William Wolfgang Wunderbar is an internet art enigma. No one knows this artist’s gender, nationality or even if they are one person or multiple people working under the same name. What is known is that they could well be the most prolific artist on the internet. Wunderbar produces a constant stream of work, uploading it everyday, sometimes multiple times a day. When the work is seen as a whole it begins to feel like they are trying to distill the entirety of the internet and social media into a single, massive, ever-expanding piece of art.
Facebook seems to be Wunderbar’s favorite platform for displaying their work, through their own page and various like-minded groups. These include Perfect Users, a group that they co-created which encourages its member to contribute work reflecting on “the use of social media through perfect-profiles, passwords and interfaces.”
Wunderbar is at the vanguard of artists dissecting and exploiting the rules and quirks of social media through artwork created specifically for it. The platform becomes both the gallery for, and subject of, the art displayed there. This creates a fascinating and subversive digital-alchemy that begins to reveal the hidden nature of social media itself, as well as our increasingly complicated relationship with it.
Christian Petersen: Why do you choose to work under a pseudonym, and how did you choose that name?
William Wolfgang Wunderbar: The names I choose and the nicknames that are given to me are many and have their own “lifespams.” To me names are part function and part theatre. Most vital is that a name works in its social or artistic setting. In this case it is more a project title. A new name allows me to express myself more freely in new ways without the history and context a previous name bears. I chose “William Wolfgang Wunderbar” as a reference to the World Wide Web which has inspired me from the beginning of its existence and continues to fascinate me.
I like to question identity. I’ve been asked if I’m male or female; one person or several people. I like to keep this open and neutral: it is the stage for the images/ideas to act themselves out—backstage is where I keep the “private” and “personal” matters.
CP: How would you describe yourself?
WWW: Love wow haha—or, as “another you.”
CP: What were your earliest memories of the internet?
WWW: From an early age I have been very audio-visually and story focused. A strong early memory is dialing up using the phone with a modem, especially the noises it made while connecting. Even more exciting was browsing Google Images! It would take forever to load only a few tiny preview images, but these gave me a window to the world while I waited eagerly for more.
An “urgent” phone call by a family member would usually end these precious sessions. Often only a half page of search results would have been loaded by that time: the rest of the page remained filled with white boxes and the promise they held—visual worlds I might never come across after disconnecting: forever “to be continued”...or not.
CP: What were your first experiences with social media?
WWW: It took me quite a while to get active on social media. I was several years “late” on Facebook, most people around me were already using it. It was when I moved abroad that I became a perfect user for the first time - so I could stay in touch(screen) and nose around the lives of my friends back home.
CP: You seem to have a particular affinity with Facebook—why?
WWW: Facebook is an interesting platform: because it is so popular in so many regions of the world they continuously adapt and evolve their interface and services. It has a very interactive aspect and continues to help me in my quest to discover and get in contact with like-minded creators—more so than through other platforms.
CP: What would you do to improve it in terms of presenting or promoting art?
WWW: I don’t dislike much about it, even parts that I initially dislike offer interesting creative challenges, to have fun with or make fun of. I’d like it to be less about notifications (for example Instagram re-arranges and groups older notifications) and more like a big, interactive canvas to play and co-create on.
CP: How would you describe your relationship with algorithms?
• We’re single.
• We’re married
• We have an open relationship.
• It’s complicated.
CP: Why do you think people are compelled to share so much personal information on social media?
WWW: I have no idea. Well I do have many. But above all I’m very amazed by it. Maybe it’s the quick-fix-satisfaction of filling out forms. The reward-center in our brain seems to love social media and sponsors our behavior with dopamine. Or perhaps it is about fitting in the system or being the best of the class. But there’s more than that involved: exhibitionism and voyeurism seem to be very big aspects. I also like to compare it to self-(un-)censored journalism/broadcasting: to define and mark “my” existence, not only by being “seen” but also, through reacting to what I see (“I make a difference when I ‘like,’ ‘wow,’ or ‘haha’ your photo/opinion”).
All in all it is not very definable but we can try to define it for fun: social media are contemporary avenues to present yourself and the matters you find important or interesting, to the world. In my experience I have observed several kinds of use. To answer this question I’ve bluntly categorized them into five “user-styles” (with the focus on Facebook users):
• As personal/professional advertising (“Look at me, I’m beautiful and amazing/professional and my life/business is amazing, my life is perfect, be like me or at least become a fan”).
• As a private/public photo album (“look at me, look at me... and look at my cat, look at my dinner and look I’m on holidays... and did I mention this photo of me?”).
• As a stage for personal opinions and clicktivism (“listen to me, let me tell you about this and that, agree with me, like and share my opinion”).
• As a (co-)creative tool/showcase to inspire and get inspired (wow love haha).
