ScreenSaverGallery (2013–Present)

Posted on: May 10th, 2021 by Mary Meixner No Comments
    Screensaver is a computer program that was originally designed to protect the computer screen or monitor from permanent damage caused by the long display of still images. From the perspective of its user (viewer), screensaver demonstrates itself as the moving image – most often a simple form of animation running on the computer screen during the moments of inactivity. Screensavers experienced their heyday in the 1990s. Since the second half of the 2010s, when superior technology pushed the CRT monitors out of the market, they have been referred to as an antiquated medium. Although the screensaver has lost in most cases its very practical function of protecting the screen from permanent damage to its display qualities, it has retained its basic formal characteristics. Even today, should we want to, simple animation can illuminate the pixels at the screen of our laptop, desktop computer or another computing device whenever we stop using it for a moment. But of what use is function like this for us today?

 

ScreenSaverGallery (2013–Present)

     ScreenSaverGallery is an online gallery of contemporary digital art which utilises the potential of the screensaver medium. It is a project by Brno-based Internet artists, Barbora Trnková and Tomáš Javůrek, who have worked since 2010 as an artistic duo under the moniker &. After downloading the program at http://screensaver.gallery/, a long-unused component in the basic software system of an individual computer is activated. Suddenly, when being inactive on your computer, the screensaver becomes a portal to the world of contemporary art. Through its emphasis on the computer context, both as a virtual space and as a physical object, this gallery borders the virtual and real. It manifests and symbolises the many contradictions that we face daily. As a specific experimental laboratory for the presentation of forms of visual discourse, it becomes a starting point for artistic, curatorial and educational experiments in intimate and social situations, in which the gallery is present through the computer screen. There, a mutual activation of physical and virtual space, a dialogue of digital work and the context of its site, all take place through the ambient mode of the screensaver.

 

The Meeting with &

     ScreenSaverGallery started its activity in 2012 as a short-term art project intended for a performance festival in Brno.[1] Soon after that, Trnková and Javůrek decided to start using it as a virtual gallery of contemporary art, providing space to other artists, and began to look around for further curatorial support. Around this time, Robert Sakrowski (b. 1966), a German artist, curator and art historian specialising in net art, entered the project – along with myself.

 

     I first met the creators of ScreenSaverGallery in December 2012. As a program manager, I was preparing a program about net art for the 11th year of the multimedia festival PAF Olomouc.[2] In addition to describing the phenomenon of net art historically and theoretically (Sakrowski also attended, as a lecturer), and to show the best international works, the section was supposed to include the mapping of the current netart scene in the Czech Republic, and networking between creators, who, despite the atmosphere of a misunderstanding of that time, devoted themselves to various forms of net art. One of them was the artistic and partner duo Tomáš Javůrek and Barbora Trnková. They are still intensively involved in net art, digital art and the creation of applications as works of art, and are currently probably the most consistent authors in this area in the Czech Republic.[3] In addition to online projects and mobile applications, they creatively specialise mainly in wi-fi installations, which is also unique on the domestic art scene. During the festival, they presented their existing netart work, which reflected (and still reflects) elements of poetics, mystical self-perception and meditative mood, and focused on key topics of generating visual identity and a shared prayer (Generation of Princesses, web application Motivo Astratto, 2011, later extended into the computer application Black, plus the wi-fi installation AnnaMarie in a deconsecrated Baroque chapel.[4]

 

     A subversive approach is present in their artistic practice as well as references to the hacker culture and the ideological heritage of the first net artists – starting points that Robert Sakrowski and I have shared to varying degrees. The festival environment fulfilled its networking role; Barbora and Tomáš approached us with an offer to participate in their newly created netart gallery in screensavers. Since they were, in their own words, mainly artists, they did not feel capable enough to take care of the entire exhibition program themselves. Sakrowski and I accepted the offer. We liked the starting position of the gallery, enthusiasm and fascination with net art and the existing work of the duo, characterised by its provocatively conceptual disruption of the viewer’s relationship with virtual reality and digital media in general, and the active manipulation into the crazy worlds of computationally mediated presence. In the same way, we were captivated by the opportunity to give a new meaning to the “dead” and a little “inferior” medium, and to examine it thoroughly.

