- RSS Channel Showcase 4493813
- RSS Channel Showcase 6991534
- RSS Channel Showcase 1057844
- RSS Channel Showcase 6454281
Articles on this Page
- 06/05/17--09:17: _The Republic of Sam...
- 06/15/17--10:21: _Gravity is Optional
- 06/20/17--07:06: _An Algorithm Repres...
- 06/23/17--10:23: _A Détourned Office ...
- 06/29/17--10:33: _Neen: Nikola Tosic
- 06/29/17--10:34: _Neen: Rafaël Rozendaal
- 06/29/17--10:34: _Neen: Andreas Angel...
- 06/29/17--10:34: _When Art Met Screens
- 06/29/17--10:34: _Neen: Mai Ueda
- 03/09/17--08:42: _Flooding the Museum
- 07/12/17--13:42: _What’s good for net...
- 07/12/17--13:43: _World Wide Webarchives
- 07/13/17--10:19: _Full Metal Spray
- 03/28/17--11:11: _Artist Profile: Dev...
- 07/17/17--13:40: _Artist Profile: Ang...
- 07/18/17--07:26: _Open Call: Rhizome ...
- 04/10/17--12:04: _Between the Net and...
- 07/21/17--07:51: _I Power Blogger
- 07/25/17--11:26: _The Proxy and its P...
- 08/08/17--12:40: _Fall Opportunities ...
- 06/05/17--09:17: The Republic of Samsung
- 06/15/17--10:21: Gravity is Optional
- 06/20/17--07:06: An Algorithm Represses Thirst
- 06/23/17--10:23: A Détourned Office Space
- 06/29/17--10:33: Neen: Nikola Tosic
- 06/29/17--10:34: Neen: Rafaël Rozendaal
- 06/29/17--10:34: Neen: Andreas Angelidakis
- 06/29/17--10:34: When Art Met Screens
- 06/29/17--10:34: Neen: Mai Ueda
- 03/09/17--08:42: Flooding the Museum
- 07/12/17--13:42: What’s good for net art is good for everyone
- 07/12/17--13:43: World Wide Webarchives
- 07/13/17--10:19: Full Metal Spray
- 03/28/17--11:11: Artist Profile: Devin Kenny
- 07/17/17--13:40: Artist Profile: Angela Washko
- 07/18/17--07:26: Open Call: Rhizome Microgrants 2017
- Projects that use Webrecorder—Rhizome’s tool to create and share interactive high-fidelity web archives—to create what we call “archival narratives.” An example of this type of project is our work with the Obama White House to reflect on the former president’s social media legacy. Grantees whose projects use Webrecorder will receive initial training and regular technical support from the Webrecorder team. This microgrants thread is funded by the Knight Foundation, as part of their significant outreach support for the Webrecorder initiative.
- Artworks that engage with digital citizenship and the networked city, to be a part of Rhizome's presentation at New Museum’s IdeasCity this September. Works can be video- or computer-based, and should be finished by early September.
- 04/10/17--12:04: Between the Net and the Street
- 07/21/17--07:51: I Power Blogger
- 07/25/17--11:26: The Proxy and its Politics
- 08/08/17--12:40: Fall Opportunities at Rhizome
- Strong writing, editing, and analytical skills, and a high internet literacy
- High level of familiarity with contemporary art and technology
- Demonstrated interest in net art and net art history
- Strong copyediting and proofreading skills
- Basic HTML/CSS skills
- Familiarity with Rhizome’s history and current projects and publications
- Enthusiasm for contemporary and historical digital culture, and a high internet literacy
- Demonstrated background understanding of net art and net art history
- Basic HTML/CSS skills
- Familiarity with Rhizome’s history and current projects and publications
- Strong writing skills
Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries’s website is simply a list of their works centered on the page ordered in no obvious way. This format in concert with the standard black text and blue hyperlink color scheme harkens back to Web 1.0. The design choice—and the exclusive use of the artist duo’s signature Monaco font—suggests a web presence that has not seen an overhaul since its inception. Perhaps the intention is to affect unresponsiveness; although the site itself is mobile-friendly, most links will not load outside a desktop browser, and the catalogue of works under “M0BILE DEVICE: CLICK HERE” is noticeably incomplete.
Samsung is the seventh work listed and available in five languages (set to jazz), as well as an additional English version set to tango. The piece loads almost instantaneously, opening with a flash of the Samsung corporation’s trademark blue fleeting enough to be read as a glitch. The screen transitions into a countdown that fills the browser window crisply at any size, a feature of the artists’ preferred format of Flash animation.
“ABOUT MY WORK AND MYSELF AND ALL THE REST I USED TO SAY:/,” the narrator begins, “I HAVE NOTHING TO SAY AND I’M SAYING IT:.”
The narrator is perhaps an anonymous South Korean citizen, perhaps a “hoesawon,” one of the legions of company workers that pack the nation’s offices. Or perhaps it is YHCHI themselves. The narrator concedes no introduction to the viewer, instead only proffering the abstracted drudgery of their existence.
The speed of the text is tightly synced to the music, oftentimes bordering on illegibility as the words pass too quickly to comfortably read. The viewer is kept in a state of tension as the ambiance of the corporate lobby music stands at odds with the need for constant attention to the screen.
While interactivity is considered a hallmark of net art, YHCHI’s work—Samsung included—rejects it entirely, lacking in hyperlinks and denying the visitor the ability to pause or scrub. The duration of any given piece is a mystery. The visitor is a passive recipient, much like a movie theater goer, an allusion encouraged by the use of a film leader at the beginning of many works.
“FINALLY I HAVE AN IDEA:/SAMSUNG.”
“SAMSUNG,/MY COUNTRY’S SAVIOR”
“I BELIEVE/SAMSUNG WILL/HELP ME GET/OVER BEING DEAD.”
The work begins to seem less like film and more like advertising as the screen flashes with frame after frame of the conglomerate’s name, reminiscent of the jumbotron-lined streets of Seoul. Most of the piece features black text on a blue background, with the sole exception of the word “SAMSUNG,” which is written in red. The contrast leaves an afterimage, a lingering that attests to Samsung’s pervasiveness, in the retina and in the public consciousness of South Korea.
YHCHI has said that they “would like [their] work to exert a dictatorial stranglehold on the reader.” Inundation is just one of several tactics employed by YHCHI that seems borrowed from corporate stratagems. The cheeky tone of Samsung could be interpreted as critique, but YHCHI’s self-identification with corporate aesthetics may stem from a genuine desire to participate in its mechanisms, even as, by virtue of the corporation Samsung’s ubiquity in South Korea, participation is compulsory. To interpret Samsung as a unilateral criticism of the corporation Samsung is to ignore the complexity of South Korea’s relationship to its conglomerates.
YHCHI made Samsung in 1999, two short years after the 1997 IMF crisis decimated the South Korean economy and set the stage for Samsung’s eventual monopolization of the global telecommunication sector. In 1995, South Korea had responded to international pressure to open up its economy by adopting the “segyehwa” globalization policy. The degree of damage wrought by the IMF crisis can largely be attributed to profligate corporate borrowing, as South Korea’s “chaebol” conglomerates aggressively expanded to compete in the new global market.
To save the economy from complete collapse, South Korea accepted a $60 billion bailout package from the IMF, the terms of which slashed excess production capacity, leading to the shuttering of fourteen of the nation’s largest industrial conglomerates. Samsung not only survived the sweep with minimal losses but emerged poised to lead the shift in national focus to the ICT (Information and Communications Technology) industry in a landscape stripped of domestic competitors.
Today, not only does Samsung account for around 20% of South Korea’s exports, it also figures prominently in Korean national identity. Some Koreans go so far as to call their country “the Republic of Samsung.” The moniker is deserved, for Samsung’s influence extends far beyond its products (already omnipresent in South Korean daily life) into the nation’s government, press, media, and culture. Samsung has withstood multiple corruption charges due to direct government intervention, as in the pardoning of Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-Hee by then-President Lee Myung-bak in anticipation of South Korea’s bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics.1
YHCHI’s Samsung can be read as an indictment of South Korea’s obsession with multinational conglomerates, but YHCHI has stated that the “Heavy Industries” in their name stemmed from their desire to “receive some of that love.” Young-Hae Chang refers to herself as the CEO, Mark Voge as the CIO, and YHCHI as their “company.” That YHCHI models themselves after the same corporate structures they ostensibly interrogate suggests that the artists are subject to the same tension between identification with and critique of corporations experienced by the Korean population.2
According to Lee Cheol-haeng, head of the corporate policy team at the Federation of Korean Industries, “many Koreans right now have dual minds about chaebols… They say, ‘I hate chaebols, but I want my son to work for one.’” The love of which YHCHI spoke is clearly not unqualified. Instead, it arises from a potent cocktail of frustration with nepotistic and monopolistic business models, appreciation for the chaebols’ role in establishing South Korea as an economic power, and simply the inextricability of corporate products from heightened social mobility and standards of living. Not to mention, the corporation Samsung’s framing of their ruthless business practices as dedication to quality, adaptability, and constant vigilance provides a strong incentive for Koreans to personally identify with its brand narrative.
The piece Samsung addresses the complex nature of the corporation—its existence not only as an economic entity but also as an emotional phantom, reaching its incorporeal fingers into relationships, daydreams, and fantasies. The text of Samsung, demonstrating many of the formal qualities of poetry, is interspersed with conversational breaks that establish intimacy with the viewer. The tone becomes conspiratorial as the narrator asks, “CAN/I CONFIDE/IN YOU?” There is no option to decline. The viewer is rendered complicit in the narrator’s confession of their adoration of Samsung.
This tension between codependence and criticism can also be seen in YHCHI’s use of English. YHCHI writes in three languages: English, Korean, and French, with any other translations produced through outside collaborations (Samsung is presented in their three core languages, in addition to German and Spanish). Though they are often resistant to politicized interpretations of their work, YHCHI acknowledges language, and English in particular, as a “political and powerful tool.”
They explain: “The digital world, globalization, globalized culture, those who believe in Westernization and those who fight it to [the] death[,] they all rely on one constant: no, not the computer, but English and the cultural baggage inherent in English, whether you like it or not.”
Precociously sensitive to the tectonics of linguistic and geopolitical contexts online, YHCHI asserted in a 2002 interview with Thom Swiss: to participate in the web in English is to “implicitly justify a certain history.” The multiple translations of each work reveals nuanced relations within existing power structures. The individual qualities of each language as well as their varied network of interrelations—to each other, and to English specifically—are highlighted by the consistency of other formal aspects across each translated iteration of an individual work, in addition to YHCHI’s practice at large.
YHCHI’s understanding of the use of English on the web as both a universalizer and a collusion mirrors their, and South Korea’s, complicated relationship to globalization. Only recently Korea was a relatively closed country, but now, English acts as a marker of cosmopolitanism, whether plastered storefront signage or slipped in as loanwords in everyday conversation. For a nation whose interactions with foreign powers has historically been tarnished by conquest, the opportunity to be a dominant economic force is bittersweet. It seems South Korea (and by extension YHCHI) is willing to concede the playing field choice to English for the chance to participate on the global stage, in the market, and—in YHCHI’s case—on the internet.
But in the end, YHCHI’s adamant apolitical stance makes it difficult to ascertain the intent of their work. Samsung, for all its criticisms or celebrations of the corporation’s hold on its home country, suggests no solution to the Korean public’s difficult position. The artists’ irreverent assessment of the situation necessitates the question: Does YHCHI have an obligation to do more than simply present the issue? Must they propose an alternative for this work to be effective?
Or perhaps even asking betrays a Western expectation. Perhaps the capacity to understand is lost in translation. Perhaps one must be saved by an idea.
1. President Lee hoped Lee Kun-Hee, a member of the International Olympic Committee, could tip the bid in South Korea’s favor. Pyeongchang eventually won the right to host the Games, a result celebrated by the Korean public as much for their country’s international recognition as for the $20 billion boon to the economy.
2. Ahyoung Yoo expands upon YHCHI’s reliance on corporate structures to stage their criticism of the same in The Problems of Digital Utopia: Young Hae-Chang Heavy Industries on the Web.
Header image: Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, Samsung (1999). Installation view from The C(h)roma Show, Bangalore, 2014.
This interview accompanies the presentation of Yael Kanarek’sWorld of Awe: The Traveler’s Journal (Chapter 1: Forever) as a part of the online exhibitionNet Art Anthology.
Kaela Noel: How, and when, did World of Awe originate?
Yael Kanarek: World of Awe originated in a series of acrylic paintings in 1994, right after my first group show at The Drawing Center. I stood in front of my gouache works of fantastical domestic scenes—women with penises instead of breasts, men with tails spinning cups, etc.—and felt that they weren’t authentic. (I feel differently about them now, though.) I felt as if I didn’t know who I was as an artist. I went home and made a list of things I loved and decided to work through them. In my early twenties, I worked in portraiture. I began to move away from it when I came to New York and completely departed from any prior conventions about painting with the World of Awe series. Then love letters started to appear in the paintings. I never imagined that language would become such a central theme for me. I always found language to be very difficult and menacing. I still do. These paintings became a portal to another world and a new life. They are very dear to me.
Yael Kanarek, World of Awe: The Traveler's Journal (Chapter 1: Forever), 2000. Screenshot created in EaaS using IE4.5 for Mac.
KN: Was it your first online artwork?
YK: My first net artwork was Love Letters from a World of Awe back in 1995. It’s still online. Very early experiments with storytelling, digital image-making, virtual/physical feedback loops, animation, and interactivity. It reflects some of the ideas and problems we were thinking about in the mid-90s. Sometimes I show it to students when I teach “Art in the Cloud” through Pratt’s MFA program as a crash course in HTML/CSS for artists.
KN: How did you come to make work on the web, specifically browser-based works? Were you part of a wider group or network of artists involved with the web in the 1990s? How did you communicate and discover other works of net art?
YK: I was freelancing at a travel service on Broadway below Houston. One of the owners kept talking about this “information superhighway” but couldn’t quite explain what it was. He did know he wanted the company to have a website. I was desperate to learn a paying skill and very intrigued by the office computer, so I offered to take it on. Funny enough, the company’s website was included in a book called Shopping on the Internet published in 1995. Razorfish had just figured out how to push images with a Perl script that created these animations that blew everybody’s minds. And then I discovered their office was in the next building. One day at lunch, I went over, knocked on their door, and said hello.
KN: What happened when they answered?
YK: We had an excited conversation about this new internet thing and wondered whether Craig Kanarick (one of Razorfish’s owners) and I were lost relatives from the old country of Eastern Europe. Razorfish was attracting artists and culture makers all around them. Making art is a great state of mind for experimentation because it allows for pure play. They understood that. Later, they hosted Chapter 1 of World of Awe on their curated website The Blue Dot.
My second freelance job was in the music industry as a website creator, before coding and design separated completely. Mark Tribe [founder of Rhizome] came by one day to visit a co-worker. He was talking about Rhizome. Between the Razorfish folks, Mark Tribe’s Rhizome, and John Johnson of Eyebeam, I joined a very exciting international community with a strong base in downtown New York City. John was an especially generous benefactor who enabled a lot of new work and experimentation to emerge. There was an air of new, an air of an enormous revolution.
Recently, I heard a recording of Rauschenberg talking about the artists’ community and sense of experimentation they shared in the ‘70s. I feel fortunate to say that I identify with that sentiment, in that it resonates with my experiences in the mid-90s. Although I was born in New York, I left as a toddler. By the time I returned in 1991 I was practically, culturally, an immigrant. This experimental environment Rauschenberg talks about, a community that was open to invention, this was something I had dreamed about since I was sixteen.
I created two net art versions of World of Awe, one in 1995 and a second in 1997. Then I needed a break, to retreat into my little cave. I wanted to learn more about World of Awe, specifically the Traveler’s Journal. So I spent 1998 writing letters and travelogues, defining the physical properties and geography of Sunset/Sunrise, and creating the dynamics between the Traveler and the Lover, whose genders remain ambiguous. I researched early forms of graphical user interface (GUI) and UX and studied the various reasonings (psychological, cognitive) behind the desktop story. I read travelogues and classic literature, played computer games, and thought about gender in language. This yearlong effort resulted in the “emulator” of the Traveler’s fictional laptop built in Silicon Canyon from scraps of older computers. (The laptop is described in greater detail in Chapter 2 > Navigation > Tools > Laptop.) The laptop “emulator” delivers the Traveler’s writings through GUI, which is an integral part of the narrative. Christiane Paul included it in the 2002 Whitney Biennial.
While working on this piece, I felt quite isolated. One night I invited a few artists I saw on the Rhizome list to meet at a bar in the East Village. Mark Napier, Tim Whidden, and Michael Sarff came. It was great to hangout in person and I took it upon myself to organize monthly meetings. A few months later, I approached Liz Slagus at Eyebeam and asked if they could support us. They gave us access to a room, computer, and projector, and the Upgrade! Network was born.
The network ran for about a decade with many nodes around the world and four international festivals. Many of the artists who were active during that decade either spoke, organized, or attended Upgrade! meetings. Upgrade! Paris was probably the longest running node. Unfortunately, Eyebeam lost most of the archived material, but I kept the original version of the site: http://www.theupgrade.net/.
Many of us made net art, wrote about net art, organized events, and curated shows all about net art. I volunteered to redesign the Whitney Artport among other projects. During my short stint as a senior web designer at theglobe.com, I curated three online exhibitions in their net art gallery, Pixel, which I initiated.
As a community, we were involved in making the work and framing it. And then the dot-com bubble exploded in 2002. That, in my experience, brought an era to a halt. While online business investment recovered, investment in net art hasn’t for many years. There was barely any institutional support, except for Turbulence.org and Rhizome, who kept giving small grants. And, at least in the United States, museums lost their funding for new media. It seems like it took a decade for net art culture to reemerge, which happened when the Myspace generation came of age with Web 2.0 sensibilities.
KN: Chapter 1 was originally accompanied by “Nowheres”: http://worldofawe.net/nowheres/. Why did you keep these outside of the project?
YK: I don’t have a clear answer. It could have been a change in zeitgeist or browser version compliance or both. All the pieces of this project belong together. And lately I’ve been grappling with an even bigger question: How do I present all the works that make World of Awe, as some are net art and many others are documentation of physical works, performance, and publications? The line between net art and documentation blurs awkwardly online. It’s a curatorial and UX challenge. I’m open to suggestions.
I worked on my last solo exhibition, Kisses Kisses, at bitforms in 2016 with co-curators Kerry Doran (then-Associate Director at bitforms) and Dylan Kerr (then-Editor at Artsy). Together we looked back at the early days of World of Awe, cataloguing all the works in storage, climbing to out-of-reach closet cabinets, and opening forgotten drawers. We found earlier works on paper from 1994 that looked like SMS bubbles in a trash bag. My two old Mac towers with local internet versions of World of Awe were in perfect condition and fully functioning. I completed a previously unfinished project “Activity Book” I started in the late ‘90s and bitforms published it as a zine for the exhibition, including an essay by Kerry and interview with Dylan.
This exhibition of World of Awe was the first full manifestation of physical world building that I originally intended in 1995. The idea was that the world can be curated in various ways to create different experiences, highlighting multiple threads of the project. Kisses Kisses happened because the curators became collaborators on the project, creating an installation that was another iteration of the World of Awe.
Regarding “Nowheres,” they exist in three forms: (1) the digital landscapes; (2) A Library of Maps; and (3) high-quality digital prints. I worked with Alex Galloway on A Library of Maps, which gathers user tracking data and then randomly superimposes that data over a Nowhere image. The prints were 3D desert landscapes with users’ tracking data hand-drawn on top of them. I filtered the data using various parameters, such as the first minute of every day over a certain period of time.
Yael Kanarek, World of Awe: The Traveler's Journal (Chapter 1: Forever), 2000. Screenshot created in EaaS using IE4.5 for Mac.
KN: Silicon Canyon, the terrain explored by the narrator, appears to be a futuristic version of Silicon Valley, in which planned obsolescence and environmental destruction have created a junk-littered dystopian desert. Did you mean for this setting to critique how tech culture encourages progress without preservation or resource protection?
YK: I was thinking about several “what ifs” and placing them in a future-past non-time, evoking nostalgia for first-generation home computers. I started experiencing a technological dystopia after I dumped my third tube screen and tried to not think about where all this electronic garbage was going. When I wrote Silicon Canyon, I wasn’t aware of the mountains of digital debris dumped in other parts of the planet. This shit we love so much goes somewhere when we’re done with it and it’s an ecological problem.
Another “what if” sounded like this: Let’s say I’m an alien archaeologist who comes across Silicon Canyon. Studying these hills of hardware and uncompiled software in the form of airborne strings of letters, what would I know about the culture that made it?
Like many of us, I have a growing pile of computers and old electronics—my own Silicon Canyon. I showed my first computer at Kisses Kisses. It ran the Speaker Tree sculpture. The first time I turned it on, it worked, both computer and screen. But just before the exhibition opening, the screen’s brittle plastic buttons broke and I don’t know if it was the screen or the computer that failed. We hacked the piece with an old MP3 player. Then the second Windows machine died. It ran Roam, a generative 3D landscape. Then we “upgraded” it to an old Dell laptop. Working with old technology, you just learn to accept potential system failure and always plan to improvise.
KN: What are your thoughts on the unchecked decay of software and hardware, and the wider impact of Silicon Valley and its inventions on the ecosystem?
YK: When do we start sending our crap to outer space? The universe is big.
KN: I’m curious about 419 East 6th Street, the Manhattan address hosting the “portal” through which World of Awe’s treasure-seeking traveler passes into Sunset/Sunrise. Did you pick the address randomly, or does it have some significance? (I know it’s next door to Walter De Maria’s house/studio.)
YK: I was looking for a physical “nowhere” for the portal. 419 isn’t an address on East 6th. There’s a 417 and 421. But 419 was a gated empty lot, the air space around the enormous building that was a Con Edison substation. Only later did I learn it belonged to Walter De Maria. Apparently, Peter Brandt just bought the building and is renovating it to house his collection. I might be able to visit the portal if it opens to the public.
One collaboration that focused on the portal was the 2003 net.dance piece commissioned by Turbulence.org. The project features dancer and filmmaker Evann Siebens with music by Yoav Gal. Over the years, though, it started to suffer from version-decay. Someone at Turbulence.org made a video of it.
Yael Kanarek, World of Awe: The Traveler's Journal (Chapter 1: Forever), 2000. Screenshot created in EaaS using IE4.5 for Mac.
