Michaël Samyn

In 1998, we presented the 2nd Design Triennial in Flanders. The exhibition was in two parts.

By Johan Valcke

Eén onderdeel toonde producten uit de recente industriële vormgeving, het andere deel stelde 10 webdesigners aan het publiek voor. Eén van deze designers was Michaël Samyn. 

One part presented products of recent industrial design and the other presented 10 Web designers to the public. One of these designers was Michael Samyn. Three years later, he is now popping up as a Web artist although designer and artist get on well together. However, Michael would not be Michael if he didn't want to sow a bit of confusion and even be a touch provocative. So, in a designer environment he will present himself as an artist in an artistic environment he says he is a designer. Playing games is what he's been doing as long as we've known him, that is since the Autumn Selection of 1992. It is a serious addiction for Michaël.

A few years ago, we were receiving regular comments from his side on the then still green and young Kwintessens complaining that it attached too much importance to graphic design. Books and magazines were passé in his eyes and he wondered in all seriousness why in God's name we were still bothering with something whose death knell had been tolled. The Internet World Wide Web and other concepts were still unknown at the time. So it is understandable why we wondered what he was on about.

Michael had moreover been classically trained as a graphic designer with cutting and pasting and the colour photocopier was the only high technology around. Psychologically is leaning drifted towards technology, towards the keys of the computer, artistically this was his attempt to set down sound and movement (read film) on paper. Of course, classical techniques were useless for the way he wanted to work. The computer, however, proved highly suitable. Ultimately, we asked him to design on issue of Kwintessens (II 1996).

The result was anything but classical. It had actually very little to do with graphic design and everything to do with Web design. Images, fonts, the one easier to read than the other. Colours, the one brighter than the other, and texts merged and overlapped. I found it then, and now still, a wonderful experiment that clearly brought his yearnings to light along with his talents on the computer. The couple of subscribers that we lost at the time, we regretted, but such has to be, we thought.

Michael discovered the computer as a medium as early as 1991. His first machine, which today belongs in the archives of digital archaeology, was with its 486DX processor and a speed of 33 Mhertz a pretty powerful beast for its time. Today, he uses equipment with two Pentium Ill processors, 800 Mhertz and 112 Gigabyte Rom memory. And this will probably be out of date soon.

© Michaël Samyn
© Michaël Samyn

Keywords in his contemporary work are Auriea Harvey, linearity, conditional progress and immersivity. We'll come back to Auriea later. From the first moment on image series runs in a film, you are confronted with the concept of linearity. Samyn very much likes to play with this linearity, but unlike video, his Websites have not only linearity but conditional as well, determined not only by maker Samyn, but also by the user. The viewer, however, remains subject to the conditions imposed upon the maker. Thirdly; Michael Samyn likes to create a space, and preferably one in which the viewer surfs, in which the art lover becomes immersed.

This immersivity is a particularly favoured concept with Michaël. In that sense he sees a good Web site as a good story; in which the reader, becomes involved and immersed, into which he sinks. The sites take on something of a narrative, but the message is much more intellectual and the immersivityis at multiple levels. It could better be compared with a good literary novel than with an adventure story. It is work that belongs on the Net alone. You have to discover and taste it on the Net, and it's hard luck for anyone without a Net-enabled computer. The background to Web sites is mathematics and logic, particularly logic. Both are needed to do the kind of work he does. Once he studied graphic design to banish them from his life. Now they enable him to create and structure his dreams.

Auriea Harvey, a New York Web artist, and Michael Samyn met in Cyberspace on the Hell.com site. They fell in love. They became a couple. They make Web art together on the site http://entropy8zuper.org. The tale of their meeting ond falling in love is to be found in the Skinonskinonskin site at the above address, for a price ($8.5 per 3 days) but well worth it.

© Michaël Samyn
© Michaël Samyn

The development that Michael Samyn has been through has had much to do with that meeting, of course. He laid aside his pretensions in his journey from Zuper.com to Entropy8zuper.or. He also made a conscious decision to do nothing more on his own. Where in the beginning there was pure love of text by e-mail, a special complementarity between the two grew before his very eyes. It enabled him to take the step from designer who worked artistically and used art in order to design, to the designer who abuses art to design his message. lconographically, the new style is much less baroque, more serious and more sensual. The feminine element that Auriea brings has a clear influence. 

Elements such as hard irony, but also tender poetry, collage techniques and the mix of sound and movement in a two dimensional plane determine the style of the sites.

Michael Samyn makes his living not only from artistic work of course, he also takes commissions. The VIZO was one of this first and rare Belgian customers (see the Website http://www.zuper.com/portfolio/vizodko/index2.hHtme/ ) compiled a site for us on the 1st Design Triennial in Flanders in 1996. Another Belgian company is Fractal, a sister company of the well-known lighting firm of Modular. He has worked for Lifetime, an American cable TV station in New York, for the Design Institute and the Doors of Perception in theNetherlands produced by this institute, for the San Francisco Museum Of Modern Art (SFMOMA), for HPRU, an English company that tests medicaments on volunteers, for Hard Reality, an English Web production company that works with Leo Burnett (gigantic advertising agency).  There was a commission for ABC, one of the major American "coast to coast" TV companies, and so on; & Belgian or Flemish companies stand out by their very absence. But all is not lost. There is still time.

In the middle of this year, Harvey and Samyn won a WEBBY Award, the Oscar of the Web site world (originally intended to be satirical). The original prizes came from the SFMOMA, but they did not object to the Award's being retitled a Webby. The prize is $30,000, a great deal more than our van de Velde Prize for Young Talent but at least that no longer stands alone. We feel strengthened in our endeavour.