Thumbarumba, turning the ordinary web into a textual treasure hunt

Ethan Ham

Tumbarumba” by New York-based media artist Ethan Ham is a Firefox extension that implants stories by “outstanding authors” into the text of ordinary websites. This unexpected infiltration of poetry into common everyday web surfing presents a shift in context away from the mundane act of visiting a website into a literary excursion of both randomness and discovery. Story fragments or “Thumbarumbas” are inserted into the text and only visible when the user rolls over specific areas to uncover and expose them, sometimes unknowingly. This chance encounter then produces and triggers an additional story to surface, displacing the text’s initial significance into a new experience and outcome. The project is an interesting addition to the hardcoded effect that browsers typically exhibit, which is to add a text bubble next to the cursor, if a link contains any meta-data that explains where it’s link is pointing. Ham intentionally subverts this paradigm by inserting specific texts into the page that add a sense of jubilation and metaphorical construction to this typical form of interaction. As a result of this intervention, the average visitor is transformed from passive reader into active explorer in order to make sense of the hidden text that transforms their typical web experience into something more profound.

Jonah Brucker-Cohen