Every Icon
John F. Simon Jr., United States
Every Icon, 1997
Web site
Selected by: Jon Ippolito
Simon's Every Icon reveals the power and limitations of the computer?s ability to generate a wealth of images from a few lines of code. Simon's definition of the project couldn?t be simpler:
Given: a 32 x 32 grid
Allowed: any element of the grid to be black or white
Shown: Every Icon

The word ?shown? is somewhat misleading. Once triggered by the user, Simon?s applet will in good faith begin to display every possible combination of black and white elements; yet even at a typical desktop computer?s rate of 100 new icons per second, it would take over 10,298 years to draw every icon. Like Borges? fabled library, there is always the potential of finding a meaningful artifact, but in practical terms the user is likely to be exhausted long before the icons are. In fact, Simon estimates that the first recognizable image won?t appear for several hundred trillion years. Eventually, Every Icon will generate a pixilated version of every possible image, from the Coca-Cola? logo to the Mona Lisa to a picture of the viewer?s own face. In doing this, the applet will transgress countless individual and corporate copyrights simply because Simon?s visual invention is so fundamental that it spans an entire visual domain. The basic level at which Every Icon operates means that it can be effectively viewed on a ten-foot high videowall or on a handheld palm pilot. In its adapability to new platforms, Every Icon has inspired preservation strategies like the variable paradigm, which suggests fluidity rather than fixity as the solution to the specter of technological obsolescence haunting digital art.
John F. Simon Jr.