“Hypertext & Art: A Retrospective of Forms” is part of the Association of Computing Machinery’s (ACM) Hypertext and Social Media 2023 Conference taking place in Rome at the Bibliotheca Hertziana –– Max Planck Institute for Art History in September 2023. For conference participants, the exhibition aims to expand the understanding of the various ways hypertext has been expressed by artists, world-wide, both in terms of the systems they used and genres with which they experimented. As an extension of the conference held in an important cultural icon, the exhibition aims to promote hypertext as a scientific field of study and artistic practice to new audiences. As such, the exhibition features a wide array of hypertexts produced from the mid-1980s to the present by artists and scientists working in and creating a variety of platforms and approaches and offers an exploration into the forms of hypertext that have emerged over the last 35 years, influencing, as media theorist Jay David Bolter claims, the way we think (2). [1]

For those reading this curatorial statement who are new to hypertext, it is important to point out that its beginnings can be traced to Ted Nelson who coined the term in 1965 and defined it as “non-sequential writing” (29, 91) and “branching and responding” media (27). [2] Decades later Astrid Ensslin describes hypertext as “a largely script-based form of interactive computer-based literature, translating previously linear forms of writing into a technologically nonlinear format and thereby instigating multilinear reading processes” (20). [3] For the purpose of this exhibition, it is an experimental, creative approach to art built on varying degrees of connectivity, choice, open-endedness, multilinearity, and mulivocality. [4]

Divided into four thematic sections––Authoring Systems and the Art They Wrought (1986-present), Early Web & the Affordances of the Browser (1995-2000), Beyond the Click: Experimental Methods for Navigating and Experiencing Hypertext Art, and Conserving Hypertext Art––the exhibition takes a broad look at the development of hypertext systems and art, from the platforms used for artistic production to ways in which artists leveraged the affordances and constraints of hypertextual environments. Many of the works produced between 1986 to the mid-1990s are displayed on legacy computers, specifically Macintosh Classic IIs running System Software 7.0.1, so that visitors can experience early hypertexts as they were originally envisioned for access. Likewise, later works produced after the Apple Corporation shifted from the Classic operating system to MacOS X, are shown on Apple iMacs sold from 2007 to the mid-2010s running 10.10.1 (Yosemite). Accompanying these works are contextual materials, such as interviews, Traversals, and web-based hypertexts, displayed on iPads.

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