Jonathan Harris

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Without meeting him, you'd think Jonathan Harris was born coding—his web projects are beguilingly simple, both in their design and concept. For instance, "We Feel Fine," a 2006 effort, aggregates people's feelings from what they post in their blogs, displaying them as tiny bubbles that can be investigated and ordered around based on their temper. But the 28-year-old, who grew up painting and sketching, didn't even create a webpage until a 1999 computer course at Princeton; his work is formulated offline and only when it's fully thought out does he begin to code. Between projects he abandons computer use entirely. Last year, with "Universe," he set out to create a new mythology of the skies by projecting our stories, based on a global network of news items, into a new set of constellations.He transcended his own style with "The Whale Hunt." Instead of mining data from the Internet he traveled to Barrow,Alaska to participate in the fishing traditions of the Inupiat Eskimos. The resulting nine days, captured via continuous photography and viewable in all manner of layers—by characters who were involved, or events that occurred, for example—is an exceedingly elegant version of the standard narrative slideshow. When we found him,Harris was working on a new piece for the MoMA show, "Design and the Elastic Mind" (from Feb. 24 to May 12).He's collaborating with Sepandar Kamvar, who helped with "We Feel Fine," on a commission on internet dating called "I Want You To Want Me."

On elegant coding: "It's like working with anything—paints, wood, or being a car mechanic.You have to develop a love for your materials. [Then] you develop an intimate sense for what is possible [and] start thinking in that language—Oh, of course a brush stroke can work in this way. It's the same with the code.You have this feeling of how things work, how motion works, how time works, how interactions work. There are all these things that come with time. I look at a lot of my early work now and it seems incredibly primitive and really crude, largely because I was trying to learn the materials.Now it's second nature.When I lie in bed at night falling asleep, I can see exactly how something is going to behave on screen and how it's going to be controlled. It's just a matter of executing."

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