Tilman Baumgaertel on Tue, 13 Oct 1998 08:26:55 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> art on the internet - part 1


Here's my modest contribution to the nettime book; hope you like it. Thanks
to Matt Fuller for editing.=20


I think,=20
and then I sink
into the paper=20
like I was ink.
Eric B. & Raakim: Paid in full

Tilman Baumgaertel, Hornstr. 3, 10963 Berlin, Germany
Tel./Fax. +49(0)30-2170962, email: 100131.2223@compuserve.com

Tilman Baumg=E4rtel

Art on the internet - The Rough Remix
pt. I

It somehow made sense to me when my walkman stopped working. I had used it
to recorded all of the interviews, that have been remixed for my
contribution to this book, and it broke down the day after I had finished
transcribing the last of the interviews with a net artist. To me this
technical problem marked the end of an era. The first formative period of
net culture seems to be over.  Books like this one seem to sum up the
exciting years that followed the discovery of the internet by artists and

The interviews that my Dutch colleague Josephine Bosma and I did in the
last couple of years are sort of an oral history of this period. These
interviews, that were posted on nettime and a couple of other mailing
lists, were something of a news agency for the artists, critics and
audience that were interested in art on the internet. Josephine and I were
to some extent confined - due to geographical reasons - to the part of the
developing net art community that identified itself as net.artists with a
dot in the middle. I can't speak for the both of us, but I tried make sure
that I wasn't just the ventriloquist's dummy for this exclusively European
circle and tried to get in contact with artists that were not part of the
travelling circus that meets at European media art festivals such as Ars
Electronica, ISEA etc.=20

For me the interviews were an attempt to escape the well-known rituals of
the art world. After more than ten years of over-theoretical, dull,
humourless writing on contemporary art after the period of Institutional
Critique or Context Art, I tried to return to an approach that was more
down to earth. And, as the many responses I got over the net to these
interviews showed, a lot of people enjoyed those artists' statements
better than a Lacanian reading, (or other interpretation infested with the
terminology of another trendy philosopher) of net art projects. In
addition, doing interviews was a way of materialising the immaterial net
art projects - at least on paper. To make this virtual reality visible
again, I had artists tell me stories about it.=20

What's needed in the future will be more of a problematisation of the
issues that many of these interviews raise. Were the net.artists well
advised to locate themselves within the art context? Will net art (given
that it is an art genre at all) keep its freshness and uniqueness with the
growing interest of art museums? Or will we see the same tiresome
processes of institutionalisation that happened to video art twenty years
earlier? I was taught in journalism school, that a journalist must never
write, "It remains to be seen". But at this point I can't think of any
other answer to the questions I am asking myself.=20

I am sure that some artists won't appreciate finding their quotes taken
out of the context of the interviews and put together in a collection like
the one that follows. My intention was to point to motives and ideas that
kept emerging in these conversations. One might want to keep them in mind
when approaching net art in a more theoretical way.=20

The quotes were taken from more than 25 interviews I did with artists who
work on the internet from late 1996 to the summer of 1998. Excerpts from
them have been published in online and print magazines and newspapers,
such as Telepolis, Intelligent Agent, Die Tageszeitung, Spiegel-Online, to
name just a few. I am grateful to the editors of these publications that
they supported my research into net art by publishing articles and
interviews on a subject that must have been rather dubious to most of

Some of these interviews went over the nettime list, the majority of them
however didn't. Some - as the interview with Jodi - have been reprinted
over and over again by now. Others have been sitting patiently on my hard
disk for months. The whole bunch of them will be published in German in a
book called net.art - Kunst im Internet, that is forthcoming from
suppos-Verlag (Cologne). Links to all the art projects that are talked
about in these interviews can be found at my homepage @


Robert Adrian X: There was a completely absurd episode in 1956, when I was
still in Canada. I was working in a jazz club and one of the musicians
there told me that the Canadian Pacific Railway Co. was looking for people
to work in an installation that involved a computer. The normal office
workers couldn't handle it so they were looking for people to come in who
could improvise - create a system for the machine. To me it was just a
temporary, well-paid job. I guess there were about twelve of us - artists,
musicians, students, writers - everybody was under 25. They had built a
whole building in Montreal for this computer - which probably had about 8
Kilobyte of RAM. The computer counted railway cars. The data on the
railway traffic was collected at different locations in Canada. They
wanted to know exactly where each car was, whether it was empty, whether
it was full, what was loaded etc. We got this information on teletype
machines that also made punched tapes which we turned into punched cards.
Every night the cards were sorted and transmitted to Montreal. I worked in
the Toronto Data Center and we had to communicate with the other Data
Centers, the Computer Center in Montreal and the train yards in our
region, so we were always on line via teletype.=20