KN: Can you talk about the special maps the Traveler consults? “Moo,” the leather map, made me think of MOOs. How did you pick the names for it and its digital counterpart, the map “Eep”?
YK: I was aware of MOOs so the association was cool. I was thinking of sounds and I needed short nicknames to refer to the two sides of the map. “Eep” is one of the original Mac OS alert sounds. A cow’s “moo,” with its deeper resonance, counters the more high-pitched “eep.” Digital and animal sounds—the connection between “Eep” and “Moo” is very special and intertwined. The two maps are attached at their backs with electro-organic glue. The Traveler wrote that separating them sounds like the screech of a dying animal. Perhaps similar to the cry of a child who’s forced to separate from their smartphone.
KN: Can you discuss Sunset/Sunrise and World of Awe as virtual worlds on the web?
YK: World of Awe refers to the whole, the world which holds all the work, physical and virtual. Sunset/Sunrise is the parallel world described by the Traveler and where the treasure hunt takes place. The impulse to bring the story to the web was twofold. One was practical, since I ran out of space in my studio/bedroom. The second reason was total fascination with this technological network that uses metaphors of space and navigation to enable action. The story of the internet as a boundless, nonlinear space was a perfect setting for Sunset/Sunrise—where time is suspended, gravity is optional, water is inessential, and treasure crumbs resemble candy sprinkles.
Once the internet became a multilingual space and supported many more languages, I started thinking about it as a space of language, both computer and spoken. Languages define borders and space on the internet. It was natural for me to ask how can Sunset/Sunrise cross these borders and how can I fold these language spaces into the treasure hunt.
These questions opened the door to World of Awe’s third chapter Object of Desire, written in English, Hebrew, and Arabic, with additional Romanesque words and C++ for a sesame cookie recipe. Object of Desire took three years and significant support. I had a fully funded MFA at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), a Rockefeller Media fellowship, a scheduled exhibition at the Jewish Museum, and the back of bitforms gallery in order to make it happen.
Object of Desire took the Traveler’s Journal to the Mediterranean and Middle East. The fifteen scenes are based on themes and motives born in the region that are alive in contemporary culture. In the third chapter, the landscape takes over the whole window. We move through the landscape in HyperCard-style following a series of arrows. I made it in Flash. A big risk, but I figured that as long as advertising, video streaming sites, and Facebook use the technology, the work is safe from dying. The only problem right now is that screen resolutions are increasing, so the work is becoming smaller on the screen. I recommend zooming in.
Working in a multilingual space has offered me the greatest learning curve. It’s also resulted in an ongoing body of works called TextWorks. Working with multiple languages doesn’t allow for drifting. It keeps you on earth and not off into another world or inner mindspace. Geography, politics, trade, history, conquest, sex, all of these are at play and are constantly evaluated in this context. Meaning divides and shapeshifts like water.
KN: In Chapter 3, you address globalization, national identity, and language in the context of the web. The work spans three languages—Arabic, Hebrew, and English—and is the first chapter in the project that suggests a more explicitly political backdrop or aim. What are your thoughts on language’s role in net art and the internet, and borders? And on the generally Western-focused locus of net art? What were your aims with this chapter and what are your thoughts around it now?
YK: It wasn’t obvious to me that I would use these three languages. Several things motivated me. An immigrant, whether from overseas or another part of the country, never completely leaves the landscape of their childhood. Taking the Rosetta Stone as an inspirational model, I had a unique opportunity to dedicate a serious amount of time and resources to look at a deeply rich cultural well, one that’s centuries in the making. I didn’t see anyone make work across languages, and I knew I could. So I did.
During the first few years since Chapter 3’s launch in 2006, the scenes were downloaded from four different servers located in Izmir, Tel Aviv, Ramallah, and New York City. When you clicked on a scene, a note would show up indicating where the file was downloading from.
Yael Kanarek, World of Awe: Chapter 3 (Object of Desire), 2006
I also had to make a decision regarding gender. In English, I could keep the gender of the Traveler and Lover ambiguous. But Hebrew and Arabic don’t permit this. I had two options, either select a gender or do something to the languages. I chose to add an icon to the existing alphabets. The alphabet systems are similar. Both Hebrew and Arabic have a letter called Ayin, which means Eye. I added another icon of an eye and placed it where words became gender specific. The eye blinks and turns the gaze. The text is now looking at the reader. When it comes to gender, two eyes are better than one. Better depth of field. And a satisfying solution.
During my time working on the Arabic section with a translator, I experienced a crude political awakening to the living experience of Palestinians under the Israeli state and army. I had some awareness before, but didn’t understand what living under military occupation meant to ordinary people, nor what it meant to be a minority in the state. This resulted in an undoing of the education I received growing up in mainstream Israel. Painful, but critical.
KN: In working on the project as a whole, were you influenced by any existing platforms or online works, or did you pull more from outside sources, like literature and film?
I’m influenced by everything and not one to discriminate. I’m a sponge artist. I’ve always loved discoveries and tales of travel. There’s this yearning that drives World of Awe, the search for the lost treasure, and also a sense of loss for the Lover left behind. I read travelogues that spanned centuries, starting with the story of Gilgamesh. I was looking for writings from female travelers and came across the diaries of Isabelle Eberhardt, a young European woman who crossed gender, religious, and political borders in Algeria during the early 20th century. She died in a flash flood at age twenty-seven.
I was also attracted to small town American culture, which I was introduced to through my partner at the time. Quiet summer afternoons in California felt the same as the quiet summer afternoons of my childhood in Israel. Where the air feels like it's not moving and won't ever move again... Time stands still in those places. I also listened to a lot of American music, like Johnny Cash and the blues.
KN: What are you working on now?
YK: I’ve started working on the fourth chapter. The framework is conceptualized and I created the first piece for the exhibition Kisses Kisses. Creating Chapter 4 has me picking up on a thread I left in 1995, realizing now what I couldn’t then. The chapter will be a set of hand-coded, single page works. The only user interaction is clicking through to the page’s “View Source.” The pieces happen in the front and the source.
This essay accompanies the presentation of Yael Kanarek’sWorld of Awe: The Traveler’s Journal (Chapter 1: Forever) as a part of the online exhibitionNet Art Anthology.
In 1995, Yael Kanarek began World of Awe: The Traveler’s Journal, a multi-part work detailing an anonymous traveler’s epistolary ruminations in Sunset/Sunrise, a desert found through a portal on 419 East 6th Street in Manhattan. Exhibited in the 2002 Whitney Biennial, the first chapter of the piece, titled Forever and created in 2000, uses a non-linear narrative structure, presenting a series of love letters and journal entries that describe regions like Silicon Canyon, “a dumpyard for all the hardware and software ever created,” and accounts of strange fictional technologies the traveler carries with them like moooRingBaby, a ring purchased for $1.99 at Duane Reade that speaks in expletives. World of Awe: The Traveler’s Journal (Chapter 1: Forever) uses a graphical user interface that acts as salvaged hard drive content from a laptop built by the protagonist. Narratively, the piece is driven by the Traveler’s desire for a nameless, lost treasure, the specifics of which are unknown to both the narrator and viewer alike.
What is most distinct throughout Chapter 1 is perhaps not its exploration of technology on its own terms, but rather Kanarek’s use of the desert landscape as the setting for the Traveler’s exhaustive yearning for intimacy. Kanarek’s work benefits from being read through theorist and anthropologist Elizabeth Povinelli’s theorizations on the Desert and intimacy in Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism and The Empire of Love: Toward a Theory of Intimacy, Genealogy, and Carnality. Povinelli’s viewpoints might assist the viewer in understanding the Traveler’s political and social existence in New York as impossible to execute in Sunset/Sunrise. Povinelli’s writing applied to Kanarek illuminates creeds of a liberal society that vitalizes itself through adherence to orders of liberal governance. Within these parameters, irregular affects and environments necessitate a larger technological solutionism and intervention to maintain their rhythm. Kanarek prefaces most of the Traveler’s journal entries with windows containing renderings of landscapes from Sunset/Sunrise: aerial perspectives of orange canyons, mosaics of weathered, eroded rock lacking any trace of water––though the homepage for the work states that in the Traveler’s journey, “an algorithm represses thirst.” Despite transcending this biological necessity, the Traveler’s situation in Sunset/Sunrise is ultimately distressing, complicated by the specific nature of the Desert as well as their separation from the subject of their love letters.
Throughout the work, it’s difficult to locate the Traveler amongst conventional place-markers, buildings, and landmarks. Most descriptions of settings articulate the overwhelming emptiness of the territory they occupy and travel through. This terrain, the Desert, in Povinelli’s formulation, is an affective tool that can explore how the non-living evokes panic amongst the living. The Desert undoes the dissimulation that life will always be life by failingto be immune from biological processes and the immanent conclusions of resource extraction.
Povinelli writes that “[the Desert] stands for all things perceived and conceived as denuded of life—and, by implication, all things that could, with the correct deployment of technological expertise or proper stewardship, be (re)made hospitable to life.” In the narrator’s only detailed account of Silicon Canyon under the “Navigation” part of the toolbar, we learn that though it is devoid of life or discernable political structure, the vast quantity of technological detritus amongst organic life indicates thatSunset/Sunrise may have once been grounds on which a civilization existed. Silicon Canyon––functioning as a metonym for the larger technocratic project that always already views barren terrain as a prospective blank slate for liberal governance and processes of dispossession––also exemplifies the crisis that modern “development” projects are always tied up with extinction, depletion, and negation. Povinelli, again: “The Desert is also glimpsed in both the geological category of the fossil insofar as we consider fossils to have once been charged with life, to have lost that life, but as a form of fuel can provide the conditions for a specific form of life—contemporary, hypermodern, informationalized capital.” If the abandoned technologies can operate as a kind of fossil, it is by this recuperative logic (referred to as the Carbon Imaginary by Povinelli) that the narrator––amazed and overjoyed by the forgotten processors, hard drives and monitors––constructs a laptop in an attempt to find the treasure, despite its seeming impossibility to be located.
In addition to finding the treasure, the other driving plot mechanism in Chapter 1 is a series of love letters to another anonymous character, often addressed simply as “beloved.” Though impossible to be sent or received, the letters (sometimes poetic, sometimes detailing the journey and searching) permeate with yearning and loneliness. Despite their only function as temporary relief, these letters in the work convey the Traveler’s anxieties, delineating a larger social anomaly wherein the Traveler’s former existence in New York prevents them from projectingliberal fantasies of vitalization onto the Desert. Instead, though written from Sunset/Sunrise, the letters reveal the Traveler’s continuing identification with and function within the city they departed.
Modern forms of intimacy “secure the self-evident good of social institutions, social distributions of life and death, and social responsibilities for these institutions and distributions.” Thus, there’s a symbiotic relationship between the domestic and cultural practices of the intimate couple and the larger necropolitical state apparatus. Both the independent and intimate subject, while disparate, are both symptoms and constitutive events of contractual forms of recognition within structural power. Specifically, the intimate and genealogical subject seeks to make themselves more coherent and legible by engaging in politics of visibility, entrusting the State as an alleged ally through apparatuses like marriage.
In the case of the narrator in Sunset/Sunrise, this specific mode of discipline is thrown into crisis, particularly as they are situated in the Desert environment that would otherwise be productive for genealogical action and realization (colonization, creating kin). In other words, the Traveler is upset by the impossibility of existing within liberal social order as they did prior to being in Sunset/Sunrise. At such an impasse, of course most of the love letters discuss the lost treasure with bleak obsession, a distraction from existing in political paradox. From “Love Letter 37/5”: “I’ve been surrounded by dark evenness for a while now. Wherever I turn I encounter sameness. Even when I assume to see or sense a structure it appears the same in any direction I turn.” The desire for structure, or the normative trajectories of existing intimately as it pertains to paradigmatic cultural function, is sought but never found.
Through the narrator’s constant enunciations of desire, they cloud their own memory, noted throughout part of their travel log. Textually, what appears as mere separation anxiety is also the narrator’s excesses of memory overflowing. They fail to exist in a state of both personal and historical amnesia as they once did, wherein memory loss is a perennial symptom and constitutive event of liberal society’s production. Povinelli states that “intimate recognition establish[es] a new subject out of the husk of the old and reset the clock of the subject at zero.” If normative love and intimacy maintain the orders and addresses of these organizing schemas, then the narrator’s newfound loneliness forecloses on the possibility to start over, to achieve the privilege of resetting the clock. Resigned to viewing themselves on their own terms without inter-subjective recognition, capitulating to “adapt or die” capitalist sentiment, the Traveler is left to locate themselves amongst a scattering of obsolete technologies.
In short, Sunset/Sunrise as the Desert provides the narrator with a shock powered by the excesses of existing outside of traditional economies, social paradigms, and capital flows that are centered by the intimate couple they once existed within.By lacking potential for functioning intimately but possessing an excess of the individual personhood, they are left with an ultimately useless, double-binding self-determination. Technology—often by projecting onto an imagined void like the Desertthat necessitates its own use—determines its own fraught ontology in the same way. In the feedback loop of the lonely narrator and electronically wired paths and deserts in Chapter 1 of World of Awe, Kanarek demonstrates that modernity’s sick obsession with extraction, vitality, and extinction makes Sunset/Sunrise appear as a likely future.
Alec Recinos: How did you start working on Airworld, and how did it develop out of your earlier projects?
Jennifer McCoy: Was the radio the first thing? It’s all mixed up in my mind because we did it as part of the World Views World Trade Center residency.
Kevin McCoy: With the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.
JM: Yeah, with the one in the World Trade Center. I know that we focused on Airworld there, which was crazy because of the plane logo that we developed and then 9/11, which was only the next residency cycle after us. We were doing pirate radio broadcasts from the top of the tower, which was pretty awesome,with the signal strength and all of that. We proposed Airworld as a sort of website to the Gallery 9 at the Walker Art Center, and then that’s where the DoubleClick ads came from. So I think that the banner ads were actually first. Then photo shoots and stuff was next.
KM: So it started off as this multifaceted project that had a kind of film set-logic to it.
JM: Yeah, and we did a bunch of video shoots, but we never really made any single channel videos out of that. When we proposed the banner ads from all the photography and then got the DoubleClick network partnership going, Steve Dietz from the Walker said, “What will they click on? When they click on the ad, where do they go?” And we thought, “Oh, yeah.” Because we just were so excited that instead of heading to some arcane URL, people would be seeing these ads streaming amongst the other stuff that was pushed onto the network. Steve encouraged us to think about where viewers would land after they clicked the ads, and then we started working on the Jargon Machine aspect of it and the Economic Theories part of it.
Jennifer and Kevin McCoy's Airworld Banner Ad on Disney.co.uk. Screenshot created in EaaS using IE4.5 for Mac.
KM: That kind of hybrid approach had come from the different things that we were interested in at the time, which was film, and film art to some extent, but also film language in a formal sense, as well as an idea of media collage, mashups and mixing. We were doing a lot of VJ work at the time and had developed VJ software we called Whirlygig that we were using for live shows. We were really interested in the idea of combining and collaging. To make material to feed into this process we first developed Airworld costumes and thought about the World Trade Center as a kind of film set. It was video clips and film stills that got the initial series of images going. Then through personal connections we had an opportunity with DoubleClick to send out a series of banner ads. Those photos became the banner ads. Then, as Jenn said, that became, “Okay, what happens if they click on it?” and the website itself was born.
So the initial website had these two components. One was the Economic Theories, which was jan overlay of texts, kind of cut-up style text overlay. It was almost like a graffiti approach. The other thing was called the Jargon Machine which was wildly adventurous and actually worked pretty well in a crude way to make this real-time collage-y broadcast technology. That part of the site was an extension of what we were doing with the FM radio transmitter, using early text-to-speech technology and doing software-based cut-ups of text, collages and cramming it together. So it was all part of this kind of amorphous interrelated set of projects.
JM: Yeah, and then the third element of the site was the Security Desk. It was this huge PHP script that was hijacking all of these security cameras from around the globe and then putting them into a regular sort of security matrix grid, one feed would be a traffic cam from Seattle and another feed would be literally a water cooler from Tokyo. And then we had a traceroute code superimposed over the top of all of that. The idea there was that it was actual places of work that were collaged into one security cam view, and then the traceroute provided, for anybody who could follow it, [a path] back to the network channel from wherever the piece was plugged into, wherever the camera’s server was originating the image.
KM: This was in ‘99 so it was pretty primitive.
JM: All the interest in language was because all of these companies had started to put their marketing materials online. It’s that way now and you kind of just think it’s standard, but before the internet there was this moment where the business world didn’t have a publicly accessible face. You could be thinking about IBM or Pitney Bowes, but you couldn’t read anything that they had written, and they didn’t really have a need—except in maybe annual reports that went to shareholders—to share their vision of the world. And we got really interested in how that language was written as all of these companies started to have websites that were public-facing.
KM: Absolutely. The collaging and overlaying was precisely that—responding to this newly available public presentation that corporations were now able to do.
JM: Yeah, and the language was just hyperbolic at best and weirdly utopian at worst. The legacy of that is completely all over the internet now with every little app that talks about your ability to order pizza quickly being a utopian strategy that changed everything for the better. And we're still just not buying that. They’re selling it.
KM: Of course, Silicon Valley, the TV show, is the apotheosis of the critique of that whole kind of start-up culture, but we were in that vein as well then.
JM: Yeah. We had worked at some dotcom enterprises early on and worked at Microsoft spinoffs in Seattle, and were just truly embedded in it, so when we moved to New York we thought of this as source material. A lot of our art deals with workplace realities and I don’t know that that is always so awesome in terms of like entertainment factor, but we thought it was funny.
KM: The other thing, just in terms of background, that I think is important to try to explain around the Airworld project is that we came to New York in ‘96 and were involved in experimental video, media projects, and online projects exclusively at that time, from 1996 to about 2000. All of that predated any kind of gallery work that we did, or any kind of art object making that we did. Before that time it was just a big mash-up. It was just a big mess of interrelated projects and people and experiments and there wasn't a lot of clear boundaries between works necessarily. So Airworld was designed to be an umbrella between a bunch of different kinds of things, and we used a branding strategy where we had a logo, we had a name and we had some kind of basic design concepts.
JM: And a series of concerns. It was also made at a time where a lot of artists were creating sort of faux or real companies, like etoy, or FakeShop, or even JODI. Airworld was a little tighter focused than those. It was about the sort of language of commerce, but it was in that era.
KM: Sure, and from a net art and archivist perspective, Airworld.net housed three different projects. If you set the banner ads in the DoubleClick project aside, because that was hosted on their network and was distributed in a more performative way, then Airworld.net hosted three projects. One is that Economic Theories one, and that’s the text overlay that sits on top of these third-party financial websites. There’s the Airworld Securities Desk, which was the live camera streams that have the Unix traceroute command as a text overlay on top of those streams. And then there was the Jargon Machine, which was really pretty crazy, a text collage of different press releases done as a text-to-speech dynamically generated slide show video of weird corporate images and image search results based on terms.
Jennifer and Kevin McCoy and friends at the World Trade Center, 1999
AR: It was really fascinating for me to see the different projects coming together, and I was particularly interested in the Economic Theories section. Most of Airworld seemed to be working with a sort of ambiguity from using the vague corporate language, but the Economic Theories seemed much more overt, literally foregrounding Marxist texts.
AR: How does that fit into the other projects and how do they all work together?
KM: I think that time has shown that in internet-based projects, the better strategy is the strategy that we use in Economic Theories, where there is no room for ambiguity. So I think the thing that’s the most pointed critique and trollish kind of approach is where it works best. The other ones are more ambiguous and it's hard to figure out what’s going on with them. Airworld’s Security Deskwith the virtual quad monitors and the text overlay, was migrated on a couple of occasions to gallery shows, group shows, and I think it worked better there.
JM: Yeah, because it’s more image-based and the images being live is more compelling when you have an installation, or a sort of time-based way to interact with it, instead of just checking it out on a screen. With the other parts, the line you walk is that when you whip out the Marxist text, all of a sudden that’s the text that you're reading and you’re seeing everything else in a truer way in its vapidity. With the Jargon Machine part of the project, there’s a chance that poetry is there somewhere and we wanted to leave that possibility open. But we wanted to have the viewer think about why the text from a commercial airline might be the same kind of rhetoric as an accounting firm. You know what I mean? And once you put those two together and it flows in an odd way, you start to maybe question all of the text that you read.
KM: Yeah, I think that that's really true. The position that we took, whether successful or not, was precisely that, to draw people’s attention to the underlying similarity, the underlying logic across these different industries, and how in the end they’re all basically the same. Take capitalism, for example, and say that there’s this common logic behind all of it. That’s what ties it together. It is the fact that here we can take these different fields, and all the language just kind of blends together and we want to draw people’s attention to that. Did it make that connection? I’m not so sure, I don’t know, but that was what we were thinking about at the time. So for us, the idea of combining and collaging was a critical strategy to make that point. To make that point of underlying similarity, we thought, could be explored through a collage approach. I think that it’s dated and has been proven not to work particularly well, since we’re almost twenty years out.
AR: Well, I think that’s interesting too because I think that choice to go with a more ambiguous approach versus overt activism, has really lasted much longer, with many contemporary art groups, still working in that vein. I noticed when reading the essay about Airworld that Felix Stalder wrote for the Walker in 1999, that he predicts that in a few years, banner ads will all disappear.
JM: That didn’t really work out for him.
Alec: I thought that the Airworld banner ads were interesting because instead of just presenting Airworld and its language and photos, they were also crawlers that pulled the texts for other projects, like the Jargon Machine. Was that difficult to do with DoubleClick?
KM: There was no kind of automated way to do it. When they were sponsoring the piece, we provided them with the sites that we wanted to work with, and then separately and surreptitiously on our end, used them as the source material for the Jargon Machine stuff, which was a semi-manual, semi-automated process.
JM: Yeah, otherwise I just felt like it was so disconnected. It was all very abstract, I think. It just made more sense conceptually that there was some feedback between our hosts and mirroring it back onto our site.
KM: This was in ‘99, but I think that was even before Google bought DoubleClick. They were the kings of online advertising at the time, but it still was so early-days in advertising, so there was no ad-tracking, or very little ad-tracking. The whole matrix of the online ad world was in it’s infancy. But making that connection between the ad and the underlying site and trying to bring those things together was certainly part of the way we were thinking. We thought that’s the way the advertising industry also was beginning to start thinking, and so everyone was on the same page, in a way, for better or worse.
Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, Airworld. Screenshot created in EaaS using IE4.5 for Mac.
AR: How much control did you have over like where the banner ads were placed?
JM: A lot, I guess.
KM: I mean, we gave them a list of sites.
