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ideology busters


The Internet and the Future of Art
By Eduardo Kac

Immateriality, telematics, videoconferencing, hypermedia, networking, vrml, interactivity, visual telephony, artist's software, telerobotics, mbone, qbone, and beyond

Between 1994 and 1996, the first two years of the Internet explosion, new worlds of aesthetic, social and cultural possibilities were discovered with great excitement everyday by isolated individuals and whole communitiesworldwide. The goal of this essay is to map some of the artistic and cultural developments that took place on the Internet in this period and to spotlight the unique aesthetic investigations made possible by this seamless worldwide computer network of networks. The essay is structured with references to material that can be immediately accessed on the Internet.

From the point of view of the artist, one must ask, what is the Internet? Is it a virtual catalogue, or the most perfect gallery for electronic images? For some it may be an interactive medium, yet others integrate it in hybrid contexts. Its ordinary use might suggest that it is akin to the telephone and the postal systems, which basically enable the exchange of messages synchronically (telephone) and asynchronically (mail) between distant interactors. The Internet does incorporate aspects of television and radio, by making it possible the broadcast of video,audio, and text messages to small and large groups alike. Perhaps the most exciting feature of the Internet is that it is simultaneously all of the above and more. The Internet can be approached from many angles and it continues to grow and transform itself as we read our e-mail today.

The Internet has been used by artists around the world in many
different ways. This essay will classify these multiple approaches to the Net according to the extent that they explore Net-specific characteristics.
Some of the works discussed were designed as ever-changing projects or are still in progress, offering us snapshots of immaterial works in the making.
I will start by locating the sources of contemporary networking art practices within mail art. I will then look at the Internet's power to share information and move towards works that make radical use of many of the Internet's unique features. I will conclude with works that could not exist as such if not experienced through the Internet. This essay is an attempt to map emergent network art strategies.


Long before the "information superhighway," the complex relationship between society and the new media was explored in the 1960s through filters as different as, for example, the semiology of Roland Barthes [1], the communications sociology of Marshall McLuhan [2] and the neo-Marxist critique carryed out by the Situationists [3]. In the visual arts, while painterly strategies such as Pop and New Realism took centerstage, movements such as EAT [4] and individuals such as Ray Johnson [5], who started the New York Correspondence School., created radical experimental media works that layed the foundation of current network art. Johnson's "school" became the seed of the international mail art movement. This postal network developed by artists explored non-traditional media, promoted an aesthetics of surprise and collaboration, challenged the boundaries of (postal) communications regulations, and bypassed the official system of art with its curatorial practices, commodification of the artwork, and judgement value. Mail art antecedents were Cubist collage, Dada telegraphy, Futurist correspondence, Surrealist Exquisite Corpses, Schwitter's Merz compositions, and Duchamp's Rendez-vous du dimanche 6 fevrier 1916. Mail art [6] was embraced by the international neo-Dada movement called Fluxus [7] and became a truly international postal network, with thousands of artists feverishly exchanging, transforming, and re-exchanging written and audiovisual messages in multiple media, including faux stamps, invented envelopes, photographs, artist's books, collages, photocopies, postcards, audiotapes, rubber stamps, and fax machines.
From its inception, mail art was non-commercial, voluntary, open, uncensored, and unrestricted. Still practiced today via the postal system, and now expanding into cyberspace, mail art shows never have juries and all entries are always exhibited. Between the late '60s and early '80s, in countries with oppressive regimes that silenced dissident voices by torturing and killing their own citizens, and where new technologies were inaccessible to individuals, mail art often became the only form of artistic anti-establishment intervention. Uruguayan mail and performance artist Clemente Padin [8], for example, was incarcerated in 1975 for the crime of "vilification and mocking of the armed forces". Released from prison in 1977 he was forbidden to leave Montevideo and forbidden correspondence until February 1984. Today, Padin can also be contacted online [9]. In the early '70s, Italian artist Guglielmo Cavellini [10], a collector turned into postal activist, started a process of "self-historification". This post-modern strategy, which critiqued the idolatry process through which art history canonizes individuals, was often implemented with ephemeral materials. I exchanged materials with Cavellini between Italy and Brazil in the early '80s, and from 1989 to 1994 was surprised to see one of his round stickers (with his name printed in the center, in large letters) survive Chicago's weather, stuck on a public sign on the Art Institute's block. Cavellini and Johnson never worked with the Internet: the first died in 1990, and the second in 1994. Their deaths might be taken to symbolize the end of the print era of artists' networks, coinciding with the first efforts at visual exploration of the Internet.

Mail artists active in the '90s, like Americans Dorothy Harris [11] and John Rininger [12], and Belgian Guy Bleus [13], use the Internet to disseminate e-mail messages and share information. Early artistic networking explored issues that would eventually gain prominence in the scientific and technological communities, such as the need to work collaboratively and asynchronously, to exchange and manipulate audiovisual materials at-a-distance, to develop communicative models that integrate networking with text, image and sound into a seamless form, and the conception of network topologies as a creative practice. The New York Correspondence School started to network in the early '60s, about the same time that Ted Nelson [14] first articulated the concepts of hypertext and hypermedia. Expanding on ideas first explored by Vanevar Bush, [15], Nelson proposed the concept of hypermedia in his 1965 paper "A File Structure for the Complex, the Changing and the Indeterminate." Only four years later, two computers at UCLA and Stanford would be linked, unleashing an avalanche of non-hierarchical links between computers worldwide [16]. That first link started ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), whose original goal was to explore the possibility of decentralized computer networking. The objective of this first experiment was to enable communication between American authorities in the event of a nuclear attack
which would damage regular centralized communications. A turning point in the history of the Internet was Tim Berners-Lee's [17] introduction of the World Wide Web concept [18] in 1989. Since the free distribution in 1993 of Mosaic, the first World Wide Web user-friendly client, and the subsequent Internet explosion in 1994, it became relatively easy to jump
from one information resource to another and, to a certain extent, to make one's own resources available to others.Albeit conflicting, early network statistics give us a good indication of growth in the first years of the Internet, reflecting the passage from a command-line interface to graphic (and multimedia) browsers. In 1992, it was estimated that there were one million hosts, 33 countries, and 17,000 networks connected to the Internet. By the end of 1994 estimates were of three million hosts on the Internet [19]. Win Treese's Internet Index stated in its December 1994 edition that the number of countries connected to the Net grew from 60 in 1993 to 81 in 1994 [20] In 1995 the CommerceNet/Nielsen Internet Demographics Survey examined users 16 and above in the US and Canada and showed 37 million people with Internet access. Of these 37 million, 24 million had Web access [21]. Also in 1995 computer book and software publishers O'Reilly & Associates released a report based on random phone calls to 200,000 households claiming that 5.8 million American adults were connected directly to the Internet; and another 3.9 million to commercial on-line services. In 1996 Donna L. Hoffman, William D. Kalsbeek, and Thomas P. Novak critiqued Nielsen's methods and suggested that the CommerceNet/Nielsen's results could be inflated. Their own survey estimated that 28.8 million people in the United States 16 years and over had access to the Internet, 16.4 million people used the Internet, and 11.5 million people use the Web. [22] In 1996 Killen & Associates ventured beyond North American demographics and tried to measure the international scope of the Net. They published the report "Internet: Global Penetration 1996 and Forecast for theYear 2000 " stating that as of January 1996 there were 170 countries and 30 million users connected to the Internet worldwide. This matched the then current industry estimate of 9.5 million Internet hosts [23]. In 1997, Nielsen's new survey revealed that among persons 16 and over in the U.S. and Canada 52 Million were Internet users in the U.S., and 6 Million in Canada. Of these, 45 Million were Web users in the U.S., and 5 Million in Canada. [see 21]. Complementing these figures, a 1997 map from World Link, a publication of the World Economic Forum, showed that many countries remain disconnected from any kind of global network at the brink of the twenty-first century.
While some countries can exchange files via pre-Internet technologies like UUCP and FIDONET, some have no connection at all. Among the unwired countries are Burma (Myanmar), North Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq, Oman, Siria, and several African nations (including Lybia, Somalia, Rwanda, and Liberia,
among others) [24]. As unverifiable as the numbers above are, this huge network links people worldwide from backgrounds as diverse aacademia, business, military, and the arts. It creates a new kind of public space that is not circumscribed by geography and produces a dense information landscape that shapes a new sensibility and evolves new ways of manipulating and moving through fields of information. The Internet configures an absolutely new cultural situation, enabling artists to help define an emerging social process and prompting reflection on its impact and potential.


