"Protocol"--Excerpt from Chapter 7 "Internet Art"

Posted by Alexander Galloway | Mon Apr 5th 2004 2:13 p.m.

Protocol: How Control Exists After Decentralization"
Excerpt from Chapter 7 "Internet Art":

Let me now take a closer look at Internet art by examining some of its
specific aesthetic qualities. The Internet's early autonomous
communities were the first space where pure network aesthetics (Web site
specificity) emerged--email lists like 7-11, Nettime, recode, Rhizome,
and Syndicate.

Primitive signs were seen in early net.art projects, such as Alexei
Shulgin's Refresh, an art project consisting of nothing but links
between Web pages. Refresh involves many different organizations working
together, using many different computers all around the world. In
Refresh a chain of Web pages is created. Each page is programmed to link
automatically (on a 10-second delay) to the next Web page in the chain.
Shulgin describes the project as "A Multi-Nodal Web-Surf-Create-Session
for an Unspecified Number of Players." Anyone can collaborate in the
project by slipping his or her own page into the link of refreshes. The
user may load any Web page in the chain, and then watch as a new Web
site appears every several seconds like a slide show.

In this way, Refresh was one of the first works to render the network in
an artistic way--as a painter renders a landscape or a sculptor renders
a physical form. The art exists "out there" in the network, not on any
individual Web page in the chain. Refresh made visible a virtual network
of collaboration that was not based on individual content. Shulgin's
work spatializes the Web. It turns the Internet, and protocol with it,
into a sculpture. [...]

While Shulgin's work is highly conceptual, more formal work was also
produced in this period. Perhaps the best example of formal work is from
the European duo Jodi. For several years Jodi has refined a formal style
by making computers both the subject and content of their art making.
Focusing specifically on those places where computers break down, Jodi
derives a positive computer aesthetic by examining its negative, its
point of collapse.

For example, in Jodi's work 404, which alludes to the Web's ubiquitous
"file not found" 404 error code (which is built into Berners-Lee's HTTP
protocol), the artists use the default fonts and simple colors available
to primitive Web browsers. 404 is a collection of pages where users can
post text messages and see what other users have written. But this
simple bulletin board system becomes confused as the input text is
pushed through various distorting filters before being added to the Web
page for general viewing. The result is a rather curious collection of
bathroom-wall scrawl that foregrounds the protocols of the Web page
itself, rather than trying to cover over the technology with pleasing
graphics or a deliberate design.

The 404 error code has also been used by other artists. Lisa Jevbratt's
"Non-Site Gallery" opens up the dead end of the 404 error page. She
transforms the 404 message into a generative doorway, where the
requested page is generated on the fly, as if it had always existed for
the user and was not the result of a mistake.

The 404 error code was also used in a more conceptual sense by the EDT.
As part of its virtual sit-ins the EDT have created software that sends
out Web requests for nonexistent Web pages on remote servers embedded
with special messages--addresses in the form of
www.server.com/__special_ message__. Since the Web pages do not exist on
the remote server (and were never intended to exist), an error message
is immediately generated by the server and returned to the EDT software.

However--and this is the trick--since Web servers record all traffic to
their Web site including errors, the error acts like a Trojan horse and
the "special message" is recorded in the remote server's log book along
with the rest of its Web traffic. This accomplishes the difficult task
of actually uploading a certain specified piece of information to the
server of one's choice (albeit in a rather obscure, unthreatening
location). As the messages pass from the protester to the protested
site, a relationship is created between the local user and the remote
server, like a type of virtual sculpture.

While the artwork may offer little aesthetic gratification, it has
importance as a conceptual artwork. It moves the moment of art making
outside the aesthetic realm and into the invisible space of protocols:
Web addresses and server error messages.

As work from the EDT suggests, Internet conceptualism is often achieved
through a spatialization of the Web. It turns protocol into a sculpture.
As the Internet changes, expanding its complex digital mass, one sees
that the Web itself is a type of art object--a basis for myriad artistic
projects. It is a space in which the distinction between art and not art
becomes harder and harder to see. It is a space that offers itself up as
art. [...]

