Artist Profile – Rafaël Rozendaal

Published on 2018-05-16

Artwork featured in the salon: '' (2004) Website, Unique Edition. View Online. Courtesy of Postmasters Gallery.

Rafaël Rozendaal has shown at Centre Pompidou, Venice Biennial, Casa Franca Brasil Rio, TSCA Gallery Tokyo, Seoul Art Square, NIMk Amsterdam, and Stedelijk Museum. His work was included in the Phillips / tumblr Paddles On! auction (considered the first of its kind for digital art). He also enjoys mass-appeal popularity that’s rare for digital artists. He says his websites get 60 million unique visits per year. And he was selected for the Times Square–based public art series “Midnight Moment,” in which a bright, abstract animation of a couple kissing lit up digital billboards for 3 minutes each night. 

His pieces tend to be simple, participatory, and outside the traditional confines of the ‘art world.’ His Abstract Browsing Chrome extension, for example, makes any website into stacked blocks of bright colors. It assigns each page element one of 12 day-glow tones and makes sites like The New York Times or Facebook into an acid-trip interpretation of a wireframe sketch. (He also uses this tool to create tapestries of select sites.) 

In his pursuit of accessible art, he’s very conscious of the museum’s confines and the internet’s potential. “If you think only what is shown in museums is art, then democratization will never happen,” he says. “So it’s kind of a ‘catch 22’: it depends on what you consider is art, where the boundaries are. Because if you think that whatever is shown in institutions is art and is going to be part of art history, then that’s based on gatekeepers, because if they’re open then they’re not considered an institution. I think that is the big key difference: that the internet is completely open, that’s the only real difference.”

One of the key ways he’s tested how the internet can open access to art is by publishing his pieces as websites. His archive of URL canvases dates back to 2001 and includes more than 100 websites. please like .com offers just a lone Facebook “like” module; paper toilet .com features a roll of toilet paper; jello time .com is a bouncing blob of jello. They’re almost always interactive, asking to be liked, unrolled, or jiggled. Even his more abstract pieces, like into time .org and almost calm .com, respond to digital touch. They’re meant to be played with, loved, and shared. 

It’s also notable that even as collectors purchase his sites, they remain open to the public. You’ll see collectors and institution names in the browser tab when you open an acquired piece. It’s the internet-era equivalent of museum halls named for public-minded donors. 

it will never be the same .com does not yet carry a collector’s name. Clicking the page takes the viewer on a silent drive down a nighttime road, stars twinkling overhead. You’re not going anywhere in particular: the vanishing point on the horizon never transforms into an oncoming destination. This suspension of time and place speak to his treatment of the website as a medium. “The internet has its own pace,” he says. “You can flip through 1,000 images in 30 seconds, or stare at something for a day. It’s very different from television, where the pace is dictated. That’s why I make moving images that have no beginning or end. You can look at them for a few seconds, or leave them on your screen for a year.”