Florian Cramer on Mon, 4 Nov 2002 19:49:43 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Discordia Concors: www.jodi.org

[The following piece was written in German and English for the exhibition
catalogue of "install.exe/Jodi" and posted here with kind permission of
the editors. The book is available from Christoph Merian Verlag Basel, see

$Id: jodi_anti_net_art.tex,v 1.8 2002/07/09 00:41:04 paragram Exp $

Discordia Concors: www.jodi.org

Florian Cramer

July 10, 2002

jodi net

If the contemporary art system were not fixated on displays - whether of
opulent visuals or of political correctness - and on material objects to
be sold, jodi might be recognized as the most important artists of our
time. Such a canonization of course seems to go against the very aesthetic
subversion of www.jodi.org, all the more when considering the efforts jodi
spend on contextualizing their work within a larger network, withdrawing
it from easy consumption. On the other hand, jodi's anxiety to provide a
defined context for their own art could be seen as a control strategy in
itself, rendering the opposites of subversion and canonization more

It is, as the sinologist and computer poet John Cayley writes, ``difficult
to say anything hard and fast in terms of more-or-less conventional
criticism about a site which is hardly ever the same on successive
visits.''{1} At the time of this writing, http://www.jodi.org transferred
all its visitors to the download page of ``Untitled Game''. The rest of
the web site could be found via World Wide Web search engines, pointing to
critical writing about jodi.org which in turn pointed to its sections
hidden from the front page - or by using the pirate mirror of www.jodi.org
on http://www.0100101110101101.org/home/ jodi.org. Thus undermining the
corporate identity contained in its catchy web address, jodi.org requires
its readers to invest net-work on their own. This strategy of withdrawal
also reminds of Gnosticist writings from the late antiquity which, for a
long time, had only survived through citations in the writings of
Christian theologists who sought to refute them.

Poems which, according to combinatory-algorithmical rules, jumble the
words they contain, are known since the 16th century as ``Proteus verse'',
named after the Greek god who constantly changed his appearance.
www.jodi.org shifts the Proteic principle from the internal data of the
artwork to the meta-data of its addressing scheme and its networking. This
strategy does not only cover the way to, but also the ways through and out
of the website. www.jodi.org refuses, for example, to limit itself to
being www.jodi.org by drawing connections between various net artistic
servers (``map'', http://map.jodi.org), providing link lists (``CC'',
http://wwwwwwwww.jodi.org/100cc/baklava/index.html) and interspersing
hidden internal with hidden external site links.

But at the same time the mapping out and pinning down of this context
contradicts jodi's Proteic slippages away from a fixed identity. Jodi's
identity is reinforced all the more by the thorough impact their work had
on fellow net.artists. Given that jodi were as import tant for the
code-experimental net.art as it manifested itself since 1997 on the E-Mail
forum ``7-11'' http://www.7-11.org{2} as Cézanne was for cubism or as
Malevich was for constructivist painting, canonization is unavoidable.

jodi art

At the time of this writing, a ``Google'' search on the keyword
combination ``jodi.org'' and ``noise'' brought up 228 web pages. But how
is jodi's noise different from the noise and randomness in previous
avant-garde arts, from pointillist painting and Dada to John Cage's music
and Fluxus?{3} The difference lies in the media and in the rhetoric. In
Dada poetry, Hans Arp's chance painting and John Cage's random music,
randomness occurs structurally within a work, not in its transmission.
Even where www.jodi.org doesn't randomize its own transmission by unstable
addressing schemes, it reads and behaves as if it contained intact data
disturbed only by faulty net transmission or computer crashes; but in
reality, the line noise is mocked up within the data itself. Unlike Nam
June Paik's visual noise manipulations of TV sets in the 1960s, jodi's
disturbance is not done in hardware with only partly predictable results,
but is a clever simulation of unpredictability done in software.