 

     The screensaver theme and the possibility of presenting online art through ScreenSaverGallery were to become a topic for theoretical and artistic processing. We were curious. We agreed to explore the space through a simple model (initially) of solo exhibitions that would alternate based on the principle of curatorial dialogue, in which the questions and answers were represented by the exhibitions themselves. We have never had to question each other’s choices of artists or works. If any of us perceived the medium differently, they had the opportunity to react with their next curatorial act. Each screensaver has moved us a little further, and allowed us to better understand its perception by artists and the public. 

 

     Sakrowski, engaged from the beginning and enthusiastic about the project, but busy with other work[5], has eventually stepped back into the role of an occasional curator (Interiors, 2013; Desktop Screenshot Collections 1997–today, 2014), artist (participation in the group exhibition Inhuman Art, 2018; a solo show webwork as web.pilgrimage, 2019), and a consultant. By contrast, I have collaborated more intensively over the years with & on the program, production and idea aspects of the gallery. Although our views on many things often differed, we subjected them to long, enriching philosophical-theoretical debates, as well as discussions of practically organisational nature, in which the artistic perception of the world and the more rational, or seemingly more sober view of the theorist, met in a fascinating way.

 

     But just as Barbora’s and Tomáš’s theoretical background and academic outlook grew significantly over the years (in 2016 they both started their doctorates at the Faculty of Fine Arts at Brno University of Technology), I was slowly becoming an artist myself.[6]  During the meeting at PAF Olomouc in 2012, none of us thought that we would be engaged in the screensaver gallery project for so long and that the mutual “dialogue” would not be exhausted for us after several exhibitions. I have the impression that this is due to the subconscious conceptualist effort to completely fulfil the gallery manifesto. Through ScreenSaverGallery, it makes a promise to the digital art not only to get to festivals and conferences (which has proved and continues to be successful), and schools around the world (a satisfactory moment, which we sort of managed to achieve in 2018), but also to public libraries (which turned out to be technically impossible due to the systems used by libraries), info points in cities, and progressive organisations and large companies (still an unattainable goal).[7]

 

Together

     Tomáš Javůrek (b. 1983) graduated in teaching for secondary schools at the Faculty of Education of Masaryk University in Brno (2005–2010) and Fine Art – Conceptual Trends under Vladimír Merta at the Faculty of Fine Arts at Brno University of Technology (2007–2011), where Barbora Trnková (b. 1984) studied at the Body Design Studio under Lenka Klodová and Jana Perková (2006–2012), already as a graduate of graphic design (Secondary School of Art and Design Brno, 2001–2005) and Advertising Photography under Jaroslav Prokop (Faculty of Multimedia Communications, Tomáš Baťa University in Zlín, 2005–2006). Together they began to create as & at the domain metazoa.org in 2010 and to focus their work primarily on the net and digital art. A joint internship in the Studio of New Media led by Mauro Folci, Bruno Muzzolini and Domenico Quaranta (Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, Milan, 2010–2011) was key for them. They described to me the beginnings of their joint creative career and the stimuli that led to the establishment of a gallery in screensavers in the following short interview.[8]

 

You have been working in the field of net art since approximately 2010, when you did an internship in Milan under Domenico Quaranta, probably the most famous southern European personality dealing critically and pedagogically with net art.

 

     BT: The internship under Quaranta was more of a coincidence and helped us relax completely. As for the relationship to technologies, at that time there was a rather negative atmosphere in the Czech art scene, it was perceived as a dead-end, a certain “intoxication with technology”. The internship gave us the confidence to express ourselves. We no longer minded that people here did not reflect our work; we knew we were engaging in a dialogue that already existed abroad.

 

     TJ: And for more than ten years already. At that time, we did not yet consider digital art as such, it was still something progressive for us. Rather, we just wanted to transform the concepts of the previous generation artists, of our teachers, to transform the overused institutional critique of that time [in 2010/2011], implemented in usually in site-specific installations.

 

     You said it “went so far” that all site-specific projects had to be “something drawn with pencil on the wall”. Wi-fi exhibitions became your favourite format.

