Ripps It Up
The artist Ryder Ripps searches for honesty online.
“The only way to distinguish yourself from anyone else on the web is through honesty,” Ryder Ripps told me over dinner in Brooklyn one night. “People have the ability to choose what they want to see at any point, and because of that, you have to be more honest.” Ripps, a 25-year-old artist and internet aficionado, has a peculiar way of showing candor and transparency in his work. With characteristic directness and stylized aggression, he uses all kinds of web junk—GIFs, JPGs, Twitter memes—to try to force us to consider what underlies the graphics and applications that most of us use without thinking.
Ryder Ripps, Dump.fm visual-chat program (2009), screenshot, August 2011.
There’s a problem that nearly everyone online grapples with: How do we define ourselves in a visual environment that is mostly built on sharing other people’s stuff? Ripps solves this issue primarily through force of personality, which may be why he’s interested in that same quality in other things. He’s drawn to the loud and the aggressive.
That doesn’t just mean that he’s averse to sentimentality but that he moves quickly; he rejects ideas that don’t materialize fast enough. Ripps has a constant stream of projects and possible projects that he’s continually reevaluating. Since I met him a year and a half ago in connection with Dump .fm—an image chat room he cofounded with Scott Ostler, Tim Baker, and Stefan Moore that’s known for its frantic (and often raunchy) postings—he’s become involved in countless new things. He was recently hired as the creative director of the website for the high-end fashion magazine Visionaire, which is now in the process of building a robust online presence. In the last two months he has also started a series of love poems to his iPhone. He has started a Tumblr, two Tumblrs, seven Tumblrs, moving from idea to execution with self-assurance. (Actually, he’s only got two Tumblr and three Twitter accounts, but you get the point. He’s prolific.)
Picture from Dump.fm, August 2011.
Ryder Ripps, screenshots from a world-map interface; website in progress for M.I.A. (2011).
The aggressiveness that drives his productivity also informs his aesthetic. He’s drawn to recent Boost Mobile and Monster Energy Drink advertisements. (He asked that they be reprinted alongside this story exactly as they usually appear. Monster responded to the magazine’s request in an email: “We will not grant permission to do this.”) The phone ad, part of a largely unintelligible campaign, shows a garden hose between the letters “UN’D”; the Monster one has a guy doing a flip on his bike. “My interest in those ads comes from attraction to pubescent male aggression as a thing to attain,” Ripps tells me. He says that the Monster Energy ad has a highly emotional pull. Together, they are the visual equivalent of an adolescent male grunt—and presumably appealing to Ripps because they likely would have rankled the average Print reader.
Ryder Ripps, Monster Energy for PS1 (2011).
But Ripps indulges in their absurd excess. In the easily parodied commercial world, nothing is enough: “You can’t do a kick flip that’s too high,” he says. Ripps engages that aesthetic, and it makes its way into his own work. Log onto Facefacefacebook.com— which he created with Jacob Broms Engblom, one of many websites Ripps has made for the designer-turned-rapper M.I.A.,—and you’ll see five million floating status bars over your face. The site takes over users’ webcams and projects their images, and those of other visitors, alongside repeated graphics. Even the GIF background—a sparkling rose mirrored, Narcissus-like, in water—is tiled. It’s a video-chat-room-cum-teenager-torture- chamber; you can’t actually talk to anyone else on the site.
Ryder Ripps, Internet Therapy (2010). “I view this piece more as a document of a time in my life than an art piece. It is the result of an hour-long session I had with my 68-year-old therapist on 11/3/10. It was recorded on my iPhone without his knowledge. Compelled by the ways people talk about the internet and how time spent on it changes our social world, I bring you Internet Therapy.”