A document circulated on the Internet on May 7, 1994, by
Washington-based Taxpayer Assets Project (TAP) called for "netizens" to actively oppose the National Science Foundation's moves to commercialize the Net. The document read: "Federal policy should be directed at expanding public access to the Internet, and it should reject efforts to introduce pricing schemes for Internet usage that would mimic commercial telephone networks or expensive private network services." TAP [25] was founded by Ralph Nader to monitor the management of government property, including information systems and data, government funded R&D, spectrum allocation and other government assets. Now that e-commerce is irrevocably established and expanding, the debate centers on privacy, access, encription, financial control, centralization of power, and censorship legislation. Two prominent aspects of the problem involved National Security Agency's Fortezza card project [26], which replaced the U.S. government's 1993 proposal of a "clipper chip" [27], and the Communications Decency Act [28].Fortezza Cards are standard PC cryptographic devices containing the U.S. Government algorithms. As such they are exportable and enable Federal agents to monitor one's digital activities at any time. The Fortezza card encrypts data using a proprietary algorithm, allowing users to exchange data securely. After failing to impose the clipper chip, the Agency is pursuing a new strategy towards the civilian online world: it is working to make the Fortezza card a standard for all government agencies and it is heavily subsidizing through private companies the development and sale of a cheap commercial version to be sold worldwide (as of December 98, the cost was $69.50). It is also using its cohercive power (exports must be authorized by the Agency) to force these companies to allow access to encryption keys by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. This means that privacy-enabling products would, in reality, be easily intercepted and decoded by government agencies -- defeating the very idea of privacy.
In this scenario, it is unlikely that anonymity servers would preserve privacy, although Phil Zimmermann's encryption program Pretty Good Privacy, or PGP [29], and other similar freeware products, might still offer a sound alternative. This is clearly a contentious issue. Zimmermann was subjected to a three-year criminal investigation, because the US government stated that PGP, first published in 1991 as a freeware, violated US export restrictions for cryptographic software. The government dropped its case in early 1996, when PGP had already established itself as the most widely used email encryption software worlwide. The impulse to control the Net was also manifested in the
Communications Decency Act (CDA), which started as a campaing launched in 1994 by Democratic Sen. James Exon of Nebraska to regulate online communication and to force Internet providers, as well as commercial online services and traditional telephone networks, to strictly monitor and censor
the content of e-mail messages and other material circulated over their networks [30]. In other words, to make them legally responsible for it.
The (CDA) was presented as an attempt to ban the transmission of obscene or indecent material across the Internet on constitutional grounds. It proposed to regulate the Internet with standards that are applied to broadcast media, rather than using the looser standards applied to print. In February 8, 1996, President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act.The act was designed to promote deregulatory changes to the telecommunications industry, and in fact prompted many of the megamergers that reshaped the telecommunications landscape in the United States in the last years of the century. The Exon amendment to the bill, formally known as the Communications Decency Act , found strict opposition from citizens and netizens, and thousands of Web sites turned their backgrounds black or displayed blue ribbons in protest [31]. On June 12, 1996, a three-judge federal panel ruled that the Communications Decency Act was unconstitutional. and declared the Internet the most participatory form of mass speech the world has yet seen. After an appeal, the Supreme Court confirmed the CDA unconstitutional on June 26, 1997. The promise of free speech and self-regulation became real. From the perspective of 1998, after the Lewinsky affair, it is a sad irony that, at taxpayers expense,the government itself became one of the largest publishers of pornography on the Internet (The Starr Report) [32]. The conservative view of cyberspace is clearly at the service of commercial interests of large corporations, and not of millions of users who already transformed this virtual environment into diversified, communitarian spaces. The immediacy of international communications made possible by the Net also raises the issue of to what extent will the government of one country influence free speech rights and cultural patterns of another country. In a censorship case, allegedly based on concerns with child pornography, CompuServe announced on December 28, 1995, that it would temporarily deny access to more than 200 newsgroups freely available on the Internet in response to a direct mandate from a German prosecutor [33]. As a private company, CompuServe had the legal right to
act as it did in the United States. As an American company interested in the European market, it allowed a foreign country to decide what American users could see, write and read. The question of ethics, and the rights of Internet users, was brushed aside. The best response by American CompuServe subscribers would have been to leave it and subscribe to another company that supports free speech. CompuServe announced at the time that it was developing software to screen out content based on geography, thereby allowing an online service to comply with the laws of one country without violating the laws or the rights of citizens of another country.
But is this the solution? This is far from the global community the Internet seemed in the process of building.

The attempt to control free speech on the Internet and to regulate it for commercial purposes is not an exclusive North American phenomenon.
In Poland, we were told in 1995, by a message posted in the Warsaw's Center for Contemporary Art Web site [34], that Internet charges were increasing beyond acceptable rates: "The Polish Internet is in danger. They want to charge per byte! From January on we have to pay per mail you send to us or
per WWW page you download from us. Please help to explain to our national Internet provider and our government that this policy is disastrous for Polish culture, economy and education." In Singapore a government administrative committee was formed to provide "correct" information about the country [35] among other censorship measures. In China the government
made it clear that it will control information that is not related to business and is forcing every Internet user to register with police or face criminal charges [36]. Users who register for the very expensive personal accounts are asked to sign a form stating that they will not use the Net to harm the country. As restrictive as this may be, it is seen locally as a rather liberal attitude in face of China's past negative civil rights record. In 1996, however, the Chinese government announced its plans to further increase its controls over the Internet, even with Internet cafes already offering anonymous worldwide access in China. Wireless and mobile connectivity has been further expanding the rhizomic reach of the Internet In May 1996, for example, eight schools of the Belen Consolidated School District of Valencia County, a New Mexico rural agricultural town of 6,500, were linked to each other wirelessly. [37] They used digital radios operating in frequency bands that the FCC approved for unlicenced use. All schools in the Belen school district are linked to the Internet and are now totally networked by no-licence, no monthly cost, wireless communications.
The role of the Internet as an educational tool or art medium, in other words, as a preserver of voice and memory or an enabler of new cultural manifestations, resonates against the threat of censorship and impermanence. Many issues remain unresolved. Books of deceased authors stay on the shelfs of libraries, but when authors are no longer there to pay an ISP (Internet Service Provider) for server space, what will be the destiny of their web sites? How can the Internet be at the same time ephemeral in nature and an effective medium for collective memory? This situation highlights the contrast between public and private, old function and new use, individual and collaborative work, that shape the Internet today. One attempt to address the longevity of Internet information is the "Internet Archive" [38], a project founded (and funded) by computer scientist Brewster Kahle in 1996 with the goal of preserving as many uploaded files as possible. In an article published in Scientific American, in print and online [39], Kahle warned: "Manuscripts from the library of Alexandria in ancient Egypt disappeared in a fire. The early printed books decayed into unrecognizable shreds. Many of the oldest cinematic films were recycled for their silver content. Unfortunately, history may repeat itself in the evolution of the Internet--and its World
Wide Web." The software on the computers of the "Internet Archive" searches the Net and continuosuly downloads documents from sites. It then looks for links to other sites within each document, and moves on to more downloads, and more searches. The software avoids making duplicate copies
of files by checking the information retrieved against a database. Kahle knows that it is impossible to preserve every bit of data ever posted online, but he is also aware of the cultural and historical importance of preserving as much as possible. This project also touches on delicate issues of privacy, since many sites are removed from the Net by the authors themselves for personal reasons. The conflicting cases in many countries considered above reveal the complex problems and potentials of the Internet as a global public space. Art in this new medium can take many forms, reflecting changes in cultural paradigm and often exploring emerging communications technologies. I will now define and examine some of the basic manifestations of Internet Art, from static galleries of images to complex pieces in which multiple network
topologies are intrinsic to the interactive quality of the work.


