To.be: The Unique Website Where Art Meets the Internet

In the year 2000, Lisa Simpson criticised the noisy and randomly arranged gifs on Homer’s Web Page, claiming that ‘a webpage is supposed to be a personal thing, but you’ve just stolen copyrighted material from everyone else. They could sue you for that!’ In the year 2014, we know better: no one will ever be punished for copyright infringements and nothing is more personal than other people’s stuff. The site to.be seems to take Homer’s Web Page as its ideal: ‘stolen’ gifs and videos are arranged with chaotic expressionism – and they become personal and beautiful.

So, to.be isn’t very different to Tumblr – indeed, most of the material used by to.be users is probably sourced from Tumblr blogs. The framework of Tumblr and other web2.0 sites seem to be upheld, as users can like fields or follow other users.

However, after a few minutes, a few key differences become apparent. Whilst Tumblr users quickly and effortlessly reblog posts that other people spent time creating a long time ago and Twitter users quickly type a stream of consciousness, making a field on to.be can be a slow process. Time and deliberation goes in to sourcing and composing the field.

This completely changes the way that using to.be feels compared to Tumblr’s infinitely scrolling feed. Each field seems like a destination in itself, and they can seem more involving. The focus is still mostly the strange mix of the emo nihilist-feminist pop-culture familiar on Tumblr, seen here and here. The themes come across in that second field, as the power-dimension of recording techniques are explored, and the girl’s dismay at being used for a recording is underscored by the moment of destruction in the looped gif of a collapsing house.

In the mixing of videos, gifs and sound into one larger whole, to.be seems to offer something new for the internet and art. Though to.be users are connected to the internet and can steal from it, they can’t be stolen from so easily and they can’t connect to each other. Sometimes, the fields seem less disposable, less forgettable than the exhausting reams of content posted to other websites.

The creativity is in arranging the internet into something bigger than its parts. Some of the best fields I’ve come across add meaning to a SoundCloud or YouTube post: the not-so-subtle prison bars across this video, changing it from something which seems questionable to something altogether dangerous, whilst playing on the ‘decadence’ within the video. Not only do I not know what I’ll be looking at, the bars mean I can’t quite see it either, forcing me to pay attention to it. The text is in the frame as much as it is in the video.

Individual fields can be assessed on their merits, but what can be said about the website is that it both summarizes and criticizes the internet at the same time. By taking influence from the web2.0 sites that come before it, to.be summarises them. Just as WordPress or SoundCloud are primarily meant to be places for products to be displayed, there is a type of commercialism on to.be. Though the fields are free, you can insert templates of t-shirts or canvases to create ‘original’ prints. It also summarizes these sites by being a final destination for all their media.

The strongest criticism of the internet which to.be offers is the absence of linking or commenting capability within the fields. There is no way to find out more about what you are looking at, or engage with it in anyway except the way it is offered to you. While for aqnb.com this means that to.be ‘only serves to highlight the restrictions that remain’, to me, it offers a glimpse at what else web2.0 could have been – intuitive creativity, but without the compulsion to comment, share and re-post.

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