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The 14K4-modem dials into the ruins of the Internationale Stadt about
once every hour during my working days here in Berlin. A mix of
work-related messages from Rotterdam and elsewhere, from mailing lists,
and private messages come in. I respond to some things immediately,
others filed away or deleted at first glace, yet others are put on hold
for later consideration. Then I return to offline writing and reading.
Sometimes I enjoy the distraction, at other times it is irritating to be
alerted that 'you have new mail', and I realise that this regular state
of 'being online' has become one of the features of my 'being in the
world'. Phone-calls now make up less than 5% of my daily communication.

I rarely suffer from a lack of bandwidth. The IS has been pretty stable,
only in some cases messages got lost or seriously delayed. At peak
hours, in the early evening, it may be difficult to dial in, but
otherwise there is no problem. My mail gets forwarded automatically from
the account in Rotterdam to an account here in Berlin. Pulling messages
over from Rotterdam directly can be a real drag, especially in the
afternoon, dear telephone time ticking away. But the local connection is
OK. It helps my online-satisfaction immensely that I rarely check the
Web from this machine. Even on a fast machine I only really enjoy
Web-surfing in the mornings, when the US are offline. Sunday mornings
are pure bliss, and for once the notion of a highway rings true.

For most people I know who use the Net, it is first and foremost a
communication medium. Whether they are artists or not, the fast exchange
of information, the planning of joint projects, quick and cheap
negotiations, brainstorming and working on texts together. I take notice
of the activities of the Xchange RealAudio network (xchange.re-lab.net),
of various IRC forums, but am still most convinced by the moderately
active e-mailing lists which I am subscribed to. This is my own little
everyday cyberworld.

As an artistic medium, the Net is an exciting and challenging
playground. Artists, theorists and critics alike are still trying to
understand what it all means, and are shuffling around for the best
metaphors and the most compelling analysis. And experience makes us
change our minds. Only six months ago Lev Manovich wrote an interesting
account of the cultural particularity of Russian media art, as observed
in the work of some young net artists, and now, in February '98, he is
convinced that the Net breeds a new modernist, trans-national style. Who

I am still full of fascination with the blurb that Jordan Crandall wrote
for the invitation to this online forum. Read it again, slowly:

"This forum aims to further a critical discourse on artistic practices
in the global communications network. It concerns practices that employ
networking technologies as a means of critically reflecting on
contemporary societies. This virtual symposium maps the clashes and
exchanges of cultures, uncovering the historical and material currents
that jostle below user-friendly interfaces. Articulating changing modes
of perception, representation, and identification, the forum will
develop new possibilities for artistic and critical intervention."

In talmudic fashion we could write commentaries on these different
points, and then comment on the commentaries. The quasi-linear,
chronological structure of the mailing list is not really able to deal
with the complexity of the field we are crossing. But as everybody else,
I am ploughing through the incoming eyebeam/blast-mail at irregular
intervals, agree and disagree, and wonder about the multiplicity of
angles with which people are approaching the problems of the Internet as
a creative 'space'. And, at the moment, I am wondering about how to turn
this multiplicity of voices into a meaningful conversation in which
quiet and loud, strong and hesitant opinions can be voiced, heard, and
taken further.

For me the most interesting message so far was the one from Olu Oguibe
(2 Feb 98). Rereading it today, I discovered that I disagree with most
of what Olu says. Most importantly, I don't follow Olu in his evaluation
of the 'state of things'. He states, I think quite rightly, that
Net-based artistic practice requires a good understanding of the
specificity of the medium, and writes: 'so far we have failed to make a
distinction between the use of _the_ network as a vehicle for
conventional art forms, and the emergence and recognition of art
produced with the network as medium.' It is quite odd to read this,
after at least two years of extended discussion about the notion of
'net.art' on Nettime, Rhizome, and other lists, as well as in many
conferences and workshops. Many people participating in this forum have
contributed to this debate, and even though there may be a lot of work
ahead, 'failure' seems a crude exaggeration.

I am making this point mainly to encourage everybody to think again
about the projects that they have taken part in or witnessed, and what
these projects mean in relation to the topic of this discussion. Here's
an almost random list of just a few: the work of net.artists like Alexei
Shulgin, Jodi, or Rachel Baker, recent projects by Knowbotic Research,
Jordan Crandall's installation at the documenta X, the Vienna-based
slacker projects around the Silverserver and Public Netbase, projects on
the Open X platform at the ars electronica '97 - these and other
projects provide us with a rich and I would say substantial basis for
discussion. Olu's claim that in 'matters of authenticity, originality,
genius, intellectual property rights, free circulation, quotation,
miming, parody, protection and theft, ... the least vocal on these
matters are artists and critics....' is simply not true, as far as I can
see, because several interesting and challenging statements have been
made by artists on several of these matters - all the way to being
threatened with legal action by major supermarket chains in the UK, and
to subverting international net art competitions.

I'll leave it here for the moment. My suggestion is that we try and talk
more about the practical experiences and constraints of the Net, rather
than frustrating ourselves by pointing out that the answer to the Big
Question has Not Really been found. There is too much expertise present
in this forum, and too much 'good practice', to justify such a negative
attitude. This is not to say that the social and technical constraints
which have been hinted at don't exist. But even there it would be
interesting to see what people are doing with their limited resources,
rather than stopping at the plea for access.

An aspect that I am personally very interested in is the way in which
the technical infrastructure facilitates and disables certain forms of
communication, and how the Internet as a 'machine' brings forth a new
notion, and a new questioning, of art. Andy Deck has pointed at this
('the software languages for graphic and auditory work are more
constraining than those for hypertext'), and it will be interesting to
hear from some technically inclined people on this list where they see
the uncharted possibilities, slumbering in existing network protocols.

With best wishes from Berlin,

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