It is impossible to imagine life today without the internet and its
emergent networked culture. Online we read the latest news as it happens,
check the weather, browse new research, book planes and hotels, go internet
dating, pay bills, play games, or look at our friends and families websites
Today I am looking at a slice of this parallel universe
net.art which refects the cultural, social and political issues
of the users who inhabit this domain. I will talk about three distinct
stages in networked art (showing some of the massive range of networked
art forms online, focusing on Australian work):
Adoption -how existing art forms have moved onto
the internet :
Adaptation - how the net itself has symbiosis and evolution of
net art ;and
Collection - the issues involved in the preservation and/or migration
or these art works.
It is easy to see why artists were drawn to the net. When Marc Andressons
Netscape Web Browser was introduced in 1994 opened up new frontier of
space unmediated by the art museum. Unlike previous browsers it promised
aesthetic control over embedding graphics and sound into pages of easily
navigated text. It was such a leap forward that Tim Burners-Lee the
creator of HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP), HyperText Markup Language
(HTML), hated Netscape, as he feared the visually appealing web
was becoming frivolous, split from its original serious
intention, and would lead to destructive competition that would
create proprietary Web products that could destroy the open nature of
the Web  .
On the net artists could retain complete control of
their content, they could not be censored, and they could be instantly
connected to a global audience. Already existing art forms such as drawing,
poetry, video, animation, radio and the theory surrounding them moved
to the net, adopting the unique aesthetic of chunky pixelated low resolution
images, low bit sound, and rhythmic feel of download art:
eg: Enrique Radigales (Spain) - http://www.idealword.org
At first glance the mouse drawings of Idealword .org are just a
deliciously reformatted version of the everyday work environment , with
banal subject matter as portraits of other office workers and seminar
attendees, or line drawing of nudes and major works from art history.
But when we look at the source code the jumbled and illegible horizontal
blocks of text which add perspective and composition to the drawings
can be read . Revealed beneath the surface are weird and wonderful (often
Spanish) texts - exerts from Microsoft Word Readmes, psychology texts,
tedious lists or law documents. Idealword plays with and text as image
and the physicality of the net, telling a story and revealing new perspectives
in a playful manner.
eg: Jenny Weight (Au) - http://www.idaspoetics.com.au/generative/generative.html
This shockwave generated poem puts the William Burroughs' cutup
concept into the computer. But this is really just the newest version
of 'combinatory literature' or permutational text ( poetry generated
according to a strict mathematical or now programming rules) which has
been around since the 4th century AD. These poems explore such contemporary
subjects as the Refugee Detainment and Kyoto Protocol.
The cinematic genres like video and animation have moved smoothly
to their new home, with chunky streaming video become more popular as
bandwidth increases.Low bandwidth vector graphic native to the net,
has penetrated almost every corner of the web from cute interactives,
to advertisements and games. Flash works are now being used for television
video clips and is shown at major festivals.
eg: Isobel Knowles (Au) - http://ik.rocks.it
ik.rocks it is an online gallery of apparently 'cute' digital works
with an unexpectedly warped twist, made in shockwave and flash. This
is a playful environment where stripped back interactive and pixel simplicity
can be endlessly amusing.
net radio was a perfect for the web, with its nonhierarchical communication
between producers and listeners. net radio transcends national boundaries,
you can listen to everything from the sound of Linux server code, to
political content to people sharing their favorite playlist.
Another aspect of online art practice is that theory and practice
are intertwined. Artists share resources and ideas through online mailing
eg: empyre- (Au) - http://www.subtle.net/empyre
this is an online space for the discussion of media and networked
arts and cultural practice as it happens. It currently run by myself
and 4 other facilitators in north America and Europe and is to eb archived
by Cornell University . -empyre- invites new guests (local and international
new media artists, theorists, curators and others) to discuss a theme
on a changing monthly basis. This way no one group or opinion can ever
dominate the list. This months theme is art artificial life
art, or alife art, last month was online art and the US election.
Net.art has also evolved in symbiosis with the parameters
and the possibilities of the Web environment itself. The online context
has influenced artists creative process. Forms have Mutated, and new
and hybrid practices have emerged. The web itself as a living organism
supplies the raw data which is reformatted and recontextualised to become
eg: Mark Napier (USA) - http://www.potatoland.org/shredder/
Shredder reminds us that the web is a temporary media.
