Artist’s Notebook:
Greg Leuch

ANIMAL’s feature Artist’s Notebook asks artists to show us their original “idea sketch” next to a finished piece. This week, Greg Leuch talks about WhatColor.IsTheInter.net, presented with support from Eyebeam Art+Technology Center.

It sounds cliché, but WhatColor.IsTheInter.net began in the shower sometime in mid-November 2012. I forget exactly what triggered the thought process, but I remember pondering how would I respond if someone asked me, ‘What is the Internet?’ How do you describe millions of miles of network cables, servers, code, data, and pixels? How do you even describe more than what they can see – pixels and pixels put together to form text and images. How can one describe sensory details about the Internet? What color could it be?

‘AH-HA!’ If I can capture pixel information about a single web page, what could I do if I captured thousands or millions of web pages? I applied with this idea for a spring residency at Eyebeam, proposing a system to crawl and process web pages and represent through a web site and API.

Three months later, I was accepted as a resident, where I worked on this and a few other projects. Most of the time was spent building out a web crawling algorithm that finds, screenshots, and processes pixel and metadata for individual pages. It is available open-source for those that would love to nerd over the system built in Ruby, Redis, and MySQL. The results to date are over 1.2 million pages scraped with an average color of #CDCDCD (light grey).

The difficulty was not the algorithm system, but the message and presentation. How can you showcase the enormity of the Internet, the database of information collected, and the “final” color result?

Early on, it began as a web site and a Twitter account (@InternetColor), showcasing the current status for the curious-minded. But there needed to be something more, a way for people to bask in the pixel’s color. A beta version of this was created as a simple light fixture at the FAT Gold Europe show at the MU in Eindhoven, Netherlands. The system, comprised of an Arduino, a set of RGB LEDs, a light fixture, and an Internet connection to the database, shined gloriously near a cardboard cutout of Justin Bieber. But it failed to connect the viewer to how this system collected millions of web pages, crunching through more than 3 trillion pixels, just to display a single hexadecimal color code.

After seeing some amazing light sculptures at Eindhoven’s GLOW festival and inspired by Aram Bartholl’s various LED Internet signs, literalness is the best, most direct method for display. For the Eyebeam 2014 Annual Showcase, I sourced the manufacturing of the sign (entirely through the Internet—obviously).

After a month of back and forth emails crossing halfway around the world (and a block from where I previously lived in Shenzhen), I was finally received the sign.

Immediately, like a child playing with Legos, connected it to the beta version Arduino as displayed at MU.

After some manufacturing problems and dealing with wisps of acridic smoke from burned out LEDs that I was forced to hastily replace, the gallery at Eyebeam finally illuminated with the pixel colors from the database. Each LED blinked on and off, representing the latest page scraped, causing the entire sign to overpower the viewer with an averaged color of the Internet.

Shoutouts to Jiashan Wu for being always awesome, Becky Stern for last minute help, and FAT Lab and FAT friends! With support from Eyebeam.

Codebase: Github

(Photo: Christine Butler, Greg Leuch)

Previous Artist’s Notebook selects:

Artist’s Notebook: Brenna Murphy
Artist’s Notebook: Jonathan Monaghan
Artist’s Notebook: Rafaël Rozendaal
Artist’s Notebook: Kate Torn
Artist’s Notebook: Adam Ferriss
Artist’s Notebook: Andrew Ohanesian
Artist’s Notebook: Saoirse Wall
Artist’s Notebook: Melissa F. Clarke
Artist’s Notebook: Tristan Perich
Artist’s Notebook: Addie Wagenknecht
Artist’s Notebook: Anthony Antonellis
Artist’s Notebook: Evan Roth