It may represent the largest artistic collaboration ever: a 1,000-by-1,000-pixel canvas, colored by over one million individuals across the globe in 72 hours. The million-pixel work — which features everything from memes to blocky but accurate renditions of such masterpieces as van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” — unfolded on Reddit, whose senior product manager, Josh Wardle, came up with the bizarre idea. Titled “Place,” the result is fun to browse in search of familiar icons, but more interestingly, it reflects how creativity, discourse, and controlled chaos play out on the internet.
“Place” launched on April 1, initially as an April Fool’s joke. Users were given the following guidelines:
There is an empty canvas.
You may place a tile upon it, but you must wait to place another.
Individually you can create something.
Together you can create something more.
Redditors could only fill a pixel every five minutes, using just 16 colors, and many participants initially drew what you might expect: childlike scrawls, hateful symbols, genitalia, and other crude doodles. “Early on, Place definitely resembled the kind of graffiti you would see in a bathroom stall,” Wardle told Newsweek. “What was really amazing was seeing how quickly the community organized and started to self-police the canvas to keep it positive.”
The entire saga is dutifully recorded on the blog Sudoscript. In time, people came together to make national flags, carving out pockets of patriotism; others showcased impressive skills by gradually building up the aforementioned van Gogh painting (“Gogh.bmp”) and a pixelated Mona Lisa. Memes slowly sprouted, including a Francophile version of Nyan Cat (cheese instead of a Pop-Tart, and a French flag in place of a rainbow trail). But while imaginations ran wild, destruction also reigned, with users fighting over the limited real estate. The battles that pitted pixel against pixel mirror how voices clash in internet forums, how we seek to speak over one another and place personal opinions at the forefront of conversations, but also how alliances between strangers quickly form over shared ideas.
Despite the endless erasures, the artworks that fill the final canvas, layered over countless other, lost images, are all complete renderings. This little slice of the internet literally illustrates how interactions between users doesn’t have to result in toxic dialogue but can lead to fruitful encounters. It’s a notable achievement, particularly on Reddit, which has a reputation as a dark hole of intolerance.
“We are at a point where the internet enables humans to communicate and collaborate in ways they have never been able to before,” Wardle told Newsweek. “My hope is that the success and collaborative nature of projects like Place will encourage other internet companies to take some more risks when exploring ways that their users can interact.”