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<eyebeam><blast> 404

[reposted from RHIZOME]

Ever since jodi learned how to program perl and gave the world
404.jodi.org, the web's ubiquitous "file not found" 404 error code has
been parading itself out of webmaster error logs and into internet art
sites everywhere.

Take the Zapatista electronic civil disobedience campaign. A site called
Flood Net (http://www.thing.net/~rdom/zapsTactical/zaps.html) uses the
404 error code to create e-art out of tactical media. Flood Net sends
out url requests for non-existent web pages on remote servers embedded
with little messages--urls in the form of www.server.com/_your_message_.
The failed http request automatically generates a 404 error and the
message (safe inside its url Trojan Horse) is recorded in the remote
server's error log. This accomplishes the difficult task of actually
uploading a certain specified piece of information to the server of your
choice, albeit in a rather unthreatening place. As the site reports,
"The Flood Net application of error log spamming is conceptual Internet
art." And for residual benefit they get to crash the Mexican
government's server (the action is called a "virtual sit in"). Perhaps
we can call it tactical net sculpture.

The masterminded behind Flood Net's 404 art is Brett Stalbaum who is
Managing Editor of Switch (http://switch.sjsu.edu) and has worked
elsewhere on this type of tactical net sculpture (see a java version of
his error log project called Joint Tactical Disinformation Distribution
System at http://switch.sjsu.edu/web/v3n3/JTDDS/index.html). When asked
about the difference between art and tactical media, Stalbaum replied:
"It not desirable to make exclusive critical distinctions between
tactical media and art. There is a telling comparison to be made between
the Joint Tactical Disinformation Distribution System (JTDDS), which is
more a conceptual net.sculpture than a truly invasive attack software,
and the Zaps Flood Net, which is a cultural work agitating for and
facilitating civil-disobedience in the name of a cause; yet which is
also supported by some peripheral art activity. Tactical media and art
are best treated as relative concepts."

Is there a difference between good ol' hacking and these types of 404
uploads? Of course, claims Stalbaum. "We can point to a superficial
difference between most net.art and hacking: hackers have an obsession
with getting inside other computer systems and having an agency there,
whereas the 404 errors in the JTDDS (for example) only engage other
systems in an intentionally wrong manner in order to store a 'secret'
message in their error logs. It's nice to think of artists as hackers
who endeavour to get inside cultural systems and make them do things
they were never intended to do: artists as culture hackers."

404 art projects are poping up everywhere. T.S. Thomas takes the concept
to its logical but pedantic conclusion with his hypertext at

And then there's 404.jodi.org.

Interestingly enough, jodi's foray into the world of cgi scripts seems
to be the least failure-oriented of their current work. 404.jodi.org is
a collection of HTML forms where users can post text messages and see
what other users have written. however, this happy little BBS becomes
confused as the inputted text is parsed through various filters (don't
stretch your algorithmical imagination too much here--it's alternately a
no-vowel filter or a no-consonant filter) before it is added to the
master file of user input. the result is a rather curious type of
illegible bathroom wall scrawl.

When asked about jodi, Brett Stalbaum acknowledges a certain resistive
aesthetic but refuses to classify 404.jodi.org as anti-art:

"Indulgence of one's anger, sometimes manifested in the arts as some
kind of 'anti,' does certainly serve a very useful end at this
particular time in the development of new media. It's a good strategy,
but it remains art. The use of 404 errors is an implementation of a
specific technical quality of the medium. For example, jodi's
implementation is primarily a formal one; highly interested in the
implications of network as medium, and particularly in the look of the
medium at the interface."


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