THE INTERNET is today controlled by a series of commercial agreements between large telecos who own the equipment and software which run it. This sometimes puts the folks who control much of the Internet at odds with those who use it. Such is the case with Verio, who leases bandwidth to thing.net, the Internet Service Provider for thing.net. It seems that the Yes Men (http://www.theyesmen.org/
), who host their sites (also http://www.theyesmen.org/
) on thing.net, posted a parody of Dow Chemical. It contained fake press releases from Dow, side-stepping moral responsibility for the disaster at a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, which is though to have caused 20,000 deaths. Dow threatened suit, and Verio is pulling the plug on thing.net (http://www.theyesmen.org/dow/#release
) in the middle of March. The whole story can be seen at the Yes Men's site (http://www.theyesmen.org/dow/
). While Dow may have succeeded in killing one incarnation of the site, dozens of others have sprung up around the 'net and across the globe. If thing.net goes down, it will truely be a shame: they've hosted a lot of important art and hactivist sites, including some I've written about in this column in months past (Ricardo Dominguez comes to mind (http://www.thing.net/~rdom
) as does etoy.com). What can you do? A good start would be to toss some money their way to help the move to a new ISP (Wolfgang Staehle, who runs thing.net, is reportedly planning to relocate). Follow the case in the press (wired.com and the New York Times have pretty good coverage), join the Electronic Frontier Foundation (http://www.eff.org
), read their website, and hope for the best for Wolfgang.
Although you may have missed this week's opening, it's not too late to visit or participate in some of the public programs for Pedestrian, an installation currently on view at the Studio Museum in Harlem (144 West 125th Street), the Rockefeller Center in Midtown (51st Street, between 5th and 6th Avenue), and Eyebeam in Chelsea (540-548 West 21st Street). The public programs include talks for children and panel discussions for adults, and are listed on the project's Web site (http://www.pedestrianweb.org
). Pedestrian makes use of digital technology to create animations of the human figure in motion, specifically an aerial view of imaginary street scenes populated by imaginary pedestrians, which are then projected onto the sidewalk. Paul Kaiser and Shelley Eshkar created the project, with help from programmers and other designers, by capturing human motion and mapping that motion onto the animated figures. This process has often been used in video games, animated motion pictures, and by the artists themselves in their earlier works, notably collaborations with Bill T. Jones and Merce Cunningham (see Biped and Ghostcatching among others at http://riverbed.com/
The work is choreographed, the virtual actors set to explore their virtual environment in a pre-determined pattern. The resulting digital work, which combines the pre-rendered figures, resembles the antecedents the artists mention: the work of Russian photographer Alexander Rodchenko and the computer game the Sims. But today we see an increasing number of events from the vantage point of a helicopter (the spectacle of the O.J. Simpson chase, or any of the real life's television police shows that are increasingly becoming part of modern visual culture.
An interest in randomness and art surfaced in the West around the end of the nineteenth century, as a series of artists and art movements used dice and a variety of other methods to choose words in poems, or the placement of paint on a canvas. Modern art was born at the same time as this fascination, and so it is perhaps not surprising that the randomly generated work of Kurt Baumann looks like many twentieth-century art, especially that of Piet Mondrian. His site ARTificial ART (http://home.att.net/~artificial-art/index.html
) has six Java applets (short programs written in the Java programming language specifically for distribution over the Web) which create distinctive visual patterns. „Kyotoä draws spare, plant-like structures that resemble l-systems based on the work of Aristid Lindenmeyer. „Chanceä draws a series of different types of images, some whose recursive squares look like Mondrian's monochrome canvasses, while „neogeoä creates images that often look like Mondrian's color paintings. Often, however, they look like bad motel art.
The work is part of a long history of using programs to generate visual images, and which is well documented in Cynthia Goodman's 1987 book Digital Visions. See also John Simon's work (http://www.numeral.com
, especially his pen plotter drawings.
Artist John Simon is not technically a net artist (he uses the net to present his work, instead of make his work), he's interesting enough to discuss here. What interests me, and what is related to net art, is the fact that Simon makes his own digital tools, as do many net artists. That is, instead of using pre-packaged software, like Photoshop, he taught himself to program, and considers the programs he writes his art. Of course, he is still using a programming language, compiler, operating system and hardware
designed by someone else, but few painters make their own paint. The precedent for artists writing their own software was set in the 1970s and 80s by artists such as Vera Molnar and Manfred Mohr, who programmed computers to run plotters (early printers which worked by moving a pen across a piece of paper). Their work, and others like them is well chronicled in Cynthia Goodman's book Digital Visions.
On of Simon's most interesting pieces is Every Icon, which attempts to draw every possible icon that can be created in a 32 by 32 square grid. Images on the computer, from photographs to paintings, are őbitmapped,' that is, they are made up of a grid in which every square, called a pixel, is assigned one or more numbers to represent its color, hue and so forth. Simon's piece starts out with a grid that is entirely white, then blackens the squares in an attempt to create every possible image that can be represented. This is essentially like counting from 0 to 2 raised to the 1024th power, an astronomically large number. The image changes several times each second, and even so, Simon calculates that the sun will burn out long before the process is finished.
His work can be seen at his website (http://www.numeral.com
, and you can buy a personalized copy of the Every Icon applet which you can run on your own computer (and support John Simon) at his Amazon shop
bought mine last week.
