Your name, plus your original "web name/handle"

Luke Turner, thevoid

Your first web encounter, year etc.

I remember first getting excited about the web after seeing Apple’s eWorld (their short-lived internet subscription service) featured in one of the Mac magazines I used to pore over around the time of its launch in 1994.

I was 11 years old then, and the vision of eWorld’s online town, complete with virtual ‘Newsstand’, ‘Marketplace’ and ‘Arts & Leisure Pavilion’, immediately captured my imagination.

It was a couple of years before I was actually able to get connected to the net, but I was soon spending many a late night tinkering with my GeoCities page, setting up home in the ‘Pipeline’, one of the site's whimsically named neighbourhoods.

Alas, my initial efforts appeared nigh on identical to every other GeoCities homepage out there, boasting the obligatory array of unsightly animated GIFs, twinkling star-filled backgrounds and cheesy embedded MIDI music files.

They broke every cardinal rule of good design, but I guess that was just par for the course back then!

What our readers might recognise you most for, when you first hit the web.

I’m most recognised for my first Flash site, The Void.

I started working on the site in 1998, when I was 15 and still in school. Flash 3 had just come along, and I felt a sense of liberation upon discovering it.

The software enabled me to do away with the clunky bricks and mortar of html: the rows of tables and code that I found awkward and restrictive. Instead, I felt I could now throw anything my mind’s eye could envision onto the blank canvas of the Flash stage.

I recall frantically trying to produce as many animations as humanly possible during the software’s 30-day trial period, so that I could try and persuade my parents that purchasing a copy would be worth their while.

Thankfully, I must have made a good enough case, and from that point on, I never looked back.

I remember wanting to show some of these experiments in my art class at school, but the charcoal drawing-obsessed teacher bluntly telling me, “You can’t use computers for art!”

Shortly after this, I dropped out of education completely; a move my parents (not to mention the authorities) were not best pleased with, to say the least, but fortunately they eventually came around once I started having success with my web projects.

The Void was launched later that year, its name reflecting both a virtual and personal plunge into the abyss of the great unknown. The site was my attempt to squeeze the most elegant, cinematic experience I could through the tiny bandwidth available to early dial-up. It brought together everything I had been experimenting with up to that point, and had absorbed through my daily visits to the FlashPad bulletin board (the sole Flash forum at that time).

The community of Flash developers was very small back then, and there was a definite spirit of camaraderie, with each of us posting new innovations on a daily basis and challenging each other to better ourselves, spurred on by the possibilities that Gabo Mendoza’s groundbreaking Gabocorp site seemed to open up.

My own design style exhibited a certain degree of ambiguity, with the medicinal metaphor attempting to remedy both the bland utilitarianism of commercial sites of the day, and what I felt was the rather too alienating abstraction of early net art projects like jodi.org.

The site’s opening paper plane animation, with its ‘paper sucks, get connected’ slogan, immediately appeared to resonate with visitors (I was soon even getting requests to put it on T-shirts and mouse mats).

It acted as a clear statement of intent, and, looking back, was an early indication of what would later develop into a keen interest in the rhetoric of art manifestos.

The site also garnered a lot of attention for its innovative use of 3D, with one particular (and rather innocuous) soap box animation in my portfolio becoming the topic of fierce debate amongst the Flash community. They were initially flummoxed as to how I was able to compress this apparently complex texture-mapped element down to a mere 14 kilobytes.

There was, of course, a trick to it; a rather nifty sleight of hand that created the illusion of true 3D texture mapping without technically achieving it. It was fun to keep people guessing for a while though, before eventually coming clean (no pun intended) as to my methods.

Within a few months of the site going live, it was featured as Macromedia’s Shocked Site of the Day, and with the huge exposure this generated, along with the subsequent New Masters of Flash publication and Design Site of the Year award, the work soon began flooding in.

Your digital journey since.

I spent the next four years taking on high-profile clients such as Intel, Macromedia, Excite and UPS.

However, I knew fairly early on that I didn’t want to expand my business into a much larger entity, as I never felt entirely comfortable either operating in the commercial sector, or delegating my work to others.

It was the projects I did for more creative companies like MTV and Aardman Animations that I really relished, as they enabled me to let my imagination run free, removed from the atmosphere of a corporate world I often found somewhat stifling.

I encountered some colourful characters along the way, none more so than Kim Schmitz (now notorious as Kim Dotcom), for whom I did a bit of work early on, and who invited me to move to Germany to help develop his Monkeybank venture.

I’ve often wondered what might have ensued had I fully taken him up on the offer, and perhaps lived out some of the ludicrous and well-documented excesses of his playboy lifestyle. However, judging from his subsequent brushes with the law, it was probably for the best that I stayed put for now…

It was interesting being so young during that period, though there were surprisingly few eyelids batted when I met up with clients for the first time, since for them I must have conformed to a certain computer-whizz-kid archetype.

Having said that, I did have one particular invitation to lecture at a Welsh university that was rather sheepishly withdrawn once it emerged I was several years younger than any of the students I would be addressing.

My very first trip abroad alone, aged 16, was to Alabama (of all places), working on the development of an ambitious art portal website. The project was a little too ahead of its time, with the technology needed to fully implement the concept still a few years off.

However, the experience I had there was a life-shaping one, and further instilled in me the desire to pursue an artistic path.

