From Net-Art in 1994 to NFT and Pixel War in 2022: An Ontology
0xB25C
November 27th, 2022

Greetings, dear readers! I hope you appreciate today's post, which can be added to my list of nonfiction articles. I've already had translations, be sure to check them out!

Today’s article is, mostly, a translation of this awesome work:

I deliberately waive all rights to this article! It is written for educational purposes only! I also want to reiterate that all funds raised through the Mirror NFT for this article will be sent to the Authors, upon request.

To begin, I'd want to thank all of the excellent authors whose works I'll be referencing during our conversation, especially the author of this piece and Regul, my Canary-keeper and my close friend, who translated it for us! However, I took the liberty of modifying the presentation in order to shorten and simplify it; I hope you learn something new!

By the way, future post ideas are discussed in my private Telegram chat; if you're interested, join here. For a better understanding of what we will discuss next, I recommend reading my prior articles on your own!


I - Net-Art Ontology

The Internet sounds so fantastic because we forget how it used to be so quickly. Even now, it is difficult to recall a time when services were not always synced and it was not feasible, for example, to authorize with lightning speed and only two clicks. We don't recall what life was like before social media, when the only way to provide feedback was to send an e-mail to the author...

Perhaps most crucially, the beauty and horror of the message is that its value decreases in proportion to its quantity. Judge for yourself - we have an abundance of information that we did not have in the 1990s, when the Internet was almost clean and the opportunity to say something truly significant was greater.

GeoCities

However, there were always folks who just wanted to sketch a graffiti on the wall of a conditional entryway, which is probably fine.

taki-183
taki-183

Net.Art

Now that the Internet has been overwhelmed by social networks and commercial channels, it is worthwhile to reflect on the experience of network art in the 1990s. It was a time of heroes, excitement, and foresight, when networks as art were novel, sardonic, and self-critical.

Josephine Bosma, a pioneer of net art, speaks about the contrasts in the online environment when net art was born; according to her essay, the Internet environment was something extraordinary and original back then, but it is now routine...

In the 1990s, culture and art had to be figuratively transported into the Internet, to live there, in order to grasp how the environment influenced the content; but, in the present post-digital and post-internet era, the Internet environment is like nature: it surrounds us.

It has evolved into a pathway for the rest of the world to reach us, but it has also evolved into a setting in which people live their daily lives, communicate, and express themselves. It has established itself as the dominant medium. And today, we'll discuss the early and key works of net art groups, their history, the value of these works, and why such discoveries are still important!

To begin with, the name "net.art" was coined in 1996, when Vuk Cosic utilized the Nettime platform mailing list to organize a modest gathering of net.art in Trieste.

Surprisingly, the first criticism of this phrase occurred the same year, prompting a broader discussion regarding net art and its numerous relatives (net art/netart/web art/art on the net). In reality, the embeddedness of net art in the net itself contributes to the complexity of this topic.

Art on the Internet is more than just a continuation of twentieth-century art.

With all said, experiments conducted on the Internet are novel in some aspects. Furthermore, internet art has reignited debates about refocusing attention on art itself, on its intrinsic value, rather than on market pressures. The first works generated by network artists were manifestos, challenges to the current definition of art.

It is crucial to recognize that playing with the network's capabilities and seeking to express some separate message, often with added significance, is what distinguishes net-art as a distinct phenomenon. However, as is often the case, the passion and excitement of the Romantic era is insufficient: presently, net art is just another page of history that, like many other art forms, has been eaten by the giants known as "mass culture."

Because it is transient and leaves no mark in the networks, early network art could be considered as performance art. The broader connection to the Internet distinguishes networked art from earlier electronic art (or its predecessors). The more complex the link, the more we can discuss network art. This level of complexity is not necessarily seen in physical hardware connections!

Early Network Art

Early network art primarily dealt with data transmission that was creatively assembled at all ends of the "line" and encompassed sound, text, and performance in cyberspace, media (particularly radio), and physical venues all at the same time. Robert Adrian's The World in 24 Hours, debuted at Ars Electronica in 1982, is one example.

