When Tim Nolan was a kid, he used to arrange his VCR, record-player, tape deck and TV into a single unit and announce he was making music videos. He wouldn’t actually record anything and his mum thought he was a “bum child” because of it, but the pre-adolescent (and internet) NYC new media artist and designer was already experimenting with process and curation long before he even knew what that was. “I would throw a model airplane out the window and then film it but there was no film,” Nolan says via Skype, on a slight tangent, about how he would “run around” with an amnesiac Super 8 camera, “I think I really liked the idea of bringing all those things together, even if it just existed for me for that second.”
Seconds, four to be exact, is about how long each image and background on his recent project, cachemonet.com, appears in its browser before flicking to the next. That’s about two seconds shorter than a Vine post, catering to the online attention span and focussing on keeping its audience in the transtemporal moment. The Netscape logo, MS-DOS, Mortal Kombat and Nintendo 64 flash past to the gaudy backdrop of a moving, shifting and mutating wallpaper. A suspended, gun-toting forearm, a dog on a swing and spinning cheeseburger dance to the fetishistic composition of antique software sounds of Jib Kidder’s ‘Windowdipper’, sharing an uncanny resemblance to the neon plasticity of James Ferraro’s Far Side Virtual but predating it by two years. That’s how far back that track has been sitting alongside the ‘Applications’ and ‘Downloads’ thumbnails of Nolan’s ‘Finder’ folder, while he waited another four years for the right time to use it. “I’ve carried it since 2009 from computer to computer and I’ve always been like, ‘I want this thing. I don’t know what I want but there’s something about this song that it’s perfect for me’”.
‘Perfect’ is probably a pretty apt word in describing cachemonet. Dropped about a month ago, its a project conceptualised and curated by Nolan, in collaboration with “partner in art crimes and in life” Jen Lu, its art director who makes up the other half of “conceptual, creative design partnership” Universalscene, also responsible for the The ABC of Contemporary Creatives and yet-to-be-launched Miley Vir.us (“an attention craving, control freak”). From there, this remix of internet culture –the “autonomous, generative, art made possible through curation and code” –went viral, begun with a mention from Nolan to New Museum affiliate and former Creator’s Project editor Julia Kaganskiy, retweeted by Golan Levin and finally going veritably viral. Constructed by “the human hand” from the “two, sort of, garbage cans”, or caches, of personally selected images, cachemonet generates combinations of images that are unique to every viewer.
Since then, a founder of DeviantART bought a version of the work for an undisclosed but perceivably huge sum of money (“he’s worth 70 million dollars”) and created a “double spike” of hits to the site in the shape of a “messed up ‘m’” in Google Analytics: “so the first spike is those key influences, the people who spell ‘internetz’ with a ‘z’,” explains Nolan about his theory for when things go truly viral, “they get it and it goes to their world and then somehow it trickles down to the Facebooks and the Twitters and the people who spell it ‘internets’ with an ‘s’. Then the people who are just on the internet see it maybe a week or two later. I think if you can get that second spike up, that’s where the meme starts”.
aqnb: The sale of ‘cachemonet’ is still quite a rare event, do you think that maybe the difficulty in monetising online art marks a necessary return to making art for art’s sake?
Tim Nolan: For me, in 1996/7 when I first started fiddling around with internet, that’s all I thought it was. It was another place to take what I was doing in the ‘real’ world and put it in front of more people. There was no advertising back then and it was just this open space where no one had ever done anything with it before. So everything that you tried was original, which was super-gratifying, and there was no one to tell you, you were doing it wrong.
So for the first couple years everyone was just making stuff, one way or another. I think everyone was doing their own individual thing and you started recognising that this is just a big empty canvas so it’s open to interpretation. That’s was why I think most of the stuff was made and that’s part of what cachemonet is; just throwing away everything that was accrued or learned over the last 10 years, about refinement, and what a browser is, and what the internet is, and what design is. It just threw all that stuff out the garbage and did it for fun.
aqnb: Do you miss those days? Is cachemonet a way of recapturing that past?
TN: It’s going to happen again, right? Everything repeats itself. I think the maturity level of the past is revisited and every time we take a step forward with technology, or with culture, we naturally take those two or three steps back and revisit everything. Because I think, just as a people, we’re never quite satisfied with how the past went down. We always feel like we can do something better, whether that’s Geocities 2.0, whatever that is, we’re really redoing it.
