Sleep Mode: The Art of the Screensaver

Sleep Mode: The Art of the Screensaver is an exhibition curated by Rafaël Rozendaal at Rotterdam's Het Nieuwe Instituut from January 27 until June 25.

I think this is awesome, because screen savers don't get the respect that they deserve.

There are some from XScreenSaver in there but I'm not sure exactly which. I'm also really curious what the physical exhibition space looks like, but there aren't any photos of it yet.

He says :

What fascinates me is that so many people saw screensavers on a daily basis, without really looking at them carefully. I found it interesting that the images could lodge themselves subconsciously in our brains. It was a matter of recognising something you were never fully conscious of. You never wondered where it came from or who made it, or what their intention was. That is why I didn't search for obscure examples, but stuck to familiar screensavers.

For me the idea of staring is very important. When you are tired and just gazing blankly at what is in front of you. Most of the things we do on the computer are done with a purpose in mind, but screensavers relate to a very different part of your brain. That is why I like the title Sleep Mode. Most art is best experienced by just looking at it without thinking too much.

He interviewed me and five other screen saver makers about the purpose and history of screen savers. I am saddened to report that I'm the only one of them who actually uses a screen saver any more! What a world, what a world. In the interview one of the questions he asked was, "Do you see a future for screensavers?" and I am afraid that I felt obliged to deploy the snark:

Any time some pedantic jerk says "YOU KNOW, screen savers aren't really NECESSARY with modern monitors" I want to ask them "How awful is it to have been born without a soul?" Screen savers are art. As long as computers have screens, people will make art for them. I also find it amusing when I am in an art museum or gallery and see a "digital installation" where the only difference between that work and a "screen saver" is that they wrote an "artist's statement" about how it explores the dichotomy between whatever -- and/or someone gave them a grant for it."

Previously, previously.

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15 Responses:

  1. pavel_lishin says:

    I would pay money for a working copy of that LCARS screensaver.

  2. Dan McAnulty says:

    Yay, congratulations!! Thanks for sharing this. Love to hear about screensavers getting some attention.

  3. yDNA says:

    Unleash the snark, Jamie!

  4. David Hoover says:

    I has a sad the flying toaster gif doesn't loop cleanly.

  5. I was just reading about Berkeley Systems suing another screensaver maker, back in 1993. The other guys had Opus the penguin shooting down flying toasters that were allegedly too similar to these. So apparently the screensaver industry was big enough for lawsuits.

  6. Rohan Verma says:

    I still use your xmatrix program and it's art for me.

  7. Lloyd says:

    I'm having flashbacks to the mid-90s, when I wrote and maintained the screensaver FAQ and did not have a girlfriend.

    I no longer maintain the screensaver FAQ.

  8. hellpé says:

    Okay, I'll say it here: I'm planning to write some kind of app to browse and view xscreensaver hacks, among similar pieces of computer art such as Amiga demos. I had a small discussion about this on Google+ with some GNOME devs, and while I agree with their view that screensavers are technically useless nowadays (also they waste power), I'd like to provide a way to stare at them and help their preservation.

    I'll keep you notified if I manage to make some progress in this.

    • jwz says:

      Under X11, xscreensaver apps are already standalone applications that open their own windows. Under MacOS, build the SaverTester.app in Xcode to do that, which is also how Phosphor.app and Apple2.app work.

  9. Penguin Pete says:

    JWZ, I would gladly use screensavers on all my devices. Unfortunately, I run Linux and Android exclusively, and those all ship with an ironclad will to make the screen go lack when not in use. I used to fight all-night battles to disable them with the requisite ten megatons of TNT required to make them submit to my will, but these days I am simply a tired old man and the GTK+ black screen tyranny gets stronger with every release.

  10. Jonas Munsin says:

    Ooh, I got contacted for an interview also as an old xscreensaver contributor, but evidently they got enough people to interview because I didn't get interviewed (or I was just too slow to respond). I'm always sad when I go on the road and have to disable xscreensaver to preserve battery!

  11. Jordi says:

    I've always loved screensavers. And I use xscreensaver, because frankly, it's still the best.

    I thought nobody but me cared, and that was all right. But then at work I got praised in several random conversations, from people I didn't know before. Every time they passed by my cubicle when I wasn't there, they would be amazed by the pretty cool screensavers.

    It makes me happy.

    Which is as good an occasion as anyone to say: big thanks, man!