There have been a variety of responses to the events of September 11th, among them websites which solicit online donations. Amazon (http://www.amazon
) offered its ecommerce system, and gathered nearly seven million dollars, most of it in the first few days after the attack. After having their site featured on a prominent search engine, Fire Donations (http://www.firedonations.com
) saw a huge increase in traffic, and the Red Cross needed technicians around the clock to help them upgrade their servers.
An online visual response is developing as well. Here is New York is a remarkable gallery show at 116 Prince Street in SOHO, and perhaps the first physical Website. Photographers, from prestigious photojournalists to everyday people have contributed photographs, which are scanned and then digitally printed and hung on the walls, ceiling, and any available space in the gallery, which has also taken over an adjacent storefront. Visitors, who number in the thousands on the weekends, are able to purchase prints, with the proceeds going to benefit the children of victims.
A website (http://hereisnewyork.org
) is in the planning stages, and will continue the exhibition after its physical presence ends.
Ever since Pedro Meyer's pioneering 1990 CD-ROM I Photograph to Remember, photographers have been exploring new media as a means to present their work (photography itself is only one hundred and fifty years old, hardly an old medium). Meyer's CD was a combination of narration and photographs documenting the death of his father, and published by Voyager (http://www.voyagerco.com
), a pioneering publishing house, now semi-defunct. Meyer's work is still available, though, at his website (http://www.zonezero.com
), which is dedicated to presenting photography over the Internet. Meyer's essay appears at http://zonezero.com/exposiciones/fotografos/fotografio
. After the initial excitement about CD-ROM as an alternate publishing venue faded in the early nineties, the Web came to be the most viable medium for photographers to show their work. Photographer Gilles Peres shows his portfolio of Bosnia photographs on the New York Times' site (http://www.nytimes.com/specials/bosnia/
) which combines Peress' stunning, intelligent and moving images with his commentary on the end of the war in that country (he has also published his photographs in a book titled Farewell to Bosnia). While the quality of an image on the screen cannot match a high-quality art book (though many computer screens far surpass newsprint), the Web allows access to a wider audience than a book might, and at a lower cost (after the initial investment in a computer). The Web also allows some measure of interactivity, and the Times site included discussion forums which were left open for two months after the site opened in 1996.
Susan Meiselas was recently awarded a MacArthur grant, and her recent project AKA Kurdistan can be found at http://www.akakurdistan.com
. The site was created after the publication of Meiselas' book Kurdistan: in the Shadow of History, a chronicle of the Kurdish people in the twentieth century. The site is meant to continue the work of the book by allowing anyone to contribute stories or identify images posted on the site.
How does one create work which addresses political and or social themes in the 21st century? Certainly the decline of the photo-magazines of the 1940s and 50s was related to the rise of television and its mass-distribution of images. As we become increasingly saturated with images of suffering through rapidly multiplying media channels, it seems that using photographic, or even realistic images as a means to evoke an emotional response in a viewer. Witness the critical response to Magnum photojournalist Salbastio Salgado, who regularly travels to the sites of humanitarian disasters, famines and the like. A recent article in the New York Times entitled "Can Suffering Be Too Beautiful" http://www.nytimes.com/2001/07/13/arts/design/13KIMM.html takes issue with Salgado's aestheticization of suffering, while Ingrid Sischy wrote in the New Yorker ten years ago of overhearing a woman at a Salgado exhibition remark "I can't look at these images, they make me cry." Yet, remarked Sischy, the woman did look at the images, and did not cry. This rather long intro leads me into a review of one of the more successful means of dealing with political and social issues over the Web: rtmark.com. Along with other activist sites, such as Ricardo Dominguez (www.thing.net/~rdom
), rtmark.com attempts to foment political action through documentation of past actions and suggestions for future ones. One past action chronicles the infiltration of a WTO conference by a group called The Yes Men, who sent a speaker who proposed, among other things, replacing the inefficiency of voting with a system of selling votes to the highest bidder (see http://www.voteauction.com
Another section of the site presents the rtmark "mutual funds," each of which has a dollar value, related to how much money donors have contributed to the fund (project). In addition, each "fund" has a discussion centered around its proposal, such as dubbing a short film about racism and mandatory drug sentencing into the preview section of rented videotapes (symbol DUBM, value $0). Unfortunately, though, there is not much interesting discussion, non-withstanding their moderators (DJ Spooky, Andrei Codrescu, Negativland). Be sure to check out Cue Jack, a hack of the CueCat device (http://rtmark.com/cuejack
). Also of note this month is Picture Project's http://www.360degrees.org
, which presents "perspectives on the criminal justice system.," and includes a history of the justice system (though entirely focusing on the West), and short documentaries.
Thanks to an email from Kathy Brew's Thundergulch, I was alerted to a talk on 6/13 at the Museum of Natural History, featuring artist Natalie Jeremijenko, centered around art concerned with genomic research. At the talk, she showed an older, though very interesting work which she says was insprired by hobbyist magazines, the ones which catered to the amateur hobbyist who built their own amplifiers or radios. It seems that the days of such electronic tinkering are mostly over, and we are insulated from the interior workings of much of the technology that surrounds us. Her Biotech Hobbyist Magazine caters to the new tinkerer - one who tinkers in biotechnology. It's only issue, published in the summer of 1998, concerns itself with growing skin. There are links to retailers who can provide the necessary supplies, along with some rudimentary advice. Jeremijenko's work is reminiscent of Donna Haraway's writing on oncomouse (see her books Simians, Cyborgs, and Women and modest_witness@ etc) and the work of Eduardo Kac, whose work I've profiled in earlier reviews. In a somewhat eerie later piece, she exhibited lab-grown synthetic skin. http://www.irational.org/biotech/