 

     TJ: We did the first pure wi-fi installation LaskujMe! shortly after we met, in the Aula Gallery in Brno, remotely from Milan. Visitors of the student group exhibition had to interact with it via computers. Smartphones that could be connected to the web were not yet widespread at that time.[9]

 

    What did you do before you started doing net art and working together?

 

     BT: Tomáš and I already made one artwork of a similar nature before Milan, a computer game that functioned as a happening[10] and was based on our realisation that a visual perception as such has a certain communication limit that we encountered. I used to make abstract videos before that, which struggled with the accusation that “they’re sort of screensavers”.

 

     TJ: And I turned them into a one-day exhibition – a screensaver for a motion-picture theatre.[11]

 

     BT: Exploring what the image itself can offer you can reach a stage where you get into a loop of essentially screensaver quality. The visual perception has a certain ending – it is difficult to describe. For example, if you are a graphic designer, you can take graphics seriously and display a lot of things within that technology. You can still believe in the technology of graphics, believe that something important will be created on that 2D printed paper. But at that time, we ceased to believe that image can still bring something important. Suddenly, we were left with the white surface, which pulsates and affects the viewer – that is a screensaver.

     This ironic position is present at the beginning of ScreenSaverGallery, while we wanted to give such videos an adequate space for presentation. Nothing serious, no serious art. Just videos that are only suitable for computer meditation, for relaxation. Our digital work was not based on understanding digital art as a separate art form. For us at that time, digital art meant pure progress, to which we became attached despite the tendencies in which we “grew up”. Back then, we were quite nervous about our transition to digital art practice…

 

     ScreenSaverGallery also originated as an art project, which is why it is perhaps constantly exploring the fragile line between its own work, curation and the social role of art.

 

     TJ: Yes, [in 2012] we had an installation that gradually evolved into a gallery open to various artists around the world. I don’t think anyone installed it at the original exhibition.[12]

 

     BT: We knew from the beginning that it had to be this kind of thing, we just weren’t sure if it would work – whether anyone would enjoy it, whether it would work as something more than a concept (if you imagine a gallery in a screensaver), whether it can succeed even in normal “gallery” state. And it turns out that even today it still has interesting possibilities. In the beginning, however, it was not entirely clear, because we enjoyed the very idea, the conceptual idea of ​​a gallery in a screensaver.

 

     TJ: Over time, it has taken on a whole new dimension. For me today, a screensaver is a regular art form. We’ve experienced this multiple times: to think about and discuss what a screensaver is; to reach out to an artist to make a screensaver for a screensaver gallery… It’s a pretty specific thing, and everyone knows what a screensaver is. Although it is a dead medium, its role is still deep-rooted.

     BT: If we meant it as an irony, we wouldn’t be doing it.

     TJ: We would create a single screensaver, an application that expresses everything, and that would be enough.

     BT: There’s a certain rift in it, but it’s interesting to watch the space, explore and fill it in some way.

 

The ScreenSaverGallery Today

     It seems that the gallery has gained its audience over the years mainly from experts in fine arts, new media art and net art; and frequently also from students and teachers at universities and secondary schools with an artistic focus (especially on new media). However, often people who would not go to the gallery will also become its viewers. By ScreenSaverGallery being launched the moment the user leaves the computer, their colleagues, other people in the office or library, family members, friends, etc., become the audience. We get to the educational or enlightening potential of the gallery since it aims to address, or at least confront the widest possible audience around the world with the current forms of digital art.

 

     The solo exhibitions were gradually supplemented by a model of large group shows of up to several tens of artists[13], later we also collaborated with external curators: Pole Dominik Podsiadly (Science Club „X“: Convergence, 2020), Czech Anita Somrová (FAKA: From A Distance, 2016), Slovakian Monika Szücsová (Andrea Uváčiková: Disturbing borders – a laboratory of apperception, 2020), and the Czech Kurzor Kolektiv ((5) Braincandy <1 One Swallow 1>, 2016).[14] At the end of 2020 we have completed 44 exhibition projects.