Everyone just went from GeoCities, to a MySpace to a Facebook. It’s revisionary futurism; we always revise that past and try and make it contemporary, or current, or better. Then a few years later we’re like, ‘that’s so past, that’s ridiculous. This is the new thing’. But it’s still the same thing. Now you can make pizza in your microwave. Is it better? No but it’s faster. I think there’s a sense of nostalgia that goes back to those things and what needs to get left alone is that fact that some of that stuff, even though it was really immature, it was really pure; it was exactly what it was. It wasn’t pretending to be something else.
aqnb: But making the comparison between Facebook and GeoCities might be a little off, considering the restrictive interface one has and the other didn’t.
TN: Yeah and that was my biggest gripe with AOL, in ‘92,’3,’4… whenever that was. Like, my father never went on the internet and he didn’t even know that he wasn’t on the internet. He was just within the confines of AOL. He was in this controlled environment that when he was asking for sports news he thought he was finding out what the world thought about sports, when in fact it was the editorial staff at ‘sports.aol’ that was telling him that news.
It’s that veil of control that pretends to be invisible but is omnipresent and I think that the parallel between GeoCities and things like Facebook is that people just want to stake claim to something; to territory, to a place, something personalised –whether it’s their basement apartment or it’s there room in their parent’s house. I think all that just plays to people wanting to mark their own little space in time, or in history, or in the ‘now’. It just becomes a slightly different place. It’s like moving from GeoCities, which was maybe your room in your mum’s house, to Facebook, which is your first condo. There’s a weird difference between the two.
aqnb: Coming back to this idea of ‘collision’ with cachemonet, this juxtaposition of control and chaos, do you think there is a necessary disruption that needs to come from individual users within the confines of something like Facebook?
TN: I guess that the users who want to find their own DMZ, or space that’s not controlled by any other greater user or institutional investor in the internet, will always find their own little pockets. They’ll find the Dark Web, they’ll find the pavement underneath the internet; they’ll always find some sort of way to do their own thing and not be traced. But I don’t think we can ever go back or reverse that.
It’s sort of like the way we’ve paved infrastructure. You start off with a dirt path because I used to walk to my friend’s house and then, over a certain period of time, the grass wore away and all of a sudden there was a path. There was a trail of dirt that led from me to my friend’s house and from my friend’s house to his friend’s house and those became those connections. Then your larger institutional investors and the idea came along of, ‘well, how would you like a really smooth path?’ And they would build pavement and they would connect roads and then, actually, your friend’s house is in the way of this road, so we’re going to blow his house up and build this four-lane road. So I think everyone’s invested so much into this internet that it’s replicated the same mistakes we’ve made in physical society. We’re pulling away the things that really attracted people to this cultural phenomenon and we’re starting to pave it heavily.
aqnb: I suppose this idea of randomised loops in the cachemonet project reflects that, in terms of reviving past technologies. Is that a part of the concept?
TN: A bit of it. It’s strange because everyone looks at it and they say, ‘oh, it’s purely a nostalgic 90s thing’. But a lot of those pieces, a lot of those gifs, are actually quite current. It’s just that when you combine some of the old with some of the new, with a very particular piece of music that feels very of a certain time, everyone’s perception of the piece feels a certain way.
It’s actually coded in a very modern way and some of the technology that is lost with the end user, because it doesn’t really matter and no one should care, is quite modern. But what really resonates is things like VHS and LimeWire. Even some of the videogame references span from the late 80s till today. It’s a very wide range of subject matter that it taps into with each gif but everyone just loves the old stuff. And that’s cool. I like it too.
aqnb: You could relate that to something like Olia Lialina and Dragan Espenchied’s One Terabyte Of Kilobyte Age Tumblr, where these ‘digital objects’ retrieved from the GeoCities dump are redundant unless they can be kept in circulation within a contemporary online context.
TN: Sure. Even if you just think about ‘digital’ over the last 15 years and how many archaic pieces of media that you probably still possess, whether it’s a three-by-five floppy disk or it’s a zip drive, there aren’t enough converters in the world to go into the past. There are just some things I can’t get to anymore and it frustrates me because we never think about reverse compatibility.
We always think about moving forward but we never worry about bringing everyone along. It’s okay if five of us make it the future because the future’s going to brighter and it’s going to be better; ‘sorry about your 95 percent or sorry about your friend’s house that we paved over but that road is still dope’. I think that’s just part of how we all move forward; that we all sort of quietly agree that not all of us are going to make it.
aqnb: That makes me think about space travel. There’s this misconception that when the time comes we’ll all migrate to space but the reality is that the only people going to space are Lady Gaga and Will.i.am.
TN: I know and that’s terrible. I don’t want Will.i.am to go to space ever [laughs]. Every movie that I see where there’s a giant meteor or something, it’s like, ‘don’t worry, there’s a magic bullet and it’s going to save us’. But whenever they says ‘us’ it’s like 45 people, and Bruce Willis. **