female extension, net.art generator
In February 1997, the Galerie der Gegenwart (Gallery of Contemporary Art) of the Hamburger Kunsthalle (Hamburg Art Museum) was the first
museum in the world to announce a Net art competition. The event was supported by Philips, the German news magazine Der Spiegel, and
their online edition Spiegel Online. The name of this competition was Extension, and it was meant to be an extension of the museum into
virtual space. The competition posed the question of how traditional tasks of the museum - collecting, preserving, mediating, and
researching - could be applied to art on the Internet, and what a new relationship between the Internet and the museum might look like.
The call for contributions to Extension noted explicitly that exhibition would be not for art on the Net, but rather, for Net art. Traditional works of art were not to be represented in digital form; instead, artistic works that applied familiar art concepts, such as "material" and "object" to the Internet. This announcement was typical of the zeitgeist of the year 1997. The established art world had started to become interested in the new art form and was trying to deal with it more or less "appropriately" (a less positive example would be dokumenta X).
The Gallery of Contemporary Art entered a new territory with this experiment, and at the same time, gained the attention of a worldwide public. The museum was ready to face the new challenges, but also to profit from the hype surrounding the Internet in general and Net art in particular. At best, the competition would contribute to the discovery and fostering of a new art form. But this "new art" posed great problems for the art world - and still does: The question of how to present it in real space in an adequate way, for example, is still unanswered. And digitality as well as all its implicit characteristics have proven to be more problematic for the art market than the various intangible ideas of Fluxus or conceptual art. In addition, curators and art mediators have a fear of new media. They feel catapulted into a new context which is completely unknown to them and which makes them feel enormously insecure. If their expertise is perceived as insufficient, they often take revenge on what marks their limits.
But this was not the case with Kunsthalle Hamburg: Despite their awareness of their lack of experience, they took the risk of holding the competition. A step that demonstrates courage as well as presumption. And the museum trusted the jury of experienced experts. But unfortunately, there were soon problems with the conditions for participation. One of the conditions was that the submitted projects had to be uploaded onto the server of the art museum. What would remain of works based on communication, exchange and interaction with the user and are in a permanent process of change? What about works linked to other sites? Whatıs more, the call for contributions implied that the Internet and the World Wide Web were the same, thus limiting Net art to Web art. So the call for participation was already starting to force the new art form into traditional categories of "work" and "author" which many net.artists had dreamt of escaping.
One contribution to the competition at least tried to point to the potential of the new medium which the organizers had not dreamt of before. Cornelia Sollfrank simulated more than 200 international female Net artists. Their names were assigned to seven different nations. Not only did they have complete addresses with phone numbers, but also working email accounts on a number of different servers. She registered these "artists" for the competition and got a password for each of them. The art museum was pleased with the large number of contributions and issued its first press release on July 3, 1997: "280 applications - Two thirds are women." A number of print publications published this news tidbit, further spreading the sense of surprise and joy over the high number of women participating.
As a next step, Sollfrank had to produce Net art in an appropriate quantity. Using a computer program that collected HTML-material via search engines on the World Wide Web and recombined this data automatically, the Net art projects were generated. These projects were uploaded with the names of the "artists" onto the server of the museum. Again, the museum expressed great satisfaction in their press release: "By the closing date of June 30, 120 MegaBytes of Net art have been submitted. 96 of the artists were from Germany, 81 from the Netherlands, 28 from the US, 27 from Slovenia, 26 from Austria and the rest from GB."
Apart from the higher probability of winning a prize with this intervention, Sollfrank also took "Internet as material and object," the theme of the competition, particularly seriously. But her attempts were only partly met with success. She did not get a prize for the automatically generated Net art pieces. Even though more than two thirds of the participants were women, the three monetary prizes went to male artists.