The Web Stalker is also a good example of the conceptual nature of
Internet art. It is an alternate browser that offers a completely
different interface for moving through pages on the Web. The Web Stalker
takes the idea of the visual browser (e.g., Netscape Navigator or
Internet Explorer) and turns it on its head. Instead of showing the art
on the Web through interpreting HTML and displaying in-line images, it
exhibits the Web itself as art through a making-visible of its latent
structure. The user opens a Web address, then watches as the Stalker
spits back the HTML source for that address. In a parallel window the
Web Stalker exhaustively maps each page linked from that URL,
exponentially enlarging the group of scanned pages and finally pushing
an entire set of interlinked pages to the user. The pages are mapped in
a deep, complex hypertextual relation.

The Web Stalker doesn't produce art but, in Matthew Fuller's words,
"produces a relationship to art." The Stalker slips into a new category,
the "not-just-art" that exists when revolutionary thinking is
supplemented by aesthetic production.

Let me now propose a simple periodization that will help readers
understand Internet art practice from 1995 to the present. Early
Internet art--the highly conceptual phase known as "net.art"--is
concerned primarily with the network, while later Internet art--what can
be called the corporate or commercial phase--has been concerned
primarily with software. This is the consequence of a rather dramatic
change in the nature of art making concurrent with the control societies
and protocological media discussed throughout this book.

The first phase, net.art, is a dirty aesthetic deeply limited, but also
facilitated, by the network. The network's primary limitation is the
limitation on bandwidth (the speed at which data can travel), but other
limitations also exist such as the primitive nature of simple network
protocols like HTML. Because of this, one sees a type of art making that
is a mapping of the network's technological limitations and failures--as
the wasp is a map of the orchid on which it alights, to use Deleuze and
Guattari's expression. Examples include Jodi, Olia Lialina, Heath
Bunting, Alexei Shulgin, Vuk Cosic, and many others. Net.art is a very
exciting aesthetic, full of creativity and interesting conceptual moves.

Yet this first phase may already be coming to an end. Baumgartel
recently observed that it is "the end of an era. The first formative
period of net culture seems to be over." He is referring to a series of
years from 1995 to 1999 when the genre of net.art was first developed.
In this period, due to prominent technical constraints such as bandwidth
and computer speed, many artists were forced to turn toward conceptual
uses of the Internet that were not hindered by these technical
constraints, or, in fact, made these constrains the subject of the work.
All art media involve constraints, and through these constraints
creativity is born. Net.art is low bandwidth through and through. This
is visible in ASCII art, form art, HTML conceptualism--anything that can
fit quickly and easily through a modem.

But this primary limitation has now begun to disappear. Today Internet
art is much more influenced by the limitations of certain commercial
contexts. These contexts can take many different forms, from commercial
animation suites such as Flash, to the genre of video gaming (a
fundamentally commercial genre), to the corporate aesthetic seen in the
work of RTMark, Etoy, and others. My argument is aesthetic, not
economic. Thus, it is not a question of "selling out" but rather of
moving to a new artistic playing field. As computers and network
bandwidth improved during the late 1990s, the primary physical reality
that governed the aesthetic space of net.art began to fall away. Taking
its place is the more commercial context of software, what may be seen
as a new phase in Internet art.

[Excerpt reprinted with the permission of The MIT Press.]

----

"Protocol: How Control Exists After Decentralization"
by Alexander R. Galloway
The MIT Press (March, 2004), 248 pages, ISBN 0262072475

book homepage: http://mitpress.mit.edu/protocol
table of contents: http://homepages.nyu.edu/~ag111/Protocol-contents.doc
amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0262072475
  • Kate Southworth | Thu Apr 8th 2004 5:31 p.m.
    Dear Alexander,

    This excerpt is absolutely fascinating. I'm not sure if you've posted it in
    order to discuss it but as it is pertinent to the current debates, I am
    supposing that you have. Also, as I haven't as yet read your book, I am
    just relying on the text you submitted to Rhizome.

    I'm particularly interested in the internet art that you say 'can be called
    the corporate or commercial phase'. You go on to say that this phase has
    been concerned primarily with software, and is the 'consequence of a rather
    dramatic change in the nature of art making concurrent with the control
    societies and protocological media discussed throughout this book'.

