Splash art originated in the 1940s in comics, where the term referred to a full page of visuals at the front of a book. Pages were designed to engage the reader's imagination along the lines of the comic's broader concept, while standing independent from the narrative. In the late 1990s, when the widespread use of the application Flash opened up new possibilities for animation and interactive media, the idea of the splash page migrated to web design. Online splash art brought visual excitement to a webpage when low modem speeds made it impractical to post large or moving images amid a site's textual content.
Rhizome introduced splash pages to its web site in 1998 in order to display artwork with greater immediacy. Splash art occupied the entire browser window, and the works were not indexed by prefaces, links, and thumbnails as art usually was on Rhizome and other sites. When the artwork appeared, the only clue to its authorship was in an extension of Rhizome's URL, a structural necessity that also served a community-building function. Not only did the splash project create a more direct platform for showcasing work, it also defined a circle of artists by connecting their name to Rhizome's in the location bar and forging a direct bond between their art and Rhizome's home page.
In its early years, Rhizome's activity was largely improvisatory, and the splash projects development was informal and irregular. Staff members would request a splash page from an artist as they became interested in his or her work; they also fielded unsolicited submissions. Commissioned artists were free to submit whatever they wanted, and the approaches varied widely. Some artists repurposed existing works, simply modifying the code to include a link to Rhizome's home page. Others interpreted the task as an exercise in branding the organization, and they remixed Rhizome's logo or otherwise played with the letters in its name. Some artists took the opportunity to further explore issues central to their work, while others riffed on the stereotypical role of the splash page as a quick-moving piece of eye candy. Design companies were solicited as well as artists, a fact that reflects the relatively small size of the community of people doing interesting visual work on the internet ten years ago. With the breadth of practices and interests it represents, "Splashback" is more than an institution's navel-gazing look at its own history; it is a snapshot of online visual culture around the turn of the millennium.
Rhizome discontinued the use of splash pages in 2002. As the staff implemented a new design for the site, they decided the splash pages were an unnecessary obstacle to reaching the home page—a choice in tune with the zeitgeist as pop-up functionality plagued the web. But the recent move to organize and present this piece of Rhizome's past in "Splashback" was made with the awareness that the original reason behind the splash project—the desire to put the art up front—is an impulse that continues to shape Rhizome's presence online today.