Presented at Still Hacking Anyway (SHA2017)
Aug. 6, 2017, 12:10 p.m.
In this talk we look at The World in 24 Hours, an early computer network art performance from 1982, which took place between 13 different cities around the world in the messaging system of the computer time-sharing, consulting and services firm IP Sharp. Canadian artist and initiator Robert Adrian wanted to explore the way culture can live in computer networks. The recent interest in saving and restoring digital heritage has created the opportunity to re-evaluate this work and to look for ways to re-enact or interpret it in the present day network landscape. A description of the work is presented, along with information about the technical circumstances and the artistic intent behind the work. The audience is invited to join a discussion about what would be the best way to re-enact this event in today's post-Snowden era as close to the original optimistic spirit of the work as possible.
Artist Robert Adrian created the first email communication program for artists in 1980, called ARTBOX, while an improved version was called ARTEX two years later. This mailing list of sorts was used for the organization of several early network art pieces, the first of which was The World in 24 Hours. In light of the current interest in the history and development of digital culture this work is important not just because it was the first, but also because of the ideals and the way of working of the artists and of Robert Adrian in particular. The intention was to create a new space for art, a space in which they could explore the new medium the computer network freely.
Adrian and the other artists involved met with all kinds of obstacles, an important one of which was financial. The high costs for using large mainframe computers and high telephone costs brought some of them, including Adrian, to the brink of bankruptcy. Still they felt an urgency to continue their work that seems akin to the dedication of hackers and media activists then and now. Texts and interviews by and with Adrian and other artists show a strong awareness of the media political context of their work. The late Robert Adrian (he died in 2015) in particular felt a strong need to produce a counterweight to what he saw as a developing "Buck Rogers telecom" media industry of the 21st century.
In the light of a developing post-Snowden near cynical view of early network culture and ideals it seems important to highlight the complexity and depth of the practices and debates that were at the beginning of today's network cultures. Through studying and analyzing elements of early network culture such as The World in 24 Hours we not only get a more complete view of its history, but we can also maybe draw lessons for the now. Many of the issues the artists faced still exist in different shapes today. The networks have changed dramatically, but some challenges remain the same. A re-enactment of the work therefore could serve two purposes. It first of all reveals a variety to art online that is easily forgotten in current flat social media contexts. Yet a careful reconsideration of the artist's intent and finding ways to implement it in the current media landscape could visualize or represent the possibilities as well as the obstacles related to building free network spaces today. The question is finally: what would be the best way to reenact The World in 24 Hours today?
Art critic and theorist. Former radionaut at Radio Patapoe in Amsterdam. Organizer of radio studio at Next5Minutes 2 and 3. Organizer of RIP (Radio In Progress) at HIP97. Net art critic since mid nineties. Author of Nettitudes - Let's Talk Net Art in 2011. PhD candidate at UvA.
For more details of my CV see the info link on my website.