JODI is one example that sticks out for its distinct aesthetic (collective name of artists Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans). JODI's work is extremely poetic and intricate, however they rarely operate as part of decentralized art projects, instead focusing on their website www.jodi.org. JODI's website is presently without a doubt the most engaging and talked-about art website.

Furthermore, these internet painters have created a unique kind of spam mail art.

Frederic Madre created the term "spam art" to cover all sorts of disruptive mailing list interventions in which meaningless content was generated or written by hand. Jodi's contributions are difficult to overstate: Jodi’s work is, without a doubt, the most vivid, famous, and discussed. Paesmans himself supplied the most genuine romantic definition in one New York Times story, which essence is that he wants people to understand that they "have the right to be irresponsible to the computer."

wwwwwwwww.jodi.org/100cc/index.html
wwwwwwwww.jodi.org/100cc/index.html

However, it is vital to note that the art has never been limited to "sites." For example, in 1999, 01001011101101101.ORG engages in cybersquatting (unauthorized occupation of Internet addresses), purchasing vaticano.org and using it as the Holy See's official information site for a year without anyone noticing the difference)!

While the site is formally identical to the original, its content is completely different: lyrics, clippings of the official site's contents, but presented in an unexpected manner.

After a dispute with religious officials, the band's domain was not renewed, but the cloned site can still be viewed at 0100101110101101.org/home/vaticano.org>.

0100101110101101.org/files/vaticano.org/phome_it.html
0100101110101101.org/files/vaticano.org/phome_it.html

Other tricksters and net-art pioneers The Yes Man have been creating fake websites for years!

rtmark.com.theyesmen.org/shell/homeshell.html?
rtmark.com.theyesmen.org/shell/homeshell.html?

According to eyewitnesses, 1997 (or 1996) was the beginning of initiatives, demonstrations, festivals, and spontaneous linkages of artists and activists who defined themselves as "net.art." However, the first institutional festival on net.art began in 1997, following Documenta X (Kassel, Germany). 7-11 (seven-eleven) debuted the same year.

It was founded by the German artist Udo Noll and quickly became an important venue for everything going on in the net art scene. However, the first experimental net.art festival was born out of the Nettime mailing list. The following is a portion of the mailing list from the original 1996 newsletter before to the Berlin festival:

by Joachim Blank, Internationale Stadt Berlin ------- What is netart ;-)? The "Internet myth" is the result of a massive self-referentiality of our media landscape. Unlimited communication in a yet unknown conglomerate made of machines, cables and people. The exclusive networld of cyberpunks, scientists and artists has been superseded by the thirst for information of the industrialized mass consumption. Nevertheless, the cultural "stylistic howlers" of communication in data networks continue to exist not only in the underground. Artistic projects, strategy projects, discussion forums and autonomous network structures within the vast Internet, but remote from the glossy, dust-free surfaces, show interesting beginnings for an alternative use of this medium.

web.archive.org/web/19971021152252/http://www.factory.org/nettime/archive/index.html#start
web.archive.org/web/19971021152252/http://www.factory.org/nettime/archive/index.html#start
web.archive.org/web/19980418131322/http://king.dom.de/7-11/
web.archive.org/web/19980418131322/http://king.dom.de/7-11/

Prior to 7-11, the online art world was more scattered and diversified. The 7-11 mailing list was later placed to Ljudmila.org, which is now a media art lab in Ljubljana run by Slovenian artist Vuk Cosic, who works closely with Luka Frelih.


II - Retrospective

Going back to the beginnings of net.art, here is a legend from NetTime:

According to artist Alexei Shulgin, the phrase net.art was originally "discovered" by Vuk Cosic in an email he received in December 1995, where the word net.art appeared. Art stood out in text composed of incomprehensible ASCII letters, making history: [...] J8g#||;Net.Art-s1 (...)

Shulgin tells how the Net itself named an action in which Vuk Cosic was involved. He started using the term right away. A few months later, he transmitted the enigmatic note to Igor Markovich, who successfully deciphered it.