JM: Yeah, they sent us pages organized by industry and they let us pick. And that was it. We kind of just said, “We want to focus on these,” and they said okay.
KM: Yeah. It was a pretty manual process at that time. They had their network listed out, and we would just like check-box the ones that we were interested in. And they said okay and ran with that. The million impressions went pretty fast, even back then.
JM: It sounded great, though. A million. Mighty million.
AR: Do you know how long it lasted?
KM: Yeah, it was like a two-week thing. All the tracking was so rudimentary then, too. We had some simple tracking on the website and whatever, and we’re like, “Look, people from Australia are looking at it,” but we really had no capability at that time to track what was coming in from those banner ads.
KM: Because, we were not online marketers.
JM: Right. Yes.
KM: But, we know that they were served. We know that people saw them. We know that traffic came in after we started the project, but whether that was art world stuff or banner ad-driven stuff was unclear.
AR: Another part of Airworld that I had a question about was the Airworld Flood Timer, which ended up being part of Toywars. How did that come about, and how involved were you in the net-art sphere at the time? Also, was it important to you that the Airworld project was flexible and open to kind of these changes?
KM: For sure, it was flexible and kind of an umbrella for a bunch of different things. Etoy was based in Switzerland, but all their hosting and their whole kind of online presence was done through the Thing, and the Thing.net, was our full online and physical home here in New York as well, too. It was really the nexus point at the time. No diss to Rhizome, but it was all about the Thing. So the Thing was the nexus point for a lot of online activism, and we were good friends with Ricardo Dominguez as he was developing the ideas of online activism, as well as the flood concept, and the idea of online sit-ins that he was developing with Electronic Disturbance Theater. It was in this context that we made it , and so we said, “Oh, we'll try this. We'll make this tool as well, too.” The idea of toolmaking and these kinds of online protests were both very much in the community we were in at the time.
JM: It was fun, yeah.
KM: It worked, and it was fun to make that. We used the same UI and the same kind of technical production that we used in our Whirlygig VJ software, and it was the same kind of UI and technical production that later became 201, A Space Algorithm, the film cut-up tool for 2001 A Space Odyssey, that we released the next year. So it was all kind of part of the same flow.
AR: I saw in your website that you had made these three different physical workstations to show Airworld kind in real life.
JM: That was one of those things where it’s like, “There’s an open studio,” and since all your work is online, you’re like, “Okay. Let’s inhabit this.” It was great because we had a lot of crappy desks lying around the studio space and we made some gels to stick on the windows. There were several video, too, that are kind of after-effects-y.
KM: We had just gotten a Firewire DV interface for our computer, and so we could kick out stuff from After Effects back to tape for the first time and do digital output to tape. We were really excited about that, and so for the open studios thing at the World Trade Center, we made these video bumpers and were projecting them into the space. But we made those desks, too, as a kind of ready-made installation from a bunch of broken-down crap from these abandoned offices that the residency was hosting us in. It was pretty busy. I like those pieces. They never went anywhere. Those were very much just kind of one-offs.
JM: We’ve got images.
KM: We’ve got images, but I bet we also have some of the posters themselves. We cut them out of film gels. We took film gels and cut out the plane logo and stuck them over these other kind of corporate posters that we found, so they were kind of a physical overlay. We were thinking it was like, “physical Photoshop.”
AR: What were you thinking about when translating the work from the web into the physical setting? Especially since Airworld was so multifaceted and I think it’s hard to translate that interconnection from the net to the physical installation.
KM: The other group that we were riffing off of and responding to was probably Fakeshop. Fakeshop would do these combination online streaming performances staged in physical environments they built. They were doing that at a warehouse space in Williamsburg, which is now where Vice has their corporate headquarters. So we were responding to there work, and it was about trying to make this linkage. Also, at that time, in ‘99, there were no smart phones, no iPhones, nothing like that. There was lot more distinction between offline and online. It doesn’t bleed in as much like it does now.
And so putting Airworld on a desk and in a work environment was a way to try to shorten the distance. Because you couldn’t look at the site on your phone and internet is not ubiquitous. You sit down at a desk and deal with the internet on your little CRT screen, right? It’s how it works. So, putting those projects physically in that environment helped narrow that gap down.
But then like aesthetically, or formally, we were thinking about the physicalization of Photoshop, of the corporate internet. We were thinking about this kind of détourned office space that was around us at the time, because we were in these spaces, spaces that were ready-mades.
JM: Yeah, I think it has to be seen in a specific way. The whole World Views residency was started literally because they thought painters would be interested in that view. And there were always a couple that were, but we were interested in using the space more as a site-specific attempt to maybe bite the hand that feeds you a little bit, but also to just underline the fact that corporate spaces have a psychological impact. Airworld was trying to be a truer expression of that psychology.
This interview accompanies the presentation of Neen as a part of the online exhibition Net Art Anthology, and is part of a series of interviews with Neen participants. Other interviewees are Mai Ueda, Andreas Angelidakis, and Rafaël Rozendaal. Domenico Quaranta also contributed an essay on Neen in the context of net art.
Aria Dean: How were you introduced to Neen and how did you understand it conceptually at first?
Nikola Tosic: In 1999 I was in Belgrade during the NATO bombing. I was a huge fan of Stanley Kubrick movies, and during the bombing I had a lot of free time, so I bought Kubrick.org and invited some fifty digital artists to recreate scenes from Kubrick films into websites. This was one of my first online artworks. One of the artists was Vitaly Leokumovich who was at the time based in New York City. In 2000 I moved to Milan and organized Meet in a nice restaurant, an event which consisted of series of dinners between digital artists, designers, entrepreneurs. Some fifty people showed up for Milan dinners, including Vitaly. Vitaly recommended the event to Miltos Manetas. Miltos could not make it but we met separately in Milan. I showed Miltos my artwork Lonliness.org and other Flash animations, and he loved them. He explained what Neen is and said I am part of it. Soon after I started meeting other Neen artists Miltos befriended—Mike Calvert, Mai Ueda, Steven Schkolne, Joel Fox, Angelo Plessas, Andreas Angelidakis, Rafaël Rozendaal.
I was familiar with net.art and already knew few net.artists like Vuk Ćosić and Hans Bernhard (etoy). The style did not suit me as it seemed very socially and politically oriented. I considered my art personal and independent of political and social issues. I understood Neen was the same. Neen communicated on the individual level. And most of it focused on positive feelings and connection through being positive. It was about jokes, puns, colors. I believed this was much closer to me and felt I can be part of it. It was the opposite of most other digital art which was much heavier and somewhat negative in my view. Everybody I met in Neen was relaxed, carefree, happy, and easygoing. Even Angelo’s work which is maybe the “darkest” makes the dark emotions happy and playful, which is why I might love it the most.
AD: What was Neen’s understanding of how people interact with computers/internet, and what they want from art?
NT: Neen, actually its artists, saw internet and computers same as everybody else did—as the best way to communicate. It was not necessarily the only medium, but it was the main medium to be present. Everybody painted, wrote, and did other things, but it somehow did not make much sense if it did not become a website or some kind of an online experience.
I believe Neen artists wanted to meet others like them. Neen was not a dominant style, but always a bit of a strange thing on the side, and we were a bit lonely. So it was great whenever we would meet someone else who would share the same ideas. Miltos was great at selecting people and defining the style, but he was always very bad with formal definitions. His definitions which focus on digital medium are not correct. Neen was about the positive feeling it creates, and not about the technology it uses. When I think of need I think of Calvert’s strawberries, Rafaël’s pull my finger, Andreas’s virtual cloud house, and Angelo’s fit woman. These are art I can share with my kids and they will love it and remember it instantly, while it is questionable if my kids would ever understand net.art of the same period. Neen is closest to Klee, Mondrian, and Calder maybe.
Andreas Angelidakis’s Cloud house.
AD: What form did Neen work take?
NT: At first there were a lot of Flash animations. Andreas made virtual environments. Mai Ueda was the first to write domain poems, and I continued it and focused only on writing, stopping to work on animations. There were events, performances, shows, films. But as I wrote, somehow all media had to use web as a main point.
AD: Is Neen as a word or a concept still useful? Where, if anywhere, do you see Neen's legacy in art and culture at large?
NT: I think the time for Neen passed because it was badly formalized by Miltos. Miltos had a great vision and taste, but he was never good at explaining it. His choice of artists and artworks was amazing and revolutionary, both in Neen and in his previous and later projects, but he was never able to make it last and make it into a mainstream. Neen has formally existed and has finished probably sometime around 2010.
I see its legacy as very important. Net.art is great, but it is only a single narrow point of view. Neen is also a single narrow point of view, but together they compliment each other. Internet art is richer because of each of them separately, but even more with both of them together.
Also all Neen artists continue to produce. Rafaël’s and Angelo’s work is amazing. I hope that, in twenty years, I will visit their shows with my kids and enjoy their art. I see myself as a poet and as I understood poets should not be relevant when young or even alive, so maybe my work becomes relevant one day. There are new artists which are influenced by Neen like Austin Lee, whether they know it or not, because they know Rafael’s and Angelo’s work.
My point is that Neen has finished formally but the concept continues to grow. Neen name is dead, but not the art.
Header image: Superneen, 2006.
This interview accompanies the presentation of Neen as a part of the online exhibition Net Art Anthology, and is part of a series of interviews with Neen participants. Other interviewees are Mai Ueda, Andreas Angelidakis, and Nikola Tosic. Domenico Quaranta also contributed an essay on Neen in the context of net art.
Lauren Studebaker: How did you begin collaborating with Miltos Manetas and how was the philosophy of Neen introduced to you?
Rafaël Rozendaal: I’m from the Netherlands and there’s this design group there called Experimental Jetset who did the identity for the Whitney and things like that. They collaborated with Miltos before and I think through their work together—because it was in the Netherlands—I got to know them a little bit. My parents were living in San Francisco for a year and Miltos had opened this place called Electronic Orphanage [in Los Angeles]. I was in California and Miltos had noticed my work online and he said, “Oh, you're very Neen,” and I didn't know what that meant. But I saw his work and I was very intrigued. I was very fascinated with the idea of using computers as subject matter in fine art, in painting. I’ve always loved computers, but you just didn’t see that in galleries. It was another world. I like this merging of worlds and this idea of, we would paint still lifes in the seventeenth century, and then what does the “still-life” mean now. There were a few very sharp and important ideas to me.
That was one of the ideas, and the other idea was treating the internet as a space and not as a tool. I found that very interesting. He said my work is Neen, but I made work before I knew about Neen. It wasn’t like Neen arrived and I changed, I was part of it before I knew about it.
It was very interesting seeing people take on media art from more of a personal perspective, because media art to me up until then, seemed like testing the material and stretching the material as far as you could, and it was also a little bit critical. Neen was more, “this is how I feel, so I’m going to make a work about that. That to me was the key difference between net art, glitch art, and this. I also really remember that art online was always a lot of small, fine things. Like little glitches and things, and I wanted to make bigger gestures. To me, net art felt like a swarm of mosquitoes and I wanted to make an elephant. That difference. But a purple elephant. Something.
He had the space in the Los Angeles and he said, “Why don't you come over and do a show?” That was the first exhibition I ever did. I think I was nineteen or twenty. He had seen one work, and I made another work for the show. I really liked the idea of the Electronic Orphanage. It was a place for people without a home; his idea of all these lost artists who go around with their laptop without a place to go because the art world was not really there for them. The commercial world is luring them because they’re so tech savvy, but that’s not where they belong. And the premise was interesting, that it was a gallery space that had a window façade and it was painted all black except the back wall. And the back wall would be projected on for exhibitions, but that was it. You were not allowed to have objects in the exhibition. He wanted the space to behave like a screen.
That was another idea that I thought was interesting. You had Chung King Road in LA, which had a lot of galleries and all the galleries at the same time would have an opening. It was massive and everybody, of course, was trying to sell stuff. And this was just ... the gallery’s a screen, you weren’t even allowed inside. The doors were closed and you just see the work. Artists were allowed to work there, but you weren’t allowed to leave any objects.
Rafaël Rozendaal, whitetrash.nl, 2001. Collection of JODI.
All these ideas now seem pretty straight forward. It doesn’t sound crazy, but at the time that was very different. Because it was always the idea if you make works for the screen, but then when you enter the space, you have to consider the space. So you have to make media art installations. But he’s like, “No, let's just show a website as a website.” And it will just behave like a website.
I met Miltos and it was very exciting because we both had similar things we were thinking about. It was very interesting to talk about—he had a lot of connections from the art world. I was at a dinner with Yvonne Force who was part of the funded naming of Neen, which was so expensive. We had a dinner and I had never been to these kind of dinners where they say, “You’re sitting here, you’re sitting there.”
Farrah Fawcett was there. And Farrah Fawcett was there because Art Production Fund was this fund that would make artist’s dreams happen. That’s kind of their premise. So they made Vanessa Beecroft’s first big show. They did things with the Beastie Boys. That kind of impossible thing. I think the nineties had a lot of room for ambitious projects, that were not sellable. Jeremy Blake was there with Theresa Duncan. There was another sculptor there. Farrah Fawcett was there because this sculptor, they asked him, “What’s your dream?” And he said, “My dream is to meet Farrah Fawcett and make art about her.” And they met and they fell in love. For the rest of his career, he just made sculptures of Farrah Fawcett. So she was there.
The reason I was there was I had made this website with my face and you could click on the different parts of my face and you would see different mustaches, different glasses, and different hair cuts. Very almost adolescent humor. And I made a fart website. I was kind of giggling that I was in this restaurant in Beverly Hills for that reason.
I remember people were at the dinner were like, “Oh yeah, I saw your work. I thought it was an ironic take on online culture.” It was online culture, but it wasn’t an ironic gesture.
It was a very exciting time meeting everybody from Neen. I felt like I had met a lot of people before and I was aware of the work of people like JODI, which I thought was interesting, but I didn’t really feel at home. It was a bit too much focus on technology for me, and I wouldn’t feel at home. Neen was a group of people. It really is something between net.art, and then later social media. This was somewhere in between. It was pre-social media, but it was very personal.
I remember everybody’s homepage. The members of Neen didn’t all agree on this, but almost everybody had a photo of themselves on their homepage. Which is something you would do back then. But net.artists wouldn’t do that, it was all very anonymous. I think we were very much about using the internet to express yourself, to publish yourself. To me, it always felt like the internet was about uploading yourself into different art works.
A sketch of Electronic Orphanage by Mai Ueda, 2001
LS: What about Electronic Orphanage? You had your first show there in 2001. Could you talk about both the show and the space itself?
RR: I made that piece with my face, which later on I traded with JODI. For me, the internet was a way of being myself. Because I felt like, in galleries you had to act very serious and I was eighteen, so I wasn’t so serious. Then for someone to say, “Oh, you belong here,” was a very good feeling, saying it’s okay to be like that. It was just a funny take on so many serious works in the art world about identity and revealing the self and we are many versions of ourselves. You can talk about that in very different ways. That piece was doing that in more of an online, silly way.
So I made that piece and Miltos said, “Oh, you should make a new piece.” Then I made the fart website, which, I mean, to make a fart website on the internet, okay, but then to put it in a gallery? Miltos had cache with the art world and people would stop by and they were clearly embarrassed. But out of respect for Miltos, they would keep being like, “Yes, very interesting.” So I found that very funny that they had to politely look at it, even though they knew. Up until to this day, I’ve hardly ever exhibited those works. After that, my work slowly went more towards abstraction. It was almost an adolescent art moment.
I also remember the opening was very packed. I really didn’t know much because this was before social media. So I couldn’t verify anything. This guy from out of nowhere with a webpage said, “You should come over.” I didn’t know if he was for real or not. I went on a Greyhound bus and I was like, “I hope there will be someone there.” I didn’t know. I was supposed to stay for a day and I ended up staying for a week and I hung out with a lot of people. It was very meaningful in a sense that there was a lot of things I was thinking about, he was a lot older and provided a lot of insight and experience. But the show itself, I didn’t know what Chung King Road was. It was so packed. Big surprise to see that happen. Yeah, it was great. I also really liked that I had e-mailed the works and there was no practical issue. I always tell people that if you start a gallery just buy a projector and then you have no expenses after that.
It was a really positive, interesting, and almost a transformative experience because I’d been making works online, but I wasn’t sure if that’s something you could expand upon. Miltos also came up with this idea of domain names and making domain names the title of the work and the location of the work. That was a very stimulating idea for me.
Electronic Orphanage, other than that, I think there were a lot of events every month, every month and a half, and I experienced those remotely online, but I wasn’t there until much later. It wasn’t like I was flying every week and keeping up with the scene. There was a time when it felt like there was a big crossover between disciplines. So there would be architects or designers or theorists or artists or video game makers or musicians and kind of blended in natural ways and I really liked that.
Aftermath of the crash at CascO.
LS: I was going to ask you about what happened after that at the Afterneen opening at CascO.
RR: Yeah, yeah. So what happened at CascO was, I was living in the Netherlands and CascO is in the Netherlands, and Miltos was waiting for his green card registration, so he couldn’t go to the Netherlands, so he said, “Why don’t you go, and why don’t you organize the show?” I had never organized a show before, so I just went over and said, hey, I’m going to fail. We started talking, and Andreas Angelidakis built the installation. I was sort of the bridge, because I was there. We made an installation and he made buildings based upon our personalities and our work. So he took one of my websites, which is clouds, and he made a cloud building. For Angelo Plessas, he made a rainbow building and interpretations to his work. I believe it was built in Second Life. You could walk around, ask questions, hang out there.
The gallery was basically a very long space on the canals in Utrecht and it was a glass façade just like the Electronic Orphanage. There were four computers and projection and you could wander in the space. Then there was a book space and an office area of the art space. There was a car here in the afternoon and the guy stepped on the gas to turn and get out of parking, but he lost control of the wheel somehow. He slammed into the gallery, which is not that wide. The car was almost as wide as the gallery. He ran over the installation and ran over the bookcase, which fell down. There was only one person working, but she broke her collarbone and her jaw. Imagine you’re just checking email and all of a sudden a car runs in.
There was always this weird stuff around, totally unexpected. But it was almost like a gesture between the physical, and the non-physical, it was a very strange moment.
LS: Very Neen.
RR: Yeah, when you think about glitch art, that’s really...
LS: Yeah, a physical manifestation of it, I would say. You also curated a show. The Neen Today show in Eindhoven in 2004. The concept of that was based off of Miltos’s FourFortyFour concept, so the exhibition was only open for sixty seconds, fully, right? Could you talk about that and explain the concept?
RR: The idea was that the space itself was that we wanted something experimental and not too formal. Not just works hanging on the wall. So I wanted to do this idea of a space where people make things, instead of a space where you present things. Since we’re all working on the computer, we had an apartment for a month, and we had this gallery space for a month. So people just came and went. Some people stayed for a week, and some people stayed for two weeks; we made works there. The idea of the minute was just the idea to focus everybody from one minute on being together—something that’s so opposite of online. I think the idea of being as much in the moment as possible. There was music and there was architecture by Andreas, and there were different websites projected, and bean bags so people could hang out and carpet floors so it felt homey, or more domestic, or more inviting than a cold space.
That, to me, also felt a little bit like the end of the completion of the whole project. I put a lot of work into it for half a year and also realized that curating is a lot of work. I think we had a big show after that in Milan, and then a book, and it kind of felt like a completion of the project. The hard thing with Neen was that it was maybe too ambitious with a launch at Gagosian, and a manifesto. Miltos was always stressing that it’s not a group, but it’s a movement, but for something to be a movement, you have to have people that come along.
Sometimes I feel like there were too many expectations. If it had just been, “Oh, this is just what we’re doing,” maybe that would have been more of a natural fit.
Neen Today, Eindhoven, 2004
LS: How much did being a part of Neen influence your personal practice or, do you think it kind of grew and developed alongside the project?
RR: Yes, for sure. To explain Neen in words is very hard, but part of it is that making things that don’t make too much sense. Because even when you’re an abstract painter, you’re still making sense because you have this history and trajectory and discourse and you can be like, “Well, I’m really into this material and I went to Yale,” and all this stuff. Even in the nonverbal area, there’s still a trajectory. But Neen was about incomplete thoughts, and I think the internet is also a place of incomplete thoughts and it formed me in the sense that I was always taught in school to gather lots of library items, to build your discourse, to build conversations and materials and make them connect, make them click into a complete finalized thing. With Neen, it felt like those niche, small interests on their own were better on their own than trying to make everything a cohesive mammoth project. I think even media art, you can have a tendency of explaining too much and saying this is here for that reason and this is here for that reason. This was more letting your interests be interest by themselves. That’s what it confirmed for me. I already felt that, and then working with this group of people it was like, “Yeah, it’s okay to do that.”
LS: Can you talk a little bit about Telic? Can you compare the two?
RR: I was not so into that idea. It was bit of categorizing things, almost a hierarchy way of thinking, which I was not so interested in. It was almost like a game that Miltos was playing, a provocation. Telic being the idea that things make more sense, are more goal-driven, are more oriented towards defining something and arriving at a logical conclusion. I’m not so interested in categorizing, I think it’s kind of dangerous. You agitate people, and then you want a reaction, but people just get annoyed and walk away. So, I don’t think that was the best side of Neen.
LS: Can we talk a little bit about the medium you used? There were a lot of works made by Neensters with Flash, especially with the Whitney Biennial project and the exhibitions.
RR: Yeah, that was the best tool at the time.
I remember people mentioning, “Oh, shouldn’t you use open source?” I hadn’t even thought about it.
LS: Would you say Neen is a word or concept is still useful? Or is it something that people still refer to and you see it as a completed project at this point?
RR: I see it as a completed project. I think Neen was something only the participants understood and will also only understand. So in that sense, the word is not even needed. It seems now if I look at historians contextualizing history of net art, it’s very easy to go from net art to social media-based practice. It seems like, “Okay, we had the web and then we have social media.” Neen is this weird thing in between that’s very hard to explain. The point was to be hard to explain. The weirdest thing to me was $100,000 was spent on the creation of a word and they didn’t even get the .com, at the time. So, in terms of history of branding, that’s really weird. Then they had the .org. Art Production Fund had the .org and they lost the password so they couldn’t extend the .org, so they lost that, as well. That’s kind of symbolic that it existed for a moment in time and it’s okay that it went away.
Rafaël Rozendaal, mrnicehands.com, 2002 Electronic Orphanage exhibition
LS: Do you see any sort of Neen’s legacy in work being created today through digital means?