    I think you are spot on with this statement. I think this is the ground
    over which superbly passionate arguments are currently being shaped.

    game on!

    respect and best wishes
    Kate

    Kate Southworth
    Glorious Ninth
    http://www.gloriousninth.com

    >
    >
    > The Web Stalker doesn't produce art but, in Matthew Fuller's words,
    > "produces a relationship to art." The Stalker slips into a new category,
    > the "not-just-art" that exists when revolutionary thinking is
    > supplemented by aesthetic production.
    >
    > Let me now propose a simple periodization that will help readers
    > understand Internet art practice from 1995 to the present. Early
    > Internet art--the highly conceptual phase known as "net.art"--is
    > concerned primarily with the network, while later Internet art--what can
    > be called the corporate or commercial phase--has been concerned
    > primarily with software. This is the
    >
    > The first phase, net.art, is a dirty aesthetic deeply limited, but also
    > facilitated, by the network. The network's primary limitation is the
    > limitation on bandwidth (the speed at which data can travel), but other
    > limitations also exist such as the primitive nature of simple network
    > protocols like HTML. Because of this, one sees a type of art making that
    > is a mapping of the network's technological limitations and failures--as
    > the wasp is a map of the orchid on which it alights, to use Deleuze and
    > Guattari's expression. Examples include Jodi, Olia Lialina, Heath
    > Bunting, Alexei Shulgin, Vuk Cosic, and many others. Net.art is a very
    > exciting aesthetic, full of creativity and interesting conceptual moves.
    >
    > Yet this first phase may already be coming to an end. Baumgartel
    > recently observed that it is "the end of an era. The first formative
    > period of net culture seems to be over." He is referring to a series of
    > years from 1995 to 1999 when the genre of net.art was first developed.
    > In this period, due to prominent technical constraints such as bandwidth
    > and computer speed, many artists were forced to turn toward conceptual
    > uses of the Internet that were not hindered by these technical
    > constraints, or, in fact, made these constrains the subject of the work.
    > All art media involve constraints, and through these constraints
    > creativity is born. Net.art is low bandwidth through and through. This
    > is visible in ASCII art, form art, HTML conceptualism--anything that can
    > fit quickly and easily through a modem.
    >
    > But this primary limitation has now begun to disappear. Today Internet
    > art is much more influenced by the limitations of certain commercial
    > contexts. These contexts can take many different forms, from commercial
    > animation suites such as Flash, to the genre of video gaming (a
    > fundamentally commercial genre), to the corporate aesthetic seen in the
    > work of RTMark, Etoy, and others. My argument is aesthetic, not
    > economic. Thus, it is not a question of "selling out" but rather of
    > moving to a new artistic playing field. As computers and network
    > bandwidth improved during the late 1990s, the primary physical reality
    > that governed the aesthetic space of net.art began to fall away. Taking
    > its place is the more commercial context of software, what may be seen
    > as a new phase in Internet art.
    >
    > [Excerpt reprinted with the permission of The MIT Press.]
    >
    > ----
    >
    > "Protocol: How Control Exists After Decentralization"
    > by Alexander R. Galloway
    > The MIT Press (March, 2004), 248 pages, ISBN 0262072475
    >
    > book homepage: http://mitpress.mit.edu/protocol
    > table of contents: http://homepages.nyu.edu/~ag111/Protocol-contents.doc
    > amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0262072475
    >
    > +
    > -> post: list@rhizome.org
    > -> questions: info@rhizome.org
    > -> subscribe/unsubscribe: http://rhizome.org/preferences/subscribe.rhiz
    > -> give: http://rhizome.org/support
    > -> visit: on Fridays the Rhizome.org web site is open to non-members
    > +
    > Subscribers to Rhizome are subject to the terms set out in the
    > Membership Agreement available online at http://rhizome.org/info/29.php
    >
  • neil jenkins | Fri Apr 9th 2004 10:59 p.m.
    hi Alex, look forward to reading the rest of your book.. the
    co-incidence with the NY times 'death' article and british net art
    1994-2004 book are interesting
    the chapter title /protocol/ infers that you might talk about the
    nature of these early pieces and the system, maybe in terms of your own
    work (eg carnivore and the protocols which the network runs on ... Lisa
    Jevbrat's work here is the closest i think you really get to talking
    about this) .. the 'served' pieces you describe look at the end result
    and not the system, net.art may be a post-post thing now, but
    net.architecture is a constant, 56k or less, or more

    On Monday, April 5, 2004, at 06:13 PM, Alexander Galloway wrote:

