Get Lost in the Strange, Dizzying Websites of These Contemporary Artists

Kelsey Ables
Apr 16, 2019 11:39PM

Marisa Olson’s website. Courtesy of the artist.

If you’re looking to find information about artist Hayden Dunham or her silicone artworks, you won’t find it on her website. In lieu of a bio, CV, or other standard features of an artist’s website, you’ll find a curious assortment of objects (a cloud, a splatter of liquid, a crystal-like rock) floating around an empty grey plane. And though these forms resemble elements of her sculptures, Dunham didn’t create the site as an archive of her work. “There is no arrival moment where my work is immediately accessible,” Dunham said, “but more so an invitation into a never ending state of becoming.” A stark contrast to the professional, orderly pages that many artists maintain, Dunham’s website is more in line with the experience of art itself.

For many artists, a personal website serves a utilitarian purpose: It’s a place to organize digital images of their artworks; to document their past exhibitions; and to share contact details or those of their gallery representatives. Such websites often look like the virtual equivalent of a white-walled gallery—black text on a white background with a list of artwork series or exhibitions on the left and images on the right. But some artists—particularly those who grew up with the internet, and use it as a medium for their work—are skeptical of the traditional artist website model. “The internet has become this source for you to get a leg up in your career… I don’t want to groom or position myself in such a way where I seem more legitimate to someone,” explained artist Molly Soda.

Hayden Dunham’s website. Courtesy of the artist.


Frustrated with the homogeneity of readymade portfolio sites, artists like Soda resist the inclination to neatly file their work away on the web. Opting for non-linear virtual excursions instead of straightforward web templates, these artists create unruly, wacky, confusing, and sometimes downright infuriating websites that force the visitor to actively explore their work, rather than passively scroll through it. In short, for some artists, personal websites can be artworks in their own right.

Marisa Olson, a multimedia artist and founding member of internet surf club Nasty Nets, sees her own website as a “space for visual play.” With its glittery, rose-filled homepage, candy hearts that link out to her work, and a swirling constellation of GIFs that represent her personality and interests, the site recalls pimped-out Myspace profiles and early Microsoft clip art. Some might find it overwhelming, but Olson finds it relaxing. “I love to just see the objects floating around on a large scale. I know there’s a mathematical logic to the roaming,” she said of the javascript-based animations, “but it looks like they have a random, casual mind of their own.”

Molly Soda’s website. Courtesy of the artist.

Petra Cortright’s site is similarly playful and nostalgic, displaying an array of antiquated emoji that are engaged in activities from fencing to vomiting. Cortright explains that the website reflects the motifs and “iconography” that she grew up with “as a kid and teen crawling around on the net,” as well as her affinity for collecting “stupid or stupid-looking things.” She describes the website as a representation of how she “came to be.”

Soda, who creates YouTube videos in which she takes on different personas, also employs relics of a bygone digital era. A testament to her own internet upbringing—spent blogging on Xanga and LiveJournal—her website is a mess of dancing girl GIFs and pixelated “dollz.” “I just like these weird anonymous avatar people because I kind of see myself that way,” Soda explained. She hoards digital content, including a library of GIFs she’s scavenged over her years online, organized into folders with labels like “butterflies,” and “sexy dancing girls.”

Soda and Cortright don’t just cite the vintage web on their websites, they also recreate the fragmented, clunky experience of navigating the internet during its infancy.

Brenna Murphy’s website. Courtesy of the artist.

In order to get to the main page of Cortright’s site, you have to scroll through a seemingly endless line of downward-facing arrows—an experience which, intentionally or not, mimics the endless scrolling of social media feeds. Soda notes that these days, surfing the web has been replaced by scrolling, but her site is an exception. Her home page is bursting with images that link to her artworks on different web platforms, forcing the visitor to hop from site to site in a perpetual state of limbo.

“I really enjoy clutter and I really enjoy the feeling of having too many windows open or that feeling of a messy desktop,” Soda noted. She believes that contrary to the typical, consumption-oriented nature of the internet, seeing art online should be challenging and should “take some effort on the viewer’s part.” She added, “I also want people to get lost.”

Digital artist Brenna Murphy’s website, which she likens to a maze, also accomplishes this. “My pages are meant to function like a meditation labyrinth encountered in the middle of a city,” she explained. The front page of her site is a chronological grid of her three-dimensional renderings that link to her artworks—digital pieces that recall the natural world, architectural spaces, and psychedelia.

nabbteeri’s website. Courtesy of the artist.

Murphy’s work is often indistinguishable from the very structure of the website—even the grid’s frame is built with fragments of her digital artworks. Inspired by the webpage as a medium rooted in scrolling and reading text, Murphy invites the site’s viewers to see the work as sequences of information.

Conceptual artist Darren Bader shares Murphy’s interest in the information we consume online. “The www (and really our first-world everyday) is all about a plethora of information,” Bader wrote via email. “A website is a website much like a photograph would be a photograph and a miniature would be a miniature: all are representations of something, and independent of that something.”

Bader’s site—with 50+ page downloadable PDFs (authored by Bader) and meme-like photos in pop-up windows—is a representation of that vast plethora of information, minus the logic that’s normally imposed on it. He deviates standard web layouts with a design that requires a bit of problem solving. On Bader’s landing page, letters float in front of a backdrop of colorful, shifting textures. Click in and you’re led to a page with the word “lebvi,” which, you may or may not realize, is an acronym for links, email, books, video, and images. With some patience, it’s not too difficult to figure out how the site works, but an impatient visitor who is using the internet in the usual, intuitive ways, may simply stumble around in the dark. Either way, it’s not your typical browsing experience.

Marc Horowitz’s website. Courtesy of the artist.

Finnish art collective nabbteeri take more dramatic measures to interfere with the smooth experience of browsing the contemporary web: The artists covered the pages of their website with animations of crawling bugs. The duo has worked with invertebrates, and in their research, they discovered that so many insects are dying in the present that motorists are less likely to find the critters on their windshields. “Biodiversity is retreating and leaving us at peace with our cars and private little illuminating screens,” nabbteeri explained, adding that they want to interfere with “that perversely soothing privacy.”

In the place of the solitary browsing experience, multimedia artist Marc Horowitz creates an illusion of social interaction—comparing his website to a studio visit. Horowitz introduced a phone number to the site in 2017. If you want to learn more about the artworks pictured, you can call 1-833-MAR-CIVE,and listen to him chat casually (and often at great length) about the stories behind each work. “It’s not the same to just passively consume the work online and alone,” he said, “it’s about connection like IRL.”

Lu Yang’s website. Courtesy of the artist.

Cortright comments on passivity in a way that is a bit more caustic. The section of her website that ostensibly links to her work from 2011–2018 just redirects you to a let-me-google-that-for-you page. It’s “meant to be funny and a little bratty,” she explained, adding that she suspects that’s “that’s how it comes across to a visitor.”

But not every artist with an intriguing website is making cutting commentary on the internet—or even designed the website themselves. When asked about her visually arresting site, Chinese video artist Lu Yang said that she really just wanted a website to organize her work in one place. When she asked a friend to make it, she got a dizzying carnival of digital imagery, including scrolling neon text paired with cryptic icons, in front of a flashing animated background. “It’s so funny,” she wrote in an email. “I asked him to make it easier to browse.”

Cortight emphasizes that the visitor’s experience was not on her mind when she made her site. She considers it similar to the way you wouldn’t “go to someone’s house and try to go around and rearrange their furniture or complain that you don’t like the layout,” she said; “for me it’s the same thing: It’s my site and they are in my home.”

Kelsey Ables