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MTAA report on etoy.com's TOYWAR and interview agent.NASDAQ

By Rhizome

2000, originally published on artbreak.net

1. Background Story (as all good computer games need)

Once upon a time, 1994 to be exact, there was a European net art group called etoy.com. etoy spent its young years practicing cultural mischief. They modeled themselves as a hybrid of social art and corporate structure. They ran around in orange uniforms with shaved heads and mirrored sunglasses. They sold etoy.SHARES instead of art.They were (and still are) a faceless group known only by pseudonyms. In general, they did the things you are not supposed to do in professional art practice. Oh yeah, and worse of all, they did it online.

All was well and good in the art kingdom of etoy.com (good enough in fact to win the Golden Nica at Ars Electronica) until the billion dollar online toy store eToys.com decided to steal the etoy.CORPORATION domain name and banish them from the World Wide Web. etoy rejected a hostile takeover bid from the toy seller and were dragged into a California court. The court issued an injunction against etoy effectively shutting down the online art corporation. Thus began the TOYWAR.

2. The TOYWAR Resistance Game (Winter 1999/2000)

And so, with the help of rtmark.com, thing.net, rhizome.org and a slew of other net art groups, online activists and communities, etoy developed an online 'game' with the winning goal of driving the eToys.com stock price down. Over 1,800 individual player avatars joined the game. Virtual sit-ins were staged. A TOYWAR PR machine kicked into gear. Two hundred online support sites were created. A real world rally for the TOYWAR was held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. And when things got rough, TOYWAR DJ's created downloadable chill-out music to relieve combat stress. In the end eToy.com's stock price, to the amusement and amazement of all, dropped like a rock.

3. Brief Detour for Art

An entry into online art may begin with the understanding of the nature of the internet. The net, at its most basic level is a system of communication. This system is not one to one or even one to many. It is many to many. The TOYWAR followed this structure. It was individuals and groups of autonomous producers who activated the platform created by etoy. The second thing to consider is that the online address (URL) of an individual inhabits the same space as that of a billion dollar corporation, empowering individuals as never before. If one chooses a dot com address, one chooses a corporate identity. One way to activate art on the net is to assume this identity and play the game.

4. Interview At A Bar, NYC

During the TOYWAR, an avatar known as agent.NASDAQ (AKA Reinhold Grether) stepped forward, not only as a troop leader, but also as a theoretical voice. MTAA met agent.NASDAQ at a dive bar in the East Village of New York City.


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