RR: No, I don't think so. I know a lot of artists who are nervous about being copied and I never had that feeling that I was being copied too much. I felt like the work was very personal so it doesn’t make much sense. I think I always feel like I’m very much on my own. And that’s a good thing and a bad thing. For example, in the work of JODI I can see a lot more branches on that tree. I don’t think it was influential in that sense. For me, Neen was just a nod of the head that it was okay to continue in my direction. And that was very important.
It was very fun. I have to say that. After a while, there was a bit of jealousy or rivalry and things like gossip, but the first five years it was very fun. With these weird accidents and weird people you get to know.
This interview accompanies the presentation of Neen as a part of the online exhibition Net Art Anthology, and is part of a series of interviews with Neen participants. Other interviewees are Mai Ueda, Rafaël Rozendaal, and Nikola Tosic. Domenico Quaranta also contributed an essay on Neen in the context of net art.
Lauren Studebaker: Let’s start by talking about things that happened before Neen. I was wondering if you could tell us about the virtual world Chelsea, which was started in 1998. How did you and Miltos Manetas come into collaboration, and how did Chelseacome into being?
AA: Well, what happened was I met Miltos in the summer of ‘94 and then we lost touch for half a year and I went to Columbia to study to do a Masters. That was the first time they introduced the Paperless Studios, sort of computer generator design or computer centered design. So then the next time I met him the summer afterwards, we had both gone onto computers per se. I had this project with buildings communicating with each other, sort of mirroring the idea of a network or a multi-user game but with architecture and then he was into that. So, that's how our friendship grew because we were interested in this new landscape lets say. In ‘97, I was in New York for something and Miltos said, “Look I've seen this active world thing and isn’t it great?” So we decided to start a a world and the idea was that it would be
We started this world. We had a backer who paid for the world. The idea was there would be a world for art and architecture and we would...I was kind of making buildings there and using it almost as a sketchbook so any kind of idea for a building, I would draw it out quickly. Miltos was doing the propaganda or theory behind it. We were giving free studio space to our friends, our artist friends. The idea was that this would be a business. This was ‘98 before the dotcom crash, the internet was meant to be a big business. That is the foundation– along with a couple of other small things– log in and manifest. It become a collection. It was brand new.
We were talking about the 3D web as a landscape of feelings and emotions, not so much about the content, but about making friends. Out of that came this idea, that was centric to me, which back in the time was acting like social media, but before social media.
LS: Right. That project was intended for an “audience a with short attention span”?
AA: Yeah, that is what I kind of find out while building there, making buildings. One, I had to make buildings by copy and pasting nodules—copy/pasting into an object and then it would change into a wall piece or a floor piece or a ceiling piece. I was describing a building, I saw that people got bored easy. So that if I was describing a complicated concept in a chat window, people would just “oh, okay. I will speak to you later.”
So, I would just say this is a pink and blue building or this is a wave building and I would make sure that the shape corresponded to the name. It was kind of saying “viral” but before the notion of “viral” existed. That is what I discovered, that these avatars, which could be a kid, could be a friend of mine, which could be an unknown person had a really short attention span. You were on their computer and they had ten windows, and this was just one of the windows.
LS:Would you say that the experience of the creation of this virtual world informed the development of Neen?
AA: The way to describe Neen is different things for different people. For me, I was into the ideas but Neen gave a name to it. That is what Miltos did. He did a project where we were going to name this new art movement with Art Production Fund in 2000. He selected works that corresponded to the ideas behind the name. Of course when you name an idea, you start recognizing it. We grew as a group or as a network of people. Those ideals from Chelsea were crucial to my work but in a way they still are even though the name doesn't exist. It was for that time when these thing were being discovered. Those ideas were very much about what we developed but of course, with Neen, we developed a particular aesthetic as well.
Andreas Angelidakis & Miltos Manetas, Chelsea, 1998-2001
LS: How are were you introduced to Neen when it came into being 2000? Or maybe you knew about it a little before. How were you introduced to it, and how did you understand it conceptually at first?
AA: I was very close to Miltos and had just done this project so I knew what he was preparing. He even showed my work during the first presentation of Neen as an example of what he was thinking of. I was, in a way, let’s say, part of it from the very beginning. I didn’t need to be introduced to it. It was more like, to come up with things. We would make something... Or Angelo Plessas would make something. We would say this is Neen or this is not Neen. We even had another term, another one of the runner-up names that the branding company, that Miltos hired, came up with, which was Telic. When we would talk about things, we should either this is Neen—this kind of abstract, emotional, meta-social thing. Cute, often, but in the Japanese sense. Also, like viral. I guess those were the key concepts. Telic would be net art or computer art that was about technology. We could appreciate something because it was fascinating, like JODI at the time. But it was not Neen. It was Telic.
LS: What would you say the response was to Neen? What was the reception in the art world? With internet artists? What was going on at the time?
AA: I am guessing it was quite polarizing. The art world didn’t really discover the internet until about three years ago. The art world was considering the internet as a fax machine, something that you send press releases with. I think the art world wouldn’t know what to make of it because it didn’t know what the internet was in 2000. If you look at galleries then, you would never see anything related to the internet. Other art, some people were before us in terms of net art so they would not accept it because it was something different. Other people were interested. Like anything that comes onto a scene, some people like it and some people don’t. Let’s say you are radical or polemic, but for something that is not... When you talk about Neen as describing the “emotional landscape of the internet,” that is harder to be polemic about. In retrospect it was also quite feminine or female in a way.
LS: Was that the same response you got from net artists of the time, or people working with the internet?
AA: Perhaps. I mean people might think it doesn’t seem as serious. So when I would attempt to do Neen architecture, something like the project Cloud house… That was based on ideas of early postmodernism which was critical postmodernism but also can seem as jokey or a fun thing. Especially in net art, you can get this techno-seriousness which Neen was against.
LS: What was Neen’s understanding of how people interacted with computers and the internet and what they wanted from art?
AA: I guess the idea was that the internet and interacting with the world via a screen changes the way you see the real world. Let’s say we are looking for screen qualities in the real world. Would look as they exist on a screen or they would just inhabit the screens directly? A lot of the body of work of Neen, like Angelo Plessas and Rafaël Rozendaal, they were doing these web domain pieces. Almost like poems. Visual poems where the URL was the title of the piece and the contents was an animation. The animation together with the address, the visual with the URL would make the piece.
LS: Right, within the frame of the browser. And most of these websites were designed with Flash. Was Neen generally optimistic about commercial digital products?
AA: Yes, they are based in Flash. It was very much embracing that. The commerciality of that. Even the Japanese cuteness. If you look at something like the Twitter logo, if that existed back then, we would look at that and say “oh, that's Neen.” It is a little bluebird. When you get Twitter used in a political uprising but then their logo is a little cute bluebird, that is interesting.
LS: Did you see the Neen perspective, at this time, contrasting with other artists’ views of the internet and its commercialization at this point?
AA: I don’t want to say that we were a bit self-involved. But, I guess I have to say that. We were really looking at what is Neen rather than comparing to other people. It is not as if we would spend hours looking at every internet art thing. It is more like we looking at what could be Neen, like this poet from Serbia who was making this website called personality stereotypes—Nikola Tosic. It was a series of cliché questions about personalities and then it would get your personality stereotype. That was, in a way, Neen because it was also crass and offensive but also funny and cute and deep in a way. I think a lot of the stuff that later on was dubbed post-internet, maybe Neen could be the archeological version of that. The ancient history of that.
LS: We can talk about some of the other Neen projects. You were a part of Electronic Orphanage, right? What was your involvement and approach to developing that space?
AA: The design that I made was never realized because we didn’t have the funding. When the dot com crash happened and suddenly the internet was not about business anymore, it was not easy to find sponsors. I had made a space that must be hidden there somewhere on the internet, the original design. It was just a screen made up desk modules on tracks so you could pull the screen apart and it would be desks in the space and then push them back and the space would be empty with just screens and cables on the floor. The actual Electronic Orphanage was something that made its rounds.
LS: What was your involvement as it evolved?
AA: I did a show there once, but I wasn’t living in L.A. I wasn’t really an orphan but it was in our group. If we went to L.A., we would hang out there. If I would find something, I would show it to Miltos and maybe he would invite them to the Electronic Orphanage. It was our headquarters, let’s say.
LS: It led to you starting to develop Neen World. Was that commissioned by Electronic Orphanage?
AA: Neen World was actually done for a show at CascO at Utrecht. In the same way as Chelsea, I kind of did Neen World. It was only for our group of people. I would take each artist of Neen, that was involved in Neen, or even people that I knew and I would make a house based on some characteristic of their work. Once, I made a house because this Chinese girl was wearing a pink and red sweater and I like the pattern. So, I made a house from that pattern.
LS: Who were some of the participants? Or the “Neensters” at the time you were developing Neen World?
AA: Mike Calvert, Mai Ueda, Angelo Plessas, Rafaël Rozendaal, Nikola Tosic.
LS: How did you design Neen Worldto work with your the concept of the online space at the time? How was it used, and how did the participants interact?
AA: For me, it was my sketchbook. I was trying out all these ideas. The basic design premise is that in all these worlds, the first thing you do is design the environment. You pick a sky and a ground much in the way that Microsoft Windows or whatever it was background. Then you put buildings in there. I decided to make Neen World’s background as a real background and then the nature of Neen was the buildings. The buildings were somehow related to nature. Let's say when you arrived you would find yourself in a black forest. Each name of the participants, or Neensters, was carved on one tree.
The tree was a link to their studio or their space. For me, it was very much a design project. A place where, as an architect, I could realize my designs without having a plan or a budget. I could just make something. It was an amazing outlet for that.
LS: Was it a private community?
AA: Yeah. It was a private village. I mean people could use it and visit of course. Sometimes, some people would visit and then eventually become part of it because Neen was a network. People heard about it and then started some affiliation. They might become part of the group.
LS: Is Neen as a word or a concept still useful? Or have its ideas been co-opted by creative software to such an extent that it no longer seems relevant?
AA: Neen was a historical period. Today, it is interesting to look at current ideas and internet art. You could trace them back to Neen but just because it was a zeitgeist. It is not that people knew necessarily about it because it wasn’t that famous or didn’t become popular in contemporary art but you could trace a lot of these idea back to Neen. It was a kind of validation but I can say I am still exploring what it means and what kind of stuff it has done.
Header image: Andreas Angelidakis & Miltos Manetas, Chelsea, 1998-2001
Neen is not a static thing, we cannot really put it down in words. When we will be able to do so, it will probably become Telic. Like the old miracle of Jesus walking on water: if he came back today and he did it again, it would be a sort of ‘déjà vu,’ ‘Jesus as usual.’ Instead, if he started swimming, most people would refuse to believe that he is actually Jesus.
—Miltos Manetas, 20041
According to Who Is, the web domain jesusswimming.com was registered by Miltos Manetas on August 7, 2001. Visiting that domain, we are faced by a full page Flash animation, jesusswimming.swf, in which an hand drawn, vectorial man looking like Jesus swims in an endless sea, at the slow pace of a midi soundtrack. The drawing looks amateurish and careless, and the dominant aesthetics is flatness. In the html code of the page, the work is tagged as “Contemporary Art Jesus.”
When he made jesusswimming.com, Miltos Manetas was thirty seven years old, older than Jesus. And he was quite a successful artist, with works in good private collections such as the Dakis Joannou Collection, the support of respected curators like Nicolas Bourriaud, and participations in important institutional events. Born in Greece, at the age of twenty he moved to Milan, where he studied painting at Brera Academy. He started working with photography, installation, and performance. In 1994, he bought his first computer, and started making works with or about it. In 1995, he made a few oil paintings featuring fragments of computer interfaces, and in 1996 he was included in Traffic, the survey exhibition curated by Nicolas Bourriaud that helped to launch “Relational Aesthetics.” These works, together with Sad Tree—later turned into a website—marked his return to oil painting, a medium that he used to portray people, machines, and the both of them together: computer hardware, screens, web pages, games, cables, peripherals, people playing computer games. In 1996, he made his first videos modeled after videogames—later recognized as an early form of machinima—followed by his vibracolor prints, inspired by Zelda, Tomb Raider, and Super Mario. In the meantime, Manetas had moved to New York. In 1998 he launched Chelsea, an online art community designed by architect Andreas Angelidakis in Active Worlds, a 3D virtual world active since the mid-nineties.2
Neen announcement at Gagosian Gallery, 2000.
On May 31, 2000, with a press conference organized at the Gagosian Gallery in New York, Manetas announced that he had bought “a new name for the arts” from the California branding company Lexicon. The budget for the acquisition ($100,000) was provided by Yvonne Force from the Art Production Fund. The new label, Neen, was picked by Mai Ueda— at the time Manetas’s girlfriend, and the first self-proclaimed Neenstar, out of a long list of names sent by the branding company. The press conference took place in a room full of Warhols.
Neen squatted domains, but it did it as part of a domain name flânerie that brought them to purchase domains such as whywasshesad.com, dontcallmeelephant.com or elasticenthusiastic.com, not as part of a strategy of identity appropriation or as a consequence of a political agenda. Sometimes, the pure pleasure of adding a .com after a poetic sentence or a name, and owning it, was enough—look, guydebord.com is still available! Let’s register it! Some others, the owner or somebody else, could find the right content for the domain: so, francescobonami.com may deliver art theory, whitneybiennial.com4 may host an exhibition, and jacksonpollock.com may become an interactive generator of infinite dripping paintings.
Miltos Manetas, whitneybiennial.com, 2002. Screenshot created in Oldweb.today using Firefox 49 for Linux.
Another, important things we should know about Neen is that it isn’t a new name for net.art, or, even worst, for a subgenre of net art. Neen was commissioned and chosen as “a new name for the arts.” To Lexicon, Manetas and Force showed “a work by Gino De Dominicis, the Alessandro Dell’Acqua Men’s Collection 2000, two paintings by Anselm Kiefer [...] sodaconstructor [...] and above all works by Lucio Fontana.”5 This selection alone shows that Neen sits between contemporary art, fashion, and software. After presenting Neen in New York, Manetas moved to Los Angeles, where he started hanging out with the cyber elite and where he founded, in 2001, the Electronic Orphanage (E.O), a space in Chinatown that served as a working and meeting point for Neenstars and as an exhibition space for their works. There, Neen became an art movement, whose features are pretty easy to detect: single serving websites, playful animations, the ability to flirt with the art and the fashion system, etc. But Neen was born, and now exists, as a new name for the arts, chosen to describe what happens to art when it meets screens and enters the information age. As such, it may or may not have a life beyond Manetas and the Neen movement. Or, to paraphrase Manetas himself: if Surrealism without Breton became a trend and Communism without Lenin became a dictatorship, it will be curious to see where Neen will end up without Manetas.6
Even if Neen shouldn’t be understood as a subgenre of net art, it had a tremendous impact on the developments of net art itself. Manetas’s seamless postmedia approach, his way of going from paintings to websites, from screen capture videos to installations and performances, as well as his ability to speak the language of the internet without necessarily doing net-based work, was extremely influential for the younger generation that grew up in surf clubs starting in the early 2000s. Additionally, while early net art, though critical about both worlds, was still floating between contemporary art and media art, their separate traditions and their different ideas of art, net-related practices after Neen decisively embraced values, forms, and traditions from contemporary art. Finally, postinternet practices have inherited Neen’s realistic approach to the inescapable commodification of the internet, starting from the neutral usage of the .com domain.
Header image: Miltos Manetas, jesusswimming.com, 2001. Screenshot created in Oldweb.today using Firefox 49 for Linux.
1. Quoted in Miltos Manetas (Ed.), Neen, Charta, Milan 2006.
2. Most of these informations are taken from http://timeline.manetas.com/.
3. Cf. Manetas Collection, online at http://manetas.com/manetascollection/.
4. About whitneybiennial.com, cf. Lucas Pinheiro, “The Flash Artists who Cybersquatted the Whitney Biennial”, in Rhizome, August 14, 2015. Online at http://rhizome.org/editorial/2015/aug/14/flash-artists-cybersquatted-whitney-biennial/. Although I agree with most of the in-depth analysis provided therein, I think Pinheiro’s interpretation of this project is partially invalidated by his attempt to situate it in a “net art only” tradition. Manetas is here playing with a system he belongs to, not hacking a system he doesn’t want to have anything to do with; whitneybiennial.com has, to some respects, more to do with Cattelan’s Oblomov Foundation than with RTMark.
5. In Miltos Manetas (Ed.), Neen, Charta, Milan 2006.
6. Cf. Miltos Manetas, “Neen Manifesto,” 2000. In Miltos Manetas, In My Computer, Link Editions 2011, p. 21.
This interview accompanies the presentation of Neen as a part of the online exhibition Net Art Anthology, and is part of a series of interviews with Neen participants. Other interviewees are Rafaël Rozendaal, Andreas Angelidakis, and Nikola Tosic. Domenico Quaranta also contributed an essay on Neen in the context of net art.
Michael Connor: Would you mind starting from the beginning of the story? Isn’t the whole idea of having a branding agency come up with the name, isn’t it antithetical to the history of artistic movements? It’s the opposite in a way.
Mai Ueda: I’ve studied many, many different things, but I didn’t want to be categorized into something that's already existed. I was living in New York in Williamsburg at the time, and then met Miltos Manetas, who was coming up with his new art movement, that he wanted it to be about technology and internet.
Then, he heard me singing in my room. We were roommates in a huge artist’s loft. He just asked me, “Do you want to perform inmy show next to my painting?” So we kind of invented this new performance that I played with interactive interface thing, called the Big Brother. Then, I was singing classical music childishly as I played with this interface. It was at a galerie Almine Rech in Paris. This was my first work. Then, at the time, Miltos was choosing a name for this new art movement, and then had many list of names from the [advertising agency] Lexicon. I liked this name, Neen.
MC: What did it mean to you to be a Neenstar? What kinds of things would you do under the label of Neenstar? Have you continued to use that label to describe your practice over time, or was there a particular moment?
MU: I was not exposed to art or the typical art mind, so I gave very much input to Miltos. Then we kind of created this movement together. I said, “I want to be a Neen star.” Then Miltos was like, “Oh, Neen-ster, with an E,” so S-T-E-R. STER. Then I was thinking star with A, S-T-A-R.
So Miltos’s way of thinking how he thought was more Telic, which was another name that he was interested in from Lexicon’s [who Manetas worked with to name Neen] list. Telic means in Greek, is like, “ending,” or something. Miltos’s way of approaching it was more left-brain and information-oriented, and my way of approaching it was more intuitive and spontaneous and feeling-oriented. Somehow in between, it was a kind of good balance to create a new art movement.
He read about Lexicon in Wired Magazine, and it was more like left-brain technology kind of dealing with its naming. “Neen” was invented by a computer program. That was a kind of accidental way of coming to this word, I think, more like a big bang kind of way. In a way, accidental, organic and spontaneous, I think.
Mai Ueda, togetherness.org, 2002. Screenshot created in Oldweb.today using Firefox 49 for Linux.
MC: What kinds of things would you do under the label of Neenstar? Have you continued to use that label to describe your practice over time, or was there a particular moment?
MU: It was for me to not become anything, but to become everything, because I didn't want to be categorized as “artist.” I didn't know what it meant, also. But instead, if I’m a Neenstar, I could be whatever I want. I can identify what it is, and just be myself and then that can be called something. So, that was excuse for me to have a playground and be professional on everything I do.
So, I could play with software I’ve invented in the museum, and then take a nap or something like that, in the museum, and then to be flown, to go visit around the world, and being invited to do what I do. My profession was to be myself, which can be called being a Neenstar.
MC: Have you continued to use that label to describe your practice over time, or was there a particular moment?
MU: No, it changed over time. I think I became Telic instead of Neen, because also being a pioneer on things is very hard. It has highs and lows. It’s fun but then people don’t understand, and people want to always categorize you with something that they’ve known already. So Neen brought us to so many spontaneous occasions and fun events, but then couldn’t convince boring adults to trust us. Neen was also on Wikipedia, but then some painter was very jealous of Neen and Miltos, and all this situation, they would spend all their energy to take it off on Wikipedia.
That was kind of amazing. We were trying to fight against it, but then just happened to let it be whatever it wants to. Then Wikipedia people decided to make Neen unofficial. But then it existed, also. So it’s kind of a strange impermanence. I find Neen close to Zen philosophy, too, somehow, for its impermanence and ephemerality.
MC: Can you talk about other people becoming involved in Neen? How did that happen? Who were some of their key figures?
MU: It was a personal encounter for us to find Neenstars. One of the first Neenstars was Rafaël Rozendaal. We found this website where he changes his mustache and hairstyle, and then we were like, “Whoa, this is so fun. He's a Neenstar.” So we contacted Rafaël and went to see him in Amsterdam, and became friend, and invited him to Electronic Orphanage. That’s our space me and Miltos started in Los Angeles, in Chinatown, on Chung King Road. Then Rafaël came, and had one of the first shows in Electronic Orphanage. Then, Lev Manovich also was a Neenstar.
MC: It’s funny, because I think internet artists at the time were so against commercial tools, and even .com web addresses.
MU: It didn’t have to be like this project or that project. But more about personalities and their approach to life. Also, it didn’t have to be commercial, because anything pioneering cannot prove to be commercial immediately. So Miltos would make a painting of people playing a videogame or things, and then it would make money, like a ticket for us to do whatever we want.
Mai Ueda, The Domain Poems, onestar press, 2007
We were totally into .com web addresses. I was always inventing .com domain names as a poem, and I published a book in 2005 from a French publisher called onestar press. It’s called The Domain Poems. Yeah, one of the things we were excited was to make domain name as a poetry. Then also we used the technology as an emotional tool, to make video or performative poetry, too. I have played with Aibo.
MC: The robot dog?
MU: Yeah, because that dog had some kind of a pattern that he reacted to pink or red color, so it can play with a ball that comes with it. But thing I have discovered, it plays with any kind of red, so I have made him into a foot fetishist by wearing red shoes and stuff like that.
Neen was more about playing with technology, too, and not only about internet. But then technology had a fault, so you can play with this fault, and make it poetic. I remember one of Miltos’s artwork was Lara Croft or Super Mario, because video games where you don’t play with the character as you are supposed to, they start to do very poetic things by themselves.
MC: They would fall asleep or something, right?
MU: Hmm? Fall asleep, or...I don't know. Yes, Super Mario falls asleep and makes zzz…and sleep talk, also one airplane that was supposed to fly, would float on the water or things like that. Then Miltos would make a print out of this picture, or make a video, or things like that, too
MC: Where did you do the Aibo performance? Was that at Electronic Orphanage?
