Venster

By Harm, published 20 days ago

After my graduation from art school in 2006 – when one couldn't make money with digital art yet – I worked as a web developer for various smaller and larger startups.

My task was to receive designs and turn them into dynamic websites, populated with text and images from awkward content management systems.

At that time, one of the greatest virtues expected from me, was that the designs would be translated in a ‘pixel perfect’ manner, and they should display identically regardless of the browser used.

Days were spent making sure the forms and interactions also worked on the incompatible Microsoft Internet Explorer, and that the webpages would look and behave the same on that abomination of a browser.

When making digital art, or more specifically, art that is experienced using a web browser, the same expectations of uniformity across browsers and platforms seem to prevail. My artworks, which often use quite demanding GPU accelerated graphics, or obscure quirks, should also run on the old iPad of my parents with its cracked glass touch surface.

My new Venster NFT collection depends heavily on features offered by the Scalable Vector Graphics standard (SVG), an open standard developed by the World Wide Web Consortium. Even though this standard has been around since 1999, it became clear to me that my admittedly unorthodox use of this declarative graphics language is still interpreted quite differently across contemporary web browsers.

I noticed that now, in 2024, these various browser implementations (such as Chrome, Firefox and Safari) just have different opinions about how SVG should render, even when I correctly adhere to the documented standard. Perhaps the guidelines for the rendering of visual aesthetics are more complex than what crystallized in the specification, and they leave space for interpretation?

I considered stretching my Solidity and SVG programming skills further, and restructure the graphic document, in order to make the artwork render identical on all browsers, but it required a lot more on-chain calculations, and as the source for the artworks is calculated by Solidity code, rendering would quickly run out of gas and not display anything at all.

This led me to contemplate a larger question: is it actually my responsibility as artist to adhere to the expectations of the off-chain display software stack, such as your browser, your operating system, your screen size? Should it be responsive to all monitor aspect ratios? Should it display differently when your computer is set to “dark mode”? Am I only allowed to use features that render the same on all devices and browsers, or could I as artist prescribe the requirements for ideal display?

I don’t know.

But what I did find hugely fascinating was to view one single artwork in different browsers and see it render differently. In particular the mixing of nested blending modes, and the use of filters were interpreted in various interesting ways. Sometimes, the GPU even started to glitch with red pixel noise (at least on my computer), so I decided to deem the varying SVG interpretations a feature of the artwork.

Over time, browsers are of course still developing. Standards might (hopefully) not change, but their interpretation and support do. Long term, we cannot know which standards will remain commonly used, and which ones will be forgotten. JPG was amazing when invented, and still widely supported, but has been superseded by newer image formats in quality and compression efficacy. Will support for SVG cease at some point in the future, as it happened to Macromedia Flash not too long ago?

I invite you to watch the 100 Venster tokens on all your devices, browsers, and operating systems. Perhaps there is not one single canonical rendering, but all are subjective temporal performances of one and the same score.