As the resolutions on our computer screens have grown larger, the stuff on them has grown smaller, at least as far as our eyeballs are concerned. It’s like moving into a big new house and finding that all your apartment-sized furniture doesn’t really fill up the space. Boston.com’s Big Picture blog used to stretch awe-inspiringly across my entire laptop; now it takes up, like, half, which is definitely a bummer. Text is even more problematic. It’s tiny! Sometimes painfully so. So I’ve gotten in the habit of enlarging it when and wherever I can. I compulsively blow websites up to a more comfortable size, and I bumped my default TextEdit font from the torturous 12-point to a far more reasonable 18. I relish in my grandma-size jumbo text. It keeps me sane.
At least for now. From the looks of things, the future only holds more hi-res madness. Some smartphones now boast HDTV-worthy resolutions, and soon TVs will make the jump to 4K. But what about the past? Just how did we arrive here with all these pixels to fill? That’s precisely what these pieces of paper show us.
Graphic Arrays, by Aram Bartholl, shows the evolution of aspect ratios and resolutions over the last decade. The retrospective covers the development in two distinct strains: the portrait-orientation screens of our mobile devices and the landscape ones of our laptops and desktop monitors.
The latter begins with the VGA display that IBM made standard starting in 1987. A humble 640 pixels wide by 480 tall. The largest in that stack—which Bartholl rendered out of paper, "our 'old’ medium," he explains—represents the 2560×1600 resolution commonly found on desktop monitors today. On mobile, the smallest is 240x320 (just big enough for a game of Snake), ending with the comparatively gigantic 1536x2048 resolution of the retina-level iPad. We’ve come a long away.
It may look like a leap, but it was, of course, the product of many incremental jumps. Here, in the artist’s statement, Bartholl catalogs all of them:
240×320, 240×400, 320×480, 480×640, 480×800, 540×960, 600×960, 600×1024, 640×960, 768×1024, 720×1280, 1366×768, 800×1280, 1080×1920, 1536×2048
640×480, 768×576, 800×600, 1024×600, 1024×768, 1152×720, 1280×720, 1280×768, 1280×800, 1152×864, 1280×960, 1280×1024, 1360×768, 1366×768, 1440×900, 1600×900, 1400×1050, 1680×1050, 1600×1200, 1920×1080, 2048×1152, 1920×1200, 1920×1440, 2560×1440, 2560×1600
If you’re having a hard time reading that, try holding down CMD and tapping the "+" key on Mac or CTRL "+" on Windows.
Graphic Arrays is currently on view at DAM Frankfurt as part of a show titled Back to Back, running through April 27.