 

     Since 2018, the gallery has been supported by the City of Brno. For ScreenSaverGallery, it was without exaggeration a breakthrough existential support, at the same time providing a huge technological leap forward, as it enabled several necessary updates. 2018 was also a turning point for us with a challenge that came with the exhibition Unleashing Screensaver and then the group exhibition Inhuman Art.[15] That year, 50 professional artists and art groups, and over 200 students and 45 teachers from 25 educational institutions around the world participated in the gallery.    

ScreenSaverGallery was installed and presented as a physical exhibition at Columbia University in New York, at the Gallery U Mloka in Olomouc, as part of the PAF Olomouc festival and the annual event XY – An Art Walk with Exhibition Openings. It was further exhibited at Accademia di Belle Arti di Carrara, Italy; Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, Milan, Italy; Faculty of Art and Design, Jan Evangelista Purkyně University in Ústí nad Labem, Czech Republic; Faculty of Education, Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic; and Faculty of Interactive Media Design, ArtEZ, Arnhem, Netherlands.

 

     It was the largest international exposition and the most challenging year for us. Approximately 4,000 new users installed the gallery. The following year we focused again on the hitherto stabilised concept of several solo exhibitions. We also experienced situations where artists presented problematic content (both ethically and legally) in the gallery, so we devoted part of our energy and resources to consulting a lawyer and preparing the relevant contracts and documents. The grant support was also used to redesign the gallery website in terms of structure and form, to migrate the screensaver.metazoa.org website to the screensaver.gallery domain, and for related activities such as design and code of a new front-end interface or database restructuring.

 

     Our long-term, as yet unfulfilled ambition is to work with established foreign curators who would prepare major exhibition projects for ScreenSaverGallery, bring a new perspective to the program and increase its supraregional significance.

 

     Our main activities right now however take place outside of the gallery itself (preparation of the publication The Art of Screensaver, a symposium on screensavers in cooperation with festival PAF Olomouc – Festival of Film Animation and Contemporary Art, an exhibition project for Meet Factory Prague) to reevaluate its significance while bringing some results closer to future researchers and to allow for a more consistent connection to theoretical thinking about screensavers as an art form.

 

     If you want to participate in the future of ScreenSaverGallery or contribute to the international debate about screensavers as an art form and their cultural role, please contact us at info@metazoa.org.

 

 


 

The significantly more detailed original version of this text is available in the publication The Art of Screensaver, where it focuses also on the financing of digital art gallery, legal issues, audiences and ambitions of the ScreenSaverGallery project. 

 

The Art of Screensaver (ed. Marie Meixnerová, BUT & PAF, Olomouc 2020) can be preordered at shop@pifpaf.cz

 

 

 

