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Siebren Versteeg’s Infinite Touchscreen

I had a good afternoon of gallery-hopping today, checking out some of Casey Ruble’s fantastic series “Except in Struggle” and Simon Nicholas’s eerie crowds. For IP and computer experts, Siebren Versteeg‘s work raises a number of fascinating questions.

One of the pieces at Versteeg’s current show is New York Windows, a pair of large touch screens that are much like the screen of an iPod. You’re encouraged to touch them and drag the images displayed on them to the center, and then off or back on the screen. The docent for the tour said the images are generated randomly by a computer program that scrapes pictures off the web, then alters their composite display with various graffiti-like “sprayed on” pixels. One of the people in line to try it called it “art for the ADD generation”–and indeed, if any set of images bored you, you could simply drag them off and find new ones. According to the docent, the displays show merely one bit of a digital “canvas” that is thousands of yards long and wide.

Versteeg’s work reminded me of the TV shows “Talk Soup” and “Best Week Ever,” two programs that aggregate the “best-worst” moments of television and celebrity culture each week. I think of these shows as “centripetal aggregators” in an era of entertainment-option overload. Few people may settle upon the same shows given the “daily me” offered via narrowcasting and specialized niches. But the centripetal aggregators can filter out the overflow of banality and dreck now on TV and offer us glimpses of guaranteed entertainment.

Versteeg is more a centrifugal aggregator, giving us each control over the screen as we come upon it. Each visitor to the gallery may come away remembering different images–for me, a cartoon emblazoned with “all rights reserved” and a very fluffy kitten imprinted. As Heraclitus might say: “For the waking there is one world, and it is common; but sleepers turn aside each one into a world of his own.”