Is not a fixed publication, it is not solid and it is not permanent.
The web is an illusion based on conventions of HTML, so that when we
break those conventions the whole legibility of the net disappears.
The Shredder presents this global structure as a chaotic, irrational,
raucous collage. By altering the HTML code before the browser reads
it, the Shredder appropriates the data of the web, transforming it into
a parallel web. Content become abstraction. Text becomes graphics. Information
becomes art. 
eg: Tim Plaistead (Au) -http://www.boxc.net/media/
Surface Browser represents the experience of internet surfing as a deluge
of images rather than as flat pages of text. The piece works on the
level of the imagination rather than as functional data interface. Many
net metaphors relate to water: web surfing, streaming media, data pipes,
but the mediated experience is often far from fluid. Surface Browser
turns the web into liquid space remapping the existing images of web
sites into a water tunnel wghich carries you along.. the speed is controlled
by a joystick.
Multi-user Virtual Reality and Game spaces:
are the largest genre of of online culture, with conservatively
around 10 million users, Lineage (South Korea) alone has 4 million paying
members. Second life (USA) illustrates that online and offline reality
intersect when you can exchange money earned in the fantasy world for
$US and other products available off-line.Artists are responding by
performing inside game spaces, or authoring game modifications or their
own games, or creating new theatrical and cinematic forms like avatar
performance and machinima.
eg: Selectparks (Au) - http://www.acmi.net.au/acmipark.jsp
ACMIpark is not a game as such but a site-specific online multi-user
extension of the ACMI media museum set in a luscious landscaped environment.
The characters actually look like you or me (rather than silicon enhanced
clones). You can explore the building and access some art works, teleport
round the park, jump into the flow of the stream, fly off the bounce
pads to get a birds-eye view of the world space. This is cultural gaming
- where the object isn't to kill but to create your own art experience.
Instead of shooting you throw dynamic light balls that have distinct
sounds and a different effect on other players, and use your avatar's
body movement to compose audio tracks in the interactive sound Rinks.
is another emergent form. These movies, or machine cinema, are captured
inside altered game environments and edited into often ironic or humorous
online works,art works designed to affect offline space.
eg: 0100101110101101.org/ (Slovenia) - http://www.nikeground.com/
Nikeplatz project involved setting up a site and an offline installation
which made it appear that Karlsplatz in Vienna had been sold to Nike
and they were renaming it Nikeplatz and erecting huge Swoosh sculpture.
It was so convincing that it sparked national discussion about corporate
acquisition of public assets. In 2001 at the Venice biennial this group
also exhibited a computer virus as a piece of art -the 'biennale.py'
project. The source code of the virus has been made public and spread
on the opening day of the Biennial. The virus is still in the wild,
according to Nortons.
Blast Theory (UK) - http://www.canyouseemenow.co.uk/
Net.art also plays with its boundaries by creating art works when
data captured from one space is transposed and revisualised in another
location; or when the monitored interactions of both artists and users
becomes the bio-input for an artwork.
Networked.art has grown far beyond its origins in only a decade,
expanding far too rapidly for me to cover today. New genres are constantly
emerging as we and net.art become more and more mobile. Today we arent
interacting with art in front of computer screens at desks, but in out
the street, the park or the countryside on intimate screens. The combination
of mobile devices like mobile phones and PDAs with locative technologies,
supports experiences and social interaction that respond to a participant's
physical location and context.
Collection (preservation and migration)
With so many forms how do cultural institutions decide
what to archive ?Take for example blogs, the new hybrid literary form
of net.art Do amateur, intimate style web sites reflect the era much
more than professional artists blogs ?
eg: Miss Helen (Au) - http://www.spycore.net
Spycore.net is a personal blog which showcases the things Miss Helen
makes an does, including, zines, knitting, crafts, flash movies. The
site takes inspiration from fibre arts, with its use of textural ginghams
and fabric samples for navigation. And gives us an insight into the
everyday life of a girl in the western suburbs who likes knitting and
eg: Damien Frost (Au) - http://www.objectnotfound.net
Object Not Found takes its name from the Error 404 "object not
found" dead link message. This is an online archive of "lost"
images ( literally discarded and found post cards and photos ) from
the physical world. It is already a museum of everyday life where the
viewer can glimpse a small part of other peoples lives, their lost dreams,
loves and memories.
eg: Peter Murphy (AU) -VR Panorama Blog -http://www.mediavr.com/blog/
Here 3d web technologies are combined with blogging to make a "panoramic
vr" blog. Quicktime VR scenes and some text on Australian cultural
happenings are uploaded to the site every few days. It enables us to
immerse ourselves in the public cultural political and social life of
our nation, actually getting the feeling of being at events we would
otherwise have no knowledge of.