MU: Aibo was at the Electronic Orphanage, and then in the museum in Chicago. Also, the photo of it was on a French magazine called Influx, I think. This magazine has finished after two issues or something. But I was on the cover with Aibo.
MC: During this time when Neen was first launched, were you getting much reception from the art world, as well as from the media world?
MU: Not so much from art world, except one place in Amsterdam called Mediamatic. They were founded by net people, I think, like Net Video Now or something. They found us interesting, and they invited us many times. But then the curator of Mediamatic, Paul Groot, was also editor of Flash Art a long time ago, so they knew Miltos and then they were interested in technology, so it was good combination for them to be interested in Neen. But it took a lot of sophistication to understand Neen at the time. Art world/ fashion world reacted more to Electronic Orphanage, as it’s a scene was a little easier for people to digest, Jeffrey Deitch fell in love with a space on Chung King Road and teleported Electronic Orphanage into his gallery for a week, that was in Soho at the time. Olivier Zham featured a big story in Purple Magazine on E.O.
MC: You mentioned that it was more to Zen for you. Can you tell me a little more about that?
MU: Because somehow we think ephemeralness is poetic, and accidental beauty is poetic, which connects with nature. It is about philosophy on way of living (in the electric age), and art comes after it as side products.
MC: Neen was very much about accidental beauty?
MU: I think so, for me at least.
MC: How does that relate to the Neen understanding of people’s relationship with computers and the internet? I feel like Neen had a very particular idea of what the computer, what it mean to people, or how people use the computer or internet.
MU: That’s true. Because if people use the computer as just a tool to get something done, that was not Neen. Instead, if they use it for poetic reasons, then it can have a potential to become Neen. We say Neen art cannot have a particular goal of where they are going, and instead you just take a car to drive and to get lost, that could be Neen, you know? If you are going somewhere, like taking your kid to kindergarten, it cannot be Neen, but if you encounter a donkey crossing the green light on the way back, that is Neen.
MC: Right. How is that different from Telic?
MU: Telic has a goal. They use computer to get to somewhere, like to talk to somebody or find address for a restaurant or something. But then, even something trying to be art, it can be Telic, too, because the aesthetic of it somehow is not cute or something like that. Neen also has to have a sense of humor.
MC: Maybe even trying to be art is a goal in its own way.
MU: That’s true. Trying to be art is very Telic. I guess, also, Zen is in that way. Zen writing, like the ink painting of Zen has no ego. As soon as people try to become something or to have a goal, it involves ego, so that becomes Telic.
MC: Does that mean anything political becomes Telic? Can Neen never be political if it can never have a goal?
MU: Political... Yeah, maybe. But then, political things can produce accidental beauty. We support the idea of copy left and collaborated a lot with Pirates Bay. Being open to ideas and sharing is very important.
MC: Maybe we can talk a little more about Electronic Orphanage. You mentioned it was a space you and Miltos ran. What kind of space was it in?
MU: That was on Chung King Road in Chinatown [in Los Angeles]. Then, at the time, China Art Objects had just opened. Maybe we were like the next one to move in on the same street. That was a very poetic street with, like, wontons in the rundown restaurants and stuff, like Jackie Chan shot some action movies on the restaurant on the same street. But it’s kind of a very small, Chinatown kind of thing.
Then, other galleries moved in next to Electronic Orphanage like a year later or something. That was little by little found by pioneering people, and then became a gallery district. Some galleries that are active now started from here, at some point, many people would come for opening night. It was full of people. Then we had Electronic Orphanage, which is a space, one room all painted black except one wall that was at the end, so it was like a black cube with white wall that was a screen, and we would project one work that we found on the internet or commissioned to artist on opening day. But it was not for sale or anything, that was just an experimental project space kind of thing.
Then, we would also project art at night, or also people could just hang out, just play video games, or do web surfing on the weekdays. Then, sometimes it was Miltos’s painting studio, also like a place where we can shoot pictures for Miltos to paint, or things like that.
MC: Describe the night at Electronic Orphanage. It could be a specific one.
MU: Sometimes we were just in an empty space being on a computer, or sometimes [we were] projecting a huge animation by one of the Neenstars. Then people can just come in, also. The door was open, but then there’s no product to sell or anything, so most people would not come in, which was kind of...I don’t know in English. But in Japanese it's called “kekkai,” it means "invisible boundary.” There was psychological boundary for normal people to not come in, but then interesting people would come in, because obviously it’s kind of out of a science fiction movie or something, this space, and projecting something beautiful on this one huge wall, and then it’s all black space. We invested on amazing chair that was super-technology chair. That was in the middle of the room.
This director, Barbet Schroeder, one time came in, and then we became friends also. Barbet. Yeah. He’s in Wes Anderson films and stuff, too. Also Godard films. He’s also a director. He directed Single White Female, I think. Very interesting character. He’s always looking for something sharp, so he just saw us and came in, and we became friends. Also the scientist, Steven Schkolne. He’s like a giant. He’s more than two meters high, I think. He’s a scientist. He was also one of the Neenstars, too. He came in and start to type computer to show us his works and stuff with his big hands, and the computer looked super-small. He can carry me on his palm or something. So like these very surrealistic beautiful first encounters were happening every night, like magic. Nothing was calculated or expected.
MC: Were you involved in the project that launched at CascO?
MU: Yes, I remember. Was that the one that got crashed by a car?
MC: Yes, can you tell me about that?
MU: I was there on the opening day, and I don’t remember so much, but I think we had been there for a week or something, setting up a show. Then, as soon as the show started, it got crashed by a car accidentally. It was called SuperNEEN,I think? Yeah. It was kind of impossible because it was by the canal. But then car was parked in front or something, and then startup got wrong, and then just car drove all the way into the gallery, and then crashed all the computers in the show. Yeah, it sounds like a performance piece, but it was not planned.
Aftermath of the CascO crash, December 15, 2002. Credit: Miltos Manetas.
MC: Was that the end of Neen, of the moment?
MU: Yeah. That was the end of Neen, I think. Everybody was kind of falling apart and losing interest on it, because nobody got personal profit from it, you know? Yeah. I think Nikola Tosic has wrote successful version of Neenstars or something on his poem. Do you know Nikola Tosic? Ah, he's one of most Neen Neenstar, I think. He writes poems every day, I think, on website. There was a poem by him about successful version of a Neenstar, or something like that. On this version of the universe, Neenstars has became like potential success on commercial kind of world, and each had kind of success on commercial terms. Like me on becoming a cover of Italian Vogue or things like that. Then, I don't remember. You should check out. Ask Nikola, also.
Neen was a good exercise for all of us to think and learn. I even learned English through it. I remember learning the word existentialism from Lev Manovich in a usual sunny day in our (Miltos and my) Silver Lake house. These moments are original and luxurious.
Header image: Miltos Manetas, MAI UEDA IS PLAYING ABSTRACT SUPERMARIO IN MEDIA CITY, SEOUL, KOREA, OCT 2002
Michael Connor: How did you hear about Extension?
Cornelia Sollfrank: It was announced in spring 1997. It was shortly after I came back from New York, where I had a scholarship to research internet art in 1996-97. As the field was not so vast back then, I had the feeling that I had a quite good overview of what was going on. I knew a lot of people personally because I conducted interviews and attended the spaces like The Thing. Of course, Mark [Tribe] from Rhizome and many others were active at the time. Postmasters gallery, of course, was showing that stuff, especially Tamas Banovich.
That was the context I explored when I was in New York. I came back and one of the first things that I encountered was this call to create the first competition for internet art.
My interest in that regard was mainly based on the idea that the internet would not only be a new medium for production but in particular also for dissemination of artworks, or interventions, or whatever. Things we wanted to do, we could share amongst ourselves and build our own context.
That was, to me, the fascinating moment of the internet, to be independent from traditional art institutions. Then in that very moment, as I kind of grasped that and understood and got really totally excited about that, the museum [Hamburger Kunsthalle] came with their call for finding the “best net art work.”
It’s a gesture of appropriation and reintroducing these mechanisms of inclusion, exclusion, quality, definition of quality, giving away prizes and all that stuff that we wanted try and get rid of. It was so totally against my expectation or my intentions of what I wanted to achieve with net art.
This competition [Extension] was the first of its kind and it was the most obvious attempt from an institution to get hold of this scene that was independent—that could live and did very well outside the traditional art institutions.
MC: So for you the issue was more with the institution’s embrace of net art as a whole than the representation of women within it?
CS: I just received an article, this morning, where Female Extension was discussed, and they said my intention was to bring more female net artists to the museum. That was not my intention. My intention really was to destroy the competition or at least disturb it in such a way that it would become obvious that there is a critical energy or there is something in the net that is not happy with what they are doing there.
MC: How did you go about destroying or disturbing it?
CS: I decided to go with the idea of flooding. I created 300 female net artists. It was, for me, a given that it needed to be females, but that was more a side aspect. For me the main aspect really is the institutional critique aspect of the work, of the intervention.
Announcement of Extension winners from Hamburger Kunsthalle's website, 1997, as seen in Netscape 3.
MC: How did the entry process work?
CS: First I had to create all these names, which was also not so easy because there was not the material online that we have now. I went to a local post office and was going through their international phone books, and was looking up names in different countries that were plausible, and last names connected to a real existing address in the particular country. There was quite a lot of idiotic work to do. It was not very interesting. Then I registered all of them.
Actually it was not so easy also to get functioning email addresses back then, because there was no Googlemail or anything where you could just register for free and get an email address. The commercial ones, like CompuServe, were very expensive.
I was really lucky that I was in touch with a lot of artists and groups and initiatives that were running their own servers and could provide me with email addresses. That was The Thing New York, Digital City of Amsterdam, Desk in Amsterdam, it was Internationale Stadt Berlin, which was an online project, it was t0 netbase and The Thing in Vienna, it was The Thing in Berlin as well, it was Ljudmila in Slovenia. Places we know now from the history of net culture that were early hubs of net culture and net art. They were all a part of Female Extension that’s often overlooked, they played a really important role.
I had hoped that the museum would already not be able to cope with these 300 entries because it’s not what they expected. They expected maybe fifty or something, maximum. But they were using the technical facilities of DerSpiegel. The museum wouldn’t have been able to process this [many entries] in any way.
It was automated and for each name I had registered I received a password. It was the requirement of the competition to upload the net art onto the museum server. That was one aspect that showed that they didn’t know what they were doing, because if you wanted to access an online artwork you would not ask for the data of the website to get uploaded on your server. You would just ask for a URL and then go there. They totally did not trust the sites that the artworks would be really online when they wanted to see them.
I think there was also, in the call, a defined maximum size of five MB. The data you would send to the museum could not have more than five megabytes.
For me, it was good because I would have had problems to really come up with 300 different URLs that still would be plausible. It was much easier to just create some data trash that had the format of the website. Just HTML sites that contained whatever, it was totally random.
I decided to create 300 web pages by using the old technique of collage and applying it to a sham URL code. I just copied and pasted code from existing websites online into a new HTML file and saved it. Then I sent it to the museum. If you opened it in the browser, it would always look somehow interesting, you would not be able to figure out what it was because it didn’t make any sense, but it yielded some really interesting effects and graphics, whatever, structures and things and a lot of broken image icons and question marks and all kinds of things.
It looked interesting. I started to create these fake HTML websites by copying and pasting and doing that by hand. I found it a bit tiring. I was meeting a friend and told him about this thing. He suggested to automate it, to write a script that would do exactly that, go online, grab some HTML code from different websites and merge it into one.
That was actually the first version of what would later become the Net Art Generator. With the help of this program, we were able to really produce, in a very short time, a lot of websites and upload it on the museum server. They did not find anything irregular about that, so the museum just processed it, and each email address was sent a confirmation letter that the work was received and it would go to the jury meeting as scheduled.
Screenshot of image created with Net Art Generator, from runme.org software art archive.
The first press release sent out by the museum said, “Extension is big success. More than two thirds of the submitted works are by female artists.” That was quite funny for me to see, that they were really already advertising the fact that there were so many women who had entered the competition.
I know for sure from someone who attended the jury meeting that they really looked at all the works. They tried to understand what was going on, but of course they couldn’t figure out any sense in the works that I sent in, because they were just trash. There were so many of these sites and they all looked different in a way.
The idea that somebody would have been able to make an intervention or to create fake identities or something like that was not in their mind. They could have recognized a pattern, I think. A pattern of this kind of randomly combined stuff that made structures and created broken links and all that. I think that is the structure that becomes visible if you pay attention, and if you shift your attention from the actual content of one page to a structural aspect.
They didn’t, because they were not aware that something like that could happen. I think it still confirms what I had in mind, or what my suspicion was from the beginning: that they simply had no idea about the functioning of the internet, not at all.
The jury met, and because they could not really get any sense out of the works they just neglected them. They gave the three prizes away to male artists who had submitted works that obviously made more sense than what I had submitted. That was of course, I can imagine also for the museum, a little bit of an embarrassing moment when after the first press release they say, “big success, more than two thirds of the submitted works by female artists.” Then the next week, the three winners, all males, very funny. [laughs]
Cornelia Sollfrank at the Cyberfeminist International, part of Hybrid WorkSpace at documenta X, Kassel, 1997. Photo courtesy of Cornelia Sollfrank.
MC: How did you reveal your secret?
CS: I had the choice either to just let it go and have my own private fun with it, or to reveal it myself. That's what I decided to do and I wrote my own press release describing what I had done. I went to the museum press conference, which was very well advertised, there were about thirty journalists present and I went there and I handed out my own press release on top of all of the stuff of the museum.
That’s how the journalists found out and of course they all found it very funny so I got a lot of good press basically. There were making fun of the museum and they were making fun of the jury, and they were making fun of the curator of the museum and everything.
I got a lot of positive recognition and appreciation from the net art scene and from the net culture scene but the museum, the people from the museum in Hamburg, they never forgave me, never. They never spoke a word to me afterwards. They also gave up the original idea of Extension, which was to build a virtual extension of the museum.
Again and again there are art historians that do research on internet art, net culture, that get in touch with the museum and try to get information from them. Either they don’t get an answer or if they catch someone on the phone, the museum people totally deny having anything. It’s totally deleted from the history of the museum, does not exist.
They try to ignore it. It’s quite funny because it’s actually, the interest in the project, it’s actually becoming more and more. It’s not going away, but it’s just the other way around. It’s this historical project twenty years ago which was the protest of this first attempt from the art world to take over net art. It had become this iconic intervention.
MC: What about net artists, how did they receive the project?
CS: They laughed at it, they all laughed at it. Jodi said, “That’s so cool!” I knew most of the net artists at the time. I know that there was a discussion, whether they should participate or not. They were all very unhappy, but on the other hand no one could actually make any money with what they were doing.
That’s how you discipline artists or how you corrupt them. You put a few thousand dollars here and say, “Come on, jump,” and then you get the money.
Some decided not to send in something, others did but they felt very unhappy. I think Alexei Shulgin, he didn’t send anything in. I think Jodi did, but if I remember right, they made a compromise. They said, “We sent something but we didn’t send our best work,” which didn’t make any sense at all. [laughs]
That would be another thing I think, to do research on. I think it would be fun to talk to the net artists who were around back then and ask them how they remember it and if they participated or not. I don’t think there are any files left in the museum.
MC: This took place after Vuk Ćosić’s theft of documenta X. Do you see those projects as being more or less sympathetic in their aims?
CS: Vuk’s intervention was after, but in the same year. The call for Extension came out in spring and then in June, document X opened. Vuk’s intervention was at the end of documenta, in September.
In one space, documenta X presented net artworks. That was totally funny. I wrote an article about it but I didn’t make any photos of it. It was just a room full with computers and people could sit down and click the websites.
The funny thing was they were not connected to the internet because the curator was afraid that people would just check their emails or browse on the internet.
It was also documenta X where the Hybrid WorkSpace took place, curated by Pit Schultz and Geert Lovink, where we had the first Cyberfeminist International. It was a very busy year with a lot of important stuff going on.
There was a lot of criticism regarding the presentation of net art in this really totally inadequate way at documenta X. Then again, the Hybrid WorkSpace was a much appreciated context, as far as I remember, because it offered a real working situation and offered a lot of resources for ten different groups to meet and work together. Each group had the space for ten days and they could really work on what they found important, and you have an international audience, all funded through documenta X.
That’s where we had the first Cyberfeminist International, which was a great opportunity for us to have. We had the feeling with the Cyberfeminist International that the resources and the attention we would get through documenta X would exceed the compromise we were making by dealing with the art world. We could really do something. It was not about dropping a finished piece of work that would then be appropriated by the art institutions. It was really about meeting people and doing something together, and it had a lot of impact. I still think it was very good that we went there with the Cyberfeminist International.
Cyberfeminist International, part of Hybrid WorkSpace at documenta X, Kassel, 1997. Photo courtesy of Cornelia Sollfrank.
MC: What was going on in the cyberfeminism conversation at that time?
CS: Cyberfeminism started in the early 1990s with Sadie Plant mainly and VNS Matrix and it was very much focusing on the body. It basically was a very essentialist approach to conceive a relationship between the female body and digital technology.
I just reread Sadie Plant and reread also VNS Matrix and reviews of that because I published an article on cyberfeminism, which is called “Revisiting The Future” because [in the 1990s] cyberfeminism was called the “feminism for the 21st century.” Having arrived in the 21st century, what actually happened to this feminism of the 21st century? It seemed to have gone nowhere or it’s not so obvious where it has gone.
In 1997, we founded the Old Boys Network, the cyberfeminist alliance in Berlin. The Old Boys Network organized the First Cyberfeminist International at the documenta X Hybrid WorkSpace. Our idea was to appropriate cyberfeminism and free it from this essentialist load of the early phase and open it up to include many other feminist aspects, which were also, for example, more materialistic. Economic considerations, the material basis of the internet, and many other aspects that were not present in early cyberfeminism.
Publications from Cyberfeminist International. Photo courtesy of Cornelia Sollfrank.
We were trying to practice a very pluralistic approach, I would call it now, which is in a way also questionable, but that was at least a first step, or that was a step after the first phase. We were active for five years and we held three different international conferences and published all the readers and had this discussion.
There was then, I think, a bit of a cluelessness on all sides how we could continue because it would have been needed from the pluralistic, very wide platform idea of Old Boys Network to really narrow it down again and see what the political concepts were, certain people can agree on and political goals and then continue working again in smaller groups, which partly happened, only partly I think.
MC: So the cyberfeminism conversation and Old Boys Network was one aspect of the net’s ability to allow you to create your own context, and you saw projects like Extension as a threat to this type of activity?
CS: I don’t know, I think one interesting question that I’m always asking myself in relation to net art is, what is the relationship of net art to the art world?
There is no good theory and no good analysis of this, because very often the whole of net art is said to have been critical of the institution, which I don’t think was the case. A lot of early net art was very modernist, interested in exploring the materiality of the media and playing with that, pushing the material to the limit and making aesthetic experiments with it, which is fine—it’s just not institutionally critical.
A more profound analysis—what is the relationship between net-based art and the art world?—until today doesn’t exist, in my opinion, or only in very fragmentary aspects.
MC: Increasingly I think the question is flipping. How does the art world accommodate this juggernaut of internet culture?
CS: My theory is that currently net art is used to give credibility to postinternet art in this historical trajectory. In my opinion they have nothing to do with each other, it’s a total mistake, but I think it’s intentional because in the art world there is this kind of reputation around net art as something authentic and important, work of pioneers if you want, which postinternet art doesn’t have to a large degree. I think here net art really serves a purpose to upgrade, give more credibility to postinternet art.
The latest release of Webrecorder features exciting new options for working with historic resources from numerous public web archives. Rhizome’s preservation department and a few early adopters already put this new functionality into action before the public announcement, and we are keen to share three examples of web collections incorporating resources from the past—find them below.
Please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org if you have created an interesting collection, with or without using new features!
The 2001 piece Blackness For Sale by Mendi + Keith Obadike has an adventurous preservation history: As an eBay auction, it was quickly removed from the platform (read all about it in Net Art Anthology)—however, the artists had made a copy with the browser’s Save As function and put the file on their Tripod site. Since this version embedded all images directly from eBay’s servers, they’re all gone, apart from a now much-too-new eBay logo. The Internet Archive picked up this copy, but had missed a few images. For the Net Art Anthology restoration, material from the Internet Archive has been manually combined with images eBay forgot to delete from the live web and other manual eBay downloads—with the Webrecorder release, the full restoration was done in a second. Webrecorder automatically found the resources missing from the Internet Archive at the Library of Congress and Archive-It: → Blackness For Sale.
The 2004-2005 online performance Marisa’s American Idol Audition Training Blogby Marisa Olson, featured in Net Art Anthology, included numerous resources that were outside of the artists’ control to varying extents. The blog was hosted on Typepad, a service very popular in 2004, and Olson used another now-defunct service to post cell phone pictures to a “moblog.” The blog contained numerous outbound links, as well, which were a key part of the experience of the work, giving insight into Olson’s research and her online milieu.
While it was easy to quickly crawl the blog and fill in a few missing resources with Webrecorder, the moblog and other outbound links presented a problem, as many of them had become inactive or changed radically from thirteen years ago. With the new Webrecorder release, a large percentage of the outbound links have been restored; of special interest are the artist’s moblog, a Mary Jane Girls fan page on Angelfire, FOX’s The Swan (requires Flash or a remote browser), justvote.org, and many, many more.
Please note this video contains rapidly flashing imagery
In 2016, artist Constant Dullaart (awardee of Rhizome’s Prix Net Art 2015) was commissioned to create a version of Olia Lialina’s groundbreaking 1996 net art piece My Boyfriend Came Back From The War (featured in Net Art Anthology.)
For his piece war.capital, Dullaart registered twenty three domains, each hosting a single image. This infrastructure monumentalism made the work especially fragile; the domains expired and war.capital seemed to have vanished. With the new Webrecorder release, Dullaart was able to reconstruct the piece, including the domain names, from single captures recorded by the Internet Archive. While the images don’t display on the Wayback Machine because of slow retrieval from its gigantic archive, the data was there and is now back on http://war.limited/, to finally be integrated into Lialina’s Last Real Net Art Museum.
Webrecorder is both a tool to create high-fidelity, interactive web archives of any web site you browse and a platform to make those archives accessible.
Webrecorder was developed by Ilya Kreymer, and is a project of Rhizome under its digital preservation program led by Dragan Espenschied. It’s currently developed by Kreymer with the assistance of Senior Front-End Developer Mark Beasley, Design Lead Pat Shiu, and Contract Developer Raffaele Messuti.