    > "Protocol: How Control Exists After Decentralization"
    > Excerpt from Chapter 7 "Internet Art":
    >
    > Let me now take a closer look at Internet art by examining some of its
    > specific aesthetic qualities. The Internet's early autonomous
    > communities were the first space where pure network aesthetics (Web
    > site
    > specificity) emerged--email lists like 7-11, Nettime, recode, Rhizome,
    > and Syndicate.
    >
    > Primitive signs were seen in early net.art projects, such as Alexei
    > Shulgin's Refresh, an art project consisting of nothing but links
    > between Web pages. Refresh involves many different organizations
    > working
    > together, using many different computers all around the world. In
    > Refresh a chain of Web pages is created. Each page is programmed to
    > link
    > automatically (on a 10-second delay) to the next Web page in the chain.
    > Shulgin describes the project as "A Multi-Nodal Web-Surf-Create-Session
    > for an Unspecified Number of Players." Anyone can collaborate in the
    > project by slipping his or her own page into the link of refreshes. The
    > user may load any Web page in the chain, and then watch as a new Web
    > site appears every several seconds like a slide show.
    >
    > In this way, Refresh was one of the first works to render the network
    > in
    > an artistic way--as a painter renders a landscape or a sculptor renders
    > a physical form. The art exists "out there" in the network, not on any
    > individual Web page in the chain. Refresh made visible a virtual
    > network
    > of collaboration that was not based on individual content. Shulgin's
    > work spatializes the Web. It turns the Internet, and protocol with it,
    > into a sculpture. [...]
    >
    > While Shulgin's work is highly conceptual, more formal work was also
    > produced in this period. Perhaps the best example of formal work is
    > from
    > the European duo Jodi. For several years Jodi has refined a formal
    > style
    > by making computers both the subject and content of their art making.
    > Focusing specifically on those places where computers break down, Jodi
    > derives a positive computer aesthetic by examining its negative, its
    > point of collapse.
    >
    > For example, in Jodi's work 404, which alludes to the Web's ubiquitous
    > "file not found" 404 error code (which is built into Berners-Lee's HTTP
    > protocol), the artists use the default fonts and simple colors
    > available
    > to primitive Web browsers. 404 is a collection of pages where users can
    > post text messages and see what other users have written. But this
    > simple bulletin board system becomes confused as the input text is
    > pushed through various distorting filters before being added to the Web
    > page for general viewing. The result is a rather curious collection of
    > bathroom-wall scrawl that foregrounds the protocols of the Web page
    > itself, rather than trying to cover over the technology with pleasing
    > graphics or a deliberate design.
    >
    > The 404 error code has also been used by other artists. Lisa Jevbratt's
    > "Non-Site Gallery" opens up the dead end of the 404 error page. She
    > transforms the 404 message into a generative doorway, where the
    > requested page is generated on the fly, as if it had always existed for
    > the user and was not the result of a mistake.
    >
    > The 404 error code was also used in a more conceptual sense by the EDT.
    > As part of its virtual sit-ins the EDT have created software that sends
    > out Web requests for nonexistent Web pages on remote servers embedded
    > with special messages--addresses in the form of
    > www.server.com/__special_ message__. Since the Web pages do not exist
    > on
    > the remote server (and were never intended to exist), an error message
    > is immediately generated by the server and returned to the EDT
    > software.
    >
    > However--and this is the trick--since Web servers record all traffic to
    > their Web site including errors, the error acts like a Trojan horse and
    > the "special message" is recorded in the remote server's log book along
    > with the rest of its Web traffic. This accomplishes the difficult task
    > of actually uploading a certain specified piece of information to the
    > server of one's choice (albeit in a rather obscure, unthreatening
    > location). As the messages pass from the protester to the protested
    > site, a relationship is created between the local user and the remote
    > server, like a type of virtual sculpture.
    >
    > While the artwork may offer little aesthetic gratification, it has
    > importance as a conceptual artwork. It moves the moment of art making
    > outside the aesthetic realm and into the invisible space of protocols:
    > Web addresses and server error messages.
    >
    > As work from the EDT suggests, Internet conceptualism is often achieved
    > through a spatialization of the Web. It turns protocol into a
    > sculpture.
    > As the Internet changes, expanding its complex digital mass, one sees
    > that the Web itself is a type of art object--a basis for myriad
    > artistic
    > projects. It is a space in which the distinction between art and not
    > art
    > becomes harder and harder to see. It is a space that offers itself up
