Tom Moody, a net artist, musician, blogger, and art critic, died this past Saturday morning from Covid-related complications and pneumonia, according to his gallery, And/Or in Pasadena, California. Moody was in his 60s.
Moody was committed to lo-fi internet aesthetics through the use of old software, sometimes termed abandonware, like MSPaintbrush. He was involved in many early net art groups, sometimes termed surfing clubs, that have been considered widely influential.
Through these clubs, in particular Nasty Nets, Computer Art, and Club Internet, Moody was included in a network of influential net artists that included JODI, Olia Lialina, Petra Cortright, Ryder Ripps, and others. His dedication to the form led him to blog about net art and its possibilities for 20 years, creating a vital archive of the development and analysis of early internet art. He also relied heavily on dump.fm, where Moody would spend dozens of hours a week after other surfing clubs went silent, according to Ripps.
“He would respect everyone as artists, even though most of these people didn’t even know what Art Basel was or anything like that,” Ripps said of Moody. “They weren’t artists in the traditional sense. But that type of scene, that type of art, is the most authentic and meaningful, to me and I think to Tom as well. There were these 16-year-olds that Tom would mentor and be a friend to.”
A graduate of University of Virginia with a double major in studio art and English literature, Moody began blogging in early 2001 after artist Bill Schwarz invited Moody to Digital Media Tree, a blogging collective set up by Jim Basset. Moody’s blog would eventually feature in 2005 Art in America article titled “Art in the Blogosphere.”
Moody posted his work, much of it made on MSPaintbrush, on his blog, where he also commented on net-art topics like the poetics of glitch art or the advent of NFTs, as well as seemingly random subjects, like milk and the works of sci-fi writer Doris E. Piserchia. All the while, he also wrote as a critic for Artforum. This blog represents a continuous witness to the development of net art.
Along with artists like Lorna Mills and JODI, Moody was among the first to take up GIFs as an artistic medium. Ripps recalled that he “approached it like an animated canvas.”
In an interview with Telic Arts Exchange, Moody said he considered GIFs to be the “purest expression of the democratic web and along with JPEGs and PNGs,” since they weren’t beholden to subscription or propriety limitations. Moody sold his GIFs just as artists now sell NFTs. GIFs would become a part of his artistic practice, both gracing his blog and shows at physical art spaces, including ones held at And/Or and the New Museum in New York.
But his GIFs went beyond those spaces, also acting as some of the initial decorative materials of many early sites and blogs. Documentation of how his GIF OptiDisk 16 (2006), a flashing ring of concentric circles in red and blue, traveled around and was appropriated for differing uses on the internet. As Sally McKay wrote in her essay on GIFs “The Affect of Animated GIFs (Tom Moody, Petra Cortright, Lorna Mills),” Moody intentionally made early GIF works, like OptiDisc 16, appear jerky. “The artist has carefully timed distinct passages of motion between the various coloured rings so that they do not travel at exactly the same rate,” McKay wrote. “The jerky gaps between frames further grab the viewer’s attention.”
This lo-fi quality represents Moody’s larger rejection of the sleek and seamless aesthetics that tech was moving toward. On the “About” page on his website, Moody wrote, “The computer is a tool, not magic, and possesses its own tragicomic limitations as well as offering new means of expression and communication. I am intrigued by the idea of making some kind of advanced art with this apparatus – objects, images, and installations that hold up to prolonged scrutiny in real space.”