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Wake, 2000

About the Work

Originally launched on February 16, 2000, by Dia Art Foundation for its Artist Web Projects series, Gary Simmons’s interactive internet project Wake took many of the themes, ideas, and processes quintessential to his largely material-based practice and transposed them to the relatively new medium of the web. Reprogrammed in 2020 in HTML5, the work features a series of nine photographs of empty dance spaces—ornate ballrooms, baroque auditoriums, chandeliered halls—which together create the semblance of an illustrious yet bygone era. The images themselves are divided into small, pixelated squares that appear—and then quickly fade—as a viewer passes their mouse or finger across the otherwise white screen. Because of the speed at which the sections of images appear and disappear, no one photograph is ever visible in its entirety. In this way, the work can be seen as a virtual and visual enactment of the process of remembering and forgetting.

With Wake, viewers are as responsible for bringing the photographed spaces into being as they are subject to the images’ inevitable obliteration. As they swipe or scroll across the screen, they enact gestures that recall the erasure technique Simmons uses in other contexts. Information blurs in and out, and what were once visual fragments of seemingly significant cultural or historical locations become figments of our imagination. Much like Simmons’s other works, where elements of visual culture and history coalesce with, and sometimes struggle against, our collective memory of those very things, Wake challenges the ways we populate and ultimately perceive such spaces, prompting the viewer to ask: who is meant to be seen within them, who is not, and what sustains this gaze?

Wake features an audio component of two people humming popular songs from past eras, including “Blue Moon,” “Cry Me a River,” “Mr. Sandman,” and “Falling in Love Again.” This aspect of the work also draws out experiences of recalling and forgetting, as Simmons notes: “The humming track was all from memory. I had folks listen to Patsy Cline, Billie Holiday, and Etta James. They’d listen to the track and then hum it back from memory.”

Gary Simmons, Wake, 2000, is a project commissioned by Dia Art Foundation for its series of Artists Projects for the Web at diaart.org/simmons.