Rhizome’s Webrecorder is both a tool to create high-fidelity, interactive web archives of any web site you browse and a platform to make those archives accessible. Today we are thrilled to announce exciting new features.
Different public web archives collect web materials in different ways. The UK National Archives focus on saving sites from the .uk domain, perma.cc allows users to create single URL copies, Arquivo.pt looks after the Portuguese web and serves the scientific community, the Internet Archive goes for as much breadth as possible—and there are many more web archives all over the world. The good news here is that if a web resource is missing from one web archive, another archive may well have it. Unfortunately, until today, it has been very difficult to assemble materials from different archives together into a more complete copy.
Rhizome’s Webrecorder offers users a new ability to tap into these resources and not only archive what is on the web right now, but additionally create new, standalone collections from the old web.
Every Webrecorder session starts by the user entering a URL that should be recorded. If Webrecorder recognizes that this URL is actually from another web archive, it enters Extraction mode: instead of recording the web archive system with its navigation elements like calendars or diagrams, Webrecorder only picks up the actual archived web pages.
In Extraction Mode, you can easily add archival resources to your collection.
Extract + Patch
Webrecorder will create two recordings with Extract+Patch: one just contains the resources from the archive you pasted the URL of, another contains resources patched in from all other archives that have been used.
The information on where archival resources came from is stored in your recording session as provenance metadata, which also persists when downloaded as WARC. The latest release (1.0.5) of the Webrecorder Player desktop application displays the provenance info exactly as the online version.
Patch existing recordings from multiple archive sources
Webrecorder has always included a “Patch Mode” which allowed users to “patch” in missing resources that were not previously recorded. Until this release, the patch mode would only look at the the latest live version of a resource. Now, Webrecorder will also look at other archives to attempt to patch in the most accurate archival copy of each missing piece.
For example, if you have created a collection with Webrecorder one year ago and forgot to include a resource, going to Patch Mode will now look for resources as close as possible to original material’s recording date, and fall back to the live web if other archives cannot provide.
If you’re part of an organization that runs their own web archive, you might want to patch any resources from the past that have been missed: Paste your own archive’s URL into Webrecorder, download the patch recording and integrate it into your resources.
Public Web Archives Directory
How does Webrecorder know what these other web archives are and how does it access them?
While there are a few well known web archives, there are actually at least twenty five of them all over the world! That’s why we’ve created an open source public web archives directory on GitHub, where each archive’s capabilities are described in the new Web Archive Manifest format.
When you’re browsing a web archive, the pages are actually rewritten, so that for instance links to the original web site now point to the archive’s server. However, most web archives provide access to unmodified archived resources and at least one API for requesting a copy from a specific date. These APIs include Memento, CDX Server, and Wayback raw content replay.
If you are stewarding a public web archive, you can check if it is already listed correctly. If not, feel free to submit a pull request to our GitHub to add your archive, to make it accessible by Webrecorder.
Webrecorder was developed by Ilya Kreymer, and is a project of Rhizome under its digital preservation program led by Dragan Espenschied. It's currently developed by Kreymer with the assistance of Senior Front-End Developer Mark Beasley, Design Lead Pat Shiu, and Contract Developer Raffaele Messuti.
On the day in 2001 the US dropped its first bombs on Afghanistan, artists Anne-Marie Schleiner and Joan Leandre met in a conference hall in Barcelona. They were participating in a game modification workshop; a mod of the WWII shooter game Return to Castle Wolfenstein played on repeat around them as they spoke. From that meeting, and their ensuing collaboration with artist Brody Condon, came Velvet-Strike (2002), their performative modification of the massively popular, first-person shooter video game Counter-Strike.
The premise of Counter-Strike is straightforward: one team attempts to commit a terrorist act while the other team attempts to prevent it. The first iteration of Counter-Strike was developed before 9/11. Counter-Strike co-creator Minh Le (Gooseman) admits, “I was young and chose terrorist factions that were popular in media. I found that picking a terrorist that many people would relate to would make the game more popular. Unfortunately, I was naïve in not giving much thought to the negative repercussions of using Middle Eastern terrorists.” Velvet-Strike transgressively turned the tables on Counter-Strike, introducing a collection of aesthetic mods (called “sprays” in Counter-Strike) that defied the hypermasculine and often grotesque mainstream sprays commonly introduced by players. Velvet-Strike’s sprays featured men kissing, and referenced Kubrick’s anti-war film Full Metal Jacket with a “Born to Kill” peace sign. This came at a time when the US military began developing and using first person shooter video games like America’s Army to recruit and train troops for their wars around the world, including, of course, in the Middle East. Velvet-Strike made a connection between fictional online spaces and the political reality that closely mirrored those spaces.
The early 2000s were not only a transformative time for US politics, but also for the game industry. Gaming was becoming mainstream, and sales figures for video games started to surpass movie box office figures. The internet made the tools for creating and editing games more accessible to players. Brody Condon recalls this period as a time when “suddenly, somebody like me with a limited amount of computer science knowledge and 3D modeling knowledge, could get ahold of an engine and start making small spaces and sketching in those spaces with the limited amount of overhead.” With this accessibility and the influence of artists like JODI and Cory Arcangel, game mods became a popular medium of the new media art scene.
Velvet-Strike was intended by its makers to deliver an anti-war message in a relevant media. The collaborators seized the best medium of the moment to intervene in what they viewed as a space to act out popular right-wing fiction: video games. Velvet-Strike tried to take a “humorous slant on it where we were kind of playing with being sort of tricksters and pranksters in the space while still trying to get our message out about serious issues,” says Schleiner. In addition to being an artist, Schleiner is also a game studies scholar specializing in game modification, something she explores in her book The Player’s Power to Change the Game: Ludic Mutation. Schleiner says, “I was excited at that time with the possibility of public space being extended into the virtual and using game space as a place to get a public message out.”
Joan Leandre seconds the activist nature of the project. “It was a straightforward, a very emotional reaction to what was happening in that moment,” he recalls. “In that moment everything seemed to be very simple. But years later, things are much more complicated.” Leandre is not a gamer, and though he once created work in game spaces, he is no longer interested in games or new media art. Rather, he considers himself more of an observer and researcher of these kinds of spaces and tools.
The mods Brody Condon created were a natural progression from his background in performance art and sculpture to digital media. According to Condon, the mod itself is not the work—the real product is the performance of these mods. In works like Warship, Condon sits with his mods for hours repeating the same action to try to understand his relationship with the screen. For Condon, this recursive, wooden repetition breaks down the fiction within the screen. He suggested Counter Strike sprays as the most time-effective way to spread an activist message widely: “It was clear, to us anyway, that these [video games] were propaganda spaces. These were spaces where right wing ideology was living an extreme. The nonstop destruction of the other in an arena that never quits.”
“I remember us getting killed a lot,” Condon says of the Velvet-Strike performances, in which the trio entered the game armed with their anti-war sprays. The video documentation of the performance is haunting. Counter-Strike is stripped of its usual shit talking and adrenaline, and is replaced by a series of hard, violently repetitive sounds. “If you watch those, the pattern becomes clear fairly quickly. You spawn with your team, you run towards the first goal, whatever that is depending on the map, there’s lots of gunfire and maybe if there’s enough time you get off a spray on a wall or ground and then the character gets shot and then it starts again and again and again.”
The performance received widespread acclaim from the art world, and the video was included in the 2004 Whitney Biennial. “It struck something in people,” says Condon. “Some kind of tender anger. The message resonates with people—the protest against war and US imperialism.”
In contrast, the response from gamers and Counter-Strike fans was intensely negative. The Velvet-Strike website received a flood of emails from players expressing fury with the project. Aside from angry emails addressed to “Miss Joan Leandre” (despite Leandre being male) there was a considerable amount of misogynist vitriol directed at Schleiner:
What a stupid initiative!!! If you don't like the game just don’t buy it, and don’t piss off other people with your shit.
Just a woman could have think of making something like Velvet Strike....
if you don't realize that videogame is just a VIDEOGAME, an that its a fake world, well then, GO PLAY WITH YOUR BARBIE!
Misogyny ran through many responses, but players seemed to take particular umbrage to the idea that CS was anything but pure entertainment. Schleiner remembers, “There was one player who said that he used Counter-Strike as a means to vent his frustration against the terrorists and 9/11. People felt like we were intervening in their recreational war games that were really useful to them for a number of reasons and they also resented a lot that there were women involved in this action.” The “how dare you put your politics in my escape” sentiment runs through a vast majority of the responses as does the assertion: “It’s just a game.”
It‚s just a game, it‚s not mean to have an outlook on the world outside of the computer, it‚s just a game. Something you clearly didn‚t understand.
“The reactions were really fierce, and full of real hatred,” Leandre recalls. “Which is something that doesn’t correspond with the idea of entertainment, of a games, of something without implications. These implications went beyond gaming.” The kind of responses they received raise questions. If Counter-Strike is “just a game,” then why is it able to provoke such angry reactions? And are first person shooter video games still “just games” if used by the US military to train recruits before sending them off to real battlefields to kill?
“It’s a complex topic…there is an implicit violence in the fabric of media today,” says Leandre “What was violent for me was when they came out with games like Full Spectrum Warrior in the moment of Afghanistan and Iraq was terribly violent… the fact that this thing was even being published.”
Schleiner reflects on recent events where women in the game industry have been attacked, “I could see where this culture, particularly the culture of FPS military gaming, is quite hostile towards women and that hasn’t really changed over time.” She’s referring to the loosely affiliated group of gamers who led the attack against female game designer Zoe Quinn in 2014. They arguably represented one of the first waves of the alt-right movement, with now-fervent Trump supporter Milo Yiannopoulos leading the charge. Velvet-Strike, like the presence of an outspoken female game designer, broke the fiction these gamers were convinced was real: a world where women don’t play video games and US imperialism is righteous and justified.
The toxicity observed by the artists in Counter-Strikeis still present today, though it has spread from the games themselves to social networks. “I’ve been thinking about whether it would make sense to make some kind of sequel to Velvet-Strike in current times,” says Schleiner “At the time we made Velvet-Strike, games were really a kind of popular public medium that people were using, younger people. It seemed like a great place to intervene. Nowadays it seems like maybe where you would want to intervene is on Twitter or something like that.”
The emotional responses from 9/11 and the subsequent war on terror lingered, evolving into what we have today: a tangled mess of angry voices trying to shout their way to the top. Velvet-Strike lives on as an artifact of early gaming and digital protest culture, two spheres that continue to intersect.
The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have a significant body of work that makes use of or responds to network culture and digital technologies.
Sable Elyse Smith: Much of your practice thinks through commodity and distribution as it relates to music and the internet; fissures in intimacy; and systems of control both physical and invisible. In a deft performance work from 2013, Untitled-Clefa, you lay face down on the ground, a bag of Skittles in hand, a few scattered about, beside an Arizona Iced Tea. The image of course is that of the body of Trayvon Martin after his murder at the hands of George Zimmerman.
The duration of the performance is tied to Migos’s “Versace Versace” looped four times, once more than the trinity. I understand that this work was performed in Mexico City. Can you talk a bit about how the work may have shifted or resonated performed in that context?
Devin Kenny: It was in Mexico City at a great space called Biquini Wax right after the miscarriage of justice in the US. I knew that there would be a range of ways to interpret it there, and I knew that the Trayvon Martin case didn't have as much weight there as it did in the U.S. but I did it, one because I refused to feel helpless and upset just because I was isolated as a Black American, and two, because of an experience in Mexico City where I was on the train during rush hour[s] and there was a little boy, no more than twelve who was splayed out on the floor of the train car. People walked around him, stepped over him for multiple stops (I was headed to Preteen Gallery with two friends), and as rush hour closed in, it became more and more crowded, and I noticed he hadn't moved and I was freaking out, asking my friend who had lived in DF for a few years what I should do, thinking I should get off the train, pick up the boy and take him to one of the several police officers in the train station and talk to them (despite their rifles et cetera). His fingers were blackened with something, and I assumed maybe he was a shoe shine boy or something, when my friend said that he was probably passed out from huffing some drug. Finally two tall businessmen walked onto the train and one, needing the standing room, lightly kicked the boy a few times with his wingtip, and he immediately got up, as though from a nap, though with black stains on his nose and lips and groggy eyes. So I felt that even if the Trayvoning meme component wouldn't read there, this prostrate body on the ground would have other kinds of resonances, perhaps more specific to the place. The American audience members talked to me afterwards very teary-eyed, and those unfamiliar with Trayvon Martin afterwards just seemed perturbed that I was blocking the door to get to the roof so long. I sensed many bodies stepping over me for the course of the performance, though my eyes were closed, I could sense the light change and hear the footfalls, some conscientious, others more matter of fact.
SES: And what is the significance of that juxtaposition: Migos and Trayvoning?
Versace, Versace, Medusa head on me like I'm ’Luminati
This is a gated community, please get the fuck off the property
Rap must be changing cause I'm at the top and ain’t no one on top of me...
DK: I was most interested in the way that Drake’s verse opens with lines that, in my mind, echo some of the thoughts of George Zimmerman and the racism of some neighborhood watches, especially as contrasted to the ideas behind community policing as introduced by the Black Panther Party and other groups not satisfied with the lineage of police in America to slave patrols and other forces mostly concerned with the protection and maintenance of “property.” The use of Trayvoning was interesting to me because it was in some ways a response to the viral activity of “planking” but done with a pointedly anti-Black bend. I thought about how people probably made the images of themselves Trayvoning: in a way that brings no harm to themselves, and wanted to extrude that, pick at it, and do something totally different, that might look the same in documentation: privileging the present. I wanted to take the quick, flat, violent, cartoon, and lengthen its duration and maybe in that process let some of the nuance and gravity of that gesture unfurl, so instead of laying down and posing, I actually collapsed while holding the items, and then held the position, body still tensed and muscles burning though in the photo one can’t tell.
SES: And then the significance of music, specifically popular music as a medium. What does it mean or what’s at stake for you when situating these forms of cultural production into the specific art spaces within which some of these performances operate?
DK: It kind of tries to put the institutional atmosphere to the test. If a museum is a space of contemplation, then anything done there will have the privilege of the extended viewing and getting more rigorous attention, including the pop forms which are super sophisticated but almost made to just be felt and held but not unpacked and wrangled with. It’s kind of like that saying about typography, that if it’s done well, the designer is “invisible,” the words on the page are like that because they're supposed to be, and no other way would really make sense. This is not always the case of course, but I think that is the thinking behind a lot of mainstream mass media things: there's a lot put into it but we're not supposed to know exactly what we're agreeing to per se, just agree to it and move on. So the museum space seems to be where the kind of unpacking that would happen on an individual level, or in a small group level, can possibly happen on a group level, in real time. I think that's what I'm interested in.
SES: I’m really interested in the many ways that you use and manipulate voice as a medium. Two elements of your performance practice include musical utterance and lecture. I’m specifically thinking about your performance Love, The Sinner performed at MoMA PS1 on February 28, 2016 as a part of the “Greater New York” exhibition.
How has this gesture of recitation shifted your practice? And what are your feelings about the act of “memorializing” within an art space? Within spaces of contention?
DK: I imagined the crowd would be a lot of older folks who maybe had a connection to the Village, since the topic was dealing with folk music in NYC, so I wanted to be sure that they would hear the reverberations and the continuation of those struggles in the present, whether they were politically active at the time or not. I was surprised and happy that the crowd was actually really diverse in terms of age and race so it could function a bit differently and I think have a greater impact. Starting everything with that list of names would mean something very different if it were only being directed at my peers and contemporaries. The list was Black martyrs of police violence: trans and cis, elderly, adult, teen, child. I really just wanted their names and presences and memories called upon, and acknowledged, in one way seeking a blessing, and in another way trying to redirect some of whatever power I had in that moment to those who had been taken away from us.
It was different in my practice as I do have a history of having very verbose pieces, but usually ones that are more poetic. In this case it was a pretty straightforward list. To memorialize within a space of contention...like all memorial actions can be looked at in a variety of ways, for me, if I could somehow commune with and embolden those that want change by making these names felt (like “say her name”), that’s good, if I upset folks who wanted the formal fun of an “experimental lecture” without social awareness/consequence, that’s also good.
SES: Can you talk a bit more about your object-based practice in relation to the immaterial labor of the digital structures that you both employ and mimick? I’m thinking here about the works from your 2015 exhibition “Wrong Window” at Aran Cravey.
DK: Sure! I mean the funny thing is it doesn't feel like switching gears or something since I'm always picking up things off the street, sizing things up (that might come from my past in skateboarding), looking at my surroundings: both of my Instagrams (https://www.instagram.com/crashingwavy/ and https://www.instagram.com/6500yearspostseason/) are a lot of that, the latter is more playing with “street style”/“fashion” ideas though. I often talk with peers and in my work about about the ramifications of digital world: social alienation, online beefs turning into deaths, kids trudging through toxic waste dumps to salvage e-waste, the whole conflict mineral issue with Coltan, ain't nothing immaterial about it really, whether we talk about data centers or those giant underwater fiberoptic cables or the concrete impact on people's lives that online activity can have, or click farms, and all these other things, it’s really on the ground and concrete. The immaterial digital labor group has many great folks in it that I learn from all the same. I think part of my interest in that terrain is because telecommunication spaces were really crucial to my coming of age as a ‘tween and teen and beyond that, so being in this kind of transitional group of millennials being teens during the Bush/Patriot Act-era really stuck and I’m sensitive and attentive to the many developments, like: 9/11 happened my first week of high school and we were on AIM what did that mean and are there parallels to be drawn today?
VHS Mop, 2015.
Regarding the objects, for a while I was really big on the idea of making something that looks like it's found, whether that be making things look like a consumer good or making things look like the discarded and disregarded, the kind of “wolf in sheep's clothing” thing: examining an aesthetic we take for granted and trying to flip it somehow. That show “Wrong Window” was jumping off some ideas I had been working on in my last year of grad school and the previous year in the “Made In LA” exhibition (I had a multi-part installation called Alone Together where I was thinking about the parallels between my experience in the Harold Washington Library in Chicago and the kind of sporadic occurrences in the web before 2.0, stumbling on pages, etc.). “Wrong Window” was thinking about a change in culture as traceable through material culture, thinking about “the post” in youth culture as I knew it. Whether that be a post on a Xanga, or LiveJournal, or posting up wheatpaste posters/stapling up fliers, “posting up” as in hanging out with your friends outside in one place (http://www.ndsn.org/summer99/courts3.html) to posting things on social media accounts. So I'm looking at the impetus to become a graffiti king or famous zinester or something in relationship to being internet famous. A friend of mine in high school was in that transition zone in the early ’00s, the local hero with a popular music blog, shout out “indiesnob.” In that show I had t-shirts, print-offs of photos, panels with quotes taken from YouTube comments, concert posters for fictional bands covered in ceramic frit (coming from the practice of smashing a light bulb and mixing it into your wheatpaste, to give would-be censors a rude awakening if they tried to tear down your poster barehanded), mashups of inspirational memes and junk food imagery, yoga mats made of mousepad material or the kind of rubber you use for opening pickle jars, a modified kids’ laptop toy that helped teach spelling, math, et cetera, clear backpacks (references to the tumblr #clear trend and the security measures in urban schools), a graffiti mop made from a VHS tape... lots of stuff.
Selfie mask (stealthie) I, 2015.
How/when did you begin working creatively with technology?
I have been having fun with computers since I was in kindergarten in the early 1990s. I have an aunt and uncle that were technology consultants and my aunt worked with databases for law firms and corporate accountants so when I would visit them I could always play games or draw things in MS Paint or make full color photocopies of things. When I was in elementary school I was making little websites...I participated in this thing called Thinkquest for example. In high school I started using FruityLoops (FLStudio) to make beats and I would upload my blip-hop tracks online, this is all that's left...a splash page :http://malfunction.dmusic.com
Where did you go to school? What did you study?
I went to Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art and studied art, with a brief stint at Gerrit Rietveld Academie for study abroad, and after that participated in the burgeoning Bruce High Quality Foundation University in a couple classes while they were a project funded by Creative Time. Shortly after that, for graduate school I went to UCLA for New Genres.
What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously?
I'm a shop technician, adjunct professor, guest critic ...
I've been a crew leader for the US Census, a freelance visual merchandiser for Henri Bendel... a copywriter, a file clerk at an office of admissions...
What does your desktop or workspace look like? (Pics or screenshots please!)
This interview is part of a series of interviews with artists who have a significant body of work that makes use of or responds to network culture and digital technologies.
Celine Katzman: I admire the diligent patience you demonstrate in the face of misogyny, which was especially obvious to me in yourinterviewwith the notorious writer and manosphere figurehead Roosh V for your project BANGED. Is there an interaction in your research or practice that stands out to you as the most frustrating? Were you able to keep your cool?
Angela Washko: In the interview portion of my project BANGED, it was important to me to me that I show the manosphere (an anti-feminist network of people, blogs, books etc. mobilized around the notion that men are more oppressed than women) that their ideas about what or who a feminist is are incredibly limited. I wanted to disprove much of their community’s commonly held belief that feminists are not interested in hearing about the struggles of people who aren’t like them. So I decided to try my best to make myself an example of someone who is willing to listen to the views of someone who is just about the most opposite to them as possible. I was also becoming frustrated with the lack of significant research happening around the manosphere. It is not given the critical analysis I thought (and still think) it should be given, considering its growing numbers as more and more women have accumulated the language, the platforms, and the communal consciousness to demand their liberation. Although there was certainly no shortage of writing about Roosh V and the manosphere, it was largely relegated to shock media—this “look how ridiculous these guys are, my liberal friends!” sort of news media. I sought out to understand more deeply the motivation of the men who had opted to position themselves in contrast to progressive movements to empower women as a way of strategizing a resistance to them.
BANGED: An Interview with Roosh V, Angela Washko, performance for video, 2015 (still)
This was during a time during which I was invested in having a practice that existed outside of traditional art spaces, as I had found success operating as The Council on Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral Awareness in World of Warcraft for four years—a project through which I had been facilitating discussions with the playerbase about the exclusion (or frankly, discrimination) of players on the basis of race, gender, and sexuality. As a performer who had seen real impact on the space in World of Warcraft as a result of my actions as The Council… I naively applied some of the same logic and strategies to this project without realizing the primary difference in my position in these two spaces. In WoW I was recognizable as a long term, high level member of the community with high level gear only obtained through years of commitment to the game—clearly a participant and not an outsider. In Roosh V’s manosphere, I was an enemy, a symbol of everything wrong in today’s world to them—someone who operates against their values and someone who regardless of attempts to be civil in an interview and even at times acting with something that did feel like empathy. There was no way this project would have ended smoothly for me. So I went into the project recognizing that entering a space that I didn’t belong would have consequences, but nothing would have prepared me for the extent of those consequences (beyond my treatment in the interview itself—facing over a year of sustained harassment from his extended community). I don’t know that I would call this exchange frustrating—I think I am more frustrated by larger online platforms that allow white supremacist, highly patriarchal and abusive communities to exist and thrive...as well as the news sites that benefit from clickbait articles about them that don’t go into any depth about their emergence/impact/etc.
