The Mural

On Vimeo

The Mural is the first in a series of projects through which I attempt to capture a temporal snapshot of some aspect of the web and render it into something meaningful and unexpected. For this project I downloaded 360 of the most recently posted clips from youtube over the course of about two hours on Feb. 27th, 2010. The idea was to get a sampling based on nothing other than temporal proximity, and dump that sampling into a template to see what it might look like and what questions it provoked. In concept, the template is dynamic, pulling a freshly uploaded clip in to fill each tile as the old clip finishes playing, creating a self perpetuating, always changing video mural which, in a sense, performs the overwhelming activity of YouTube as a massive stained glass hyper-window.

My original inspiration for this project was Marco Brambilla’s “Civilization” piece, and I had hoped to mimic in some sense the aesthetic panache and theological weight that he was able to craft. In that sense this project was a complete failure. The formal qualities of the template that I designed became lost when filled with the madness of the clips, as did the cosmological narrative I had in mind when designing it. Rather than synthesizing a span of time into a cohesive whole more meaningful than the sum of it’s parts, I succeeded in creating what I regard as a sort of stained glass pile of trash. Still, the reasons for this are interesting, as is the pile itself. Nothing about the clips themselves have any relationship to the template I designed, or to anything at all save the time they were uploaded. And because the template didn’t even respect the temporal relationships of the clips, it obliterated the one metric by which some sense of meaningful order could be given them, making the random even more random. Not only that, but because of the total variety of unorthodox shapes most clips were reduced to mere abstractions of themselves, divesting them of meaning on an individual level.
As it turns out, these are all things I quite like about the piece. They provoke a different conversation that is perhaps more interesting than the one I had originally anticipated. The piece underscores the fact that on YouTube, as with much of the web, the bulk of the services rendered amount to little more than the collection of media garbage, not in the qualitative sense, but rather in the sense that most of it is, for all practical purposes, simply discarded. Terabyte after terabyte of clips that will never be watched, pictures that will never be viewed, and blog posts that will never be read. And even if they are, all of it is so ephemeral and so quickly turned over that almost everything that was consumed yesterday has already been buried under an avalanche of new content. In most cases, none of it will be missed or ever revisited. Which begs the question — what do we like more about the internet: it’s ability to help us remember, or its ability to help us forget?

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