padeluun (Bionic): (In the art scene of the 80ies - T.B.) was nothing of
interest to us anymore. There was noting that got you excited or even had
some sort of vision. But here (with computers and BBS=92s - T.B.) was
something, that made us think. There is something going to happen in this
field... It will change our society, maybe even better it. Let=92s see what
comes out of it. We started to go to industry fairs instead of art shows.
We found out that at theses fairs there were also people with smart, funny
ideas. We started to look at contemporary scientific theory because we
started to understand that this didn=92t become part of art and culture at
all.There was no transfere, no translation into everyday culture.=20

Heiko Idensen: In 1984 I went to the art show "Les Immaterieaux" at the
Centre Pompidou in Paris, that was co-curated by the postmodern
philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard. The question was if postmodernism could
be shown in a museum. Part of it was collaborative writing project, where
french thinkers discussed via Minitel-System. Lyotard had introduced 50
terms like =84absence=93 and =84navigation=93, topics that are still uptoda=
today. You could participate in this at the museum. I personally couldn=92t
even use french keyboards, but it left a huge impression on me.=20

Mark Napier: I used to paint. The nice thing about painting and sculpture
is that those art forms don't crash. I got my first internet account in
July 1995, put some of my paintings on my homepage, and then realized that
this medium was completely seperate from painting.  Just scanning the
images changed their nature, and of course I could create so many effects
with Photoshop that the original painting no longer existed by the time I
posted the image on my site. A few weeks later I took down all the
paintings and started playing with HTML to see what I could get it to do.=
I experimented in hypertext 'essays' (for want of a better word) like
=84Chicken Wire Mother=93 and the =84Distorted Barbie=93, before I got into=
 a much
more painterly, interactive approach, like what I'm doing now in
POTATOLAND. I haven't painted since summer of 95.=20

Marko Peljhan: I was a radio amateur from when I was 11 years old. In
Yugoslawia during socialism there was a big radio scene, and as kids we
would go to the radio club and talk with people all around the world on
short wave radio. When I think about it now, it was very formative for me,
because it was a very global experience.=20

Olia Lialina: On the Homepage of Cine Phantom (a cinema for experimental
films in Moscow where Lialina is film curator - T.B.) I used to put
avi.-files into the pages. You could theoretically show a whole film on
the page. But that wasn=92t enough for me. I asked myself how one could sho=
film and filmic thinking on the net. I tried to do my experiments with
storytelling with HTML instead of film footage.=20

Alexei Shulgin: My first experiment with the internet was in 1994, when I
set up an online-gallery of russian art-photography. The reason to do this
was very political, because it was against the existing practice of art
curating and had to do with exclusion and inclusion. There was a big show
of russian photography in Germany. Some very interesting projects and
series of works were not included because of the obvious ignorance of the

?: On the german or on the russian side?

Shulgin: Both, because they were too busy with political games. As a
photographer I was included in this show, but I thought there was
something wrong with the whole concept. So I proposed to do a kind of
supplement to the show on the internet.=20

Walter van der Cruijsen: My enthusiasm for the internet came from the fact
that I finally found a medium where I could give all these immaterial
ideas a place. In 1993 the dutch Hacker-Club "Hac-Tic" organized a
congress that was called "Hacking at the end of the universe", which took
place on a camping ground. I was invited by some friend there. I didn=92t
know much about the internet. After this congress it went really fast. I
wrote the concept for the "Temporary Museum" for an Internet-Environment,
and for some time it existed as the art space in the "Digitale Staad".=20

The Net

Jodi: When a viewer looks at our work, we are inside his computer. There
is this hacker slogan: "We love your computer." We also get inside
people's computers. And we are honored to be in somebody's computer. You
are very close to a person when you are on his desktop. I think the
computer is a device to get into someone's mind.=20

Debra Solomon: I like to refer to it (the Net - T.B.) as
Tamagochi-culture. When you are online 12 hours a day, your desktop
becomes your (audio)visual enviroment... You talk with all these people
(with video conferencing systems. - T.B.) while you are doing your work.
We practically live in the visual world of our desktops.  Like the_living
says, 'we are the people in the little plastic egg'.=20