Chastity (From The Council on Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral Awareness in World of Warcraft), performance for video, 2012 (still)
We Actually Met in World of Warcraft (From The Council on Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral Awareness in World of Warcraft), performance for video, 2015 (still)
CK: Did you find a particular demographic of players more receptive to The Council on Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral Awareness in WoW than others? How have the responses to the project from the in-game community progressed over the years?
AW: I operated The Council on Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral Awareness in World of Warcraft from 2012 to 2016. The responses to the project really shifted along with the intentions that I had with it. In the beginning I went into the project asking players to discuss the treatment of women in the game because I had experienced sexual harassment, incredible condescension, a very commonly held belief that being “worse” in the game was biologically linked to being a woman, general dismissal (“get back in the kitchen and make me a sandwich” was an incredibly popular phrase for example), and blatant favoritism (including gifts of gold, equipment, etc) just for being a woman. When I started playing the game in 2006, this was just accepted (even by me) as a natural part of the game culture. The way the social environment in WoW varies for women has been a huge factor for me quitting the game several times. In 2012 I decided that instead of ignoring it or abandoning the often rich and intimate social space because of it, that I would try a new approach—holding public discussions about these issues inside the game with the rest of the players on my server. In the beginning I had hoped that it might create a solidarity movement with other players who felt oppressed by some of the oppressive language and behaviors of the community and ultimately change the language on the servers I played on.
However as time went on, I started to feel that trying to change the space in my own image of what it should be like started to feel a bit colonial in its impulse—especially as I was presenting WoW in art contexts that are typically unfamiliar with the space. So my focus shifted away from changing the informal social culture of the space to creating safe public meeting spaces for discussions in order to create visibility and platforms for those who felt marginalized to be represented and to speak for themselves. This drastically improved the participation of the project as well. It became a lot less top-down and a lot more about the complexities of how the community’s exclusive language emerged, the complexities of being complicit with it in order to survive in the space (as women’s scarcity is also a benefit...the fewer women there are, the more valuable they are to the social culture of guilds at more competitive and more social levels), and the complexities of people feeling silenced in physical space and using this social game environment as a place to express suppressed political views and increasingly culturally unacceptable fantasies. The players most positively impacted by The Council were players who love the game and have developed ten year long relationships with other players who they regard as some of their closest companions...but have also had traumatic experiences inside the space and haven’t had a platform to talk through those issues because there is no mechanisms in place for doing so either at the formal reporting level (contacting the developer) or socially/informally in most communities inside WoW.
For example: in my video Safety (Sea Change): An Interview in World of Warcraft, two other members of The Council join me to interview a player who reached out to me over email to talk about how her experience working in domestic violence counseling paralleled experiences she’s had and witnessed in the game...as well as what her social communities in WoW have done to support her and others in harassment situations. The other players most positively impacted by The Council have been players who have never actually talked to a self-identified feminist in their lives and members of The Council get to provide them with their first experience—which starkly contrasts the images they’ve been fed by the niche media they consume.
Survival Rates In Captivity (Free Will Mode #5), dual-channel video, 2016 (still)
CK: Survival Rates In Captivity (Free Will Mode #5) and your work in The Council on Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral Awareness in World of Warcraft both highlight how real world cultural biases leak into virtual spaces both by way of their users’ behavior and the structure of the games themselves. Do you have any tips for architecting more utopian virtual game spaces?
AW: The Sims (the game that Free Will Mode was made with) is single player and World of Warcraft is massively multiplayer, so the scales of experience are very different. In general, single player role-playing game experiences are more linear and much more narrative focused than MMORPGs—which although they have narratives, are often much more socially oriented and much more open in terms of what you end up doing… So different spaces and formats warrant different approaches to design. World of Warcraft has an issue with losing diverse players. On any given server you won’t find many queer players, female players, or players of color. However a mechanically very similar MMORPG like Final Fantasy XIV with essentially the same interface and battle structure, has many intentionally inclusive Free Companies or guilds (including the FC/guild I’m a part called RainbowBrigade which has a greeting tag line of “Welcome to The Rainbow Chateau! All are welcome and accepted here!”). How does one game end up being a magnet for homophobia, racism, and misogyny (WoW)...and another fundamentally similar game becomes populated with a plethora of safe spaces for marginalized identities (FFXIV)? In my experience playing a broad array of multiplayer online games, there is a direct correlation between the competitive culture of game spaces and the community’s attitudes therein. Games that are more expert-driven with a focus on high level competitive play are frequently plagued by more aggressive and exclusive player bases. This is evident in lots of first person shooters. One will find hate speech immediately upon entering Counter-Strike (which has a highly competitive culture), but less so in Team Fortress 2 (which until very recently had barely any competitive culture). Final Fantasy XIV intelligently incorporated incentives to being kind to new players in their collaborative play structures. In World of Warcraft (at least during the active years of The Council), if you are a new player doing a dungeon for the first time with a bunch of expert players, it is likely that you will be harassed and discouraged for being unskilled (often accompanied by racial or gender oriented slurs and insults). In Final Fantasy XIV, players who complete a dungeon with new players are given bonus experience points and are encouraged to give “commendations” (an award metric for strong performances in collaborative battles) to build players’ confidence. It is amazing how much this seemingly simple structural inclusivity changes the culture of the latter MMORPG. I have never seen another player harassed (nor been harassed) in more than two years of playing FF XIV. There are also most definitely more women playing FFXIV than WoW. So my point is if you want to create a multi-user game environment that makes people with diverse identities feel safe and included, step one should be incentivizing collaboration and support for players regardless of ability over strict competition. This sounds familiar though, right? WoW is much more ruthlessly “meritocratic,” while FFXIV sounds socialist in comparison. ;)
The Game: The Game, Ren’Py application, 2017 (still)
CK: Directly experiencing and responding to the manipulative dating strategies of RSD Julien and “Luke” while playing Chapters 1 and 2 of The Game: The Game was really illuminating with regards to recontextualizing past IRL interactions I’ve had with men. Since embarking on this project, have you been subject to similar IRL interactions as those depicted with “Luke” and Julien? How has your counter-strategy to dealing with practitioners of game evolved?
AW: The Game: The Game is a video game designed to give players the experience of interacting with a series of famous pick-up artists and seduction coaches whose dialogue and behaviors have been constructed using their own words and teachings from books and instructional videos. The impulse to make this game wouldn’t have existed if I hadn’t been plagued by these types of interactions when I was younger. I’ve always had the same strategy if I wasn’t interested in the person trying to interact with me at bars and clubs...my strategies are often one of the many options you have when you’re playing through The Game: The Game. My strategy usually started with being polite and stating that I was just trying to spend time with my friends...which if someone persisted transitioned into me ignoring the person...and if they still persisted transitioned into me politely but firmly asking them to leave. I think one of the challenges to suggesting counter-strategies for dealing with the way that some of the figures in the seduction community practice pick-up is that many of them specifically target women who are quite intoxicated. You can see it in their hidden camera in-field videos (at least for the PUAs who sell in-field videos along with their instructional materials). Very often their pick up is effective because they attempt to heighten the emotional responses of women who are visibly intoxicated and vulnerable. You can experience this in the way that all of the pick-up artists engage you in Chapter 1 & 2. Because I’m in my thirties now, I’m not necessarily the target that the two primary figures in these chapters are looking for. Not all PUAs focus on the 18-29 age range, but “Luke” certainly does. “Luke” and Julien are not interested in someone who is ambitious, independent, intelligent, or experienced. The crux of their game is seeking out women who are submissive, young, vulnerable, and inexperienced enough to find their approaches appealing. It’s really important to me that in The Game: The Game I don’t shame anyone who is interested in pursuing casual hook ups. It is completely possible for you to opt to go home with one of these figures in the game. However, the way that those exchanges play out is based on stories that the PUAs have told about their personal “conquests” and some of them are pretty unpleasant for the women involved. I’m not projecting what these conquests might be like, but rather using anecdotal stories that the PUAs tell to their own communities.
I guess in terms of counter-strategy, consciousness that there are patterns that one can look for when going out that you can ask yourself can go a long way. Here are some questions you can ask yourself if you find yourself trying to assess if you’re dealing with a PUA attepting to create a false sense of familiarity with you: How fast does he accelerate to touching you? Does he try to isolate you from your friends? Does he try to get you to leave the venue and go elsewhere? Does he consistently try to get you to do things you’re uncomfortable with and reframe them as an adventure? These are a few consistent strategies employed by the PUAs in Chapter 1 and 2.
The Game: The Game, Ren’Py application, 2017 (still)
CK: I found your depiction of “Luke” and Julien very human, which is commendable given the obvious ideological differences that you have with them. In fact, there were moments in The Game: The Game where I felt pity and sympathy for practitioners of game. In 2014 Roosh came under fire for claiming teaching game would be a solution to tragedies like the Isla Vista mass murder in which the gunman cited involuntary celibacy as a motivation. I think treating the wellbeing of these men as a feminist issue is judicious, but how do you reconcile that with these specific incidents of mass harm of women? Is the desired end game here total empathy from both communities and if so, is there a way to to achieve that for us as women while practicing self-preservation?
AW: To me it is important that The Game: The Game reveals the complexity of this field while still being accessible and creating an embodied experience of it. There are so many figures in this field publishing books, crafting their own mythologies, cultivating their own followings...many of them running successful seduction coaching companies. It’s important to me that this field is given some serious study—it’s been easily dismissed as ridiculous for a long time. I wanted to create a way to experience the breadth of these types of practices and map out the differences and similarities in theory and tactical approach for people who are not familiar with these communities. I decided that the game format would allow me to have the PUAs speak for themselves using their own words from their books and instructional videos and create opportunities for players to experience their practices firsthand and respond as though this is happening to them in the most common place for pick-up art...a bar. This way the PUAs’ practices become less abstract and the comparisons of their behaviors/strategies can be made through the player’s embodied experience rather than a more diagrammatic approach or writing a book, which were other ways I considered mapping out this field.
I don’t want players to simply feel compassion or demonization for these figures or the field of pick-up art in general. To do so would fall into the dichotomous trap that I see nearly everyone covering this field in mainstream media falling into. The field is attractive to a lot of writers because it is easy to dismiss as horribly misogynistic toward women if you’re coming from a feminist perspective OR easy to glorify as supporting men by leveling the dating playing field for men who lack dating social skills if you’re coming from the manosphere perspective. I think it is totally possible to be empathetic toward men who find these teachings appealing and useful for building the confidence to approach and meet women...and still be critical of those pick-up artists who ultimately undermine, disregard, and fundamentally loathe the concept of consent. This is a larger threat to women’s autonomy in a time when there is a fundamental institutional fear in the U.S. of women truly being able to thrive and have consent over what happens to their own bodies every day. I want to leave players to wrestle with those gray-area complexities, because we aren’t given licence to accept how difficult these situations are today. I am tired of shitty, compromising, overly simplified A or B options. I hope that Xiu Xiu’s soundtrack to the game and the hand-made and digitally manipulated cyanotypes also help to amplify the stakes, risks, complexities, and uncertainties involved in being the target of this fraught terrain. I don’t believe in the whole empathy-games thing going on the VR industry, but I know that cis men who play the game have responded to it with a lot more shock than the femme-presenting people who have played it, because they haven’t had that embodied experience before. The femme-presenting people who play it already know the feeling all-too-well.
Header image: The Game: The Game, Ren’Py application, 2017 (still)
How/when did you begin working creatively with technology?
Well I’ve been a gamer for as long as I can remember, but I was designing room descriptions in my Clantown in text-based mud game Medievia (late 90s / early 2000s)! I played a lot of video games but didn’t realize that my perspective on the sociocultural issues embedded in them might be worth investigating in an art context until I went to an artist residency and started re-playing the role playing games I grew up with, finding that the ideologies communicated had impacted my childhood understandings of gender and sexuality. I started creating video works that presented the ways that women were represented in the games I had played in a series called “Heroines with Baggage” (written about by Orit Gat on Rhizome here) in 2011. This project was the first time I started analyzing the content and byproducts of technology and presenting these findings as artworks. *Also because of some overlap in critique and intention—I want to mention that this project came before Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs. Women in Video Games (an important pedagogical video series breaking down representation issues in video games—an undertaking which garnered Sarkeesian a great deal of harassment online).
Where did you go to school? What did you study?
My BFA is from Tyler School of Art (I studied painting and photography).
My MFA is from UC San Diego. (The program was generally visual art, but I was in the interdisciplinary computing in the arts focus.)
What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously?
I’m an Assistant Professor of Art at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
I’ve also taught at Bauhaus University and UC San Diego. Before that I was the studio manager for several other artists, a gallery associate at a number of art galleries in NYC, the residency coordinator at Flux Factory, a bartender, and an interior house-painter.
What does your desktop or workspace look like? (Pics or screenshots please!)
If you have an online artwork that you are trying to make or finish, or a story about the contemporary web that you want to tell, it’s time to submit a Microgrant proposal as part of our open call. For this year’s expanded Microgrants, our jury—Marisa Olson, Eileen Isagon Skyers, and Aria Dean—will select 4-6 projects to support.
Since 2014, the Rhizome Microgrant Program has awarded small grants for the creation of new artworks, online exhibitions, and other web-based projects. This program is run as an open call, and awards range from $500 - $1,500. Past funded projects have included a website critiquing a notorious internet misogynist, an excavation of the emails left behind by one of the largest corporate frauds in history, an exploitation videogame inspired by the Kardashians, and an analysis of the use of language in Egyptian social media during the 2011 revolution. This year, we invite proposals for online artworks and exhibitions from artists of any nationality. We aim to support a diverse range of experimental practices, and we particularly encourage proposals that engage with gender and internet culture.
In addition to the usual microgrants, we will also fund additional projects in these categories:
Additionally, a set amount of programs funds, generously provided by Jerome Foundation, are intended exclusively for artists living in New York.
Submissions comprise a simple 150-word statement, a single sketch or image, and a brief statement of the project’s budgetary needs. Upon the close of the open call, the proposals will be considered by a jury, with four to six Microgrants awarded. The Microgrants application deadline is August 14, 2017. Recipients will be announced September 1, 2017.
This year’s jurors are Marisa Olson, Rhizome Editorial Fellow Eileen Skyers, and Rhizome Assistant Curator Aria Dean.
Deadline: August 14, 2017
The Rhizome Commissions Program is supported by Jerome Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, American Chai Trust, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.
Marisa Olson is an artist, writer, and curator. Her work has been shown at the Venice Biennale, Tate(s) Modern + Liverpool, Whitney Museum, New Museum, the Nam June Paik Art Center, FACT, the British Film Institute, Sundance Film Festival, PERFORMA Biennial, Bard CSS/Hessel Museum, Samek Museum, and PS122. She's written for Artforum, e-flux, Aperture, Flash Art, The Guardian, Wired, and numerous books in multiple languages. She is the former Editor & Curator of Rhizome and Associate Director and Editor at SF Camerawork. She's curated projects at the New Museum, Guggenheim, SFMOMA, White Columns, and Artists Space. and served on Advisory Boards for Ars Electronica, Transmediale, ISEA, Creative Capital, the Getty Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Kennedy Center, and Tribeca Film Festival. She was Artist-in-Residence at Eyebeam, Master Artist in Residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and has been a Visiting Artist at Yale, Brown, VCU, SAIC, Oberlin, and elsewhere in addition to serving on the faculty at RISD and NYU.
Eileen Isagon Skyers is an artist and curator living and working in Brooklyn, NY. She has worked with contemporary art and non-profit arts organizations including Rhizome (New York, NY), The Wassaic Project (Brooklyn, NY), the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (Portland, OR), and the Digital Museum of Digital Art (Various Locations). Her moving image work has been exhibited nationally and internationally in the U.S., U.K., France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Mexico. Her book, Vanishing Acts, was published by LINK Editions (Brescia, Italy) in 2015, and her work has been published in Wreath Vol. 3, Glass Press of the Future, Web Safe 2k16, Printed Web #3, and New World UNLTD, among others. She has performed at Littlefield (Brooklyn, NY), the Knockdown Center (Brooklyn, NY), Housing Works Books (New York, NY) and Shoot the Lobster (New York, NY). Skyers holds a BA in Philosophy and a BFA in Studio Art from the University of South Florida (Tampa, FL) and an MA in Critical Studies at Pacific Northwest College of Art, (Portland, OR).
Header image: A Dictionary of the Revolution by 2016 Microgrant recipient Amira Hanafi.
In the 1990s, as activists, artists, and their ilk explored the new possibilities presented by the internet, communities often formed around shared resources such as servers. In London, the cybercafe bulletin board and, later, the Irational web server—both initiated by Heath Bunting—played such a role role. Run on recycled hardware and software, they offered space for posting and exchange that tended towards the aesthetically and politically radical. In this interview, Rachel Baker, one of Bunting’s collaborators, recalls her experience as a participant in these two platforms, which shaped her own work in net art, activism, and internet radio.
Michael Connor: How did you begin collaborating with Heath?
Rachel Baker: I’d heard about him beforehand because he had a reputation in Bristol for doing unusual, conceptual graffiti and stenciling, and creating art exhibitions in subways. And doing everything that he could to occupy and create para-institutional art contexts and sites outside of official gallery institutions. Although I was at Goldsmiths doing an MA at the time (1995), we shared a condition I will term “institutional autism,” a kind of maladroitness around them, maybe a fear, probably class-based, so this parasitism was appealing. That was fairly characteristic of first-phase net culture anyway, the para-institutions.
So it was a natural step for us to participate with this nascent net art scene. A lot of people who were involved in the net art scene were also excited by the idea of creating parallel art contexts beyond the established ones. Pretty soon it all got absorbed anyway into these institutions, inevitably. But that period in the late 90s early 2000s was very exciting, because there was this attempt to create these independent culture zones, create something other than what was sanctioned by the art institutions and academic departments, which at that time were in thrall to the market ideologies of the YBA period in British Art.
MC: How did you become a member of cybercafe BBS?
RB: Heath was in the habit of fishing out old bits of computer and modems from skips. In the mid ‘90s people were throwing away their technology because it kept rapidly getting outdated into obsolescence. My very first modem did come from a skip in Bankside, London (I think British Telecom had an office there). I was at Goldsmiths studying for a Masters and I had a Goldsmiths email account and internet access at the college, but I didn’t have internet access at home. Heath had some old modems knocking around and he gave me a 2400 bps modem. At this stage that meant my first at-home online experience was logging onto the BBS, which was cybercafe, the bulletin board. Heath had given me a login.
I was at home, by myself, plugging in the modem, logging into the cybercafe BBS, staring at the screen, terminal window open, wondering what I was supposed to do with it, and I remember very clearly these words being typed via the flashing cursor: “Hello, Rachel.” And I thought, “What? How did that happen?” Somebody's silently entering your home, your personal space through text on a screen with this flashing cursor. It was a very uncanny feeling...not like the telephone because text is more mediated than voice... It’s kind of interesting to remember that feeling, because people don't have it anymore...or do they? I don’t think they do. Net consciousness is second nature now. When the internet was at that early stage, there’s no broadband, you have to dial in. You got the whole set of noises coning from the modem, then you got this cursor flashing up, “H-E-L-L-O R-A-C-H-E-L. Hello Rachel.” Something’s talking to me. Who is it? What is it? Where is it coming from? It felt like an encounter with some sort of demon, a ghost in the machine. Heath was running that bulletin board from his kitchen, some PC running BBS software. There were other arty BBSes at the time. The Thing was an early BBS—cybercafe and The Thing were the only bulletin boards I'd come across.
MC: What kinds of things did people post?
RB: Lots of ranting, poetry, random thoughts, pain and longing. A bit like Facebook. Yeah, ranting and poetry, maybe some music files, very short little music files, maybe an image file. Lots of it was Marc Garrett [co-director and cofounder of Furtherfield]. Marc was very prolific on cybercafe. You would usually find something every day from Marc.
MC: What were kind of your impressions of that community? What did you take from it?
RB: First of all, you imagine it to be much bigger than it really is. It was a handful of people posting! I might be wrong. You don't know though. Also, everyone's anonymous. Everyone's got a handle, everyone's got a nom de plume. You're in a kind of cave and you don't exactly know who's in the cave with you, could be anyone. You're not sure. I think Marc may have had several, and Heath had several identities. I don't know exactly.
But it felt bigger than it actually was. I imagined there were hundreds of people when probably there was only five or six. [Logs from Irational.org indicate 595 active users in total.]
MC: It was exciting to be a part of the community of cybercafe despite its small size?
RB: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. It was exciting because of the disjointed feeling of time and space being condensed. It was a very addictive feeling...a kind of temporal and spatial confusion. This ability to connect with people very quickly through text. There was a very poetic relationship to text and to the material that was being sent to the cybercafe. You'd have these mysterious exchanges with people you’d never met which felt quite magical, emotional and intimate. Now it’s trivial.
MC: Did you think of yourself during this time as a net artist?
RB: No, definitely not. No, I hadn’t even encountered the term. Initially that didn’t really figure for me on cybercafe or Irational.org. That became something, a kind of discursive context, once I’d subscribed to [the mailing list] Nettime. And you know there were lots of conferences and gatherings and events around this burgeoning scene. One of the first ones that I went to was in Budapest. It was called Metaforum. It was in 1995. That's where I met Diana McCarty, Pit Schultz, and various other people from Nettime. Rasa and Raitis from eLab, and Olia Lialina. And Alexei Shulgin. And Ted Byfield.
Another early gathering was at Backspace, London, called Anti with an E, organised by Heath. Lots of people came to that. It was difficult because people’s expectations would be confounded. The Backspace internet cafe that James Stevens was presiding over was quite a small space. But people came from all over Europe. Because it was exciting. A nascent network of fellow travellers, but also there was a curiosity in discovering independent projects like Irational.org and Backspace. These events and spaces created an infrastructure of common interest around online culture across Europe. Anti with E got a small amount of funding from Arts Council Org because people there, such as Bronac Ferran and Lisa Haskel, had noticed where the energy was around net and digital culture at that time. But it was quite amusing that people turned up and found themselves in this tiny little spot in south London. Which is now, by the way, a Starbucks.
