Tilman Baumgaertel on Thu, 27 Jun 2002 22:31:01 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Interview w/ tsunamii.net

Interview mit tsunamii.net / By Tilman Baumgärtel

As part of their project for this year's documenta the artists group
tsunamii.net is currently walking from Kassel, where the documenta takes
place, to Kiel, where the server of the documenta is located. Alpha 3.4
(http://www.tsunamii.net/alpha3.4/) is one of the few internet projects at
this year's documenta, and the only interesting one. I gave Tien Woon and
Charles Lim of tsunamii.net a call on their cell phone on monday morning,
when they were checking out of their hotel.

?: Good morning. Where are you right now?

Tien Woon: Somewhere behind Hamburg. I forgot the name, I believe it is

?: That means that have complete two thirds of your trip from Kassel to
Kiel for your project. What is this project about?

Tien Woon: We surf the internet by physically moving from Kassel, where
the documenta takes place, to Kiel, where the sever of the documenta is. A
server is a computer that holds the data of a website, that you can access
over the internet. We have written a program in collaboration with a group
of programmers. The program is called "Webwalker", that surfs the internet
while we are walking. We are carrying a mobile server, palmtops and a GPS
system in order to be online all the time. While we are walking, the GPS
system sends the data about where we are to the internet. These movements
will control the fours Monitors in the Binding Brauerei in Kassel, where
you can see our current location.

?: Why walk this distance at all? The whole point of the internet is that
you do not have to move physically in order to access data that is not
where you are.

Tien Woon: We want to think of the internet as a physical place. It is not
about making the virtual physical, but rather to argue that the virtual
also exists physically. There is this argument about the internet, that
you have the freedom to move where you want because it has no limits, that
it is bondless and that there is a citizenship of cyberspace, the
"netizen". You supposedly have the freedom to move from place to place and
collect data. But in reality, all this depends on hardware, on cables and
on backbones. Some countries have them and some don't. For example, a lot
of servers are in the US right now, because it is much cheaper to have
them there. While it may cost 100 dollars per month to host a website in
Germany, it might be only 30 dollars to host it in the US.

?: To me this sounds like a bit of a re-nationalization of the internet.
In my thinking it is an advantage that you can host your data somewhere
else, far away from your own government, that might erase critical content
or take you to court for it.

Tien Woon: One of my friends has his website hosted in the Netherlands,
because it is cheaper and because he feels that the Netherlands are more
liberal. But what does he do, when the government changes and become
right-wing, like it has happened now? It is not about re-nationalizing the
internet but rather about being conscious that the internet is a
politicised space. It is not as open and free as in the time, when the
internet first began.

Hold on a minute, my colleague wants to say something (Mumbling in the
background) Charles is saying that the documenta platforms are a good
example for that. Hold on, I pass the telephone over to him.

Charles. Hello, my Name is Charles.

?: Hi, I'm Tilman. How are you doing?

Charles: How are you? I think the documenta platforms show what the
problem is. These conferences that preceded the documenta all took place
far away from Kassel, but now all the material is hosted on a server in

?: Yes, and everybody can access it there, because the internet is a
decentralized network. Even the people in Santa Lucia.

Charles: But if you place a server in the Frankfurt, it means that it is
slower in other parts of the world and the people in Santa Lucia might not
be able to download the video streams. They could at least have put a
mirror site there or in other parts of the world to make the material from
the server more accessible outside Europe.

By the way, the location of the server also affects us. When we planned
this project, the server of the documenta was still in Frankfurt, because
it was sponsored by a company there. Now they have moved their server to a
server farm in Kiel because of Telekom being the sponsor. When we heard
that, we were like, damned, now we have to walk a much longer! (laughs)

?: Walking to the documenta server almost seems like an act of
reconciliation for the ease with which we can access data on the net.

Charles Lim: Well, usually the idea with computers is that you do a little
bit of work, and then the computer does a lot of work for you. In our case
it is exactly the other way round: we do most of the work and then the
computer has to do only a little bit. One idea is to slow technology down.
Technology, and computers in particular, get faster and faster all the
time, and they also accelerate our life style. We try to reverse that
process, and get slower and slower. There is an aspect of contemplation in
walking from Kassel to Kiel.

?: So do you enjoy walking outdoors? Are you nature lovers, that are happy
to explore the German countryside?

Charles: Well, actually we don't see too much nature. We mostly see a lot
of traffic. We have to use the roads, so they can track us back at the
gallery as our movements control the computers in the gallery. I expected
to meet a lot of people on the road, but in reality we hardly see any
people on the streets where we are walking, only cars. It almost seems
like there have been only small areas left where people are supposed to
walk, and the rest is for trains, trucks and cars.

?: I noticed that a lot of the pictures from your previous walks have been
taken on train stations and train tracks. Why is that? Because a lot of
the telecommunication cables have been laid underneath these tracks?

Charles: Yes, and because we are interested in different telecommunication
technologies. First there were roads and telegraphs, then train tracks and
the telephone, and now there is the net. No, cables are not laid under
these tracks but train tracks, roads, pavements are prepared tracks,
structures build to aid and transport human traffic from one place to
another place. And train stations are like nodes in these trajectories.
Being a walker on these tracks one can feel the 'textures' of speed. Walk,
drive, cycle, commuting on trains are all varying degrees of speed. In
this case, walking becomes the speed that allow us to see more of what is
in between the start and the end of the journey. We are exploring what is
in between in the internet.

?: So what will you do once you are in Kiel at the company that hosts the
documenta website?

Charles Lim: It took us a lot of negotiations to actually get us into the
server farm, but eventually we got the permission to do so. We will set up
a web cam in front of the server computer, and that image will be
transmitted to the installation in Kassel. Also, on the website of the
documenta you will see a real time image until the end of the exhibition,
maybe even longer.

It is an attempt to think about our relationship to the computer. I said
that our trip from Kiel to Kassel is an act of contemplation. But maybe
that makes us sound too much like Robert Long. The most important part of
this happening is not the walk as such, but rather to clarify our
relationship with the computer. (Noises in the background)

?: Say, are you already on the road again? I think I hear cars in the

Charles Lim: No, but we are getting ready to go soon. If you want to
though, you can take a look on the internet to see where we are right now.
And then you can drive there to meet us. (laughs)

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