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One Million Internet Users Created This Piece of Art

Contributions range from the juvenile to bizarre to strangely beautiful

(Reddit users)
smithsonian.com

On April Fool's Day, Reddit gave its anonymous users a blank canvas, 72 hours and an instruction: to place colored tiles anywhere on a space measuring 1,000 by 1,000 pixels. The only catch? Users had to wait a few minutes before adding each new tile. What followed was chaotic, dramatic art creation by collaboration.

The blog sudoscript chronicles the life and times of "Place," as the space was called, with some reverence: "[T]he story of Place is an eternal story, about the three forces that humanity needs to make art, creation, and technology possible.”

place 2
(Reddit users)

A time lapse gif of the canvas shows the space quickly overcome by brightly colored pixels. Swaths of color—blue, red, and an encroaching black that seeps through the space like spilled ink— overtake portions of the picture and then subside. Diagonal rainbow stripes crisscross and then recognizable images appear and grow more refined.

"Individually you can create something. Together you can create something more," the creators of the project wrote.

The project can be considered through the lens of three forces, sudoscript suggests. It started with the Creators, eager to make their mark on the canvas at first and then growing more passionate about creating complex works. Next came the Protectors, who evolved from factions with a single-minded focus on painting sections of the canvas a single, unifying color to benevolent dictators determined to preserve favored artwork. Finally, the Destroyers entered the scene, bent on painting it all black. The many painters united in opposition against destruction.

Then the experiment ended.

place 1
(Reddit users)

The final canvas is a pastiche of glorious complexity. Flags from nations around the world crowd with cartoon characters, video-game art, banners identifying subcommunities on Reddit, portraits of the characters from Tove Jansson's Finn Family Moomintroll, van Gogh's "Starry Night," David Bowie wearing the red lightning bolt of Aladdin Sane, the "Mona Lisa" and many, many memes.

Shockingly, the final canvas doesn't have hidden racist symbols or overtly sexual content, thanks to stalwart efforts to find and paint over swastikas and the like, sudoscript points out.

Meg Miller at Fast Company sees in "Place" an allegory for the internet as a whole. She writes:

[I]t’s a little bit like viewing a zoomed-out view of the internet at work, with anonymous users interacting, collaborating, and building on each other’s ideas in the best case scenario; in the worst, users isolate themselves into siloed groups, feed destructive habits, and manipulate the openness of the internet to [wreak] havoc on each other. Either way, both scenarios yielded beautiful work.

More than 16 million titles were placed overall. Anthony Cuthbertson at Newsweek writes that it may have surpassed the "One Million Masterpiece" launched in 2006. That collaboration involves 32,265 artists and Reddit estimates that "Place" attracted more than 1 million users.

“We are at a point where the internet enables humans to communicate and collaborate in ways they have never been able to before,” Josh Wardle, a senior product manager at Reddit and "Place" creator tells Newsweek. “My hope is that the success and collaborative nature of projects like Place will encourage other internet companies to take some more risks when exploring ways that their users can interact.”

Already many users are calling for "Place" to become a more permanent part of the Reddit ecosystem, but it may be impossible to recapture the feeling of those first 72 hours.

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