The Internet is attractive to individuals and institutions who do
not work primarily with electronic media, but who find the Net an excellent
venue to share with the general public information about tangible works
that are really meant to be displayed in a room and experienced in person.
This information consists of not only verbal descriptions, but more often
pictures and, sometimes, video. The exhibition "Virtual Ceramics" is an
excellent example. Organized by ceramists Joe Molinaro and Richard Burkett
in the autumn of 1994, and juried by Bill Hunt, former editor of Ceramics
Monthly and Janet Mansfield, editor of Ceramics: Art and Perception, this
show is "exhibited" as a Web page, comprised of photographs of works by
international ceramists, information about the artists, and artists'
statements. In addition, statements by the jurors complete the show, which
can be accessed on ArtSource [40]. The organizers stated that for many
traditional exhibits, the catalog functions as the primary vehicle for
providing visual access to artists' work. The Virtual Ceramics Exhibition
is not unlike a traditional show catalog in that regard, but without the
expense to the artists (shipping, entry fees, etc.) or to the viewing
public who have access to this quickly developing technology. All accepted
artists are represented by at least one still image, while some artists had
two pictures accepted. The viewer can look at the inlined pictures and
click on the artist's name to obtain more information. In Japan, a
homonimous gallery [41], which went online in 1995, offers virtual pots and
other objects that can be viewed in three-dimensions with anaglyph glasses
and via VRML (Virtual Reality Mark-Up Language) files.
With similar goals, the French computer scientist Nicolas Pioch
created the WebMuseum [42], an early guerrilla-like effort to share with a
public dispersed around the world many of the treasures stored in museums
that otherwise would remain inaccessible. The WebMuseum was not developed
as part of any officially supported project. "I decided to start working on
this exhibit since March 1994 because I felt more art was needed on the
Internet," he explained in his Home page. "Some companies may be trying to
get a monopolistic grab on arts and culture, developing a pay-per-view
logic, shipping out CD-ROMs while trying to patent stuff which belongs to
each of us: a part of our human civilization and history. This exhibit is
not trying to compete in any way with books or specialized CD-ROMs. Such
an Internet exhibit will neither reach the quality of paper reproduction
and professional criticism, nor will it be as easily available as a local
CD-ROM, given the transfer time on the Internet." At the core of Pioch's
drive is a firmly democratic belief in decentralization of and free access
to information. Like many other individuals who have taken upon themselves
to create, maintain, and expand Web pages of cultural value, he works with
no direct support or funding. "The only reactions from the Musée du Louvre
'cultural service'," he lamented, "were threats to send their lawyer after
my school's headmaster." On the WebMuseum page the viewer can choose
between images and explanations of paintings (Baroque, Impressionism,
Cubism, etc.), including the Mona Lisa [43], musical compositions that can
be played online (Bach, Beethoven, Strauss, etc.), pictures of the medieval
book of hours manuscript "The Très Riches Heures" (circa 1412-1416), and a
tour of Paris. The original "The Très Riches Heures" is stored in the
Chantilly Museum and is no longer available to the public. This is a clear
example of how access to a virtual catalogue of rare documents can be a
valuable tool to scholars and students alike. While access to books is
confined to building (libraries) and small networks (interlibrary loan
systems), the Web remains available from anywhere at anytime.
While Virtual Ceramics and WebMuseum resulted from independent
initiatives, without direct support from any museum or gallery, some
cultural institutions established their own Web servers early on and made
information about their collections or temporary exhibits available on the
Net. The Egyptian Museum in Cairo [44], for example, uses the Web to
display an outside shot of its facade and reproductions of key holdings in
its collections. The Andy Warhol Museum [45], in Pittsburgh, also
established its webpresence early on. The Museum has more than 500 works
of art and offers the visitor an integrated presentation of the development
of Warhol's work with emphasis on specific themes. The Museum, which also
has its own server, goes one step beyond most of the online catalogues by
suggesting a simulated visit to the building that houses the Museum. The
virtual visitor is invited to take a guided tour of the facilities and is
offered a menu with choices that include the Museum's shop and all of the
seven floors of the building. The visitor chooses to go to the first
floor, for example, and is presented with a photograph taken from a vantage
point that shows three walls full of paintings, one building column and two
seats [46]. Other first floor links enable the visitor to go to other
sites (theater, Museum shop, next floor, entrance gallery) or to obtain
general information. It is also possible to jump back to the start of the
tour. If commercial interests and agressive copyright legislation do not
change the course of events, the Internet may begin to realize Andre
Malraux's vision [47] of the Museum Without Walls or Le Musée Imaginaire.
Although the concept of a Museum Without Walls was originally conceived in
reference to widely available photographic reproductions, the idea can be
easily extended to the Net. To make the connection, we need only consider
that the conservation and organization of cultural artifacts (particularly
of the immaterial kind), as well as the education of the general public
regarding these preseved objects -- activites which traditionally were the
exclusive domain of museums -- are now shared by the many professionals and amateurs active on the network.

This is a strong sign that museums today have many unmet
responsibilities, including the urgent need to embrace the digital
revolution and reinvent their own future. It is ironic that while most
cultural institutions are still reluctant to seek and show artists working
with new media with the same frequency that they exhibit traditional forms,
they do not hesitate to incorporate new technologies in a "useful" way as
part of educational or promotional efforts. This is ironic because, while
applying new technologies for conventional purposes, most museums fail to
recognize that the new mediascape is itself an area of material cultural
production of great relevance to the present. It is true that most museums
and galleries do not manage their own servers, don't have high bandwidth
lines, and possess very limited telecommunications capabilities, usually
restricted to phone lines and fax machines -- but this must change if
museums are to meet the new challenge brought by immaterial art forms,
protean networks, decentralization of information, and remote action [48].
Perhaps due to little or no academic study of electronic art and a
general lack of familiarity with new technologies (and their social
implications), most museum directors and curators feel more comfortable
with the idea of taming these new technologies by cataloguing their
collections and enabling the audience to browse databases and imagebases
via an unambiguous interface. While artists promote cooperation among
museums and galleries in works that link them in experimental telematic
events, most cultural institutions avoid the challenge and go the safe
route, relying especially on older forms of collaboration such as the
exchange of physical objects for temporary exhibits. A database project
called "Museum Loan Network" [49], developed by MIT and launched in October 1995, is the best example of this. While the Internet helps raise
awareness about the presence of electronic art among traditional forms, new
technologies are finding a place in museums and art centers as tools to
share information about an artist's biography or items in the permament
collection and rarely as the medium of exhibiting artists. One early
exception was the Dia Center for the Arts, in New York, which in the
beginning of 1995 started to promote works created for their Web site [50].
Also in 1995, the international festival Ars Electronica, realized annualy
in Linz, Austria, introduced Web Sites as an artistic category in its
competition [51]. Finally, the proliferation of art on the Net has been
followed by a proliferation of new critical discourse on network art and
related issues, often found on the Net itself. The Nettime discussion list
[52], for example, was founded in 1995 and has brought together writers,
artists, and critics from all over the world around many interconnected
cyberculture topics. The discussion on Nettime covers a wide range of
issues, for example: "Interactivity, Image, Text, and Context within", "Private Internet gateways in India", "Cybercafe decline", and
"Amsterdam Public Digital Culture". Other online publications that emerged
between 1994 and 1996, and that contributed early on to shape current
discourse, include C-Theory [53], Rhizome [54], Leonardo Electronic Almanac
[55], and First Monday [56].

