The Multi-Cultural Recycler
In the first version of the Recycler (1996), Webcams were selected at random from a list of possibilities, and these cameras’ live or latest images were downloaded, processed, and juxtaposed, to create a new image, presented (satirically) to the visitor as a new piece of „Web Art.” The visitor could then link to the Recycling Bin page, which would display the source images that had been „recycled” to create the new artwork. The Recycling Bin would also invite the visitor to link to the images’ original sites, to discover their actual context. The Recycler’s original server configuration involved relatively slow computers, so early Recycle processes typically took a minute or longer. To keep visitors from giving up, I displayed a text comment while they waited: „Cultural Recycling takes a minute or so. Please be patient; it is probably not stuck.” The mention of cultural recycling taking „a minute or so” was a joking reference to the short length of time it seems to take for real cultural recycling to occur. (A similar blurb still appears on the site; although the Recycler now runs on a fast server, download times from the various camera sources are at the mercy of the cameras’ servers and the speed of traffic on the Internet.)
In the spring of 1997, I added two new sections to the Recycler. The first, „Make Your Own Cultural Compost”, allows visitors to select from a list the cameras they wish to recycle. The second was the Multi-Cultural Recycler Gallery. Visitors had been suggesting a gallery for some time, but I was initially puzzled by the suggestion – why would people want to hang these silly images in a gallery? The answer may have something in common with the answer to „Why do people want to look at a coffeepot in Cambridge?” There seems to be something very appealing about having a common place to which to connect, a site which is both universally accessible (at least to Web users) and „real” (a coffeepot set up in a television studio by Maxwell House Coffee would probably not hold the same appeal as the humble Cambridge pot). So, in the interest of furthering the „democratization of fame” inherent in the Web, I created the Recycler Gallery. In the Gallery, visitors can post their recycled images, along with their names and their URLs (for those visitors who have their own Web pages). When a visitor posts his or her URL to the gallery, it automatically becomes a link which other visitors can follow to learn about the person who created that piece of „Web Art.” Like the links from the Recycling Bin to the source images, these links provide continually changing paths out into the culture(s) – Web and otherwise – from which the Recycled images are built. The gallery also purports to make instant celebrities of those visitors who post images there – and therefore the images created by these „celebrity” visitors naturally become subject to „cultural” recycling by future visitors.
The Recycler Gallery holds only six images: each time a visitor posts a new image, the oldest image on the page is deleted to accommodate the new one. When I speak with Recycler visitors, I’ve been surprised to discover that many of them are dismayed with this lack of permanence; many people ask me if I maintain an archive of past Gallery images. Again, my initial reaction to this was, „Why would anyone want to keep these?” I’ve always felt
that the constantly-changing nature of the piece and the ephemeral nature of the images created are significant aspects of the Recycler – as with popular culture itself, presence in the Recycler is short-lived. Web art has the advantage of being able to change constantly, to connect with the world outside the piece at any moment – but in the process, permanence can lose significance.
Amy Alexander (US), The Multi-Cultural Recycler, 1996