Welcome to my Homey Page:
Seven Years of Paperrad.org
"Welcome to My Homey Page: Seven Years of Paper Rad" presents seven individual home pages from paperrad.org, each one taken from a year in the website's life, 2001-08. This interface, which provides a glimpse into the prolific production of the artist collective Paper Rad, was produced by Rhizome for the New Museum's First Look program. The project is presented in conjunction with Rhizome's preservation of the Paper Rad website in their online archive, the ArtBase, which will launch November 28, 2012.
Paper Rad's video Welcome to My Homey Page (2003) opens onto a tweenage girl sitting in front of a late '80s desktop computer. In an excited, conspiratorial tone, she announces that she's about to hit "the F25 key" implying that the viewer should come along for whatever ride this might produce. We watch as one deft keystroke unleashes a torrent of animation, with skulls, zombies, distended eyeballs, and My Little Pony clones overwhelming the screen, pulsating and shape-shifting in a neon-colored cartoon cosmos. This bold, new F25-induced world was Paper Rad, a group made of productive contradictions: their animated world was, at once, both totally original and also clearly hacked out of American pop culture; their approach was both ironic and utterly sincere; and, despite being punk in ethos, their production, which unfolded across multiple registers from VHS tapes, to music shows, to T-shirts, to art installations, to 'zines, to their website, also made them a powerful brand. One of the most important collectives to emerge in the last decade, Paper Rad exploded at the edge of a cultural time zone—we could call it pre-social web—when subculture was still palpable and also clearly becoming impossible to sustain.
Paper Rad emerged in the early '00s within a community dedicated to DIY art practice that had strong roots in Providence, as well as cities like Detroit, Baltimore, Boston, and towns in Western Massachusetts, where noise music was accompanied by the production of 'zines, art, and the formation of independent spaces. Paper Rad member Jacob Ciocci remembers feeling that artists in these communities were taking their commitment to their work past a studio practice and past a lifestyle to fully "live in their art" both metaphorically and literally, as in a space like Fort Thunder in Providence where residents lived, worked, and played shows. This immersion became the methodology of Paper Rad. Starting out as a group of six (before three members split off to form the group Dear Raindrop), they began making 'zines, comics, installations, and music, with their website beginning as just one auxiliary part of their activity and becoming more central as it drew more attention.
"Welcome to My Homey Page" only alludes to the dynamism of the Paper Rad website. Here we see it evolving in yearly periods but it was changed daily, continually layered with new content or reorganized spatially. Amid this constant development, there are a few distinguishing elements to the website that endured throughout its seven-year life. First, it carried over the ethos and aesthetics of the punk culture from which it emerged; paperrad.org was not an easy-to-navigate online artist's CV, but functioned more like a maze of found, remixed, and original content. Visitors were only able track the identities of participating members through deep research, and this lent the site a mysterious and open feel, as if Paper Rad could be as small as one person or as boundless as a thriving subculture. Furthermore, they connected this DIY aesthetic—its quick and unschooled creation and appropriation of visual forms—to the amateur web, i.e., the culture created by non-artists online. Today, the "amateur" or "user-generated" web is seemingly endless, and can be described as encompassing Tumblr or Pinterest pages, YouTube videos or activist tweets. In 2001, it meant animated gifs, "under construction" signs, stars, skulls—as Olia Lialina put it "the first signs of creative expression flowering online." Paper Rad made lateral links between the nascent digital culture of the web and TV, particularly children's programming in the '80s and '90s. This straddling of different pop cultural realms—television and the internet, mass media and amateur media—became a trademark of the group, as did a disregard for medium specificity. The Paper Rad website, presenting recycled cartoon characters like Gumby in Flash animation sagas, was evidence of the eroding boundaries between media we are so familiar with today.
A second distinguishing factor related to paperrad.org was that, quite simply (and like so much successful animation), it created its own world. However diverse the cartoon characters were, they were all clearly part of a Paper Rad lexicon that affected originality through intense re-versioning. Ciocci writes: "Corporate companies make this garbage and then send it out into the world, and then culture makes sense of it and uses it productively." His comment belies a certain cynicism, shared by the group, towards child-centered cartooning, a sentiment that catalyzed dozens of new characters or versions of pre-existing ones. Among them, we have "Tux Dog," a crime-fighting beagle with a top hat, who Paper Rad made open source in 2004, "little dude" a generic little boy "lost on an epic quest" always seen donning a Dracula cape, "Molly the Pony" a sort of psychedelic re-envisioning of the My Little Pony toy brand, "The Pig," a hybrid of Miss Piggy with other species, and a replica of Gumby, altered only by the strange, new context he was inhabiting. Sometimes originating in the 'zines Paper Rad made, these characters were featured in video animations on the website or within wild collages that visitors could scroll through. Characters and collages were always being mapped across media. A defining feature of Paper Rad as a collective whole is the easy way they translated across contexts: 'zines became digital files became books. The artistic appeal of their world was empowered by the energetic ways it was generated.
Thanks to Rhizome's preservation efforts, the Paper Rad website will be back online, on November 28, 2012—free and available for the public to view. These pages, and the entire site, feel both in and out of time—representative of one of the most forerunning approaches to art-making in the last decade while also perfectly at home in the anarchic, hybridized media terrain of today.
—Lauren Cornell, Curator of 2015 Triennial, Digital Projects and Museum as Hub, New Museum