Journal #10 – ENGL 335

mar 25/18 • a collage made of code

When we weren’t worried about mobile devices and responsive design, websites used to look more like collages. The cool ones, anyways. Webmasters weren’t afraid to layer elements, or put them in fixed positions on the page. I love this style not only because it more closely resembles the kind of cut-and-paste art style I’m so fond of when working with paper, but also because it allows for the comparison and juxtaposition of images and text in engaging ways.

J.R. Carpenter’s The Gathering Cloud is an example of just that, and she uses both the collage and early web aesthetic intentionally. After looking at the piece in both it’s web and print* form (hey, look, it’s a differential text!), I saw how much more affecting the comparisons could be in their digital form. For example, on Plate No. 1, the weight of a cumulus cloud is compared to the weight of one hundred elephants. Seeing the elephants appear and gradually take over the page is more effective than simply seeing them displayed next to the text that makes the comparison. The digital platform allows Carpenter to make a familiar print style dynamic.

The HTML/CSS used to construct the pages is simple–fixed positioning and custom tooltips for the text, gifs for the animated backgrounds, and hyperlinks to move from one page to the next. Carpenter says she likes to keep her work “as lo-fi as possible” and is influenced by early web aesthetics.

The Gathering Cloud draws our attention to the environmental impact of cloud computing by digging into the metaphor of the cloud; the clouds in the sky are not as immaterial as we might think, weighing as much as 100 elephants, and “the cloud” that stores our data is comprised of servers that need enormous amounts of energy. Carpenter is showing us the true form behind something we take for granted. You could say the same thing about the code used to build The Gathering Cloud–we take it for granted, but it’s an essential part of our web experience.

Here’s a quote from Carpenter about learning to write code:

“It’s unreasonable to expect everyone to learn to write code in the same way it’s unreasonable to expect everyone to write novels. But everyone should be able to read code on some basic level, or, at the very least, to be aware that the code is there, behind the screen, underwriting our daily thoughts and actions.”

*”print” here meaning, a static page in magazine I viewed as a PDF.


J.R. Carpenter, The Gathering Cloud and Hack Circus 12 

Neon Speaks with JR Carpenter


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