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Web Center Features
Shred the Web
By Joe Shepter
He's been accused of being a visionary, indicted as a master of the Web, and even charged with inventing a new art form, but Mark Napier pleads not guilty. "I respond to technology," he says.

Modesty comes naturally to a guy who earns a living at a company called The Loan Pricing Corporation. But the moment the workday ends, Napier trades in his white collar for a black turtleneck, and emerges as one of the world's best known Web artists. His medium is the Net, where he creates applications that subvert the normal process of surfing into haunting HTML hallucinations.

Take the Shredder, for example. Visitors to Napier's online installation simply type the URL of their choice into Shredder's Location dialog box and wait while the site's PERL-scripted filter deconstructs their intended destination. Suddenly text chokes the screen; shattered JPEG images dance in a cascade of code and color; a mangled ad banner blinks from beneath the rubble; chaos becomes the definition of order - and an unexpected aesthetic emerges. After the metamorphosis, links remain live, allowing you to actually surf through the digital debris. Similar to the Shredder is Riot, which takes the last three Web pages entered into it and scrambles them into a digital egg salad.

Video Date
Jackson Pollock goes digital...this collage sports shredded pages and a square from Napier's "Video Date."
Napier earned a BFA in Fine Arts at the Rochester Institute of Technology. After that, he spent nearly ten years painting, admittedly with little success. Along the way, he supported his family by computer work, including a lot of sophisticated programming. "I have a good sense of technology and a good sense of art as well," he says. "It's not common that you get both of those under one skull."

Napier's first notable foray into digital art came when he distorted images of Barbie using Photoshop filters and posted them on his Web site. Mattel responded issuing him a cease-and-desist order, reminding him that Barbie was an "extraordinarily valuable" icon. No problem. Napier took out the recognizable images and changed the spelling to $arbie. "It conformed with the letter of the law," he notes wryly.

Welcome to Potatoland
Whether you want to shred, riot, or recycle, the choice is yours at
His doll days behind him, Napier next set his sights on interactivity with an experiment he describes as a Digital Landfill. The Landfill lets you cut and paste e-mail, HTML files, and even Flash animations into a Web site. You can then watch a server-side program write other layers over them until they compost and decay into a jumbled mass of text and objects.

Like many successful avant garde artists, Napier is a walking sound byte when he's talking about his art: "Making art about the medium is the most vital thing," he says, "It ends up being a dialogue with the technology and with how people use the technology."

Most of Napier's work can be perused at his site. His newer pieces focus on multi-user art, and he's planning more interactive, collage-style exhibits and applications.

Not surprisingly, the Web's best-known shredder doesn't surf at all. "I sometimes use the Web for research," he says, "but that's about it." And that seems a good thing, considering what Napier applications do to a Web page once they get a hold of one. editor Joe Shepter has been shredding the Web since 1999.

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