The text turned out to be a fairly contentious and ambiguous manifesto in which the author attacked traditional art institutions and advocated for artists' freedom of expression and independence on the Internet. So, in essence, the word net.art came from the depths of the internet, as if an inexplicable Universe had emerged on its own.

It is crucial to note that the dot did not immediately vanish from the concept, therefore the earlier the source, the more likely it is to see net.art rather than net art/net-art. I'm going back to the definition to try to understand what's behind moving visuals and "useless" websites. As a result, net-art, as a basic feature, has the networking resources for its development.

Net Art is a type of Internet art that is developed for a specific purpose on the Internet.

It's also worth noting that it might be any data received from the Internet or from the user themselves. Examples of what net-art is not include interactive, independent Adobe Flash videos that may be viewed offline, as well as not all sorts of offline artwork documentation (museum, gallery, etc.).

Rachel Greene characterized net.art as "networked deviations," reasoning through single words and images defined by links, emails, and exchanges rather than "optical" aesthetics. In terms of net.art, what images from net.art projects they send to these pages, viewable outside their original HTML area, outside their networked quality, outside their social setting, is akin to watching animals in zoos.

Thus, net.art is more some kind of a movement and a critical and political turning point in Internet art history than a single genre. For example, worldwide fluxus (Nam June Paik) and avant-pop (Mark Amerika) movements were early forerunners of the net.art movement and since 1993, the avant-pop movement has gained widespread recognition on the Internet, primarily through the popular Alt-X website.

Superbad

Superbad is an apparently endlessly entertaining game of graphics, images, and text created by web designer Ben Benjamin in 1997. The site includes pop culture references ranging from the rock band Iron Maiden to the cult film Planet of the Apes, as well as amazing abstract animations and humorous text.

In 1997, the term net.art was incorrectly attributed to artist Vuk Cosic after Alexey Shulgin wrote about the phrase's origin in a humorous message to the NetTime mailing list. According to Shulgin's analysis, net.art is derived from "linked terms in an email damaged by technological difficulty (a swamp of alphanumeric trash, with the only legible term being 'net.art')". However, Peter Schultz used the phrase as the title for an exhibition in Berlin in 1995, when both Vuk Cosic and Alexey Shulgin displayed their work.

It was later applied to the "net.art per se" conference of artists and theorists in Trieste in May 1996, and it alluded to a group of artists who collaborated closely in the first half of the 1990s. These gatherings gave birth to net.art. However, during a conference in Banff (Center for the Arts, Alberta, Canada) in May 1998, Heath Bunting, Vuk Cosic, and Alexey Shulgin decide to declare the demise of net.art.

officercia.eth: FYI Spotted an awesome software piece exactly from the described time period! langorigami.com/article/treemaker

It is vital to remember that net.art emerged during the early 1990s cultural crises in Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall. The artists participating in net.art experiments are linked to the concept of "social responsibility," which corresponds to the concept of democracy as a modern capitalist fiction.

The Internet, which is sometimes marketed as a democratic tool but is primarily governed by corporate interests, targets artists who say that "the site where you can buy is equally the place where you can steal, but also where you may distribute." As a result, net.artists concentrated on developing new ways to share public space.

Riot, 1999.

Riot by Mark Napier is an alternative cross-content web browser, a blender that combines web pages from many domains into a single browser window.

Riot's core functionality remains based on traditional browser conventions: you navigate the web by typing a URL into the address bar or selecting from favorites. Riot, on the other hand, builds its pages by merging text, graphics, and links from pages that any user has previously seen.

irational.org

The Jodi collective works with a computer bug aesthetic that shares many aesthetic and pragmatic similarities with hacker culture, interrupting the viewing experience through hacks, code tricks, false code, and fake virus. As a result, the digital environment is becoming more interested in its fundamental structure.

The 0100101110101101.org collective takes "arts hacktivism" a step further by implementing code interventions at events such as the Venice Biennale.

On the other side, the collective irational.org expands the concept of "arts hacktivism" by executing interventions in the real world, which could serve as a foundation for social reengineering.