Museums are struggling with new media, not only in terms of how to
collect and display electronic art, but also regarding how new media can be
used to educate the public and promote the institution. Beyond Benjamin's
lost "aura" of the unique object, and the dematerialization of the work of
art, today we are witnessing the birth of a completely immaterial art. For
institutions such as museums which display unique objects in
quasi-religious settings, the new art calls for a radical rethinking of the
museums's obligations to artists and to the public. The alternative
culture that is developing on the Internet suggests that this global
network can also be experienced as a new kind of public space. On the
Internet artists can show their works to a large public with the same
seductive CRT or LCD glow with which they were created. Without the
Internet, artists who make immaterial works (digital images, or multimedia
and interactive works, for example) would have to present their work on a
CD-ROM, with limited circulation, or in a gallery context, to a relatively
small number of viewers. For gallery viewing, images would have to be
printed and multimedia and interactive works would take the form of an
installation. It is clear that artworks that require network topologies
could not adapt to these netless environments without severe compromise to
their nature. Will most artists eventually think of the Internet as "business as
usual", or will the Net champion new art forms? Curiously, the exhibition
"Roy Lichtenstein Pre-Pop, 1948-1960", shown in the Newark Art Gallery, at
Ohio State University, from May to June, 1994, was made available online
but was removed from OSU's server "upon request of Mr. Roy Lichtenstein and
his lawyers". Undoubtfully, one must respect an artist's copyright, but
this case is very ironic. Afterall, Roy Lichtenstein made a career based
on appropriating images that circulated in the mass media, and transformed
them into a prized commodity. Was anybody -- artists, curators, and
collectors alike -- concerned about the copyright of comics and
advertisement artists during the explosion of Pop Art in the international
art market? Needless to say, a much greater number of people have access
to reproductions of Lichtenstein's work through books in countless
libraries around the world (which can be scanned easily at high
resolutions), while only a small fraction of that number would be able to
access low resolution reproductions of his images via the Web. Perhaps
this is emblematic of this early stage, when some traditional artists don't
quite yet comprehend what the Internet is and what are its implications. In
May of 1998, exactly four years after Lichtenstein forced the Newark Art
Gallery to remove his pictures from its site, a Web search with the HotBot
search engine using the exact phrase "Roy Lichtenstein" yielded 2,557
matches, including a site created in 1996 by a student that contains 73
images by the artist. By December of 1998, the pictures were gone from this
site [57], but similar images could be seen on many other sites [58].
Although Web monitoring services do exist, ultimately it is impossible to
track and control every instance of appearance of one's name or work on the
Net, since new sites come online (and disappear) worldwide every day.


In the section above I examined the presentation on the Net of
documentation of physical works. Now I'll look at electronic artworks that
could, technically, be presented off-line, but that find on the Net an
ideal exhibition space (precisely because of their digital nature).
As in the past, many contemporary artists working with computers
produce images that are meant to be appreciated as discrete static
pictures. In some cases, the uniqueness of the electronic nature of the
work is secondary to the artist, who favors other forms such as Iris prints
on paper or canvas, for example. In many instances, however, the
immaterial quality, the endless reproducibility, random processing of data,
the relative scalability, the glow of the image on a CRT or LCD, and the
algorithmic synthesis of a picture, among other unique features of computer
imaging, are essential to the artist. Works thus created find on the
Internet the best means of exhibition, exactly because the viewer can
experience the work in a way that is very similar to how it was originally
produced in the artist's studio. What the viewer sees is neither a
reproduction, nor an original. When created and exhibited digitally,
computer imaging abolishes these categories, since any digital duplication
produces a rigorously identical image that makes connoisseurship obsolete,
at least in the sense of distinguishing originals from fakes. The
evanescence of the digital image calls for new ways of presenting it. The
number of online galleries exhibiting electronic art increased dramatically
from 1994 to 1996, the period I'm mostly concerned with in this essay, in
part because these galleries do not incur the expenses associated with
maintaining physical galleries but also because their mission is not
dictated by the pressures of the art market [59]. The phenomenon of art galleries on the network is not a novelty unique to the Internet. In the 1980s, with the development of national videotex projects in many countries, such as France and Brazil, for example, artists created online art galleries with stills, animations,literary texts, and interactive works. The system is still in use in 1998 [60], but with the advent of the Internet interest is declining -- even
though a free Minitel client for the Net does exist [61]. In France, Orlan
was one of the many artists that worked with the Minitel (the name of the
French national videotext system). Orlan showed a Minitel virtual gallery
in the exhibition "Les Immatériaux", at the Beaubourg, in 1985. Brazil
bought the Minitel in 1981 and many artists in the country experimented
with it. Also in 1985, for example, I set up a gallery, with works by
several artists, that could be accessed from any public terminal anywhere
in the country. The democratization implied in this practice -- from
videotex to Internet -- must be welcome, but not without considerations of
artistic merit. We must not think that the healthy alternative of the
Internet immediately transforms all works shown into masterpieces. The
Internet only mirrors the physical world in that only a limited number of
works transcends the mere novelty to achieve meaningful cultural resonance.
Unlike the traditional museum space, however, cyberspace offers enough room
for both self-published art and professional curatorial work. One site that was available online in 1994, and that represented a transition between the catalogue form examined previously in this essay and the emerging digital gallery was the Russian "Hot Pictures Electronic PhotoGallery" [62], by Alexei Shulgin [63]. This Web page showcased 50 photographic works by Russian artists, ranging from straight photography and photo-based paintings, to slides and computer-manipulated images. Unlike painting, sculpture, and other more traditional forms, photography lends itself easily and naturally to reproduction. In many historical cases, as in the photomontage work of John Heartfield, for example,photographic pieces have been created specifically in order to be
reproduced. While most of the photographic work at "Hot Pictures" is
really meant to be seen in the more conventional way of a physical gallery
wall-hanging, the digital work of the young artist Alexander Revizorov (b.
1974, Moscow) stands out both in its theme and visual treatment. Like all
other artists in the exhibit, he has a "hall" dedicated to himself, with
biographical information and a pair of pictures. In the best Constructivist tradition of integrating typographical work and photography,
he juxtaposes text in English ("Virus detected: twilight 2994f/
ident.-worm", and "Too Late!") with a self-portrait that shows the
open-mouthed artist melting as if he were made of wax [64]. A pair of sun
glasses prevents us from contemplating the artist's gaze. Revizorov, who
has shown his work at the Contemporary Art Center and at McDonald's on
Pushkin Square, both in Moscow, also worked at Moscow's New Media Lab.
This project critically comments on the impact of technology in our lives
and, more specifically, on the lives of young people living in a post-Cold
War Russia. The deterioration of the self-portrait can be read as a
critique of traditional art genres. When coupled with English words that
indicate the attack of a digital virus, it also suggests a cultural "contamination" that can have profound impact on local manifestations. Thchoice of English (instead of Russian) is both an attempt to internationalize the work and a symptom of a contamination that is already taking place. "Too Late!", the artist clearly indicates.Despite the dominance of English as the premiere idiom, the
Internet supports an international, virtual community of artists, curators,
exhibition spaces, and remote viewers. With one or two key strokes, we can
catapult ourselves from Moscow to Haifa, Israel, where an exhibition of
electronic art works by Israeli artist Avi Rosen can be seen [65]. Rosen's
black and white series is perhaps the most intriguing [66]. The artist
overlays images of ancient stone reliefs with digital self-portraits and
manipulated pictures extracted from the mass media. Color appears
incidentally only in two images. Of all seventeen images available online,
fourteen follow the verticality of the original stone reliefs. The remaining three pictures slightly depart from them. They are displayed horizontally, but preserve a similar texture and play of references found in the main body of images. Most of Rosen's images incorporate archeological references and contemporary signs distilled from sources as disparate as newspaper and erotic magazines. In a 1995 essay made available on the Internet [67], Rosen argues that "the threshold of stimulation has continually risen during the twentieth century.
Traditional plastic art methods won't suffice any more to reach and retain
viewerships. New means are required in order to grasp through a screen and
seize the attention of an audience. While in the past artists might have
been judged as talented based on manual creation or brushwork, or their
skill in creating those stylistic illusions that defined acceptable art,
these are insufficient criteria today. A virtual sculptor working with
mathematical language has no less an aesthetic claim than does a chisel
sculptor working in stone. The languages of plasticity are changing no
less than the materials." Rozen's work can also be seen online in the
first group exhibition of Israeli computer artists on the Net [68], along
with Horit Herman-Peled and Tamar Livnat, among others.