Like other websites Ripps has designed for M.I.A., few original graphics were used. “It’s very much like sampling,” Ripps says, though he doesn’t draw a clear link between the websites and her music. He does believe, however, that “authentic” identity branding relies on ideas, not original material. As such, websites like Vikileekx—which is embedded with a free, streaming album of the same name—try to find new ways to express her interests. It’s a pun on WikiLeaks, of course, but the material being “leaked” is a commercial product. The album, which comes with text trumpeting a free internet and open-source creativity, is paired with a Google Street View interface. A gold flash-drive icon is positioned at different locations on the page, each of which links to the music. Clicking the song “FCC HQ” brings you to the actual bollards outside of the agency’s bland D.C. office building; select the gold flash drive, and a hypnotic cloud of downloading status icons spills onto the screen, while what looks like a computer battery somersaults through the air as though on a trampoline. (This last image reappears from song to song.) The idiosyncratically titled “C0NSulate G3Ner4l of SRILANKA” and “NATI0NAL SECURIT¥ C0UNCIL” both use scroll bars to make a wide letter M, while the battery splits the symbol to spell the musician’s name. It’s playful stuff and generous, too, as all 12 tracks are free to anyone who lands on the site.
Ryder Ripps, Sprites Gallery, ongoing.
Ryder Ripps, Old Tools (2011), Gateway laptop, paint brush, acrylic paint, tools.
“Web design and branding is about developing contextual relationships with human beings,” Ripps says, “and being a good artist is about having a lot of friends.” It’s an idea seen not just in his M.I.A. websites but in his larger work as well. Most of us like to believe, on the contrary, that the quality of art is paramount to its evaluation; Ripps is simply interested in exposing people to it. “Art lives within society, and society by definition is social,” he says. “So if you’re not making an impact on many people, you’re not going to be a known artist. There’s the folk model, the Henry Dargers of the world who get discovered after the fact, but to me that’s really bleak and not glamorous at all.”
Ryder Ripps, Vickileekx website for M.I.A. using Google Street View (2011). Every location is embedded with a music video.
This might be why Ripps finds his new position at Visionaire so appealing. The upscale fashion magazine’s new website will fail if no one uses it; Ripps’s job is to make sure they do. Visionaire is creating an enormous archive of hand-scanned images from fashion magazines that is designed to appeal to Tumblr users. It uses a search function that privileges image uniqueness, as opposed to Google’s algorithms, which weight the quantity of incoming links. The site will also feature a “VLIKE” button, developed in collaboration with Engblom, that measures how much you like an item based on how long you hold down the mouse, adding depth to the popular but limited function. “It’s not about strength in numbers; it’s about strength in passion,” Ripps says, seemingly unaware that this quality also reflects his values. A graded “like” button will give users greater expressive control over their sharing. Ripps is banking on that being very popular. People instinctively want to express their enthusiasm in more ways than just text. I myself am evidence of this. After I discussed the site with Ripps, we began preliminary talks on creating a video series in which I would critique fashion shows and art exhibitions. I intend to exude judgment.
Ryder Ripps, 4thepeopleontheboat.com, website for M.I.A. (2010).
Ryder Ripps, LuckyPlop, user-generated web-tiling site (2011).
Ripps and I share this trait, and there’s very little we talked about that he didn’t meet with opinion. On the subject of the art world, and internet art in particular, Ripps lamented the minimalist aesthetic that’s popular today. “That online journal Triple Canopy was trying to tell me about some artist who made some screensaver that’s, like, a block of color that floats across your screen,” Ripps says, “and I was, like, ‘Have you guys fucking seen Harry Potter?’” He wasn’t dissing the publication, which he later explained he liked, but rather expressing his frustration that so much of contemporary popular culture seems off- limits to contemporary art. “I had different kinds of magic-wand effects coming at my face, and you’re trying to come at me with some primary-color block floating on the screen?”
Of course, from my perspective, if the art and design crowd doesn’t get into Harry Potter enough to steal from it (and as Ripps mentions, it’s unrealistic to expect artists to produce such high-budget projects themselves), the loss isn’t so great; 3-D movies give me a headache. That’s an honest reaction, though, one I expect Ripps might like, provided it was hurled at him.
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