Irrational.org - works from as far back as 1995!
Irrational.org - works from as far back as 1995!
www.irational.org/tm/millenium/
www.irational.org/tm/millenium/

My boyfriend came back from the war (1996)

Olia Lialina was a major figure in the early and later history of net-art culture. She contrasts hyper-fiction with web site framing in her piece "My boyfriend returned from war" (without scrollbars). Frames might be words, phrases, or sentences.

Only a couple frames have photographs (no text), and one is a gif. When you click on text or images within frames, you'll be sent to new pages. The web page is divided into frames at the same time.

www.teleportacia.org/war/war2.htm
www.teleportacia.org/war/war2.htm

Today, the "queen of net-art" is more of a historian of the internet, digital culture, and, of course, net-art!

art.teleportacia.org/#CenterOfTheUniverse
art.teleportacia.org/#CenterOfTheUniverse

Alexei Shulgin

Form Art, Alexei Shulgin's debut work from 1997, is on the impact of the networking process on the Internet.

www.c3.hu/collection/form/index1.html
www.c3.hu/collection/form/index1.html
www.potatoland.org/studio/faces/facemix1.htm
www.potatoland.org/studio/faces/facemix1.htm
www.adaweb.com
www.adaweb.com

III - Browser Art

In Joachim Blank and Karl-Heinz Geron's (1997) No Addresses project and Mark Napier's Schroeder project, the Web is used as a data access resource (1998).

These sites allow web project participants to see documents stored on servers connected through the Internet, but neither project allows participants to influence modifications to these web pages.

While Napier allows users to submit URLs, No Addresses prompts them to write entries by asking them to "explain me who you are." It then utilizes those entries as search engine terms, chooses a web page, and uses it to construct a new web page. The URL that was chosen is highlighted in the transformed document.

"Without addresses" (1997) by Joachim Blank and Karl-Heinz Jeron

Mark Napier´s "The Shredder" (1998)


IV - Rhizome

Perhaps the most famous platform that has survived and is still alive today!

Furthermore, it produces and brings to life net-art. Rhizome published its 400th anthology of net art in 2019, featuring several works from a diverse group of network artists. View a selection of works here.

If you enjoyed net-art, the first stop should be We-Link, a magnificent museum that replicates the old axis. There are some interesting paintings here, and the gallery style immerses you in a romantic digital voyage.

Of course, nothing beats net-art.org and the aforementioned Rhizome for a beginning. There are numerous publications, theories, useful links, and a wealth of material.

It's absolutely worth also going to Monoskop, which also offers a lot of theory, links, explanations and a handy search!

How to start a net-art project?

Back in 1994-1999, Alexey Shulgin and Natalie Bookchin wrote a detailed reference that is still actual nowadays! I'll use it as a reminder to people who want to leave their mark on the internet:

  1. net.art at a Glance

A. The Ultimate Modernism

  1. Definition
    a. net.art is a self-defining term created by a malfunctioning piece of software, originally used to describe an art and communications activity on the internet.
    b. net.artists sought to break down autonomous disciplines and outmoded classifications imposed upon various activists practices.

  2. 0% Compromise
    a. By maintaining independence from institutional bureaucracies
    b. By working without marginalization and achieving substantial audience, communication, dialogue and fun
    c. By realizing ways out of entrenched values arising from structured system of theories and ideologies
    d. T.A.Z. (temporary autonomous zone) of the late 90s: Anarchy and spontaneity

  3. Realization over Theorization
    a. The utopian aim of closing the ever widening gap between art and everyday life, perhaps, for the first time, was achieved and became a real, everyday and even routine practice.
    b. Beyond institutional critique: whereby an artist/individual could be equal to and on the same level as any institiution or corporation.
    c. The practical death of the author