• And the final category: Perfect Users in the suburbs of Facebook. As a twist on the previous category(s)—observant people who are sensitive to the various modalities of use. Aware of the categories and the content-forms they produce and creatively responding to these movements by playing with their particular tones: using, recycling, and transforming it into (co-)meta-content. Thus reflecting back into the newsfeed in subtle or excessive ways for others to enjoy or take on board and question their own user-behavior. (“How do you use the platform we share? What do you care about displaying and liking?”)
I/we personally prefer the last two categories and mostly enjoy the company and content of the persons and users who agree with me/us. (“Like and share this interview, just now!”)
(or not) Actually it’s interesting to be a tourist from time to time in the bustling streets of “conventional” user-land, to keep in touch with reality—I mean, absurdity—and to scroll through cappuccino portraits on Instagram and sooner or later run back to the suburbs of Facebook to report the latest news and observations in facebook.com/groups/perfectusers.
I loved this question. And the answer. And you agree. Yes you do.
CP: You described your work as “joyfully mutating curiosity.” Can you expand on what that means?
WWW: This means “style” is an ongoing (r)evolving process which I discover/uncover with great joy every step along the way. Every image/animation/word-game becomes part of the creative compost and can return at any given moment in a different way. This description also allows me to change direction any time and not be restricted by something that would be called “my style” or “my work.” It opens the space of imagination more widely for creativity to flourish. It’s more a motto than a description: the joy, the mutations and the curiosity are all aspects of and perspectives from my being: they evoke the adventure and continuous process of creation (“curiosity” can be replaced with “obsession” or “visuals”).
CP: Can you give an example of how your ideas evolve from conception to completion?
WWW: There are infinite ways for ideas to be conceived and completed. Some ideas come in a flash of inspiration, when I’m in the zone or when I see someone’s work, and can be completed within a few minutes or even seconds. Others gradually (r)evolve in a process which can take anything from minutes up to years. Some ideas pop up in my mind and sooner or later I find out that someone had the same idea and worked on it, so they get appreciated and checked off the to-do list. Some ideas get caught in a sketch, a short description or an image, and hibernate for a long time in the archives, to be, or not to be elaborated when the time is right.
CP: What does glitch art mean to you? When did you first experiment with it?
WWW: I’ve been glitch-aware for several years, but it’s only been in the past year that I’ve started studying and working on it more intensively; I’ve learned to do some datamoshing, hex-glitching, bmp databending, rgb-splitting and other forms and techniques of distorting (audio)visuals. What’s interesting to me is not so much the error/mistake/unintended in itself but, rather, the glitch aesthetics, in other words the intentional glitch as a visual element in combination with other visual styles. In a way it’s similar to meta-art, where the error in this case makes you more aware of the medium itself, as it “destroys” the illusionism (for example in video, the error can make you more aware that you’re watching a screen) and exposes some of the “magic” behind/inside the system.
An example of datamoshing, a glitch technique for videos.
The series #interfacebook plays with this, being a kind of semi-glitch/cyborg art. I took parts of the interface and made Photoshop fill out the rest of the image with the “content aware” function. I think it is interesting to generate images that play with perceptions and undermine expectations; that take the form of something familiar, but subtly or strongly subvert it.
You could call it misleading or realigning perspectives. I like to provoke the audience of such works, make them question: “What am I looking at? Is it an ad, a work of art, a practical joke, an accident; something unfinished, something mis-allocated; a stolen (stock)image or movie-still; cheaply executed propaganda; the work of a bot; spam; a virus; a popup-discount offer; a scam; a shambles; something perverted or a fetish; some hype that I’m not aware of; or just amorphous digital vomit?”
Our mind/being seems to be trained to quickly interpret visual inputs and categorize them either as something wanted or unwanted, and with many images this is easy due to our (recent) history and current context. A part of my visual investigation is to generate visuals that don’t pass through any of these pre-fab filters, and take more time to decipher and categorize, or need a new category to be created for them. To perhaps provoke a moment of wonder or as a “visual koan,” to lovingly “crash” the mind temporarily. Because with each new perspective reality and experience changes.
How do images work? Which are the images that we can categorize in a split second? How to subvert them? As when I was growing up, I still love searching through and generating imagery, making compositions and combinations unlike anything I’ve yet seen. The thrill of the new is still there, even after everything that has been—it is infinite.
What is the Perfect Users Collective? How did it begin?
WWW: The Perfect Users Collective is a group of digital artists and enthusiasts that share a common, co-meta visual and conceptual interest and outlook. Anyone who brings good vibes is welcome to join and play/remix. The main platform we use is a Facebook group, but it has also extended beyond this, into the blog and other activities. It works as a mimetic hive-mind where a small idea or image can explode and influence many people’s styles and ways of working. Its origin is based on several “events.” One of the main inspirations has been Sacha Tonocovich (formerly known as Pass Word, this profile is an art project by Carolina Kleine Samson and is openly accessible by anyone; the username and password are public), who made several online artworks about “the Facebook police” and the “Perfect User.”