MC: Around this time, Heath shifted from cybercafe to Irational.org
RB: Yes. Okay, let me get this shift right. Heath had the domain cybercafe.org registered and he sold that to Ivan Pope. He was the CEO of a company called NetNames, a domain name registration company. He was also an artist and an entrepreneur. He was kind of important in the early formation of Irational.org. Heath sold cybercafe.org to Ivan for a sum of money—I think about a thousand pounds. He also registered Irational.org with Ivan via NetNames. Heath couldn't spell. The name “Irational” obviously is misspelled, right? It's got one R instead of two. It’s an error. But it's this fortuitous misspelling of irrational that is idiosyncratic of Heath’s M.O. You can never tell if he’s purposefully misspelling or if he's actually dyslexic, probably a mixture.
MC: Was the server located in a particular place and people sort of shared costs and resources and access to it?
RB: Yeah. When I joined the server, it was somewhere way out in west London, I believe, on a server rack in Royal Oak. It certainly was a technical platform, but it was more about building a social grouping around a platform, the server. Heath’s approach to building a kind of context or a community is quite transactional. The transactions at that time went, “Hey, would you like an email address and a bit of web space and even a modem in exchange for building this social infrastructure with me?” Maybe it could be like a gang, or tribe. I think he was into that idea—street gangs, internet gangs...
MC: What kind of community was formed around Irational.org? Was it similar to cybercafe?
RB: The cybercafe BBS was more like an early rudimentary Facebook experience, I suppose. Or a Reddit discussion board. You constantly have that sense of other people available to connect with, a group chat space, whereas Irational.org, as a web server, is more about building individual web pages, presenting individual work or research. It was more of a service resource. People would join Irational.org in order to get an email and web account to host their projects on. It became more like a membership-based web-hosting thing, and sometimes those members would collaborate. Or not. Like Daniel García Andújar, a Spanish artist, and Minerva Cuevas, a Mexican artist, both very successful. There were certain commonalities of practice, an interventionist approach, playing with systems and language, often politically.
MC: The Irational members always sort of the ethos of the city and the web being connected I think, right?
RB: Yeah. Yep, you’re right. You’re absolutely right. There was a lot of walking. A lot of urban walking. [Heath and] Simon McLennan, another Bristol comrade, would do a lot of graffiti tagging around Bristol. And so it was in London as well. We would all get together for some long walks—walking and chalking. You’d get a call-out to meet up at a location in London, maybe Covent Garden, and you’d grab a bit of chalk. Then, you’d wander around London all day. [We were] following the urban graffiti tag ethos, finding unusual, difficult, physically challenging spaces, but we weren’t using spray paint we were always using chalk.
MC: What were you writing with the chalk? Or drawing?
RB: Simon had a whole repertoire of what he called “scarabs” or “beetles.” They’re abstract looking insects. Heath was building a whole repertoire of symbolic chalk tags—stars were very important, and bones... They were very consciously thought about, they all meant something to him, they were a vocabulary of his own.
MC: What did you chalk?
RB: I really liked runes. My favourite kind of tagging was as if I’d thrown some chalk sticks on the ground, usually just lines randomly scattered as if it was a pile of sticks, but I also took to using “TM.” TM stood for my then alter ego or avatar, Trina Mould, which I conceived of as a sort of teenage girl gang, like the Spice Girls or something, but more punk. I would apply “TM” like a pseudo “trademark” to everybody else’s tag.
Here's a story to tell about this. It was just me and Heath on this particular walk. We were in the Charing Cross area doing what we do. Just tagging surfaces up in white chalk. On this particular walk, I had a marker pen, a black marker pen. Heath was doing his elevating star graffiti tag in chalk and I was TM’ing with the black marker pen. He did his tag on a pretty nondescript looking building and I TM’ed it . At that point a red-faced angry man confronted us. He was very, very angry, livid, and he said he was going to call the police. “What do you think you're doing? This is an MOD building!” It was a Ministry of Defense building. I didn't know that. I’m still not clear whether Heath knew that or not because he tended to know that kind of stuff. He was quite interested in knowing what buildings were in relation to governmental authorities like the Ministry of Defense, but I didn't know. We left him in his rage, but he sent the security staff of the MOD after us. They dragged us back into the building, held us there until the police came. We were separated and taken into individual interview rooms. When the police came outside to look at what we'd done, it was a bit stupid because all we’d done was this very minimal not-even damage...it was just chalk. The worst thing was actually my marker pen, my little TM, that was the worst that we'd done cos it was a permanent marker. They were like, “Why did you do this?” I think Heath said something provocative like, “This is done in solidarity with the IRA.” Which is admittedly a very stupid thing to say. I said, “It's art!” I remember the policeman said, “Just keep your art in an art gallery.” They confiscated the chalk and the pen and gave us a little receipt, which I still have. I'm pretty sure I still have it somewhere, a receipt from the metropolitan police declaring, “One white chalk, one black marker pen.”
MC: So what does this have to do with the internet?
RB: My TM (trademark) tag sign was an acknowledgement of the absurdity of proprietizing imagery and symbolic language in public space. This bears some relation to the proprietizing logic that came with the web. We were trying to understand property relations, what you could access, what you could not. What was hackable, in the broad sense of the term. It was training for a systems-hacking sensibility. Also just noticing and observing things, reading and writing the street.
Do you know about warchalking? Warchalking was leaving symbols in public places to tell you where there was an open wifi network. It was inspired by hobo symbols that told itinerant train-hoppers where was a good place to stay, or where wasn’t a good place to stay. Warchalking was like trying to build a shared language amongst a network of itinerant wifi hoppers amongst the streets of London, to build a coded environment that could be read, re-territorialized.
Some of the things that we would chalk actually were URLs to Irational.org. In fact, Heath made a project, Project X, which involved chalking the Project X URL in public places. You'd see the URL scrawled in chalk in various places around London, bridges or alleyways, places that would have some kind of personal significance…through walking around London and turning it into a kind of fiction, a personal narrative I suppose. So if you found this particular URL in the street and if you went to that URL online, you'd get to the website with a form. And the form would ask you, where did you see this chalk? Who did it? Why do you think it was done? And then that takes you to a kind of a list of responses. What that does quite nicely is get you to think about location—locate where Heath chalked that URL all over the world, locate yourself in relation to everyone else who noted it, not just in London, but worldwide.
What was going on was something akin to what I understand as “post digital.” I think Irational.org and Heath’s work was post digital before it became a fashionable theoretical term. We had a keen sense of infrastructure, of networks as lived, coming both from the street derives and the internet, creating gateways to one another.
MC: Another one of those kind of gateways would have been the Kings Cross call-in.
RB: Heath published the various telephone numbers of all the public telephone boxes in Kings Cross train station. And then directed people, via a web page, to call those public telephone boxes at certain time in the day. It now seems simple and banal, but actually at the time, I remember it being extraordinary. Because all the telephone boxes started ringing, it must have been around seven P.M., in Kings Cross. All the telephone boxes were ringing. So that was an example of these gateway projects between street and internet.
So that was just a kind of example of these gateway projects between street and internet that really kind of switched on sensibility around network aesthetics.
MC: It’s a great story. But now that we’ve seen this kind of public space intervention co-opted as marketing tactics with things like flash mobs, how can we connect with the radicality of this gesture? Was it doomed to failure?
RB: I don’t think it’s fair to say that as experiments they failed, because on their own terms, they were successful, these network experiments. If only to reveal the network. That was the thing that I learned, particularly with the TESCO loyalty card project. Reveal the network, even if temporarily. This is why the recent theory about infrastructuralism or so-called stacktivism doesn’t seem all that new. We were already discovering that in the ‘90s. We were already discovering infrastructure, political and aesthetic, just walking the streets, tagging and creating gateways via the internet. Heath had a particular genius for intuiting network hacks both in an artistic, poetic sense and a political sense. And I was always drawn to that as well, but more towards activism and the politics of networks, rather than art. The idea that you could enter spaces online/offline that you wouldn't ordinarily be allowed to appealed to me. Or that you could, through acts of camouflage, enter spaces that would ordinarily be off limits. This is a distinctly class-based motivation. Heath was always looking for techniques that would help him live in, and respond to, the moment. I was more interested in thinking about longer term strategies for coping with class relations in corporatism and commodification, in the workplace. And yes, that was doomed to fail...
Vuk Cosic, Rachel Baker, Heath Bunting, Alexei Shulgin. Image via Irational.org.
Lauren Studebaker: I understand that Screenfull was one blog in a stream of many projects that you did with Jimpunk, starting in 2003 with noblog, and then 544x378(WebTV). I was wondering if you could begin by talking about how you started collaborating with Jimpunk, and then how Screenfull came into being.
Rick Silva: Jimpunk invited to me to be one of the artists posting on his 544x378(WebTV) project. For that project I was working under my net art alias Abe Linkoln, and was one of about a dozen artists posting on the blog. I was immediately taken with the format, the style, and energy of all these artists working within this shared space.
LS: You only communicated with the aliases at this time?
RS: Yes, at that time we only communicated through our aliases. Jimpunk and I worked on projects for a decade and I still don’t know who he/she/they are IRL. We talked here and there over email or chat, but our main communication was through using images, videos, sounds, and bits of code, on our blogs.
After the 544x378(WebTV) ended in 2004, I approached Jimpunk about doing a follow up project, but without the 544 x 378 pixel window limitation, and this time, with only us two as the authors. As with 544x378(WebTV), one of the most interesting parts of Screenfull was that we almost always had the media play on load—when you loaded the site, often half a dozen or more videos and sounds would start playing at the same time.
Screenshot of Screenfull as viewed in Internet Explorer on Windows XP. (JPEG, courtesy of the artists).
LS: Do you think that anonymity was a response to the new, developing web 2.0 culture at the time?
RS: Anonymity and aliases were an important part of early net art. The web’s own conventions of usernames and decentralized networks lend themselves to these modes. But for me working with aliases and anonymity was also a connection to electronic music culture. As a teenager I bought my first PC because I wanted to make music like Autechre, Squarepusher, and Aphex Twin. When I was introduced to net art, artists like JODI, Superbad, Jimpunk, and Mouchette had an immediate connection with me because of how their aliases and embrace/critique of technology reflected the experimental electronic music scene I was immersed in.
LS: A lot of times Screenfull is classified as a proto-surf club, as it operated as a blog with collaborative posting of found content.Could you explain the reasoning behind the use of the blog format, and its subsequent practice?
RS: I credit the beginning of surf clubs to Jimpunk with his c. 2003 “noblog” where they invited twenty to thirty artists to post on a single default Blogspot site.
I often equate blogs to performances, you start this project not knowing exactly where it will go, you respond to the other participants, you have an audience that’s following the development. It could fizzle out after a few weeks or go on for years.
Blogs also make it extra efficient to collaborate, the “multiple users” features are built into the platform.
LS: Can you explain the practice of the blog, and the use of remix, that you were exchanging with each other? I'm looking at what exists now on the website, and a lot of posts seem to directly respond to each other, in conversation. Could you explain what was chosen to be posted or how you responded to each other’s posts?
RS: Since Jimpunk is based in Europe and I am in North America we had a kind of twenty four-hour posting cycle where we’d each wake up in the morning and react to what the other had posted the hours before.
Because the blog format kicks a post off the bottom when a new one is posted at the top, there was a kind of live mix of sounds and videos that would be constantly changing with each post. It’s great that the blog format has a built in archive system and you get to see the various weeks archived, but you do miss the kind of unfolding post-by-post mix that would happen on the main page when it was active.
You can still get a good sense of the themes and aesthetics we used on the site, lots of references cult films, punk music, software interfaces, and art history. This short piece on Screenfull that Johanna Fateman wrote for Rhizome really sums up the project, and is probably one of my favorite write-ups of one of my projects.
LS: What was the reception like from other internet artists, or the general public?
RS: I felt like people, especially the net art community, were closely following the project. It went on for two years, but we never translated it to a museum or gallery show, and it was never written about in a book (that I know of). On the website analytics I remember getting a lot of our online traffic from Russia.
LS: You also made a Screenfull book. What was the reasoning for translating this blog practice into a book format? Was it ever printed or did it just exist as the PDF with the intention of people printing it?
RS: We had these mini projects within Screenfull, like the radio station, this Duchamp subtheme site, and the book. We would each take the lead on different side projects, Jimpunk did the radio station, I did the book. In a way, those elements sort of organized the content overload that was the website.
LS: Did Screenfull inform your own practice? Was it more a research-based project or did you both consider it a full work?
RS:Yes, it was a big influence, throughout the 2000s I kept my main net art persona (Abe Linkoln) very separate from my video/sound/performance/Rick Silva work. Around 2009-2010 I began merging my more net art blog format with my video work—projects like antlerswifi.com (2011) and enpleinair.org (2012-13) I consider still tied into that net art/blog art practice.
Screenshot of Screenfull as viewed in Internet Explorer on Windows XP. (JPEG, courtesy of the artists.)
LS: Can you talk about your other projects, and how you see Screenfull fitting in with them, as well as the part it played in the internet art scene at the time?
RS: Screenfull.net was the longest running single project I’ve worked on. And it was my first big collaborative project. That way of working, with others, and making lots and lots of little moments that build up to be something bigger is still an important way of making and thinking for me. Aesthetically, Screenfull still reminds me of that era of the internet; Myspace, file sharing, RSS feeds, and the first few times I did a Google Image search— a sense of endless media scrolling, looping, popping up, auto playing, crashing.
More than a decade later I see Screenfull as a kind of inbetween project in the net art 1.0 and 2.0 historical perspective— somewhere between hacker and default, between stand alone sites and social media.
LS: Was Screenfull the last project you worked on with Jimpunk?
RS: Jimpunk and I added a third collaborator Mr. Tamale (aka http://subculture.com) and did the Disco-nnect Turbulence video blog, and the triptych.tvblog. Both were very much in the same aesthetic and tradition of Screenfull. Jimpunk and I have agreed to someday meet in Hong Kong for a game of ping pong, and I still hope we get to do that.
LS: Did the work you do as Abe Linkoln go on to inform your personal practice as Rick Silva? Do you think the blog is still a viable, workable medium for artwork today?
RS: Yes, my more recent projects like enpleinair.org would not have happened without my earlier net art projects as Abe Linkoln.
I remember when I first started getting into net art in 2001, I would check some of my favorite sites weekly, to see if they had new content up. The very first linkoln.net page was just a kind of start page for myself, modeled after the takesyou.to/manyplaces. Blogs/RSS (syndication feeds) changed that relationship, RSS meant that you could have a feed reader, and artworks/blogs would let you know when they had new content up. I still feel that is a big shift in the way net art evolved at that time. Of course social media has added a whole other complex layer to the feed…and speaking of, you can follow my new project on Instagram. ;)
Tom McCarthy’s 2015 novel Satin Island opens with a description of the Shroud of Turin, the famous shred of linen upon which an image of Christ’s face allegedly appears. The image, he writes, “only emerged in the late nineteenth century, when some amateur photographer looked at the negative of a shot he’d taken of the thing, and saw the figure […] the negative becomes a positive, which means that the shroud itself was, in effect, a negative already.”
McCarthy was one of eleven speakers at a day-long conference organized by the Research Center for Proxy Politics (RCPP) at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin on June 24, 2017. RCPP, initiated in 2014 by Vera Tollman, Boaz Levin, and Maximilian Schmoetzer “under the auspices” of Hito Steyerl’s class at the Berlin University of the Arts, has hosted over twenty talks and workshops for students and the public on the evolving concept of “proxy politics.” The conference was RCPP’s culminating event, but rather than wrap up their research it only seemed to expand the applicationsfurther, making a convincing case for the “proxy” as a relevant and adaptable conceptual framework.
That said, the diversity of presentations during the conference meant that the audience had to do some connecting legwork. For my part, over the day I found myself continually returning to McCarthy’s emblematic shroud as a way of visualizing the proxy. It was a reminder that the proxy can only be seen in negative, or relief: a sort of ghost of the structures of belief and technological systems that produce the will to see it in the first place.
The original meaning of proxy comes from procurator, Latin for an agent able to legally act on behalf of another. Today, when you hear the word you probably think of the VPN obscuring your porn preferences from the NSA; it commonly refers to a computer server acting as an intermediary between a local network and a larger one.
A proxy in this sense is an intermediary but also, in the words of the conference organizers, “a decoy or surrogate.” Yet, as opposed to a legal representative, the digital proxy is often unauthorized—contributing to “a post-representational, or post-democratic, political age, one increasingly populated by bot militias, puppet states, ghostwriters, and communication relays.” Proxy politics, in RCCP’s usage, is both a diagnosis of the contemporary political ground and a potential set of tools for resistance.
A proxy server may provide anonymity and security, but can also block access. Proxy politics is in this sense a struggle for who controls the ratio of information passed back and forth. But the battle, if it’s useful to call it that, is muddied by the fact that it must also be conducted by proxy—if power lies in invisibility, one has to obscure oneself to resist.
The double nature of the proxy led theorist Wendy Chun, in her opening lecture, to call it “a fundamentally ambivalent pharmacon.” She explained how science, specifically climate science, has become a practice by proxy in two senses: climate scientists must collect data by remote proxy rather than direct observation, and climate models themselves have become proxies for climate deniers to attack science at large. She suggested finding ways to use statistical analysis not to attribute blame via proxy, but to try and “understand culpability without subjectivity.” I took this to mean distributing responsibility for change among human and nonhuman actors and all the proxies therein.
Brian Holmes likewise spoke of climate change in his talk, but from the human scale, asking, “How does a proxy get under your skin?” He suggested we have to find ways to feel what many of us only ever experience mediated by proxy—such as environmental change and ensuing humanitarian horror. He used the word empathy to describe a condition of permeable sensation to the world around us that could ultimately lead to taking more responsibility, though it might also be called embodiment. Proxies estrange us from our actions and their effects, our bodies and their representations, and Holmes would remedy this alienation via new kinds of embodied sensory experience.
One such experience was provided live by the artist Sondra Perry. As a background to her presentation she played a chopped and screwed version of the song You Are Everything and showed a video of her grandmother sorting through family photos. Then she called her brother over Skype. During their conversation, the audience learned that he used to play college basketball and, some time later, was part of a class action lawsuit against EA Sports. The company had borrowed his likeness, along with hundreds of other people’s, to base a video game character on: a proxy without his permission.
Perry asked her brother about his relationship to his unauthorized avatar, which led to other questions about his embodied reality: whether he ever feels comfortable in his tall, black body (he doesn’t) and how he has learned to “manage” his self-performance so as not to seem “threatening.” Thereby she demonstrated how being racially marked is to always be forced to operate by proxy, to obscure oneself—and how the right to control one’s own proxy image is unevenly distributed.
Doreen Mende and Kodwo Eshun both spoke of bots and machinic images, Eshun reminding that the “originary technicity of creolization,” like computational image production and organization, was “never anything but a process of violent filtering and sorting.” Therefore “the bot and the proxy are therefore not separate from questions of enslavement; there is no race-neutral technological progress.”
McCarthy took up the issue of technological prosthesis-as-progress via the historical fascination with the automaton or puppet. Because the puppet “begs the question of a puppeteer,” he also pointed out that the mechanical servant—whether twitter bot or video game avatar—is never only a technological novelty, but inherently a representation of power relations. On behalf of the puppet or proxy, he joked: “I will not be your server!”
Students from Steyerl’s class gave two performances (one involving slicing up a German flag, the ur-proxy of nationalism), and the day rounded out with a “magic demonstration” by a magician hired by artist duo Goldin+Senneby. The magician performed various tricks on audience members (ooh, ahh), which led to her make a parallel between coin tricks and stock market trading. At the end, we were all invited to invest a minimum of ten euros in a hedge fund the artists set up, which would short-sell shares in a company (chosen by the magician) and give us any profits.
Mentally trying to reconcile the myriad definitions of the proxy I’d heard throughout the day, I realized that for most of the conference I’d been trying to understand the proxy as part of a semiotic system, as a sign alternately obscuring or revealing its referent. But the disappearing coin tricks (which reveal an absence, not a presence) reminded me that the proxy itself holds no semantic meaning. The proxy does not refer; it filters. If there’s a relational dichotomy at play, it’s not between sign and referent but rather sign(al) and noise, and the proxy decides, often arbitrarily, which is which. In reference to McCarthy’s Shroud of Turin, then, the shroud is not a proxy, as I had first thought—the proxy is the camera that took the image of the shroud and revealed, or created, its latent image. In McCarthy’s words: “We see things shroudedly, as through a veil, an over-pixelated screen.” By proxy.
Header image: still from RCPP’s promotional video for the event.
Rhizome is looking for a fall editorial fellow and a fall program intern. Details below.
Rhizome’s fall editorial fellowship is an opportunity for a writer (preferably at the graduate level) with a research background in the fields of contemporary art and technology to further develop professional skills. The fellow will work on research and writing for Rhizome’s blog and for the ongoing Net Art Anthology exhibition, as well as some editorial maintenance.
The fellow will spend 50% of their time researching and writing articles, and 50% on related editorial tasks, including fact checking; proofreading; posting/formatting; social media; and administrative tasks.
Fellows will be paid for writing commissioned articles, but the position is otherwise unpaid. Academic credit may be arranged and is highly encouraged.
The editorial fellow must be based in New York City and available to commit to 12-16 hours of work per week for 3-4 months beginning in September. A flexible schedule is preferred, and partial remote working is possible. These hours include a daily email check.
Please send a cover letter, resume, 1-3 short writing samples or links to published pieces, and contact info for two references to email@example.com by August 28 , 2017.
Rhizome’s program intern responsibilities will vary and engage with all areas of the organization: research and production support of the Rhizome website and Net Art Anthology; assistance with administrative upkeep; editorial maintenance; correspondence with artists, members, and press; assistance with events, and more. The program intern must be familiar with contemporary art and savvy with the web and new technologies. Demonstrated interest in and background knowledge of early-to-mid-2000s net art is a strong bonus.
This position is open to undergraduate or graduate students based in New York City or in Los Angeles. The position is unpaid, but academic credit may be arranged and is highly encouraged.
Interns will be paid for assistance at events.
The program intern must be able to commit to 8-10 hours of work per week, for 3-4 months, beginning in September 2017. These hours include a daily email check. It is also preferred, though not required, that you be able to commit to attending/assisting several evening Rhizome events this autumn.
Please send a cover letter, resume, a short writing sample (something academic is fine), and contact info for two references to firstname.lastname@example.org by August 28, 2017.