HIDDEN TEXT | HIDDEN CODE
Jessica Loseby's Code Scares Me
, art that uses the Internet as its primary medium or platform, offers examples of how code and words interact with one another and how reading both code and text can add to the overall richness of a work. An example of this is illustrated in Jessica Loseby
's Code Scares Me
. In this Flash-based animation, the text If I could only get rid of this darkness I could see you and you could see me
is seemingly hidden behind multiple layers of HTML code which hover overtop of the written text. In a reversal of the typical computer user experience, HTML code is not hidden but visible on the surface of the computer screen while the written text is veiled behind the code. As Loseby writes, "as an artist who is fascinated by words, the prospect of a language that is both hidden and alien to me haunts my work on the net. Like most prejudices, it is born out of fear. I am afraid of what lies buried within the under text" (Loseby, 1). To Loseby, the fear of invisible and unknowable code is disturbing because it is "initially understandable only in terms of impenetrable darkness" (Raley, 2002, 2). One could choose to read code to better understand computer processes, but most people do not find it necessary to learn how to read code. As such, when code comes to the surface, whether as an annoying error page or as unintelligible HTML, one cannot help but feel a sense of fear or frustration. To many who cannot read code, it is something foreign and better left hidden behind a computer interface. Loseby does, however, give us the tools to see past the HTML. As she writes, "through interactivity with the code itself, the 'real' dialogue can begin and the darkness loses its potency" (1). In the bottom corner of the user's screen, Loseby has provided Zoom In and Zoom Out buttons which allow the user to view past the distraction of the HTML and easily read the text If I could only get ride of this darkness I could see you and you could see me
. However, with the right tools, one can easily interact with the code without needing such shortcuts.
Someone who is comfortable reading basic HTML may be drawn to reading the hovering code in Loseby's work before trying to decipher the written text, or make use of the Zoom buttons. While the code does hover quickly across the screen, most experienced web-developers may be alarmed by the excessive overuse of font tags (the code that governs the size, style and color of the text), perhaps noticing the repetition of the Hex value #666666, which makes the written text a Medium Grey (60% black). In modern popular culture, the number 666 has become one of the most widely recognized symbols associated with Satan or the Anti-Christ, known simply as the Number of the Beast. Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia
refers to the fear of this number. This fear helps explain Loseby's use of the hex value #666666, as the excessive reference to the number on the surface layer of the screen emphasizes the fear Loseby equates to code. Using a monochromatic color scheme (variations in lightness and saturation of a single color), a lighter grey hex value of #7F7F7F or a darker grey hex value of #4C4C4C could have worked just as well to control the color of the surface text. However, these non-descript color values, especially to someone who does not read code, would not have embodied the same instant symbolism as #666666, nor would they have been as effective as a tool for showcasing why code is scary. Using the hex value #666666 is not the only example of how Loseby went out of her way to make her code more "scary" than it needed to be. After allowing the animation to loop a few times, one can piece together the sentence If I could only get ride of this darkness I could see you and you could see me
by reading between the font tags within the HTML?thus never having to use the Zoom In or Out buttons to decipher the written text. The hidden text in Loseby's work could have easily been constructed with a fraction of the HTML used. However, that would not make the HTML seem quite as intimidating, nor would it cover as much surface area when a user Zooms Out, thus achieving less of the effect intended by the artist.
Personally, as a developer, one of first things I did when I watched this animation was check the web page's source code using my web-browser. This is not the code that Loseby has made visible on the screen; rather, it is the underlying code that governs how the web page is to be viewed in a browser. Within the source code, I noticed that the web page has its background color set with a hex value of #000000 (100% Black). If code is initially seen as something that inhabits, as Rita Raley
writes, "impenetrable darkness," upon further examination we see that it is the 100% Black (background-color: #000000) that brings the text to light (2002,2). Ironically, with a lighter colored background, say a heck value of #FFFFFF (100% white), the Medium Grey text would be much more difficult to read and fade into the background. Like Ed Ruscha's painting, words would become "progressively light and insubstantial ... disappearing into space" (Richards, 90). The black background allows for enough contrast for the words to be easily read. Whether or not Loseby intended viewers to read the source code of her work, it remains another way one can interact with the code-allowing code's darkness to lose its potency.
Web-developers may have a completely different experience examining Loseby's work than someone with no coding experience. "There is something of an artist in all of us, likewise there is something of an engineer in every artist," writes Mark Dougherty
(76). In this regard, depending on the type of person who views Loseby's work, some may spend more time trying to read the code while others may simply try to read the text. The perspective that is the more privileged of the two is subject for debate. Even Loseby's choice of title-Code Scares Me
-may seem ironic to some. To most developers who are taught to write code parsimoniously (i.e., with as few lines as possible), Loseby's overly excessive use of HTML may seem rather humorous, even a bit scary. Undoubtedly such excessive use of font tags could easily warrant a failing grade in many entry-level HTML courses. For some, a more fitting title may be sloppy code scares me
. Whether it is feared or understood, code is, as Adrian Mackenzie
writes, "something whose visibility or readability is questionable from different angles" (26). Approaching Loseby's work from the perspective of both an artist and a coder allows one to fully realize the thought that went into the project and how code and text influence and interact with one another.