[1] Vytvrzení 02, a performance and video art festival, July 23–25, 2012, Galerie Umakart, Brno, Czech Republic. As part of the festival, 48 domestic artists and groups presented themselves in the showcase gallery. The downloadable screensaver by Barbora Trnková and Tomáš Javůrek ran throughout the whole festival under the name Motiv and took the form of a countdown to the end of the world (December 21, 2012).
[2] At that time, the name was PAF – Festival of Film Animation, today it is PAF Olomouc with the subtitle Festival of Film Animation and Contemporary Art, www.pifpaf.cz. The festival mission is to broaden the view of classical animation through its intersections with other spheres of art, especially music and contemporary, and not only, digital art.
[3] I would like to thank Štěpánka Ištvánková for bringing my attention to them at that time and for preparing a catalogue text about &. Net art in 2012 was considered rather “dead” or “outlived” in the country, and individual creators were not very visible. We attempted to reach them for the festival in many ways, for example, through an open call. Even though & were already among the most active net artists in the Czech Republic at that time, if it weren’t for Štěpánka, they would have probably escaped my attention then. Cf Marie Meixnerová, “Window to the Past: Searching for contemporary Czech Internet art in 2012,“ 25fps (July 26, 2019), accessed October 12, 2020. http://25fps.cz/2019/paf-contemporary-czech-netart/.
Štěpánka Ištvánková, “& (Barbora Trnková & Tomáš Javůrek): Pocket Mirrors,” in Catalogue PAF 2012, ed. Romana Veselá (Olomouc, Pastiche Filmz, 2012), 57.
& exhibit mainly in domestic and South Moravian galleries, so they are not well known abroad. Their works are represented in the permanent collection Od moderny po současnost 1945–2013 at the Brno City Museum. They indulge in user-unfriendly, minimalist websites, see http://barboratrnkova.cz/, https://www.tomasjavurek.cz/ – currently containing only the text “No Works”; the archive of the works from 2008–2016 is available at https://tomasjavurek.cz/archived/.
[4] A non-chronological, non-alphabetical, but complete list of joint works from 2010 to the present can be found at http://metazoa.org/. The projects are also described by Barbora Trnková on her website http://barboratrnkova.cz/ as follows:
AnnaMarie (2012, http://annamarie.metazoa.org/) works like a camera. The user can take a picture, but the received picture is different from the taken one. The received picture comes from one of the previous AnnaMarie users. Originally it was developed for PAF Rewind: Net Art section. The visitors could download it on a wireless network installed in the Corpus Christi Chapel. In the Chapel, it worked only locally and the received pictures had to be from the same place. Sometimes really subtle differences originated between the taken and received pictures. The space of the Chapel started to be a little bit confus[ing] and more fluid. Later we developed the AnnaMarie app for global use too.
Generation of Princesses (2011, http://generaceprincezen.cz) – This project grew up from the image scepticism. In the light of devaluation of the image in general, we developed the web tool for generating the icons – madonnas – princesses – portraits. We focus on the relationship between a viewer/creator themself and an image. The most interesting is, when a viewer/creator interacts with an image based on the scheme of the tree separated spots located like the eyes and mouth.
Black (2012) – This is a long-term project that consists of three separate yet interconnected parts (http://black.metazoa.org, http://black.metazoa.org/tool, http://black.metazoa.org/voice). In the beginning, there was a simple question: Who is praying in the situation when a Buddhist monk is using his praying wheel? Is it the monk or can it be the wheel itself? What will remain if we try to mechanise the “will”? (Barbora Trnková, “Barbora Trnková ~ Index ~ CV,” accessed December 11, 2020. http://barboratrnkova.cz/.)
Black was originally Barbora Trnková’s diploma thesis at the Faculty of Fine Arts, “The Breaking Down of Black, the Technique of Inconsistent Transfer of Light” or “Dispersion of Balck [sic], The Technique of Inconsistent Translation of Light” created in collaboration with Tomáš Javůrek, Vladimír Veselý and Radek Lát. “Because Tom worked on it with me in addition to the two others, we decided to include it in our joint artistic practice.” (Marie Meixnerová and Barbora Trnková /Facebook Messenger discussion, December 2020/).
See Barbora Trnková, Rozklad černé, technika nedůsledného překládání Světla (diploma thesis, Brno: Vysoké učení technické v Brně, 2012). https://dspace.vutbr.cz/xmlui/handle/11012/13226?show=full. The work itself is available at “Black Apps”, https://black.metazoa.org/.
