Projects on the net and self-organisation

Projects on the net and self-organisation

As an artist, coming from a classical academic fine arts background, I felt I had to create my own circumstances to create and present my art. And presenting meant also: bringing artwork, artist and audience together. Since the mid eighties of the last century my main activity has been setting up artists-run-spaces. Looking back, I think this was networking in the true sense: creating infrastructure, engage and invite people, enter and add to the public domain. Although I had been using internet I did not consider it to be material to make art. I used email on a small scale, since I knew very few colleagues and friends that had access or an email address. I also used it to store and publish texts. My first serious encounter with the internet was in 1993 at ‘Hacking at the End of the Universe’. A campsite used by thousands of ‘hackers’, computer-network-enthousiasts, addressing things that have now become common.

My first net based project was co-founding the digital city (De Digitale Stad) in Amsterdam in 1993. My role was developing an first graphic interface and moderating the ‘arts and culture’ section. Furthermore, I helped artists, designers and organisation to get connected, I introduced to them internet software and explained how easily one could publish text, image or audio, or create a web page. DDS has provided the community of Amsterdam free access to the internet since the beginning, which has been stopped last year’s October. The initiative also served tools and knowledge for effectively using the web and creating content for the web. There were numerous public events, which helped the digital city to grow to more than 80,000 users in the first year. After DDS many similar projects have occurred in- and outside The Netherlands. Serving an online community has become a standard for larger websites.

In 1994 I founded The Flying Desk, a media lab, that served as an experimental on-line laboratory for artists, coders and activists. Lacking funding, Desk provided paid services and (co-)developed new internet technologies for third parties to finance it activities. The Flying Desk served as both a physical and a virtual host for several net based projects, arts, communities and organisations. Well-known on-line forums, such as Nettime and Rhizome, have started from Desk and the workspace was a well attended environment. The temporary success of Desk was also given by the use of low tech solutions, free software and open source, not at the least because we did not have any money. The first host was a pc running linux. We managed to build webcams with and remote controlled hardware through the internet with cheap if not crap materials. Setting up medialabs, getting organisations online and developing net based projects became a major activity. Again, creating infrastructure, engage and connect people, enter and add to the public domain.

From 1995 until 2000 I worked for the Center for Arts and Media (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, Germany, developing both net based art projects and managing projects for the ZKM Media Museum and the online department. In 1996, I was contracted to create ‘Salon Digital’ for the collection of the ZKM Media Museum. My last major project for the ZKM was curating ‘Net_condition’, a large show in 1999 and 2000 with much emphasis on net based arts and how media technology affects our society, from daily life to arts and science. Since autumn 2000, I have started to travel and to map media culture and net based activities, basically in central and eastern Europe. Currently I am working with Ljudmila in Ljubljana, Slovenia and Mama in Zagreb. With representatives of several medialabs in the region, a new network and shared database are being constructed which helps smaller initiatives to share people and resources, make joint applications, tune programs.

The Internet itself has proven to be a self-organising system. The number of users and time spent on being online, or being on the internet more than doubled every month since 1993. It proved to be more than just a communication tool. The internet is a social network, which connects people to people. Furthermore, the internet became a symbol for new generation, lifestyle, free media. Now we know how it works, we have learned a lot. The next phase is more intelligent technology which learns from us, the users.

Walter van der Cruijsen, 18 January 2002
Published in Cibervisión 2.0, 2002