_playGnd by Nick Briz


Chicago-based new media artist Nick Briz is interested in working with present-day technology while critically examining its multifacetedness.  As an educator and organizer, he believes there is a lot to “celebrate and criticize about the digital ecosystem we’re all living in” and are becoming increasingly dependent on.

He doesn’t just work with technology but uses it as a medium to question its own nature, the medium becomes the message.  He critically reflects and analyzes our fascination and interdependence with technology.  In his latest works howthey.watch/you (2020) and D.R.E.A.M. (Data Rules Everything Around Me) (2018-19) he brings to our attention the insidious pervasiveness of tech into our lives, how without our knowledge, it goes about redefining identities and invading our privacy.

Both these works in the form of hypermedia essay, and a public speaker series respectively allowed audiences to be active participants in the discussion on the democracy of digitization.  The works are a form of digital activism, personal but accessible to the lay individual.  It encourages us to reflect on the loss of fundamental values such as privacy rather than celebrate it.  The beginnings of his current large-scale activism can be seen in his work How To/Why Leave Facebook (2014) where he wrote his own code to download all his data before leaving Facebook over ethical concerns about how they sell users’ data.  Though the code no longer works, it is an insight into the artist’s chosen mode – work that is deliberately disruptive thereby being constructive in its agenda.

Away from the heavier ramifications of the internet, featured here is a very early work of Nick Briz that is just plain playful.  _three.js playGnd is a lovely platform that allows users to utilize webGL, a Javascript API that can render 2D and 3D graphics in any compatible web browser. This tool is great for intrepid designers and those that want to start playing around with the openGL language or webGL in particular.

The work is a really great way to introduce yourself to the otherwise daunting and intimidating world of webGL and 2D/3D modeling.  It makes things a little bit less technical, as you don’t need to learn code from scratch although it does provide code to the user so they can get a feel for what code would look like in a given situation, a nice entree to the technical world for more artistic folk.

playGnd was made in 2013 at a time when the internet just began to witness the integration of webGL into all browsers that allowed for real-time 3D modeling and graphics capabilities.  At the time, artist Ricardo Cabello released three.js where one could create 3D graphics in their web browser.  Unfortunately, it didn’t come with any tutorials and except for existing developers, wasn’t intuitive enough for other artists.

Inspired to help fellow new media artists, Nick launched playGnd which is an experimental, learning space.  Do note however that in just 7 years, the internet has come a long way, and the work is outdated, yet it serves as an important inquiry into the nature of code – as one that deliberately obfuscates.  You can read more on the site about Nick’s philosophy of playGnd and educational efforts towards digital literacy.