The jury that consisted of the art historians Prof. Dr. Uwe M. Schneede and Prof. Dr. Dieter Daniels, artists Dellbrügge & deMoll and Prof. Valie Export, as well as Der Spiegel editor Rainer Wörtmann had faced a difficult task. They were surprised by the apparently meaningless flood of data and didn't get the idea behind it. On the day the winners were announced, Sollfrank finally issued a press release that revealed her contribution. Nobody had discovered Sollfrank's intervention until then.
female extension would never have been possible without the enthusiastic and competent support of a whole network of people. Many thanks go to: Konrad Becker and Herbert Gnauer (t0.netbase, Wien), Wolfgang Staehle and Gisela Ehrenfried-Staehle (The Thing, New York), Heath Bunting, Rachel Baker and Steve Mynott (irational.org, London), Luka Frelih (ljudmila.org, Ljubljana), Neil de Hoog and Andreas Broeckmann (V2, Rotterdam), Geert Lovink (Digitale Staad Amsterdam), Michael van Eeden (Society for Old and New Media, Amsterdam), Rob Bank and Walter van der Cruijsen (desk, Amsterdam), Barbara Aselmeier (Internationale Stadt Berlin), Tilman Baumgärtel, Karl Heinz Jeron (sero.org, Berlin), Knut Johannsen (surver.net, Hamburg).
A smart artist makes the machine do the work, net.art generator
The net.art generator is a computer program which collects and recombines material from the Internet to create a new website or a new
image. The program requires the user to enter a title which then functions as the search keyword, and to enter a name as the author.
The program can easily be used through a WWW interface. The resulting images and websites are stored online in an archive from where
they can be downloaded. Since 1999 five different versions of the net.art generator have been realized in collaboration with six
programmers: nag_01 to nag_05. A predecessor of the net.art generator has been in use for the project female extension (see also
Although it would be possible to solve the type of problem which the net.art generators address by using different programmming languages, all the programmers so far have chosen PERL. One reason for this might be that it is quite popular within the hacker scene as it is free software and compatible with other free software. Furthermore, the Comprehensive Perl Archive Network (CPAN) contains a huge number of modules which can be used as basic elements for the net.art generators.
The first net.art generator nag_01 was developed in 1999 in collaboration with Ryan Johnston from Banff Media Center, Canada. nag_01 loads one or several selected suitable images in the background, and then adds layers containing text and single images on top of it. The result is a new website which often looks like a graphic design.
nag_02 was designed in the same year by the Slovenian hacker Luka Frelih. On my suggestion he followed Andrew Bulhakıs Dada-Engine. It took up to 30 minutes for the very complex PERL script to produce it's result, which was mainly characterized by the surprising creation of new words or combinations of words, and by little use of images. The resulting websites consisted of a number of inter-linked webpages. This version of net.art generator has been out of order since 2002, but itıs working principle is still comprehensible by looking at the stored websites in the archive.
nag_03 was programmed by Hamburg-based hackers Barbara Thoens and Ralf Prehn. Compared to more complex versions of net.art generator, this simple and robust script is very stable and runs reliably, mainly processing images.
nag_04 is a version of the program which reworks images only. The related search-engine Google Images provides the material. I developed the concept for nag_04 in 2003 together with the programmer Panos Galanis, from Hamburg based company iap. Parts of the found images are manipulated and recombined with the help of a random-generator driven collage technique. The images are processed by ImageMagick on the server, and the result is a new image. This version of the net.art generator was a commission by Volksfürsorge Insurances and is now part of their art collection.
nag_05, (also known as moiNAG by it's programmer Richard Leopold), was also conceived and realised in 2003, and shows structural similarities to nag_02 by also following Bulhak's Dada-Engine. This most recent version of net.art generator focusses on text processing although it is also possible to integrate images into the new websites. Markov chains are used to "write" the texts. A special feature of nag_05 is that it calculates the formatting tags for the new website from tags of the found websites.
Since 2003 all net.art generator scripts are available under GPL (GNU General Public License) on the projectıs homepage: http://soundwarez.org/generator
Special thanks to all programmers for their enthusiasm and commitment.