The concept of the virtual gallery, as exemplified by Rosen's work,
is extended in time by Canadian artist Brad Brace in his "12hr-ISBN-JPEG
Project" [69], first uploaded in 1994. Organized as a lengthy sequence of
photographic images which he originally posted every 12 hours on a computer
physically located in London, which was connected to multiple mirror sites
around the world, Brace's work comprises jpeg stills (images compressed and
saved with the jpeg file format), QuickTime movies, and mpeg movies
(digital movies compressed and saved with the mpeg file format). The
Internet becomes a public screening room, where individual photographs as
well as movies and sequential pictures were "projected" in the order
determined by the viewer. Brace, who now lives in the US, has defined via
e-mail the photographs used in this work as "promulgated, de-centered,
ambiguous, homogeneous, de-composed, multi-faceted, eccentric, oblique,
obsessive, obscure, and opaque." Unlike most of the photographs in the
Russian group show "Hot Photos", Brace's images don't resist the
transformations inherent in the digitalization and public-postin processes. Seen collectively, all of his images lose their status as singular compositions representative of the author's identity, leaving behind commercial imperatives and the problematic notion of copyright. Brace invites all viewers to "view them, re-post them, save them, trade them, print them, and even sell them."
The same anti-commercial and provocative spirit can be found in his
compressed digital movies. These grayscale "matchbook movies" [70] measure
1.5 inches by 1.5 inches, downloaded quickly enough through my 28.8 modem
in 1995, when I first saw them, and can be comfortably played anywhere on
the viewer's screen. They collapsed the temporal duration of cinematic
experience into 13-frame sequences that evoke distant landscapes
interspersed with occasional indoors or outdoors ordinary scenes. The
minute size and the reduction of all images, regardless of the source, to
the same grayscale palette created an unusual conceptual link between them.
Brace invites the viewer to establish the potential connections between the
images, which can be done by playing the whole piece linearly or by
dragging the slider button back and forth and playing frame by frame in the
opposite direction. As part of his mirroring strategy in 1995, Brace employed multiple ftp sites in the distribution of "The 12hr-ISBN-JPEG Project". Since not
all Internet viewers had access to Web browsers then, this was a thoughtful
strategy. As new browsers became available, viewers navigating the
Internet with Netscape, Mosaic, or other Web clients, found in various
places direct links that enabled them to download a piece directly to their
desktop computer. However, for most works that could not be made available
via a Web client or could not be accessed online due to large size, format
incompatibility, or other restrictions, ftp sites were then the preferred
gallery configuration.


From the use of the Net as a catalogue of physical works to its
employment to show digital works, we already see a significant transition.
A third instance is the appropriation of the network as a medium, to
explore possibilities unique to being online. When looking at catalogues
of traditional media works and galleries of electronic images, we point and
click with the objective of moving on to the next zone of information. The
rhizomic structure of Web browsers facilitates the experience, but it does
not constitute a key element in the production of meaning, since the still
pictures are simply stored in a remote computer awaiting contemplation. As
in a physical gallery, if we choose to look at one painting first, instead
of another, this choice in itself does not play a determining role in our
appreciation of the pictures. A case in point: some of the works available
on the Internet do incorporate the hypermedia quality of user-friendly
graphical interfaces such as Netscape. These works explore the Internet
not as a gallery to show pictures, but as an interactive medium that can
exhibit multiple forms, from an evolving literary work to a database, and
to a multimedia narrative experiment integrating text, sound, quick-time
video, and a MOO. These works are based on mutable structures and
unstable links. For them to be meaningful, they rely on enabling
participants to make choices online and determine their own experience as
they navigate a given piece.Granted access to a graphical user interface and a link (via modem,Ethernet, or wireless), pointing and clicking are the basic gestures with which we navigate the Internet. With simple mouse clicks or key strokes one can go from one continent to another at remarkable speeds, even over a standard modem connection. As we find a topic of interest, we click on a word or picture, opening up connections to other words, pictures, sounds,
and sites. The process is endless. The tactile negotiation of keyboard and
mouse becomes intensified as we jump from site to site, discontinuosly,
moving through zones of information as if nothing stood between one URL and
another. Experiencing the network as an invisible entity, we catapult
ourselves effortlessly from one site to another, always one click away from
the next node anywhere in the world. This dynamic quality of the network
is exerting conceptual influence on the creation of literary texts.
Works created in hypertext media do not have a print correspondent
and can exist both inside and outside the Internet, as long as they are
translated from their original format (HyperCard and Storyspace, for
example) to Html (hypertext mark-up language), the main programming
language behind websites. Due to their intrinsic interactive character,
when publicly displayed on the Net hypertext pieces abolish the
distinctions made hitherto between writing and publishing. These
distinctions have been regularly attacked since the early '20s by poets
such as E. E. Cummings, who embraced the typewriter as a medium by using it to produce himself the final visual structure of his poems, instead of
leaving it up to the publisher and the typesetter. Cummings wrote with a
typewriter to compose with black and white spaces organized into horizontal
and vertical grids. Hypertext authors write with software that enables
non-hierarchical organization of information, which is absolutely suitable
to the interactive environment of the Net. Hyperfiction author Judy Malloy, a "pop conceptualist" in her own words, started writing and posting in 1995 lexia of her "l0ve0ne" [71] on Eastgate's Web page [72]. Via e-mail she has defined 'l0ve0ne' as "a continuing narrative of comings and goings, German hacker artists, computer culture, hardware and software love gone wrong." As new screens are added, to read her piece is to browse the pages of Sarah's diary making conceptual links between them as this work-in-progress evolves online. As readers click on the underlined words, they are taken to multiple lexia that can exhibit small or large amounts of verbal material and take the visual form
of narrative sentences or lines of verse. By clicking on the underlined
vocables these words in the middle of a paragraph, among other opening-page
choices, I'm thrust onto another page, where I find more links expecting my

It doesn't seem so long ago that I was walking the streets of Washington, DC
wearing white gloves. Those strange cotton hand coverings were what the natives were wearing even though it was August and sweat soaked the armpits of my short black linen dress as I stood at the bus stop clutching an envelope of laboriously hand typed resumes.

Extending the associative principle of hypertext into the large
database format, New York-based Spanish artist Antonio Muntadas's
collaborated with Paul Brenner, and Maria Roussos to create the "File Room"
(1994) [73]. The project remained online until it was accidentally deleted
from the server in 1998. It now awaits rebuilding from backup files.
Muntadas's physical installations usually critique institutions of cultural
and political power. His "Board Room", from 1987, for example, consisted
of tables and chairs that pointed to the business identity of organized
religion. Thirteen photographs of television evangelists and religious
leaders like Pope John II and Ayatollah Khomeni were displayed with small
CRT's mounted on their mouths. Muntadas showed that public broadcasts that
commercialize spiritual well being, retail private feelings, and promote
holly wars are now made from comfortable corporate rooms. Political,
religious, and communication control are one and only. Muntadas's "File
Room" project, a collaboration with dozens of artists, curators,
programmers, and activists, gives continuity to his installation work,
except that this time an Internet dynamic archive offers viewers Web access
to information about the history of censorship and its repercussions. The
database was made available in a gallery in 1994. On the first floor of
the Chicago Cultural Center, an environment was constructed with 138 black
metal file cabinets, low-hanging light fixtures, and seven computer
monitors (linked to a central server) [74]. Viewers could access instances
of censorship by geographical location, date, grounds for censorship or
medium. Another computer at the center of the room enabled visitors to
enter their own examples into the archive. Clemente Padin's case history,
for example, mentioned earlier in this essay [see URL 8], could be found
under South America. Padin's essay "Dictadura o clamoreo en el Uruguay"
was also available in Spanish.

