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Re: <nettime> Goodbye Classic ?
Tilman Baumgärtel on Tue, 13 Nov 2007 13:14:53 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Goodbye Classic ?

Hi Olia, everybody,

olia lialina wrote:
> My own old projects (html, java scripts, gifs) still function
> perfectly, but when i need to mention them, I prefer to show
> the screen shots. Especially good are the ones in Tilman
> Baumgartel's Net.Art because the book is old and screen shots
> were made in old browsers, the actual environment of the works
> are visible. I should say that those reproductions are of
> more authenticity that the fully functioning originals. 

Thanks for the kind words about my net.art book, even though I do not 
think that a book is old, if it was published 8 years ago...

I had many fights with the graphic designer of the book, who wanted to
make the illustrations very small as it was fashionable then and to
some extent still is. But since it was already obvious back than that
these pieces would work only for so long, I wanted to have some good
screen shots for future reference.

Even in 1998 some of the screen shots came from the hard disks
of people, since the original sites were already redesigned (for
instance, the pictures from the first Digitale Stad). One reviewer
later criticized it as a shallow "coffee table book" because of the
many pictures...

When we did the second book in 2000, whole sites were already gone,
and we were not able to find good screen shots from, for example,
Internationale Stadt Berlin anymore. So the two screen shots of this
important project in the book are two lousy, little gifs, that I had
to fish out of the Google cache.

On one level, I do hate to see all this stuff disappear so quickly.
Then again, it is part of the whole spirit of net.art. Net.art was
always about being ephemeral and whimsical and not about creating
time-less, everlasting masterpieces. The most exciting part of net
art to me was to see how a work came out of a discourse, such as for
example "Desktop is..." from 1997 that was initiated by Alexei Shulgin
as a collective work.

I do not think that anybody would be terribly impressed with this
piece today (Alexei wisely took it from the net a long time ago,
and the version at Rhizome is "members only"...). It is basically a
collection of screen shots from the desktops of some members of the
mailing list "7-11", that was an important sand box for net art people
in the late 1990s. The project grew out of the discussion on the list,
even though I do not really remember the exact circumstances. (If you
would want to archive this piece, the debate that preceded it would
be an important part of the documentation.. Then there was an ongoing
debate during the time the piece was put together, so a semi-public
discourse went on during production....)

In the context of this newly constituted net.art community, it was
an interesting project, because it allowed people to play around
with issues of identity and self-portrayal. And it gave people the
opportunity to find creative ways to deal with this pretty simple
dispositive - "take a screen shot of your desktop by pressing the
Print Screen button and email it to alexei  {AT}  easylife.org"...

Back then, many of the people involved did not know each other
personally, only over the net, and therefore it was a way to present
yourself to the others and create an "online persona". Questions such
as "what operating system do you use?", "what software do you have"
etc. were of tremendous importance at that time, and just by revealing
these things about you you already made statement. For instance,
people took screen shots with open emails, that were partly covered by
other windows, so you had to guess what they were about and stuff like

What is also quite significant about the piece is the fact, that it
was not really Alexei´s work, but that he rather served as a kind of
initiator and maintainer of it and put all those screen shots, that
people send him, on the net. It was less about authorship, rather
a collective and collaborative activity - like the best mail art
pieces are - where everybody was challenged to come up with something
creative within a very simple framework.

It was really important on one level. I remember putting a lot of
effort into my contribution. Then again it was over after a couple
of days, and everybody forgot about it. It was only important for
this particular group at this particular time, but for this moment
the relevance of the piece was much higher than that of any art work
I would see in a museum or a gallery. These social specificity is
something I really miss in contemporary art most of the time, be it on
the net or not, and that is also a reason why I lost interest in it to
some extent after the early net art experience, where projects like
that seemed to happen every other week. Then again, it is also the
reason why people not involved in these activities were usually much
less enthusiastic about this type of work.


PS: My net.art book is still available, and since the publishers took
a great risk to put it out, I do not want to put anything from it on
the net right now. However, I promise that once it goes out of print,
I will have the whole thing scanned and put it on my website.

Dr. Tilman Baumgärtel 
Film Institute, College of Mass Communication, 
University of the Philippines

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