About the Digital Landfill

There is a fine line between art and debris. Art, like debris, has no utilitarian purpose. It is created to explore ideas, aesthetics, or philosophies, and is distinguished from the world of ordinary things by its functionlessness. Art doesn't do anything. You can't open cans with it, or use it to wax your car, or clean your countertop, or organize your sock drawer. If you could, then it wouldn't be art anymore, it would be some thing. A tool, or a device. Something that does something. Art, to be art, must do nothing. By its stasis, it invites us to ponder the artwork itself. We ask why the artwork exists, why is it the way it is, what did the artist intend when he created it. The answer is never simple, certainly not as simple as "I use it to wash dishes."

Debris also has no utilitarian purpose. If you see a brand new saucepan in a pile of trash you'd probably think "What's a perfectly good saucepan doing in the trash?", and, depending on your salary, social status, self-esteem and so on, you may take it home with you. When we see a function for a piece of debris, it is no longer debris. It is a tool, or an ornament. It is something we can use. Debris, to be debris, must be useless. Unlike art, we do not ponder why it exists, but often bemoan the fact that so much of it exists.

Digital Landfill explores the fine line between these first cousins, art and debris. An evolving artwork, the website invites viewers to deposit text and HTML 'debris', scraps of information taken from their email inboxes, web pages, and newsgroups. All contributions are immediately added to the landfill. Through the web interface, viewers can explore the history of the landfill layer by layer. Every contribution represents a decision someone made, a response to a previous contribution, an evaluation of what 'belongs' in the work. We see a cross section of web culture written into the layers.

The artwork, like the web, is a cumulative group effort. It takes as input all the 'stuff' that netizens throw into it. Ultimately the viewers decide what the Landfill will look like.

Mark Napier

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