Courtesy of Sacha Toncovich
Then my previous Facebook profile got banned and deleted, and I “lost” my “digital” art friends/groups. All these things led to the idea of a “Perfect Users Group Selfie,” and finally a Facebook group with the name Perfect Users in order to stick together and to attract more like-minded people/users to generate more of such “art”/images/ideas.
We gave the group a description (“Perfect Users in the Suburbs of Facebook. All Members are Part of the ‘Perfect Users Collective’”) and tags: “Peaceful Warrior, Love, Social Media, Glitch Art, Portraits.” Later on the tags evolved into “Remix, Dijital Antropoloji, Nonviolent Peaceforce, Lovely Creatures, Social Media Examiner.” The group is not only focused on generating Facebook-related images and posts; it’s also generally about the use of social media through perfect profiles/passwords/interfaces. Screenshot, remix, glitch and (digital) pirate culture is highly encouraged. Right from the start ( November 2016) there have been many interesting collaborations and remixes where everyone influenced each other in a positive way, and a selection of images has been posted on the blog.
CP: What is Free The Pixels? Why do you think open source is important in digital art?
WWW: Free The Pixels is a Facebook group that allows digital artists to share their recent work and, through this act, they give permission for others to remix it without restrictions. It’s a very inspiring and creatively nurturing community. I think crossbreeding and collaboration can be uplifting influences for artists. Appropriation and remixing are very exciting aspects of (digital) art making to me. I don’t know if open source in digital art is important, but it definitely helps artists advance quicker with tools and images that are free to use and change.
CP: Do you see your work as political?
WWW: Everything is (unless it’s not).
CP: There is an anarchic aspect to your work and how you present it. Do you agree? Do you see it as subversive?
WWW: As I have several styles, not all are necessarily anarchic or subversive. The Perfect Users Project might appear to be, but that depends on your personal definition of anarchy. To me it’s more about questioning consensus reality: finding and sharing new perspectives—and simply having fun.
CP: Do you see your work as psychedelic?
WWW: Some images may appear to be psychedelic, but what counts as psychedelic or not is an open question to me—many different styles and forms of art seem to depict other realities and dimensions and often warp visual and conceptual perception.
CP: You often use optical illusions/effects in your work. Why are you interested in playing with people’s perception?
WWW: I’m mostly interested in playing with my own perception and exploring ways to juice the technology. The act of scrolling is one aspect I engage with, through my moire / #scrollOP pieces—I enjoy putting them in the Facebook stream, as eye-catchers, in between the selfies, news articles, and advertisements. A break or holiday from regular content.
CP: You are very prolific, producing work everyday. How do you find the time?
WWW: I don’t have to do it: it’s more a case of when I’m inspired and “in the zone”—which just happens to be often! I love the act of making and sharing images and ideas and making time for it.
CP: Can you talk a little about what you do besides making art?
WWW: I love observing animals, insects, plants, humans, architecture and landscapes; also biking and listening to music or audiobooks; or studying a wide range of topics. But mostly to practice all kinds of creative skills and crafts, be it sewing or building installations.
CP: You are also interested in nature/the natural world. How does that influence your digital world?
WWW: When you pay close attention, animals and plants can be great teachers and visually very interesting.
CP: What do you love most about the internet?
WWW: The access to so much information: tools, audiovisuals, people, etc. Fifty years ago there would be library buses going from town to town, sharing books. Nowadays with a device + internet connection there are infinite rabbit holes of subject matter to go down—you name it, you can find information about it. There is so much to learn and there are so many skills being shared.
A plethora of rabbit holes beyond the mental box.
CP: What do you have coming up?
WWW: Perfect Users will be participating in The Wrong – Digital Art Biennale, a worldwide digital art extravaganza running from October 1–January 31—a celebration of digital art on an unprecedented scale. The Wrong Perfect Users is a further twist in the themes we already explored as a group and will continue to search for the meta-dynamics of performance, process, and presentation. It will fly like a cmeta.
I’d like to thank Adrian Pickett for his meaningful feedback and support while answering this interview. Thanks to him it became an inter-interview.
We run an online magazine, so of course, we're interested in what's happening with art on the web. We invited online gallerist, founder, and curator of Digital Sweat Gallery, Christian Petersen, to write a bi-monthly column for us. Every other Wednesday he selects a Web Artist of the Week.
Tags: Wednesday web artist perfect users Facebook William Wolfgang Wunderbar, video-art, conceptual, digital