Elisabeth Subrin, artist and research coordinator for the project,
explained its scope: "The File Room was produced by artists and as such
does not presume the role of a library, or an encyclopedia, in the
traditional sense. Instead, the project proposes alternative methods for
information collection, processing and distribution, to stimulate dialogue
and debate around issues of censorship and archiving". When the Web
archive was still online it could be expanded by the remote reader.
While Malloy is offering an original hypertext piece online, and
Muntadas straddled between art and database, authors who have originally
created linear pieces are starting to adapt their work to the ever evolving
non-hierarchical structure of the Internet. "WaxWeb" [75], first shown
online in 1994, is a hypermedia project based on David Blair's electronic
film "WAX or the discovery of television among the bees" (85:00, 1991),
with technical direction by Tom Meyer. It combines one of the largest
hypermedia narrative documents on the Internet (1.5 gigabytes) with an
interface that allows Netscape or MOO users to make immediate, publicly
visible hypermedia additions to that document. MOO, hailed as a kind of
"text-based virtual reality", is a type of Multi-User Domain (MUD) written
in an object-oriented programming language. Participants can telnet to a
remote computer and engage in a verbal adventure with other participants.
Blair suggests that hypermedia is not like film, just as film or radio
weren't theater, nor was television simply visual radio. While
translations from one linear medium to another have been popularized by
Hollywood adaptations of novels into films, any translation from linear to
interactive media still faces a peculiar semiotic challenge. The authors
acknowledged this difficulty when they wrote that in WaxWeb "you don't get
the clock-based flow, but you get an exponentially larger amount of
association and detail, which are important parts of this narrative style."
Blair sees this direction as pointing to the future of electronic cinema,
when linear films exhibited in theaters will possibly coexist with
networked interactive multimedia interpretations of the basic story line.
As all hypermedia narratives do, "WaxWeb" evolves by linking one
node to many others. Each page points to multiple pages, where the
participant may find text, stills, short movies and sound. From the home
page we go to one of the multiple available nodes, the Index [76]. Three
acts open up into other pages, with more multimedia links yet. Each page
offers new headings with lines from the monologue, leading eventually to
new documents. "Act 3 (The Cave and Beyond)", for example, has eight text
links. Cave-Town, the first link, includes thirty more texts links. If we
choose "Radio: They were thirty feet tall", we jump to Radio's shot-by-shot
page, where video, audio, and still media icons offer a menu of options
that coexist with text links, direction pointers (back/next,contract/expand, home/index), e-mail capability, help, preferences, comments, the total number of readers of the node, and the copyright sign. A five-second QuickTime movie shows "a sudden dissolve back to the giant cave space, where Jacob is in the lower left looking up at nothing", and is complemented by a fourteen-second sound byte of the monologue: "They were thirty-feet tall". Three words and one still image point to more nodes,with more video, sound, pictures and text.
If artists such as Brace show indifference towards identity,copyright, and profit, opposing the commodification of electronic art and of the Internet itself in a single gesture, Blair sees as his zone of activity the aesthetic (and financial) interstices between pop culture and experimental art. "We are currently experimenting with a video on-demand electronic cash system", he explained on the Ecash Info page, available in 1995. "We are charging just $.01 per access to this server. Of course, if you don't use the ecash system, you can look at everything for free, but it's play money anyway. If you don't want to even think about the possibility of commercialism on the Net or don't have a copy of the ecash software, you can go back to reading for FREE." Unlike the medium of television, at least as we have experienced it in near sixty years, the Internet encourages potential viewers to become themselves producers and interact with others, since anybody with a computer and a modem can obtain e-mail access or even make his or her own desktop machine an Internet server. While Blair's work involved the notion of adaptation (from film to the Internet), the work that epitomizes the use of the Web as a medium, stricto sensu, is, a site created by Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans [77]. It first went online on August of 1995, and is regularly changed by the duo. First time visitors are probably startled with (an fearful of) the apparent visual and verbal randomness of the site, because
it might give them the impression that something is wrong with their
computer. If the operating system freezes at the moment that the viewer
accesses the site -- as it happened to me once, for example -- one's
suspicions might become reality. It is a truism that computer programs are
constituted of lines of code, which resemble gibberish to the uninitiated.
Programming syntax and computer jargon are firmly beyond the reach of most
computer users. The shear amount of lines of code adds another layer of
complexity --- in some cases a single program can have 7 million lines of
code. In the context of, gibberish becomes art for the initiated.
This "gibberirsh" is, in fact, the result of free association and
appropriation of, and witty commentary on, the very elements that
constitute the environment in which the site resides, i.e., the Web itself.
In programming is not hidden as invisible layers of information
buried within an application, as is usually the case. Instead of serving a
clear purpose, HTML tags, ASCII characters , jpeg or gif images,
Javascripts, and other elements, are removed from the standard syntax of
the programming environment they belong to, and recontextualized as the
objects of interest, as the very subject of the work. Their work points to
the overwhelming saturation of information we ordinarily live with. In
daily life, as in their work, this information surplus can lead to great
frustration to many people. They make it a point to capture the irrational
side of the clean, productive, and functional network that the Internet is
evolving into. In a world in which digital technology is virtually
omnipresent, who doesn't enjoy being reminded of the absurdness of it all? makes evident that a simple transposition of conventional
forms falls short of realizing the true potential of any new system. The
Internet is neither a new form of publishing nor an extension of broadcast
television. It must not be regulated to achieve its public and social
role. Existing paradigms of broadcast and publishing are to the Internet
what theater and literature were to cinema and radio in the begining of the
century. Television, as we know it, simply can't create communitary
experiences, which is the most prominent aspect of the Net. While large
broadcast and publishing corporations muscle their traditional and
regulatory views into the Net, sure that increased technological
sophistication will force users away from content creation to concentrate
it in the hands of those who can hire "an army of programmers," as a Time
Warner executive once put it, most Internet users thrive in the exchange of
e-mail messages, in their participation in the new communities they belong
to, in the newly accesible body of knowledge they discover daily, and in
the wealth of multimedia and interactive experiences they have on the World
Wide Web. A survey conducted in the U. S between November and December of 1995, by the New York company FIND/SVP, suggested [78] that Internet users (children included) are spending more and more time online and less time watching television. Further expanding the interest and the reach of the
Internet are systems such as home access to the Net via cable, IP
telephony, mobile wireless connectivity, the migration of ATM and other
wide bandwidth systems to the desktop, and even satellite delivery of Net
trafic to remote geographic locations, among other new technologies.


With emerging new technologies contantly reshaping the information
landscape, in its early days the Internet remains relatively open and
experimental. This condition is fertile ground for contemporary artists,
just as early in the twentieth century photography and cinema, and to a
lesser degree, radio and television, were highly stimulating to modern
artists. While some institutions and individuals use the Net to share
information about art, or to display works that could also be seen offline,
some artists experiment with interactive concepts online. These artists
are expanding and hybridizing the Internet with other spaces, media,
systems, and processes, forging new mediascapes, questioning standars,
exploring relationships between protocols and communications infrastructures, and developing new directions for interactive art.

