CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A new online digital art exhibition features the work of University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign researcher and artist Ben Grosser. But instead of displaying on the exhibition’s website, the work of Grosser and six other artists will come to you. It will appear on your computer screen unannounced at intervals throughout the day – pop-up art, rather than pop-up ads.
The exhibition “Real-Time Constraints” by Arebyte Gallery in London features work that explores artificial intelligence, algorithms, machine learning, big data and interventions in web-based platforms. The gallery is using a custom web browser extension to showcase the works, each of which will launch at set times during the day so everyone who chooses to install the browser extension sees the same work at the same time.
“So much of my work takes the form of browser extensions. It’s really exciting for me to be a part of this exhibition in this way because I think a lot about the role browser extensions can play in mediating space between systems and the way we connect to them,” said Grosser, a professor in the School of Art and Design and the co-founder of the Critical Technology Studies Lab at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. Grosser teaches an online internet art class that focuses on making browser extensions and using them as an artistic medium.
The exhibition takes the annoying browser pop-up and turns it into a “benevolent invasion,” according to the gallery. It reconfigures a tool of the system into a “stopping cue” for the user.
“Stopping cues impose a choice for the viewer: Do you want to continue watching/reading/listening, or do you want to do something else?” states the exhibition information.
“This is a take on the medium itself as a creative vehicle for thinking through what an exhibition looks like in the age of pandemic,” Grosser said. “If you think about the ways in which all these institutions create websites and online events, they are still setting up a situation where you have to go visit them. Here, with one click, now the work visits you. It’s loading in your face and literally trying to interrupt the connection you have.”
Arebyte Gallery focuses on digital art. “Real-Time Constraints” was planned as a physical exhibition and the works were selected before the pandemic.
Grosser’s work in the exhibition is a 2015 project called “Tracing You,” which “presents a website’s best attempt to see the world from its visitors’ viewpoints.” The website uses each visitor’s Internet Protocol address to trace their possible origin and locate the closest available image to show their physical environment.
The project examines “how the tiniest amount of information that we give to every place we go online can be used to find our location, and how knowledge of that visibility changes what we do online,” Grosser said.
“Real-Time Constraints” will run through Sept. 30. Arebyte Gallery will host a live panel discussion about artificial intelligence and art on Aug. 6. Grosser will be part of the panel.