Desktop Screenshot Collections 1997 – today | compiled by Sakrowski (

Posted on: January 24th, 2014 by & No Comments

The desktop is considered as one of the earliest metaphors for Graphical User Interfaces of personal computers. It has become an icon of graphical operating systems and their surfaces.

» Submit Your desktop image «

The exhibition “Desktop Screenshots Collection 1997–today” presents a compilation of network activities that had the computer desktop as their topic. This exhibition does not point to the subject of the desktop metaphor per se, nor it tries to investigate the importance of a desktop in its function as an interface for the computer. This exhibition is about screenshots presenting desktops in specific states or situations. The collection thus oscillates between staged self-expression, prototypical design exploration and private insight.

The aesthetics of the desktop-screenshot phenomenon is also fascinating in its working outside the art operating system. The “Desktop Screenshot Collection” exhibition is realized as a screensaver, not as web exhibition; that is because the connection between the desktop image and the screensaver is quite close, and even has its own small tradition: the Deskswap by Mark Daggett, or the anthropological screensaver byConstant Dullaart. The content of the exhibition is pre-determined by the number of already existing compilations, exhibitions, and collections that we researched in great detail, reaching from Desktop IS to the internet forums or tumblers. For our project we have also set up a dropbox which can be used by anyone who would like to submit for the exhibition of their desktop screenshots. Uploading an image will directly include your screenshot among the exhibited works.

The selection of the desktop background image is often one of the first actions in a new computer system. This process can be compared to a seizure. The appropriation of the device, the first „configuration“, can be understood as an attempt to correspond to the capitalist/mass social ideal with the act of apparent individuation – an ostensible variation in the sameness.1

The graphical desktop metaphor is like the screensaver, an appendix of the “old” PC systems, which is to be removed. The desktop is “the only” area that represents the software for the outside. However, the order of icons, their arrangement and design do not really enrich the work process, because only in rare cases it can be really part of an efficient “workflow”. And in the new, full-screen oriented versions of the Mac OS it recedes even more and more. Not only because the real desk top in the office has been reduced to a holder for replacing and simultaneous simulating digital desktops, so for the younger generation it is already hard to really associate it with the traditional office desk top. But especially because of changing the hardware itself – namely by switching to the mobile touch devices –, the desktop metaphor becomes more and more useless and indeed incomprehensible. This change can also be demonstrated in the displacement of the comparative/oracular view on the mobile devices. With the modern mobile devices the “home screen” became rather a “Start Page”, another kind of index different from the desktop metaphor.

A site note is to be made here to the interesting transition from the human hand and its interpretation – that is palm reading2–, through the above-mentioned screen and its personalization or the desktop and its interpretation3, to the mobile device and its home screen4. This fascination with oracles is fed by the presumption that the digital device serves as the indirect record, bearing significance which allows statements about character and personality of its holder. The assumption of some connection between the human character and the aesthetic appearance of his or her desktop is also the reason for the strong interest to present, share, collect, review and exhibit the private desktops.

The introduction of the desktop wallpaper and its free configuration brought desktop screenshots into existence – perfectly designed and apparently made solely for the sake of presentation and sharing. This exhibition shall not be an exhibition of desktop Backgrounds or of Wallpapers (after all, the history of the development and the range of these would deserve its own ScreenSaverGallery exhibition).5

Producing, presenting and discussing the desktop screenshots gained kind of a special workmanship after it made possible to personalize the appearance of the GUI with the so-called window managers.6 The desktop can of course be regarded as a virtual studiolo, which has, in addition to the contemplative research and collection of curiosities, always the representative function.7 The fact that that the desktop is now almost exclusively perceived aesthetically is another sign that its practical function has moved to the background. On the other hand, it now unfolds its full potential as a private, intimate, individual bridge in the world of absolute digital administration.

Ultimately, the desktop was always an adjusting tool, as it is clear from the computer and its internal logic. In its initial form the desktop metaphor was intended as ever-present help and instant bridge into the computer world, but also as a selling point. The desktop should never provide the creative use of the computer as a universal machine, instead the desktop should whittle down the universal machine to its office use, to satisfy the targeted group of customers. Today, however, the computer sells not only in the so-called office environment, but has become part of the entire entertainment industry (which by the way has been unable to establish any popular interface metaphor).

The problem of exhibitions is that you must comply with the principles of the art operating system.8

All the group exhibitions try to build a fix relationship context, and for the limited number of places establish some significance and value in today’s increasingly fierce competition. This is being harder than ever before, because more people have completed the training for artists today, but the places are more or less the same. So there are more applicants to the same number of seats. The art universities therefore become even more of a social network-forming device, and the perception of them as knowledge- and attitude-forming facility has been weakened. They are not so much about teaching art, but about teaching how to survive as an artist. There was a time in the 1990s, when the curators wanted to be also artists. Today for the reasons just mentioned, almost all artists are curators as well.

The known history of desktop Exhibitions/Collections begins with the great project Desktop IS designed and implemented by Alexei Shulgin in 1995. The distinguishing characteristic of this exhibition was as follows: it was open, dynamic and participatory. The concept of a network-based participation and presentation has been leading the way. Forums like deviantart.org9 and tumblr10 are in fact nothing more than an extension of the Desktop IS exhibition to the present time. They show that love for the design and the desire for communication has not diminished; e.g. just the group “desktop-screens” on includes about 2400 members. The network makes possible that the originally digital sujet which was born or identified in Desktop IS11, the private insight on the (machine) intimate details, is shared with other participants within the network. Of course the self-presentation is always an important aspect in this communication form.

A contribution that went beyond the call for submissions for the Desktop IS project is “Desktop” by Garnet Hertz, which was a standalone project in addition to part of the collaborative exhibition. Because of this, it is shown in the screen saver exhibition both in the Desktop IS collection and as a standalone project.

To my knowledge, Constant Dullaart was the first one who created/curated a collection of desktop images not originating from “famous” personalities but from people unknown to him. He has published this compilation as a screensaver in 2008 and in 2012 version, the latter being shown here. Constant Dullaart let the desktops of other, “unfamiliar” people appear over your own – as if your computer was ready/active and not in the screen saving mode. These images could create discomfiture, as they often have rather untypical style for the users of this screensaver.


1 “The new economy relies on the assumption that individuality can be recovered from mass society through the process of individuation via customization…“ Mark Andrejevic: Reality TV: The Work of Being Watched, 2004.

desktop/fdesktop.htm by Jeroen Bosch 1998 (closed)
writers-desktops by Ben Johncock 2011

6 compare threads on
& (since 2009)

7 google image search: studiolo

8 see
vom Sun, Nov 25th 2012 6pm: „canonize netart celebrities“)
and compare


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