It’s been over a decade since Nam June Paik, the first recognized video artist passed away – a visionary credited for discovering an entirely new medium for artists to use as composition and canvas. Paik’s legacy lives on not only in the more formal universe of establishment art, but also in spirit online and across our digital devices – where animated gifs entertain us in 3 second loops, augmented reality invigorates everyday objects, and VR promises to blur the lines between “really?!” and reality.
Yet, generally experiencing art – and how it is displayed in our homes – has remained firmly fixated in tradition, securely hung on walls and behind glass, the remnant of a static and passive non-digital existence. New York-based Electric Objects is setting out to redefine this relationship with an ambient computer designed with many of the app-era features we’ve become acquainted using daily on our devices and connecting it with the beneficial presence of art in the home. Their EO1 is a matte 23-inch, 1080p display engineered with Wi-Fi and app connectivity, powered by a modified version of Android/Chromium browser to display both static and kinetic images – an evolving platform that brings the museum to the home.
Electric Objects CEO and Founder Jake Levine and Founding Curator Zoë Salditch share with us their thoughts about the state of art within a digital society, the challenges of developing the EO1, and some of their favorite current artists exploring the medium of internet art.
What was the impetus for launching Electric Objects?
Jake Levine, Co-founder and CEO: We set out to investigate two questions: how computing will ultimately fade into the fabric of our environments, and how we can use that technology to support artistic expression in the physical world.
I believe in the future screens won’t demand so much from us, a future home in which computing disappears into our environments. I am interested in a future of computing that is passive, quiet, helpful, and sometimes beautiful without being distracting, without filling us with anxiety, making us feel overwhelmed.
There’s an amazing quotation from Mark Weiser, former Head of Xerox Parc:
There is more information available at our fingertips during a walk in the woods than in any computer system, yet people find a walk among trees relaxing and computers frustrating.
Electric Objects is designed to explore that fundamental tension.
What do you believe is currently absent in how we experience art today?
JL: So much of what’s wrong with the art world — lack of access, lack of information, economics built on scarcity and exclusivity — is in conflict with the values of the internet — access, distribution, conversation. What if we could bring the internet and computing to bear on the experience of discovering, buying, and enjoying art in the home? What would that offer artists and art fans, and art itself?
Thanks to the internet, there is more art being created, shared, and enjoyed today than ever before. Artists are able to connect in new ways, find new audiences, and art lovers are able to enjoy more art than ever before. The magnitude of this transformation cannot be overstated, and our goal at Electric Objects, is to support the transition of that experience into the home.
Could you tell us about the decision to make the EO1 a rectilinear vertical-oriented display?
JL: As a first principle, EO1 was designed to disappear (to reference that same Weiser essay). It was designed to fade into the background of the home. Most screens and computers are designed to maximize attention, EO1 is designed to minimize it. The second principle was that we didn’t want it to feel like the other screens in our lives — the orientation is portrait, the size is bigger than an iPad, smaller than a TV. The third principle is access and affordability. We wanted to select a panel and form factor that real people could afford.
What do you believe are the fundamental differences in experiencing artwork on a screen vs. a canvas?
JL: A canvas can’t be connected to the internet, it can’t reflect our changing sensibilities, and paintings can’t move.
After living with the EO1 I’ve noticed something interesting: when describing the EO1 to friends verbally, the response was generally tepid. But when people came over and experienced the art in person – especially while displaying animated pieces – there was a genuine and enthusiastic curiosity, followed by excited inquiries of, “tell about this?!”
Has there been an inherent challenge of marketing something that could be first dismissed as an oversized digital photo display of the past or even our smartphones and tablets of today?
JL: The challenge comes from our expectations of screens generally, not just one category of screens (digital photo frames). We expect screens to overwhelm us — with options, features, buttons, remote controls. With EO1, we’ve stripped down the screen to its essentials, and put the focus on the art and the artist — on what it feels like to live with a work of art, instead of a piece of technology.
When we encounter a screen that inspires us, that serves creative expression above all else, we find it surprising! And if we can convince you to suspend your expectations for just a moment, we can usually convince you that it can have a meaningful impact on your life.
So, you imagine the typical EO1 customer as someone who is…?
JL: Electric Objects is for people who care about how their home feels, and who see their walls as opportunities to express themselves, to say something. It’s for those of us who value the role that art plays in our lives, and are looking for a better way to connect with it. We imagine people who want to enjoy an incredible collection of art without breaking the bank, who love art, but who might struggle to find ways to bring art home. The art on our walls should reflect who you are, what you want to say, what you want to feel — it should be as dynamic as we are.
The EO1 can be scheduled to automatically turn on and off according to user preference. What is the estimated annual energy cost related to daily use?
JL: EO1 consumes as much energy as your average household light bulb. We’ve equipped it with Sleep Mode functionality, so it can easily adjust to your schedule, without using unnecessary energy.
Could you describe the selection process for spotlighting artists and designers via the Electric Objects app and website?
Zoë Salditch, Founding Curator: We commission digital art that takes advantage of the hardware, software and unique context that Electric Objects provides. We love introducing our audience to new and emerging art practices — that means JPGs, GIFs, and MP4s, but also digital sculptures, 3D animations, generative websites and more.
We’ve done collections with artists like Bjork, who reimagined graphics from her Lionsong video to create a surreal, mesmerizing collection of video loops for EO1, or Zach Gage, who created a website that functions like a living, breathing digital sculpture, taking in data every day that will determine what is displayed.
We believe internet art and digital aesthetics – the new forms of expression enabled by computing and the internet – will play an important role in the future of our culture. From a historical standpoint, art objects reflect the time in which they are created, make use of contemporary tools, and reference current discourse. Today those tools are computers and the network, and the topic of conversation is the role of technology in society.
By holding open calls, we find artists and designers from around the world who are interesting in exploring this new platform together.
I’ve been using an EO1 for awhile now and I noticed the rollout of new or refined features. Playlists are my favorite feature, living somewhere between a screensaver and an art gallery delivered directly onto my wall. My next project is to arrange them by mood/style. What’s in store for current and future users?
JL: Recently, we launched Museums — an initiative in which we work with museums and institutions like the Getty, LACMA, National Gallery of Art, and the Rijksmuseum (with more soon) to make their collections available on the EO1. We also recently built Playlists, which allows users to curate and share their own collections of art.
In addition to new collections of original art every week (17,000 artworks and counting), we are working on more ways to discover new art and artists in the app, more control over the EO display on your wall, and tools for artists to create more dynamic art.
Current favorite artists and designers we should keep an eye out for?
ZS: We’ve been lucky enough to commission collections from some of our favorite new artists – people like Evander Baston, whose collection was influenced by geo-engineering, geo-data and satellite imagery and Dina Kelberman, who builds handmade sculptures in order to create looping, hypnotic scenes. We’re also loving Andrea Wolf’s collection, in which she creates art using a custom-made pixel sorting algorithm.
A special thanks to Jake Levine and Zoë Salditch. The Electric Objects EO1 is available today for $299 in white or black frame finish.