B. Specific Features of net.art

  1. Formation of communities of artists across nations and disciplines

  2. Investment without material interest

  3. Collaboration without consideration of appropriation of ideas

  4. Privileging communication over representation

  5. Immediacy

  6. Immateriality

  7. Temporality

  8. Process based action

  9. Play and performance without concern or fear of historical consequences

  10. Parasitism as Strategy
    a. Movement from initial feeding ground of the net
    b. Expansion into real life networked infrastructures

  11. Vanishing boundaries between private and public

  12. All in One:
    a. Internet as a medium for production, publication, distribution, promotion, dialogue, consumption and critique
    b. Disintegration and mutation of artist, curator, pen-pal, audience, gallery, theorist, art collector, and museum

  13. Short Guide to DIY net.art

A. Preparing Your Environment

  1. Obtain access to a computer with the following configuration:
    a. Macintosh with 68040 processor or higher (or PC with 486 processor or higher)
    b. At least 8 MB RAM
    c. Modem or other internet connection

  2. Software Requirements
    a. Text Editor
    b. Image processor
    c. At least one of the following internet clients: Netscape, Eudora, Fetch, etc.
    d. Sound and video editor (optional)

B. Chose Mode

  1. Content based

  2. Formal

  3. Ironic

  4. Poetic

  5. Activist

C. Chose Genre

  1. Subversion

  2. Net as Object

  3. Interaction

  4. Streaming

  5. Travel Log

  6. Telepresent Collaboration

  7. Search Engine

  8. Sex

  9. Storytelling

  10. Pranks and Fake Identity Construction

  11. Interface Production and/or Deconstruction

  12. ASCII Art

  13. Browser Art, On-line Software Art

  14. Form Art

  15. Multi-User Interactive Environments

  16. CUSeeMe, IRC, Email , ICQ, Mailing List Art

D. Production

  1. What You Should Know

A. Current Status

  1. net.art is undertaking major transformations as a result of its newfound status and institutional recognition.

  2. Thus net.art is metamorphisizing into an autonomous discipline with all its accouterments: theorists, curators, museum departments, specialists, and boards of directors.

B. Materialization and Demise

  1. Movement from impermanence, immateriality and immediacy to materialization
    a. The production of objects, display in a gallery
    b. Archiving and preservation

  2. Interface with Institutions: The Cultural Loop
    a. Work outside the institution
    b. Claim that the institution is evil
    c. Challenge the institution
    d. Subvert the institution
    e. Make yourself into an institution
    f. Attract the attention of the institution
    g. Rethink the institution
    h. Work inside the institution

  3. Interface with Corporations: Upgrade
    a. The demand to follow in the trail of corporate production in order to remain up-to-date and visible
    b. The utilization of radical artistic strategies for product promotion

  4. Critical Tips and Tricks for the Successful Modern net.artist

A. Promotional Techniques

  1. Attend and participate in major media art festivals, conferences and exhibitions.
    a. Physical
    b. Virtual

  2. Do not under any circumstances admit to paying entry fees, travel expenses or hotel accommodations.

  3. Avoid traditional forms of publicity. e.g. business cards.

  4. Do not readily admit to any institutional affiliation.

  5. Create and control your own mythology.

  6. Contradict yourself periodically in email, articles, interviews and in informal off-the-record conversation.

  7. Be sincere.

  8. Shock.

  9. Subvert (self and others).

  10. Maintain consistency in image and work.

B. Success Indicators: Upgrade 2

  1. Bandwidth

  2. Girl or boy friends

  3. Hits on search engines

  4. Hits on your sites

  5. Links to your site

  6. Invitations

  7. E-mail

  8. Airplane tickets

  9. Money

  10. Utopian Appendix (After net.art)

A. Whereby individual creative activities, rather than affiliation to any hyped art movement becomes most valued.

  1. Largely resulting from the horizontal rather than vertical distribution of information on the internet.

  2. Thus disallowing one dominant voice to rise above multiple, simultaneous and diverse expressions.

B. The Rise of an Artisan

  1. The formation of organizations avoiding the promotion of proper names

  2. The bypassing of art institutions and the direct targeting of corporate products, mainstream media, creative sensibilities and hegemonic ideologies
    a. Unannounced
    b. Uninvited
    c. Unexpected

