Who would think that a device for displaying digital art from the internet is needed? We can access all that from our smartphones, tablets, laptops and, of course, desktops. But the jumble of information on the internet does not allow for enough focus on works of art, not even digital art. Therefore former Digg general manager Jake Levine felt a need for digital art to have its own media device. The device? A picture frame. One with a computer screen, of course. This isn’t one of those framed screens that hold an animated giff or two, or display slide shows of friends and family’s photos. This frame accesses art from the internet like our smartphones, desktops and other computer devices do with online information in general and so is limitless to what it can display. This screen is called the EO1. It was designed by Levine himself with the help of a team at his startup, Electric Objects. Not only does it access the internet, but it also serves as a filter for digital art and the community surrounding it.
Like what the early personal computer hobbyists and innovators wanted to do with information, Levine wants to do the same with art (digital art, at least): make it free. He wants to make it free from the limitations of other devices, mainly mobile and portable. According to Electric Objects’ company website, “There’s more art on the Internet than in every gallery and museum on Earth. But many of these beautiful objects are . . . trapped inside of devices like our phones, our tablets, our laptops . . . So we wanted to make a new way to bring art from the Internet into your home.” And so this is done with the EO1.
Levine wanted to make a device that would be rid of all the conflicting and distracting information of the internet that often drowns out the main content of a website, in this case digital art. It’s not just the commercial or other outside information that shows up on art platforms such as Flickr and DeviantArt that cause the distractions, but, ironically, the variety of different artists’ works. On these platforms, normally when we view a work the thumbprints of other works are displayed in the margins of the screen. Levine’s EO1 is made to display individual pieces of art one at a time, at the user’s will, similarly to the way a single traditional painting is displayed in a frame.
This manner of displaying art is based on Levine’s desire to bring back the thoughtfulness and contemplation in viewing a work. He explains on Electric Objects' blog “that in 2014 our [Electric Objects’] idea of an exploration is a return to what for centuries has been the norm: stillness, silence, contemplation.” When we explore the internet, we come across a multitude of information, including images, either simultaneously or every few seconds like we pass locations and landmarks in our cars. Levine wants to slow the digital journey down for online art. The EO1 does that for art lovers.
Not only is the EO1 made to display art one piece at a time, but it’s made to do so in the manner of a traditional picture frame in one’s home. As much as it is designed to focus on a given piece, it is also “designed to fade into the background, like a photograph or painting,” according to the device’s Kickstarter campaign page. “It becomes a part of your home, affording you the chance to enjoy the Internet at a slower, more considered pace”.
These are some of the features the campaign page lists that make the EO1 compatible for a home environment: absence of alert messages, avatars, slideshows, feeds and docks; matte finish and minimal brightness; a thin unobstrusive cord; a design that makes it easy to hang on a wall or set on a stand (the stand is sold separately). To make it even more home friendly, the device is made independent of a mouse and keyboard, as described at Kickstarter. The art work can be changed remotely from a smartphone because Electric Objects’ “web and mobile applications make it easy to discover, share, and display beautiful objects from around the Internet.”
Currently, the EO1 is at the prototype-test stage. While its funding campaign at Kickstarter is running, a handful of artists, designers and technologists are trying it out in their own homes and offices, according to Electric Objects’ blog. However, “the final hardware will support not only static images but also video pieces, WebGL animations, and potentially even data-driven visualizations and other generative works”, says Kyle Vanhemert of Wired.com. So perhaps there’s the possibility of the future derivations of the device replacing TV screens as a main in-home source of video entertainment. In order to accommodate television and film, though, these derivations would have to be based on the horizontal picture frame rather than the portrait one EO1 is based on. But such derivations would defeat the purpose of the original EO1, wouldn’t it?
Levine is also trying to build a community around the digital art the device accesses, according to Vanhemert. He wants to use “the Electric Objects website and mobile apps to serve as a sort of community and storefront for digital art,” Vanhemert says. Vanhemert also says that users of the screen can display images from the web for free but the platform will also provide a marketplace that allows artists to sell their work.
If EO1 succeeds on the market it could become the next revolution in technology since the iPod. If that happens then its storefront would probably be the “iTunes” of art. At the very least, it would become a work of art within itself: a work of cyber art to hang among the canvass paintings and prints in one’s home.
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