Jordan Crandall: I see the internet as a network of materializing vectors.
It is really involved with creating new material forms and refiguring
existing forms. People talk about disembodiment on the net, and I really
don't know what they mean. For me it is very embodying, it just embodies
in different ways. I like to watch how technological paces affect daily
rhythms and routines.=20

Jodi: I don't think you really avoid the art world by doing things on the
internet. It was more that we were already working with computers. And I
found that the best way to view works that were made with a computer was
to keep it in a computer. And the internet is a very good system to spread
this kind of work. The computer is not only a tool to create art, but also
the medium to show it within the network. And since the network doesn't
have any labels, maybe what little Stevie is doing is art. It's the same
with our work: There is also no "art"-label on it. In the medium, in which
it is perceived, people don't care about this label.=20


Robert Adrian X: ...When the machines are on and your fingers are on the
keyboard, you are in connection with some space that is beyond the screen.
And this space is only there when the machines are on. It is a new world
which you enter. For me it was never a question of travel. For me it was
always a question of presence, of passing through some membrane into
another territority. It's not about things, it's about connections. Of
course, we were prepared for this by conceptual art, by minimal art and
all these movements. An electronic space is very easy to imagine once you
have grasped the idea of a conceptual space for art works.=20

Eva Wohlgemuth: The net contains space and spacelessness at the same time,
and you are always reminded of that when you work with the net. It makes
it possible - at least in theory to access the material you work with from
any place in the world - without dragging stuff around with you.=20

Paul Garrin: In the last couple of years there has been a gentrification
of neighborhoods, now there is a Disneyfication of the net, that is as
dangerous. I warned two years ago at the conference =84Next Five Minutes=93=
Amsterdam of a dissappearence of public space on the internet. Back than
John Perry Barlow said: "That will never happen."=20

Jodi: It makes the work stronger that people don't know who's behind it.
Many people try to dissect our site, and look into the code. Because of
the anonymity of our site they can't judge us according to our national
culture or anything like this. In fact, Jodi is not part of a culture in a
national, geographical sense. I know it sounds romantic, but there *is* a
cyberspace citzenship. More and more URL's contain a country code. If
there is ".de" for Germany in an adress, you place the site in this
national context. We don't like this. Our work comes from inside the
computer, not from a country.=20

Bunting: I don't really surf the internet. I take great pleasure in
wandering around cities, and see what happens, and London is a good place
to do that. If you ever get bored, you just go out your door, and within a
few minutes something interesting is happening.=20

The Body

Stelarc: I think that the body is obsolete. But that doesn't mean that
there is a repulsion of the body. All I think is that the body has created
an environment of intense data, data that it is alien to our subjective
experience. We have created an enviroment of precise, powerful and speedy
machines that often out-perform the body. We've constructed computers that
now can challenge and compete chess grand champions. Technology speeds up
the body, the body attains planetary escape velocity. The body finds
itself in alien enviroments, in which it is biologically ill-equipped. For
all of these reasons, the body is obsolete. Now, do we accept the
evolutionary status quo? Do we accept the arbitrary design of the body? Or
do we evaluate the design of the body, and come up with strategy of
reconstructing, redesigning, rewiring the body? For example, can the body
have a wired internal surveillance system? Can the body have an augmented
sensory experience? These are two aspects that would have profound impact
on both our perception of the world and on the medical well-being of our

Victoria Vesna: ...I could see us uploading information into the internet
and having agents doing work, freeing us from necessarily being with the
computer. I actually think a lot of this machine-human interface is very
primitive first steps of understanding how the technology will become part
of our lives. It could also be a way to reaffirm our physical body.=20

?: Yet one could understand =84Bodies=A9INCorporated" as an affirmation of =
things that are happening in bio-technology right now...=20

Vesna: Not really, because these are philosophical, psychological bodies
designed to ask those questions you are posing. So it is not about us
projecting us into this space somehow thinking that this is taking the
place of our physical bodies. I have had people ask me that repeatedly,
and I am always amazed. Does creating a body on the internet means that I
don't exist here?  No, I still have to go to the toilet. There is nothing
virtual about that.=20

Eva Wohlgemuth: I also have the desire to upload myself and dissolve into
cyberspace, but in the given situation I will work with the non-ideal body
and try to make something out of it. For me it is the possibility to use
it=92s weaknesses and imperfections to find different images for what is
going on around me.=20

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