Nick Gentry in Creative Review

64 Bits: A trip down www.memory.lane

Currently on show at Here East in London, 64 Bits celebrates 64 seminal moments in the history of the web, including working versions of the first website and first search engine plus the work of digital pioneers such as Susan Kare, Jodi and Hi-ReS!

By Patrick Burgoyne

CD-Rom artwork by Nick Gentry

CD-Rom artwork by Nick Gentry

Across 64 vintage computers, including a Next PC, the 20th anniversary Mac and just about every iMac ever brought out, 64 Bits takes the visitor through some of the most important moments in the history of the web. The first browser, Archie – the first search engine (created by Barbados-born Alan Emtage) – PizzaNet (the first site to allow a customer to order a pizza for home delivery) and word.com (the first online multimedia publication) all working on the tiny, lo-res screens they originally ran on.

But as well as showcasing important technological and commercial developments, 64 Bits is also a treasure trove of digital creativity. Jodi, Daniel Brown, Head, eBoy, Han Hoogerbrugge, Deepend, Digit, Good Technology, Soda, Digit, Lateral, Hi-ReS! – names that, in the mid-to-late 90s, we seemed to be writing about every month in CR (and featuring on our CD-Rom) all have work in the show. It’s wonderful to rediscover gems such as Hi-ReS!’s Requiem for a Dream site, Yoshi Sodeoka’s Sissyfight game, Daniel Brown’s Noodlebox experiments  or the anarchic madness of jodi.org. This was a period of great experimentation online – a time of freedom, optimism and playfulness. It’s both hugely enjoyable, and very valuable to see it all again here.

64 Bits is the work of Jim Boulton, currently Digital Director of Aesop Agency, which has supported the show. Boulton was behind one of the UK’s earliest web start-ups, Large Design and also wrote 100 Ideas that Changed the Web. Boulton is also behind the Digital Archeology project “that seeks to document the formative years of digital culture and raise the profile of digital preservation”.

“Many pioneering examples of digital creativity from our recent digital past can no longer be seen. Files have been lost or stored on redundant media. People have passed away. Companies have gone out of business. Stories have been lost,” he says. “64 Bits explores these forgotten roots and offers alternate histories.”

A key part of the exhibition is an open-door digital media archiving service, supported by the British Library, where artists and designers can bring in obsolete media for the curating team to migrate to a modern format. Where appropriate, the excavated work will be exhibited as part of the exhibition.

To take advantage of this service, any creatives with historic artwork stored on floppy discs, CDs, Zip discs or other super discs, can take them in to 64 Bits, at Here East in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, on Saturday April 8.

64 Bits is open from 12-6pm daily at The Press Centre, Here East, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London E20 3BS, until April 21