For the random behavior of the jodi website is but a trompe-l'oeil
simulation given that it consists of linear and deterministic codes: text
files written in the HTML formatting language, simple animated GIF images
and terse lines of Javascript algorithmic programming.{4}. While the
chance poetics of Cage and Fluxus conceived of disturbance and randomness
as means of radical freedom, their implication is much more ambivalent in
jodi's work. They inspire and liberate the viewers' imagination all the
while locking it into deception, mazes and dead-ends. The naive Cagean
ontology of chance is replaced with a tricky rhetoric of simultaneous
anarchy and entrapment, a neo-baroque conceit and discordia concors of
surface chaos with inscribed discipline and vice versa.

jodi net art

Jodi are famous for their art of disruptions and miscodings and for
making, far beyond all techno-naive ``multimedia'' art, computers
aesthetically visible as self-immersed generators of contingent data
streams. However, their poetics is not simply about uncovering an
(imaginary) truth hidden beneath deceptive software interfaces. What
appears as code in jodi's works - like the contingent numerical stack
tables of the ``Automatic Rain System'' subdirectory of ``betalab''
http://wwwwwwwww.jodi.org/betalab/rain/ - is code pointing to code, but:
code which is not what it seems to be. Jodi's codes are typically
simulations of other codes: simulations of algorithms in graphic
animations, simulations of screen graphics via blinking text, etc.. On
October 22, 2001, jodi posted a lenghty text to the international E-Mail
list ``Nettime'' which seemed to be a commentary on current war crises and
their discussion in net cultural forums:

$cd ug/models/soldier3 $origin 0 -6 24 $base base $skin skin

$frame soldierc
$frame soldierd



void() army_fire;

void()  army_stand1     =[      $soldierc,      army_stand2     ]
void()  army_stand2     =[      $soldierc,      army_stand3     ]
void()  army_stand3     =[      $soldierc,      army_stand4     ]

The text (which cannot be fully reproduced here, but is available at
http:// amsterdam.nettime.org/Lists-Archives/nettime-l-0110/msg00120.html)
was, first of all, an impressive piece of concrete poetry. It made
military order intervene into its linguistic and typographical structure
and read like a coded inventory, a strategic plan in an obsessive code
language. Readers fluent not only in English, but also in programming
languages, were able to recognize that the poem is a functional sourcecode
in the programming language C. It is, in fact, part of the sourcecode of
jodi's ``Untitled Game'' which in turn is based on the sourcecode of the
commercial computer game ``Quake''. Not mentioning the origin and nature
of the code in their mailing list posting, jodi disclosed the aesthetic
and political subtexts of seemingly neutral technical instructions.

In 1924, Tristan Tzara formally instructed his readers ``To make a Dadaist
poem'' by cutting out the single words of an arbitrary newspaper article,
mixing them and taking out ``the scraps one after the other in the order
in which they left the bag''.{5} While the resulting poem is random, the
instruction is not. It generates Dadaist language, but its own language is
not Dadaist. An even more constructivist code is the poem ``3 variationen
zu `kein fehler im system''' (``3 variations on ``no error in the
system'') by Eugen Gomringer, the German-Bolivian co-founder of concrete
poetry. The text permutes the sentence ``no error in the system'':

    kein fehler im system
    kein efhler im system
    kein ehfler im system
    kein ehlfer im system
    kein ehlefr im system
    kein ehlerf im system
    kein ehleri fm system
    kein ehleri mf system
    kein ehleri ms fystem
    kein ehleri ms yfstem
    kein ehleri ms ysftem
    kein ehleri ms ystfem
    kein ehleri ms ystefm
    kein nehler ms ystemf
    fkei nehler im system
    kfei nehler im system
    kefi nehler im system
    keif nehler im system
    kein fehler im system

The error, signified by the initial ``f'' of the corresponding German word
``Fehler'', moves right in each line until the initial order has been
restored. However, since the error is induced in a strictly systematic
way, there's no error in the poem.

In comparison to Gomringer's poem, jodi's sourcecode is typographically,
linguistically and semantically richer, and it differs from Tzara's poem
code as well in that it does not separate a poetic collage from a
non-collage algorithm. Treating both sourcecode and its output as artworks
in their own right, it employs the methods of pastiche and ready-made on
the sourcecode itself. Unlike permutational Proteus poetry and generative
art from Optatianus Porfyrius and Lullism to until recently, jodi no
longer synthesize instruction codes, but for the first time use them
intertextually, as found material.

net anti net

Other works on www.jodi.org subvert the aesthetic expectation of an opaque
sourcecode and a human-readable output even more obviously than the above
poem. In ``Location'' http://wwwwwwwww.jodi.org and ``faq''
http://wwwwwwwww.jodi.org /100cc/faq/index.html, the browser display
doesn't seem to be readable except as letter noise, but renders as
readable plain text - with a typogram of the cartoon character Stimpy
(from ``Ren and Stimpy'') - when clicking on ``View Sourcecode'' in the
web browser. Just as the web site plays with its accessibility and
non-accessibility on the meta-data level of its address schemes, it plays
with visible and hidden codes on the data level of its files, making
what's plain opaque and vice versa.{6}.

