Perry Chen: Computers in Crisis
December 9 2014
In 2014, just shy of fifteen years after the turn of the millennium, artist Perry Chen invited audiences to join him in exploring the phenomenon and legacy of Y2K as an inquiry into our entanglement with technology and its rapidly increasing complexity. The resulting work, Computers in Crisis, was a multi-faceted project, which included an online archive of books and interviews with key players from that moment, and an accompanying essay by the artist. The work was co-presented by the New Museum and Rhizome in conjunction with Creative Time Reports for the New Museum’s First Look program.
The Y2K bug was a computer design oversight that was anticipated to affect a wide range of systems on 1/1/2000, when computers were expected to mistakenly interpret the “00” in dates as the year 1900, not the year 2000. In 1996, Congressional hearings featured expert testimony warning of a coming crisis in which all infrastructures reliant on software and embedded chips—such as those utilized by banks, power plants, communications, air traffic systems—could malfunction or shut down. In the following years, fueled by intense media speculation and the rapid growth of industries servicing Y2K issues, governments, corporations, small businesses, and individuals spent hundreds of billions of dollars in preparation and overhauls. Now, Y2K is largely forgotten as January 1, 2000, came and went with no serious issues.
Chen’s multifaceted project comprised several components. Through television footage and books produced in the run-up to Y2K, the artist will illuminated the cultural backdrop of the anticipated crisis, surfacing our collective anxieties in the face of this vast uncertainty. Key players, including David Eddy, who coined the term “Y2K,” Margaret Anderson, formerly of the Center for Y2K and Society, and Shaunti Feldhahn, author of Y2K: The Millennium Bug—A Balanced Christian Response, were convened to share their firsthand accounts of the time, offering a deeper investigation into the preparations for, climate around, and legacy of Y2K and complicating the prevailing narrative that Y2K was a “non-event.” Chen further elaborated on these themes in an accompanying essay.
Established in 2012 and co-organized by the New Museum and Rhizome, First Look is a digital art commissioning and exhibition program representing the breadth of art online—from interactive documentary, to custom-built participatory applications, to moving image-based works, and art for mobile VR. Encompassing a substantial array of work that continues to expand, First Look explores the formal, social, and aesthetic possibilities of emerging technologies on the web.