I made the move down from Manchester to the bright lights of London on the day of my 20th birthday. A few months earlier, my mother had lost a long-fought battle with cancer, which affected me deeply, and the time seemed right for a change of scenery.

I felt I no longer wanted to pursue my web career, as I had a strong urge to broaden my horizons and regain some kind of artistic autonomy. Exactly what I was to do next, though, I honestly had no idea.

For the next couple of years, I turned to music, which had been my other great passion from an early age. I was able to find work as a guitarist, playing in a number of blues and soul bands around London, whilst still taking on the odd design job that piqued my interest.

This was a thoroughly invigorating period for me, being able to live purely in the moment, and experiencing the buzz of sharing a stage with some wonderfully talented musicians.

However, It was the decision to enrol at art college that really led to me finding my feet again creatively.

I began an undergraduate course at Central Saint Martins, right in the bustling heart of Soho, which proved an incredibly stimulating place to be, as I started to experiment wildly across the fields of painting, sculpture, video and performance.

This was certainly no time to rest on one’s laurels, and indeed I was initially rather reluctant to involve computers at all in my work — those dismissive words spoken by my secondary school art teacher all those years ago perhaps still resonating at some unconscious level, preventing me from having the confidence to see digital technology as a valid medium for ‘true’ art.

The group crit environment there could also prove tough, and at times rather traumatic, breaking down everything I took for granted in terms of artistic vision. However, it also afforded me the necessary time and space to reconfigure my thoughts, to build myself up again with newly focused direction and critical independence.

I eventually found myself gravitating towards photography, learning my way around the analogue world of large-format cameras, and subsequently completing a Masters in Photography at the Royal College of Art.

I was ultimately seduced by the resolution and control I discovered I could achieve by scanning 4x5 inch transparencies and manipulating them in Photoshop, at last creating images I sensed capable of articulating my ideas.

This overdue return to the digital realm felt refreshingly natural. I had, after all, been using computers to make images ever since the days of Deluxe Paint on the Amiga 500 (with its alluring bitmapped Tutankhamun cover art) at the age of 9. Finally, I had the realisation that this was my medium.

What are you up to now?

Today, I devote my time to making art and writing, engaging myself more and more with the theoretical side of things.

Over the past few years I’ve become associated with the concept of metamodernism and its surrounding discourse: an attempt to understand and theorise the emerging cultural paradigm.

This considers an age characterised by oscillations between modernist and postmodernist values, between naivety and doubt, sincerity and irony, truth and relativism, pragmatism and romanticism.

These ideas were crystallised into a short Metamodernist Manifesto, which I began writing just as I encountered the work of two Dutch theorists, Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker, who were metamodernism’s first proponents.

The ‘movement’ has since resulted in a number of publications and exhibitions, most notably a group show at Galerie Tanja Wagner in Berlin in 2012.

Here, it was a real thrill to exhibit alongside so many established artists I had long admired: Olafur Eliasson, Mona Hatoum, Ragnar Kjartansson and Yael Bartana, amongst others. I now also co-edit the Notes on Metamodernism website, which acts as an open platform for writers, artists and academics to contribute to the ongoing discourse.

There is a lot of talk in the art world at the moment about the term ‘post-internet', which encompasses the rather cynical view that digital technology has grown so ubiquitous that it has become banal — an idea that I couldn’t disagree with more.

Of course, if one seeks out banality online, one will undoubtedly find it in spades. In my experience, however, despite its many pitfalls, the net continues to surpass itself as humanity’s most potent tool for learning, innovation, creativity and democracy.

With the onset of broadband, and the capacity for instantaneous loading and HD streaming videos, I’d come to view my old web efforts as rather embarrassingly insubstantial.

Of course, nobody these days has the time to sit through a 30-second intro movie. And there is no need, with so much content out there to seize one’s attention. Conversely, however, my work away from the web is occupied with making time for art, encouraging the space necessary for its thorough contemplation.

Patience may no longer be a quality demanded of today’s web user, but I’m of the firm opinion that it mustn't be a virtue lost entirely to our culture.

My own practice is concerned with creating works that hover between worlds: between realism and artifice, the virtual and the physical, the photographic and the digital, the literal and the metaphorical. I continue to pursue a long-held romantic notion of the artist as alchemist, with mystery and enigma vital to the experience of art, exploring the void from which the elusive object of art itself might spring forth.

Though it was 15 years, and half a lifetime ago for me, it’s touching to still receive messages from people who were inspired by those early days of Flash.

I was also recently rather humbled to discover my ‘paper sucks, get connected’ slogan lending its name to a course run by the History Department of the University of Vienna, which compared those formative years of the web to the revolution sparked by the Gutenberg Press some 500 years earlier.

The reality of the present, however, is perhaps much more nuanced than I could ever have envisioned. Today, we're as much nostalgists as we are futurists. I, for one, would still rather pick up a paperback than an ebook any day of the week. Paper might not suck so emphatically after all then; I put that one down to the temerity of youth.

Nonetheless, the small part that my contemporaries and I played in helping to shape the aesthetic of the web in the late '90s, just as it was exploding into the mainstream, has instilled in me an unshakable sense of optimism, a hopeless utopianism, driven by the comforting knowledge that the future is indeed always ours to build. 


Luke Turner, Then and Now
Luke Turner, Then and Now

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