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A museum has finally enshrined the weird glory of old screen savers

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Can flying toasters be art? Dutch digital artist Rafaël Rozendaal thinks so. The images that once innocuously crawled across bulky PC monitors will now be artistically plundered for their “anonymity and ephemerality.”

Rozendaal is behind a new exhibition called Sleep Mode that’s soon to open at the Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam, where guests can engage with “27 lifesize projections of all the classics.” When he says “the classics,” Rozendaal is referring, of course, to the aforementioned flying toasters, as well as the 3D pipes, infinite fish, and endless mazes that once beguiled the empty chair in front of your PC.

The exhibit itself will include an “audio tour with background stories,” the latter of which Rozendaal expounds upon with an online hub that includes interviews with the creators of these screen savers. “Rozendaal primarily uses examples from the early days,” it says, “when moving digital images did not yet contain the realism of the later screensavers. It is exactly the unpolished abstraction of this first batch that interests him: At that time it was the screensaver’s practical role that mattered.”


“Screensavers are like a moving painting,” Rozendaal elaborates in an interview with Vice. “It’s almost as if they were made for a museum. They’re purely digital images, so they’re designed to show what a computer will do. They don’t overdo it, they have very simple parameters. They aren’t storytelling.”

While the subject might seem head-scratching to some, the Motherboard piece makes a good point about the enthusiasm computer users once had for screen savers. In the 90s, you literally bought CDs packed with different screen savers.


“The limitations of these computers created a unique language,” continues Rozendaal. “Motion graphics and games are hyperrealistic, that’s less interesting to me. I’m interested in forced abstraction. In painting abstraction it’s there as a luxury, but in computers, abstraction was a necessity.”

Sleep Mode opens on January 26, leaving you just a few days to steer your flying toaster toward the Netherlands.