  3. No longer needing the terms "art" or "politics" to legitimize, justify or excuse one's activities

C. The Internet after net.art

  1. A mall, a porn shop and a museum

  2. A useful resource, tool, site and gathering point for an artisan
    a. Who mutates and transforms as quickly and cleverly as that which seeks to consume her
    b. Who does not fear or accept labeling or unlabeling
    c. Who works freely in completely new forms together with older more traditional forms
    d. Who understands the continued urgency of free two-way and many-to-many communication over representation

Keep in mind OpSec best practices:


V - Net.Art in 2022: NFT?

Important disclaimer: there will be no financial advise or other such advice in this post; I will just explore technology through the lens of art and history. This is not intended to be financial advice ❗️

According to the adopted concept, perhaps the origin of NFTs can be traced back to 1994 with the arrival of what’s called net art. Net art is art that is created and displayed on the Internet, as opposed to digital art, which is just art composed utilizing digital technology.

Though the origins of the name vary depending on who is telling the story, most trace it to the Slovenian artist Vuk Cosic, as stated above. Legend has it that Cosic was fiddling around with e-mail, which was then cutting-edge technology, when he opened one from an unknown sender only to find a jumbled mass of code and letters, with just the phrase "net.art" readable among the hodgepodge of computer language.

From there, the term became a catch-all phrase for work dealing with hyperlinks, e-mail, browsers, automated answers, hypertext, and other digital accoutrements among artists working with digital mediums and the Internet.

Rather than focusing on traditional beauty, net artists explored the Web's unique and fascinating potential, experimenting with notions such as immateriality, recursion, irony, networks, immediacy, and infinite.

A whimsical and immersive element permeates much of net art as a result of the novelty and boundlessness of the Internet – two qualities that can be noticed across the NFT environment - there is a nice and complete demographic research on pages 6-8, so you can do your own research. Even though it occasionally occurs in a chaotic manner, I suppose it is a logical progression!

But the question surrounding NFTs as collectibles still looms large. Why might someone shell out millions of dollars on a digital image that can be right-click saved? Where did they come from?

Consider one of the pioneering works of net art, World of Awe, by the Israel-American artist Yael Kanarek.

World of Awe is a 3D travelog that has cyborgs, love letters, and 3D landscapes. Viewers can move to different digital worlds, read different travelog entries, and more by clicking the icons cluttering the home-screen. Its primary purpose is to create worlds out of digital infinite while also enjoying its own cyber-novelty.

The entire project takes the viewer on a journey via a unique blend of tech-geek in-jokes and fascinating discovery, a combination that feels extremely relevant to Web3 and the NFT environment.

Pixel-Wars in my opinion is also one of the modern possible implementations of net-art, logically continuing the ideas laid down in it. The 2017 experiment involved an online canvas located at a subreddit called r/place. Registered users could edit the canvas by changing the color of a single pixel with a replacement from a 16-color palette.

After each pixel was placed, a timer prevented the user from placing any more pixels for a period of time varying from 5 to 20 minutes. The idea of the experiment was conceived by Josh Wardle. Check out its page on fandom!

pixelplace.mevo.ro
pixelplace.mevo.ro

Creating online communities has always been crucial in net art. Because of the interconnectivity enabled by the Internet and e-mail, many net artists began talking with one another and building online communities that often spanned the globe.

Such broad contact enabled the formation of distinct, specialist communities; early online forums like The Thing brought together artists interested in cultural theory, political activity, and selling their work online. Rhizome, an e-mail list-turned-art database, was a go-to throughout the 1990s and beyond for anyone interested in net art. These online communities worked together to achieve real-world, often disruptive goals, much like DAOs and NFT communities do today!

With all of this in mind, it's easy to see how net art evolved into NFTs. Web3 technology, simply defined, organizes and safeguards the interchange of computer-based art! Thank you for sticking with me all the way to the end! I hope you found this article interesting and that you clicked on a few resources and bookmarked them for later research!


VI - Resources

Thank you!

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