Internet hybrid events expose at once the limitations of unidirectional and highly centralized forms of distribution, such as painting or television, and contribute to expand communicative possibilities that are absolutely unique to this immaterial, telematic form of artistic intervention. Hybrids also allow artists to go beyond the creation of online pieces that conform to the design and conceptual standards of the Internet, such as the Web (i.e., Http, or HyperText Transport Protocol). Away from the art market and often working in
collaboration, a new international generation of media artists promote
change by creating works on and for the Net, prompt new media criticism,
and stimulate radical innovation. If we will no longer call this new art
"avant-garde," we must still acknowledge the critical and innovative scope
of their enterprise within and beyond the Internet, despite (or because) of
the fact that they don't fit into any of the "-isms" that serve as chapter
heads to art history survey books Two such groups not waiting for the rest of the world to catch up are Ponton European Media Art Lab [79] and Van Gogh TV [80]. Ponton was founded in 1986, and in 1995 Karel Dudesek, one of Ponton's founding members, left the group and continued with Van Gogh TV as a separate and independent project. Composed of fifteen members but mobilizing twice as many people according to the project, Ponton includes artists and technicians from Germany, Italy, France, Austria, Canada, and the US.Their interactive television event Piazza Virtuale (Virtual Square), was
presented for 100 days as part of Documenta IX in Kassel, in 1993. This
event was produced by Van Gogh TV, formerly Ponton's television production
Piazza Virtuale created an unprecedented communication hybrid of
live television (based on two satellite feeds) and four lines for each of
the following: ISDN, telephone voice, modem, touch-tone phone, videophone,
and fax. There was no unidirectional transmission of programs as in
ordinary television. With no pre-set rules or moderators, up to twenty
viewers called, logged on, or dialed-up simultaneously, and started to
interact with one another in the public space of television, occasionally
controlling remote video cameras which moved lineraly on a track in the
studio's ceiling. All of the incoming activity from several countries was
re-broadcast live from Ponton's Van Gogh TV site in Kassel to all of Europe
and occasionally to Japan, and North America. In an article entitled
"Ponton Media Lab plans to drive a stake through the scleric heart of that
50 year old bloodsucker, television" [81], Jules Marshall, an editor of
Mediamatic [82], an Amsterdam-based techo-culture magazine, quoted Dudesek: "We had no intention of dealing with information, post-production, or
reality TV. Our major goal was live interaction; to break through the
barrier of the screen; to downgrade TV from a master medium into just one
window onto a space". Another Dudesek quote from the same article further
illustrates the goal of the project: "TV is too linked to power and systems
of control. We have more and more free time, but what are we using it for?
Do we want to keep everyone at home simply watching and consuming? Piazza
was about saying 'Here, if you use this, things can be different, your life
can be enriched and enriching to others.' Thought models and games can lead
to new social architectures."This kind of work is deeply rooted in the idea that art has a social responsibility. The artists act directly in the domain of
mediascape and reality. Among other implications, this project takes away
the monologic voice of television to convert it into another form of public
space for interaction, analogous to the Internet. Corporate-hyped ideas of
entertainment via "video-on-demand" or "interactive TV" are, even before
implementation, already surpassed by the worldwide interactivity enabled by
the Internet. In a statement posted on August 30, 1993, in the newsgroup
comp.multimedia, Ponton's interface designer Ole Lütjens stated: "The
Piazza Virtuale is a step forward for the media art of the future, in
which interactive television and international networks can be an important
collective form of expression". The emphasis here is in the word "collective". Artists explore the mediascape by creating new arenas for democratic interaction, opposing regulatory models and homogenizing standardization. New technologies that aim at Net/TV convergence, such as Intercast [83], try to absorb the public space of the Internet and convert it into something akin to the privately-controlled broadcast world. The dangers of such a proposition
were higlighted earlier in the process that led to the defeat of the
Communications Decency Act [see URL 28]. The technology proposed by
Intercast and its competitors enables a new generation of personal
computers to receive broadcast Web pages and other data combined with
associated cable or broadcast television programming. The idea is to also
allow television programming coupled with Web data to be delivered over any
form of transport (analog or digital TV, cable, or satellite) to all types
of broadcast receivers. This technology aims to deliver data with the TV
signal in the vertical blanking interval to TV sets and personal computers
equipped with Intercast receivers and software. Viewers will watch TV on a
small window on their computer screens, the Intercast consortium assumes,
and receive additional data on another window on request. The myopic
vision behind this assumption ignores the fact that in cyberspace computers
are not passive receivers but active terminals, true portals that open
lines of communications with other individuals and communities. It also
forgets that since the very early days of the Internet users have been more
interested in social interaction than in any other use of the technology.
Technological changes are deeply related to political and economical
forces. Conservative strategies, such as the attempt to domesticate the
Internet and transform it into an extension of broadcasting, promote the
hybridization of the Internet with other systems with shear commercial
interests, following old models inherited from the highly-controlled world
of the communications industry. Artists working in electronic media are
in a unique position to offer social critiques on the cultural impact of
media and propose alternative communications models from within.
One such alternative has been opened up by telepresence (i.e.,
telecommunications coupled with telerobotics), and in 1994 two telepresence
works were presented on the Internet: "Ornitorrinco in Eden" [84], by
Eduardo Kac and Ed Bennett, and "The Mercury Project" [85], a collaboration
between co-directors Ken Goldberg and Michael Mascha, and a team formed by
Steven Gentner, Nick Rothenberg, Carl Sutter, and Jeff Wiegley.
"Ornitorrinco in Eden" hybridized the Internet with telerobotics, wireless
remote-controlled mobility in physical (architectural) spaces, the
traditional and the cellular telephone systems, videoconferencing
(CU-SeeMe) and a revised if literal digital "tele-vision." This enabled
participants to decide for themselves where they went and what they saw in
a remote environment via the Internet. The interface was any regular
telephone. Anonymous participants shared the body of the telerobot,
controlling it and looking through its eye simultaneously. "The Mercury
Project" combined the Web with a remote-controlled robotic arm connected to
a video camera. The signals to control the arm came from the Web. With a
built-in compressed-air jet, remote viewers could activate the air jet to
reveal buried artifacts. The system used the Mosaic browser to provide
access to the Web. The interface consisted of a window that explained the
project, showed a schematic map of the area the robot arm traversed, and
gave basic operating information about the system. Operators could also
see still video images of the scene. "Ornitorrinco in Eden" investigated several new possibilities regarding interface, bandwidth, nature of the connection, point of view and the sensorial apparatus of the telerobot. The space of the installation was divided into three sectors, which were all interconnected. The
predominant visual theme was the obsolescence of media once perceived as
innovative and the presence of these media as waste in our technological
landscape [86]. Ornitorrinco in Eden created a context in which anonymous
participants perceived that it was only through their joint exploration and
non-hierarchical collaboration that little by little, or almost frame by
frame, a new reality was constructed. "The Mercury Project" was based on a
fictional story created by the collaborators, thus it explored the
narrative potential of telepresence. It enabled anybody on the Internet to
blow air in a remote sandbox to reveal buried artifacts, such as
matchbooks, a watch, and dollhouse miniatures. These objects were selected
to evoke the 19th century and therefore provide a coherent context to the
work. Goldeberg said that "the installation encourages a collaborative
exploration, with each user posting his discoveries in the log, so that the
common threads emerge gradually. The artifacts have been chosen so that
they tell a story as multiple users uncover them." [87]

Exploring the hybridization of radio and the Internet, Austrian
artist Gerfried Stocker [88] created Horizontal Radio in collaboration with
many other artists and technicians in several countries [89]. The project
ran for 24 hours live (June 22 to June 23, 1995) during the Ars Electronica
Festival, in Linz, Austria, on the frequencies of many radio stations in
Australia, Canada, Europe, Scandinavia, Russia and Israel, on the Internet
and at the network intersections in Athens, Belgrade, Berlin, Bologna,
Bolzano, Budapest, Edmonton, Helsinki, Hobart, Innsbruck, Jerusalem, Linz,
London, Madrid, Montreal, Moscow, Munich, Naples, Quebec, Rome, San Marino,Sarajevo, Sydney, Stockholm, and Vancouver. The project was loosely based on the theme of migration, and intentionally challenged the standardized
forms of communications promoted by big broadcasting institutions and
entertainment corporations. Horizontal Radio created a new form of media
experience, in which self-regulated groups dispersed worldwide collaborated
on a single piece, integrating diverse communications systems such as
real-time transmissions typical of broadcast radio and the asynchronous
nature of Internet audio. Participants merged several old and new
technologies to transform radio into a space for the exchange of audio
messages. This new audio environment combined multiple forms of sound art
such as tape compositions, live-concerts, telematic simultaneous events
between some of the participating stations, sound sculptures, and texts and
sound collages triggered by the Internet. Horizontal Radio emphasized
dialogic distribution and created a sense of equidistance that transcended
the limited spatial range of radio transmitters.

Artists such as Fred Forest, Stelarc, and Richard Kriesche
contributed other hybrid topologies. Merging televison, radio, telephones
and the Internet, French artist Fred Forest [90] created From Casablanca to
Locarno: Love reviewed by the Internet and other electronic media [91],
realized on September 2, 1995, in Locarno, Switzerland. In this piece, the
artist broadcasted the film Casablanca, with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid
Bergman, without sound and with text onscreen informing the public about
the possibility of interactive participation. The public used the Internet
and called participating radio stations to fill in with creative and
improvised dialogues. Fred Forest also controlled the images viewed on the
screen from a theater in Locarno, open to the local public and transformed
into a radio and television studio specially for this piece.

Unlike virtual galleries, multimedia projects, and hyperlink-based
pieces, hybrid art works that bridge the Internet with physical environments and other telecommunications media are not seen frequently
online. Stelarc and Richard Kriesche proposed such contact between
tangible objects and virtual spaces in events and installations. Stelarc's
event "Fractal Flesh" [92] enabled remote collaborators, with
point-to-point direct links from cities across the globe, to manipulate his
arms and his robotic third arm while receiving visual feedback. Images of
the performance were uploaded to the web site dedicated to the event.
Kriesche's installation, entitled "Telematic Sculpture 4" [93], was
comprised of a conveyor belt with a railway track on it which moved in the
Austrian pavilion at the Venice Biennale according to Internet data flow,
eventually hitting and breaking through a wall.


