3d body-scans of themselves snogging (now seen in their work "The Kiss") and to have their movements motion-captured (the raw materials for two Quake models of Michäel and Auriea playing Adam and Eve).

So what is it that makes their work "art" rather than computer-noodling?

It helps that both of them are very skilled and experienced, with a rare combination of design backgrounds and technical-mastery (they are at ease, or perhaps more accurately frustrated at the limitations of, a wide range of tools and languages from dynamic-HTML through Flash to Perl scripting). Shades of the old-school renaissance-person, apprenticeship under the belt, all the right moves at their command. But it's the emotion and the intelligence with which they execute their work that makes it appeal to the heart as well as the mind.

Their first large-scale work was Genesis, a biblically inspired retelling of the origins of their relationship. And what a crazy one-of-a-kind relationship: they met and conducted their love affair online before leaving respective partners (Michäel in Belgium, Auriea in New York) to make the virtual real. Bitten by the bible-bug and the metaphors they found there, they continued their Godlove story with Exodus, Leviticus and, most recently, Numbers. Each chapter in their story is a compelling combination of elements. There is the intensely personal, your common-or-garden website confessional transformed with unrivalled panache: in Leviticus, as you pluck at flower-petals, you are given a line-by-line transcript of E8Z!'s former lovers' parting sadness and rage. There is the tongue-in-cheek, biblical references become literal: in Leviticus, Auriea and Michäel are lambs of god, small fluffy toys which bleat and scream as you click on them. There are the gaming elements, essential for any interactive work to hold the viewers interest: in Exodus, you get to shoot down trans-Atlantic planes using Michäel's brain-power as a weapon, and in Numbers your targets are paratroopers, corporate logos emblazoned on their chutes (the corresponding company's stock-quote decreases with each one that you knock from the sky). And of course there are the common elements, flotsam and netsam carried over from one work to the next, symbolic references that hammer home the meaning of these pieces: hands, eyes, hearts, flowers.

With Numbers, and its accompanying pseudo-marketing "the making of Numbers", their work has reached a higher symbolic and political level. Auriea being an exiled New Yorker, and their early work focusing on aeroplane flights to and from that city, the events of September 11th took on great significance for the couple. They had already been planning Numbers for over a year when current affairs threw the whole thing into a new perspective: George Bush taking on God in a no-holds-barred genocitement contest - compare and contrast the two quotes below.

The resulting product is, hyperbole aside, an interactive masterpiece. Go see for yourself.

Those quotes in full:

When ye are passed over Jordan into the land of Canaan

Then ye shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their pictures, and destroy all their molten images, and quite pluck down all their high places:

And ye shall dispossess the inhabitants of the land, and dwell therein: for I have given you the land to possess it.

But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you; then it shall come to pass, that those which ye let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell.

Moreover it shall come to pass, that I shall do unto you, as I thought to do unto them.
(Numbers 33, 51-53 & 55-56)

George Bush:
I will not yield; I will not rest; I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people.

We will find those who did it; we will smoke them out of their holes; we will get them running and we'll bring them to justice.

We're fighting evil.

Your mission is defined, your objectives are clear, your goal is just.

Defeat the evildoers.

I'm amazed that there is such misunderstanding of what our country is about that people would hate us.
(Various speeches, September-October 2001)

© Dan Sumption, April 2002

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