    > as
    > art. [...]
    >
    > The Web Stalker is also a good example of the conceptual nature of
    > Internet art. It is an alternate browser that offers a completely
    > different interface for moving through pages on the Web. The Web
    > Stalker
    > takes the idea of the visual browser (e.g., Netscape Navigator or
    > Internet Explorer) and turns it on its head. Instead of showing the art
    > on the Web through interpreting HTML and displaying in-line images, it
    > exhibits the Web itself as art through a making-visible of its latent
    > structure. The user opens a Web address, then watches as the Stalker
    > spits back the HTML source for that address. In a parallel window the
    > Web Stalker exhaustively maps each page linked from that URL,
    > exponentially enlarging the group of scanned pages and finally pushing
    > an entire set of interlinked pages to the user. The pages are mapped in
    > a deep, complex hypertextual relation.
    >
    > The Web Stalker doesn't produce art but, in Matthew Fuller's words,
    > "produces a relationship to art." The Stalker slips into a new
    > category,
    > the "not-just-art" that exists when revolutionary thinking is
    > supplemented by aesthetic production.
    >
    > Let me now propose a simple periodization that will help readers
    > understand Internet art practice from 1995 to the present. Early
    > Internet art--the highly conceptual phase known as "net.art"--is
    > concerned primarily with the network, while later Internet art--what
    > can
    > be called the corporate or commercial phase--has been concerned
    > primarily with software. This is the consequence of a rather dramatic
    > change in the nature of art making concurrent with the control
    > societies
    > and protocological media discussed throughout this book.
    >
    > The first phase, net.art, is a dirty aesthetic deeply limited, but also
    > facilitated, by the network. The network's primary limitation is the
    > limitation on bandwidth (the speed at which data can travel), but other
    > limitations also exist such as the primitive nature of simple network
    > protocols like HTML. Because of this, one sees a type of art making
    > that
    > is a mapping of the network's technological limitations and
    > failures--as
    > the wasp is a map of the orchid on which it alights, to use Deleuze and
    > Guattari's expression. Examples include Jodi, Olia Lialina, Heath
    > Bunting, Alexei Shulgin, Vuk Cosic, and many others. Net.art is a very
    > exciting aesthetic, full of creativity and interesting conceptual
    > moves.
    >
    > Yet this first phase may already be coming to an end. Baumgartel
    > recently observed that it is "the end of an era. The first formative
    > period of net culture seems to be over." He is referring to a series of
    > years from 1995 to 1999 when the genre of net.art was first developed.
    > In this period, due to prominent technical constraints such as
    > bandwidth
    > and computer speed, many artists were forced to turn toward conceptual
    > uses of the Internet that were not hindered by these technical
    > constraints, or, in fact, made these constrains the subject of the
    > work.
    > All art media involve constraints, and through these constraints
    > creativity is born. Net.art is low bandwidth through and through. This
    > is visible in ASCII art, form art, HTML conceptualism--anything that
    > can
    > fit quickly and easily through a modem.
    >
    > But this primary limitation has now begun to disappear. Today Internet
    > art is much more influenced by the limitations of certain commercial
    > contexts. These contexts can take many different forms, from commercial
    > animation suites such as Flash, to the genre of video gaming (a
    > fundamentally commercial genre), to the corporate aesthetic seen in the
    > work of RTMark, Etoy, and others. My argument is aesthetic, not
    > economic. Thus, it is not a question of "selling out" but rather of
    > moving to a new artistic playing field. As computers and network
    > bandwidth improved during the late 1990s, the primary physical reality
    > that governed the aesthetic space of net.art began to fall away. Taking
    > its place is the more commercial context of software, what may be seen
    > as a new phase in Internet art.
    >
    > [Excerpt reprinted with the permission of The MIT Press.]
    >
    > ----
    >
    > "Protocol: How Control Exists After Decentralization"
    > by Alexander R. Galloway
    > The MIT Press (March, 2004), 248 pages, ISBN 0262072475
    >
    > book homepage: http://mitpress.mit.edu/protocol
    > table of contents:
    > http://homepages.nyu.edu/~ag111/Protocol-contents.doc
    > amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0262072475
    >
    > +
    > -> post: list@rhizome.org
    > -> questions: info@rhizome.org
    > -> subscribe/unsubscribe: http://rhizome.org/preferences/subscribe.rhiz
    > -> give: http://rhizome.org/support
    > -> visit: on Fridays the Rhizome.org web site is open to non-members
    > +
    > Subscribers to Rhizome are subject to the terms set out in the
    > Membership Agreement available online at http://rhizome.org/info/29.php
    >
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