Which one would you keep, which is of most cultural
value?The one with standard functions which are easiest to archive?
the one with the highest quality pictures? one with the most intimate
text? They give three very different picture of online culture today.
Speaking as both an artist and a curator it is extremely
frustrating that our net.art work of the last decade, that is the early
period of innovation and experimentation is decaying and disappearing
before my eyes.
or the recently developed proce55ing, but these are not standard or
easy to archive.
eg: Jimpunk ( France) - http://www.jimpunk.com/1n-0ut/
Jimpunks code weaves the experience fun quick art, which takes
over your browser, makes you sit back and become a passenger.. powerless
to stop it, a subject of you own computer. He accentuates the pixelated
nature of the web, simple repeated graphic elements , and exhausts the
chunky aesthetics of the interlaced giff. This is quiet mild and aesthetically
pleasing compared to some other which are really scary and make you
think youve just had a very nasty virus attack.
- Code changes
- Standards change.
For example in the mid/late 1990s many works experimented with DynamicHTML
to create in-page animation before Flash rose to the prominence it has
today. But DHTML is no longer widely supported, so many works from this
era have ceased to function, and sit as jumbled static images that make
no sense to the user.
- Work will look different on every computer.
-Some works no longer function because the hardware to run them has
.-Refresh rates of monitors change altering the look of a work. Early
net art was made for low res smaller monitors and looks lost on current
high res big screens.
-Works dependent on processor speed have to be altered
to keep functioning properly -Connection speeds alter the unique rhythm
of an internet art work. Even works like Shredder and Surface Browser
which feeds on the code of the net will alter over time as the coding
-eg- Glen Murphy (Au) -http://bodytag.org/compose4/
These pieces were all programmed in Java, and creation of more recent
works was greatly aided by use of the Processing environment.
However java is not always x-platform and backwards
compatible dispite its promise of code once, play forever. Doran Golan
who has the worlds largest collection of privately owned net.art says
the: most common incompatibility is Java
1.2 with the current browsers. In general, a browser that does not function
well with old html is Safari 
One of my own works empyrean, http://www.subtle.net/empyrean
a multi-user VRML world build using lot of open source software and
an java multi-user server applet has decayed as it needs an antiquated
(last century) Netscape 4.5 browser to ensure it has the access to the
correct java libraries to function in its complete multi-user state.
Other work has been lost because it was never archived in the first
place. I worked on a project in 1995 in conjunction with the Beijing
International Womens conference. We taught ourselves html from mailing
lists, put the show up with artwork from 50 Australian women. It was
ground breaking for 1995. A few years later the new head of the Art
department wanted a fresh web site and it was trashed from the university
server without back up.
Autonomous.org who were running BBS art sites where
people engaged in collaborative art and text projects in 1993-94 couldnt
afford extra hard drives for their server, so if a hard drive died,
the art went with it. So some of Australias first internet art
has been irretrievably lost. Doing this paper I was looking for some
other shows from 1995 and 1996 which are no longer online.
- Whose responsibility is it to maintain and update works in the public
domain and where does this end? is it the artist who doesnt get
paid for it?
- Or the archive who does it with public monies?-
- Should online artists making video documentation of their work but
with the interactivity is gone?
-They could all be migrated to new formats? but that
would mean if hard/software changes then the work simply wont function
again in a few years again.. leading to endless updating.
-If we migrate the works to new formats. how would that affect work
like Radigales where discovering the code is also a part of the work?
-What time slice do you preserve, when a net-art work
is generatively and dynamically evolving in conjunction with the net
or captured form current databases?
-Do you archive every version of constantly shifting soft and hardware
-How do you decide between truly innovative works which break all the
standards or easy to archive works which may be more stable for longer
There are no easy or right answers to these questions, however I am
very excited that the challenge of networked art preservation is being
taken up . This intention of maintaining our internets cultural heritage,
means that in years to come people will be able to authentically immerse
themselves in todays fledgling art of the network.