``Location'' and ``faq'' intertexually refer to computer typograms known
as ``ASCII Art''. ASCII text, the ``American Standard Code for Information
Interchange'' the lowest common denominator of all computer character
sets,{7} was used since the 1970s to emulate graphics in non-graphical
computer networks, so that, out of technical restraints, it reinvented the
classical literary genre of pattern poetry known since Simias of Rhodos of
the 3rd century B.C..{8} With the Net.art of jodi and later the community
of the ``7-11'' mailing list, ASCII Art was rewritten from naive mimetic
figuration into an experimental and ironical art form that played with
error codes, pretended system crashes and the spam-like mass mailings.
``Location'' and ``faq'' map the transition from figural to self-reflexive
ASCII codes: In both pieces, the old naive ASCII Art literally becomes the
sourcecode of its reflexive Net.art successor.

code anti code

Jodi's particular artfulness to make one type of data look like an other
type of data manifests itself most blatantly in an artform which they seem
to have invented: fake software which in reality is just animated graphics
and blinking browser text. ``Surgery/havoc''
http://wwwwwwwww.jodi.org/100cc/havoc/ looks like a jump'n'run computer
game with several zoom functions, but is actually a clever arrangement of
animated graphics files. Employing the same means, ``BinHeX''
http://wwwwwwwww.jodi.org/100cc/hqx/i900.html simulates system crashes and
computer virus infection. Alluding constantly to the popular cultural
semiotics of software interfaces, jodi manage to make software art - and
thus also generative art - even where they don't employ algorithmic
programming, a conceit that challenges the whole conceptual grounds of
both art genres.

The pre-digital net art known as Mail Art promoted open participation by
consequent mediocricy. Jodi.org and the Net.art it made possible prove
that outstanding art can come out of bottom-up networks. What renders
jodi's art an ultimate example of contemporary ``argutezza'' - artful wit
and urbanity as it was defined in 17th century rhetoric - is it
simultaneously affirms and negates its place within a network. After all,
it stands out too much in this network, with the links and disseminations
being the preventive weapon against undue readings and contextualizations
like this one.


    Jeremy Adler and Ulrich Ernst. Text als Figur. Visuelle Posie von der
    Antike bis zur Moderne. VCH, Weinheim, 3 edition, 1990 (1987).
    Inke Arns. Texte, die (sich) bewegen: zur Performativität von
    Programmiercodes in der Netzkunst, 2001. http://www.v2.nl/~arns/Lecture/
    John Cayley. The Code is Not the Text, 2001. http://www.p0es1s.net/poetics/
    Tristan Tzara. Pour fair une poème dadaïste. In Oeuvres complètes.
    Gallimard, Paris, 1975.
    Dieter E. Zimmer. Schone Gruse aus dem Netz. In Deutsch und anders, pages
    272-292. Rowohlt, Reinbek, 1997.


{1} [Cay01]

{2} see Frederic Madre's essay in this catalogue

{3} Thomas Skowronek, who currently writes an M.A. thesis at Humboldt
Universität Berlin on noise in Net.art, brought up this question.

{4} The phenomenon of the static ``genotext'' vs. the mobile ``phenotext'' in
the digital arts, with reference to jodi, has been addressed first and more
thoroughly in Inke Arns' paper [Arn01]

{5} [Tza75]

{6} A method adopted and radicalized in Ivan Khimin's project "http://
imageless.net". The website only consists of very small HTML files which only
contain information in the sourcecode. (The site can be accessed via "http://

{7} For a history of the ASCII standard, see [Zim97]

{8} [AE87]

GnuPG/PGP public key ID 3200C7BA, finger cantsin@mail.zedat.fu-berlin.de

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