A screenshot of an online quiz

Reflecting on The Idle Index

Curator Anoushka Goodwin reflects on our online commissions exploring the theme of digital idleness: 'Downtime' by Sian Fan and 'Are / You / Actually' by Compiler

Anoushka Goodwin - Reflecting on The Idle Index

A screenshot of an online quiz

Almost a year ago, the Idle Index online programme was expanded to include browser based digital art commissions. Before UK lockdown, we selected the pilot recipients, Sian Fan and Compiler, from an open call full of strong, interesting, intriguing artists. The Idle Index open call asked applicants to consider what idleness means in the present day. The responses were fascinating! The world of browser based art was opening up in Leicester, and then, as we all know, everything changed! There has been an increased interest in online exhibitions since March, causing an overload of content to consume. Instead of clicking “attending” for an IRL event, we are now signing up for URL streaming premieres. I am still forgetting to go for the most part.

My brain feels like it’s idle – on standby. Comfort is achieved through endless scrolling of social media platforms; Apple’s “screen time” feature has been disabled because I do not need to know that I’ve been on social media for an average of 10 hours. What have we been doing with our new-found, enforced downtime? A running joke on the internet has been that we are all baking either sourdough or banana bread, but baking is one of the most stressful activities one can undertake! This kind of implies that we will not allow ourselves under any circumstances to be idle.

In Sian Fan’s Downtime, we are invited to dawdle and move slowly through the soothing garden. Slow but continuous tasks are known to be soothing – that’s why we watch the spin cycle. We promenade through clicks and trackpads, admiring a fantastical realm imagined with soothing imagery. Early web-based work immediately dealt with identity and alter egos – to escape IRL, we go URL, before – and yet now we want to escape the endless scrolling of URL, to go Out Out.

This is hindered by social distancing – once again online offerings provide distractions whether we like it or not. Downtime encourages procrastination. The subtle gamification techniques encourage this procrastination because you instinctively explore the landscape even though you don’t know what you are searching for; you are an oxymoron – intently idle.

In Compiler’s Are / You / Actually, the user is wasting time taking another online quiz, but at the same time they are playfully distracted by the elements of the browser having their own personalities – seemingly aimlessly jostling around the screen, amoeba-esque. Does this conjure ideas of simpler times? Before the Self as Brand? Before finding out about our personalities by answering questions to figure out which Disney Princess we are? It’s all the same data capturing that GDPR runs rings around now, whether that’s targeted Google Ads or designing BuzzFeed quizzes. It represents a human being in the digital form. Is this a nonsensical use or sinister use? The data laid out upon completion of the quiz is data the user has splurged out without thinking – perhaps a personification of the ubiquitous spying FBI agent we all have?

The commission proposals Phoenix chose for this introductory iteration of browser based Idle Index were ones that transported the user into the digital world with soothing, gentle, interactions. They really thought about user web experience through the inquisitive eyes of the artist. It is often the case that artists working in these online mediums need to be multi-disciplined. The projects we chose, I feel, show a really thought out approach to design, sound, imagery and user experience. Now go experience them!

Idle Index will return this winter – keep up to date with Phoenix’s digital art programme on

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