Black was later installed at domestic group exhibitions under various names: Modlič mluvič (Prayer-Talker; Rund Licht: Světlo uzavřené v kruhu, April 3–24, 2012, Galerie D9, České Budějovice, Czech Republic, curated by Tereza Rullerová, Jana Písaříková and Tomáš Hodboď), modified and in collaboration with Lenka Klodová as Ranní setkání (Morning Meeting; Na houby / For John Cage, September 5–October 13, 2012, Dům umění, Opava, Czech Republic, organised by Bludný kámen, curated by Martin Klimeš).
[5] He worked as a curator at the transmediale festival (2015), founded another gallery in Berlin (router.gallery, 2016) and has been running panke.gallery since 2017 (https://www.panke.gallery/). He focuses on his main project CuratingYouTube.net (http://www.curatingyoutube.net/, since 1997), in which he examines the Web 2.0 phenomenon on the example of the online video-sharing platform YouTube, and on the YouTube channel “gallery surfing”, in which he has been organising screencasts with artists and theorists since 2014, discussing various artistic activities on the network. For more information on his work, see for example Sakrowski’s profile on Monoskop. “Robert Sakrowski,” Monoskop (October 8, 2019), accessed October 18, 2020. https://monoskop.org/Robert_Sakrowski.
[6] (c) merry, https://crazymerry.tumblr.com/.
[7] See “About. ScreenSaverGallery is not TV!,” ScreenSaverGallery (March 26, 2013), accessed October 25, 2020. https://screensaver.metazoa.org/about/.
[8] Part of the interview was published in Czech in the Czech-Slovak version of the Flash Art magazine. Marie Meixnerová, “Tomáš Javůrek a Barbora Trnková,” Flash Art Czech & Slovak Edition, no. 50 (2016): 17.
[9] “TERROR“ Workshop Spacek Mainz – FaVU (December 15, 2010–January 14, 2011, Galerie Aula, FaVU BUT, Brno, Czech Republic, curated by Tomáš Hodboď).
[10] Čekání (Waiting; a computer game) at the art party Secunda Materia, Gel Vigil, December 9, 2009, café Kunštátská Trojka, Dům pánů z Kunštátu, Brno, Czech Republic, curated by Kateřina Olivová.
[11] There is an exhibition space within the motion picture theatre in Vyškov, where Marta Fišerová had an exhibition of paintings and asked Javůrek to intervene during the vernissage. “And I persuaded the projectionist and made a screensaver for the motion picture theatre. The theatre was open normally, Marta had an exhibition there, and there was also the screensaver. The videos were flying in bubbles across the screen and bounced off each other.” Barbora Trnková, Tomáš Javůrek and Marie Meixnerová (personal conversation, August 22, 2017).  
Marta Fišerová, Tokyo Metro (March 4–21, 2010, Galerie Kino, Sokolský dům Vyškov, Czech Republic).
[12] Vytvrzení 02, a performance and video art festival, July 23–25, 2012.
[13] PAFScreenSaver: Animation beyond Animation (December 3–9, 2015) + PRELOADER (competition) (December 3–9, 2015), both curated by & (Barbora Trnková and Tomáš Javůrek); Unleashing Screensaver (April 1–May 31, 2018, extended to September 28, 2018, curated by Mary Meixner); Inhuman Art (December 6, 2018–February 28, 2019, extended to May 6, 2019, curated by & /Barbora Trnková/); Science Club „X“: Convergence (March 10–May 21, 2020, curated by Dominik Podsiadly).
[14] FAKA: From A Distance (Jan 17 – Mar 16 2016), (5) Braincandy <1 One Swallow 1> (Dec 2 2016 – Jan 3 2017), Science Club „X“: Convergence (March 10 – May 21 2020), Andrea Uváčiková: Disturbing borders – a laboratory of apperception (Sep 18 – Oct 30 2020). For full exhibition archive see http://screensaver.gallery/.
[15] Unleashing Screensaver (April 1–May 30, 2018, extended to September 28, 2018, ScreenSaverGallery, concept and coordination (c) merry) for Unleashing (April 1–May 30, 2018, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, USA, directed by Richard Jochum, curated by Işın Önol and Livia Alexander). Unleashing Screensaver was a participatory collaborative project which looked at the notion of aesthetic education and its diversity across fields and cultures. Over 45 educators and their students from various educational institutions, disciplines and countries participated with one, two or three contributions which were screened for one day. Ranging from gifs, sound files, videos, net art, performative screenings, theoretical statements and many more, they addressed their personal experiences and their attitudes towards aesthetic education, while exploring the medium of screensaver as a potential educational tool.
Inhuman Art (December 6, 2018–February 28, 2019, extended to May 6, 2019, ScreenSaverGallery; December 6–20, 2018, Gallery U Mloka, Olomouc, Czech Republic; December 6–9, 2018, Konvikt Press Centre, 17th PAF Festival of Film Animation and Contemporary Art, Olomouc, Czech Republic, curated by Barbora Trnková). The exhibition project Inhuman Art was focused on the presentation of artworks primarily addressed to a non-human audience. The processes of the creation of artworks, with the concept of the work being the result of cooperation between human and inhuman entities, were the subject of interest. It featured 44 artists and artist groups.

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