Alain Vonck isn’t nostalgic for the first Internet.
“It’s not about regretting a bygone era,” says the Parisian graphic designer behind Ruins, a series of mesmerizing tapestries of ’90s-era web ephemera that won him highest honors at his 2012 graduation. “Rather, [it’s about] showing and remembering Web 1.0’s existence.”
Vonck sees himself as an archivist, an impartial editor of data that’s been forgotten or lost, the crumbling monuments of the first web. As a graphic design student in Paris, he became fascinated by the whitewashing of Internet history, as demonstrated by Yahoo!’s 2010 deletion of GeoCities. “[Yahoo!] found the way to destroy the most massive amount of history in the shortest amount of time with absolutely no recourse,” he says, quoting John Scott. “What are these ruins which lay dormant somewhere in databases?” he wondered. “How can they be revived? Reinterpreted graphically?” Embarking on his thesis project at École Supérieure d’Arts Graphiques in Paris, Vonck became determined to reflect what he calls “the complexity of Internet browsing at that time.”
Taking on the role of digital anthropologist, Vonck dug through terabytes of archived data during a months-long research phase, led by celebrated Russian Internet artist Olia Lialina. ASCII art, typography, e-zines, even the linguistics of Web 1.0 (“surfing”). It all reminded the artist of another era of hand-made decoration. “We began perceive parallel between the Art & Craft movement and ‘primitive’ Web imagery,” he remembers. The 20-odd collages in Ruins weave fragments of found data into vibrant, almost textile-like patterns. In the gallery, they were exhibited in true Arts and Crafts style, as wallpaper, in a ’90s-styled room with a Dell desktop and posters of the 90210 cast.
Vonck’s graphics have the air of a lost utopian project. In the ’90s, the Internet is still magical–“an art, an aesthetic, a pop culture, and a vernacular language mostly ignored by today’s users.”