Undoubtedly, the Internet represents a new challenge for art. It
foregrounds the immaterial and underscores cultural propositions, placing
the aesthetic debate at the core of the digital communications revolution.
The Net also offers a practical model of decentralized knowledge and power
structures, with emerging paradigms of behavior and discourse. The
wonderful cultural elements it brings will continue to change our lives,
beyond the unidirectional structures that current give shape to the
mediascape. As participants in a new phase of social change, facing
international conflicts and domestic disputes, we must not lose sight of
the dual stand of the Internet. If dominated by restrictive agendas, it
could become another form of delivery of canned information parallel to
television and radio, forcing "netizens" (i.e., the world, virtually) to
conform to rigid patterns of interaction. Naturally, ambitious business
projects such as Motorola's Iridium [94], a global wireless network that
consists of 66 satellites spread around the world, will do little, if
anything, to improve this situation. Now that multinationals control
former state-owned telecommunications companies in huge markets such as
India [95] and Brazil [96], access in remote areas may become technically
viable but will remain hard to sustain. Despite of privatization and
liberalization, the Net will not expand significantly in underdeveloped
zones due to lack of financial resources in these areas -- consequence of
highly uneven distribution of wealth. The Internet also exhibits the risk
of homogenizing all cultural artifacts, with virtual surfaces, standard
interfaces, and regulated forms of communication. Emerging forms of Internet communication point to a more progressive direction. Internet telephony [97], for example, is already enabling Macintosh and PC, users alike to have full-duplex phone conversations with any other computer user with Net access in the world. All that is needed is an IP address (which all users have, or obtain as they log on), a microphone, and speakers (or headphones). The IP address
replaces the old phone number. While still incipient, this technology
challenges telephonic regulations, enabling more individuals to speak with
one another without long-distance charges. New systems have emerged that
allow computer users to hold real-time voice conversations via the Internet
with users of ordinary telephones [98]. In 1995 US long-distance carriers
earned $70 billion in tolls charging by the minute. As one might expect,
IP telephony has the potential to threaten the virtual monopolies that
structure the telecommunications industry. Early in 1996 America's
Carriers Telecommunication Association (ACTA) petitioned the FCC to ban
sales of products that let voice travel over the Net [99]. On the other
hand, as members of the communications industry, including distance
carriers, offer Internet access, one can see how Internet telephony could
become absorbed in a unified complex group of services to include cable,
local calls, caller ID, cellular charges, pager, voicemail, Internet
access, e-mail account, and more. Not waiting for the benevolent and
tolerant side of corporate giants to surface, however, a group of companies
and individuals formed the Voice on the Net Coalition [100] with the
immediate goal to persuade the FCC to not act favorably upon the ACTA
petition, and with the sustaining mission "to educate consumers and the
media by monitoring and supporting present and newly developed telephony,
video, and audio technologies that are specifically designed and
manufactured for the internet community." While the Net is enabling voice
interaction and providing an interface to the phone system, the telephone
industry is also embracing the Net. With the arrival of PDAs and a new
generation of digital cellular telephones, wireless Internet-access service
was already a phone call away in 1997. Browser software is embedded in
these mobile devices. Another fascinating emerging technology is the
"Multicast Backbone", or MBone [101], first established in 1992. A virtual
network, layered on top of the physical Internet to support routing of IP
multicast packets, the MBone has been applied in network services such as
audio and video conferencing around the world. The MBone might become
obsolete as soon as Internet 2 [102] becomes fully operational in the
public realm, installating what was dubbed quality of service (QoS)
technology. The new QBone (Quality Backbone) [103] was first developed by
the Internet 2 project as an academic broadband network promoting media
integration, interactivity, and real time collaboration. Currently
restricted to participating educational and research institutions, the
technology will one day be made available to others. The QBone is a model
for the new Internet, which one day will have bandwidth good enough to
fully enable voice, video, and teleimmersion online. The issue of bandwidth is very important because it will dramatically change the nature of the Internet. Speed and bandwidth are as determining factors in network art as canvas size and color palette are in painting. One needs only to consider commercial television forced to operate at half its frame rate of 30 fps (i.e., slowing down the video image to half its speed), to visualize how topological constraints on
telecommunications systems impact culture at large. Although the MBone is
mainly used by scientists worldwide to interactively attend videoconferences, some cultural manifestations ocasionally employ the system. New York-based Canadian video artist, composer, and performer Phillip Djwap produced the satellite/MBone telecast "El Naftazteca: Cyber TV for 2000 AD", in collaboration with Mexican artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña [104] and Adriene Jenik, on November 22, 1994. The character El Naftazteca was "a renegade high-tech Aztec who commandeers a commercial television signal and broadcasts a demonstration of his Chicano Virtual Reality machine from the techno-alter setting of his underground bunker. The Chicano Virtual Reality machine enables El Naftazteca to retrieve instantly any moment from his or his people's history, and then display the moment in video images," explains Gómez-Peña in the Web site that documents the event.. Also a participant in the international mail art movement in them '70s, Gómez-Peña addresses issues of multiculturalism in his work with media and forms that include film, video, radio, performance, and installation art. "What will television, and performance art, look like in ten years? It will have to be multilingual and it will marginalize
everyone," states Gómez-Peña. An interactive component to the production
encouraged viewers to phone the iEAR Studios of Rensselaer Polytechnic
Institute and examined the basic cultural assumptions they maintain about
U.S.-Latino relations. Via the MBone, computer users could communicate
directly with El Naftazteca for the 90 minutes of the performance.
I also worked with the MBone in my networked telepresence
installation entitled "Rara Avis" [105], commissioned for the Olympic Arts
Festival, in Atlanta, which was presented simultaneously in the physical
space of the Nexus Contemporary Arts Center, in Atlanta, and on the
Internet (via interactive conferencing both in color and gray), the Web
(with current gif uploads captured from the live video feed), and the MBone
(with color video). Gallery visitors "transported" themselves to the body
of a telerobotic macaw inside an aviary with thirty small birds. Visitors
could wear a virtual reality headset and take control of the vision system
of the robotic bird in real time. They shared the body of the telerobot
with Internet participants, who activated the robot's vocal system. What
the local viewer saw was seen live on the Internet, the Web, and the MBone.
What was heard in the gallery was a combination of the voices of anonymous
participants who happened to be on the body at the moment. This piece was
first experienced in Atlanta and on the network from June 27 to August 24,
1996.Existing paradigms of broadcast and publishing are to the Internet
what theater and literature were to cinema and radio in the begining of the
century. A simple transposition of conventional forms falls short of
realizing the true potential of this network of networks. The Internet is
neither a new form of publishing nor an extension of broadcast television.
It must not be regulated to achieve its public and social role. If any
comparison holds, the Internet is perhaps closer to the unmonitored
dialogic experience of the telephone. Television, as we know it, simply
can't enable the emergence of communities, which is one of the most
prominent aspect of the Net. While large broadcast and publishing
corporations muscle their traditional and regulatory views into the Net,
sure that increased technological sophistication will force users away from
content creation to concentrate it in the hands of those who can hire "an
army of programmers," as a Time Warner executive once put it, most Internet
users thrive in the exchange of e-mail, video and voice messages, in their
participation in the new communities they belong to, in the newly accesible
body of knowledge they discover daily, and in the wealth of multimedia and
interactive experiences they have on the World Wide Web.
The Internet has come a long way from the original late sixties
small-scale network based on a command-line interface. "Chimerium," for
example, an online VRML (Virtual Reality Mark-Up Language) art work created
by Perry Hoberman and Scott Fisher in 1995 [106], enables participants to
assemble their virtual bodies themselves and navigate in an interactive,
three-dimensional virtual world. While VRML is a standard that most likely
will be absorbed by other new formats, such as Java 3D, for example, the
prospect of teleimmersion suggests that three-dimensional navigation of
information landscapes and real-time meetings in 3D spaces will be an
important component of the Internet in the future.

It is clear that the future of art and the future of the Internet
will be intertwined. As new electronic devices with embedded Web browsers
and servers become pervasive, we will have access to the network in many
new ways. For example, it will be possible to browse and serve from cars,
and even telephones and digital photo cameras will have IP addresses. What
the Internet itself will become, and what new art forms will emerge, are
issues that must be addressed in the present. We must ask, however, how
can the Internet be a truly global space when about 15% of the world's
population had telephone acces in 1997 [107] and countries such as Haiti
have levels of illiteracy reaching the 85% mark [108]? Are we truly in a
world of connectivity and Net communications if the U.S., with 5 percent of
the world's population, has 25 percent of the world's telephone lines? In
1998 South Africa concentrated 95% of the African continent's hosts and
Egypt had 2% [109]. The Internet itself is not the cause of novel problems,
as conservative legislators and polititians in search of self-promotional
causes want us to believe, nor is it the solution to fundamental problems
such as sliding educational standards or the uneven distribution of wealth,
as glossy information age magazines seem to suggest. The Internet nurtures
public interest and fosters new dialogues, but it also mirrors deeply
rooted social relations long-established outside of cyberspace. We must
keep this in perspective as new technologies perpetuate existing social
inbalances and new artforms offer urgent critiques of contemporary life,
pointing to alternative public scenarios. To really understand what life
online means, and to participate in shaping its future, one must be able to
dial up, log on, and join in.


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Eduardo Kac


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