Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Female Extension net.art work by Cornelia Sollfrank


press release, Sept.12,1997

EXTENSION, the first net.art competition has been hacked

127 contributions to the world's first competition for internet art have not been produced by artists but by a computer program.

"280 registrations--two thirds of them are women", says a press release launched by Kunsthalle Hamburg at 3rd of July, 1997, while the net.art competition EXTENSION still was in progress. The news were picked up and disseminated by several on- and offline magazins and newspapers like 'Morgenpost', and 'Bunte online'.

But the museum as well as the press fell victim to a hack: In fact, 127 of the contributions to the competition do not originate from artists but from a computer program. It was the Hamburg-based net.artist Cornelia Sollfrank who has developed and used the program in order to automatically generate net.art websites. For her intervention to the competition, Sollfrank has invented hundreds of fictitious female net.artists, equipped them with names, addresses, and even functioning e-mail addresses. Then she registered the fresh artists to the competition, and after she had received the passwords to send in the material for the competition, she made use of the computer program which would generate the art. The sent in websites consisted of randomly recombined webpages which a defined serach engine had collected before.

Besides the increased chance of winning one of the prices, the artist tried to take the theme of the competition particularly serious: "Internet as material and object".

What does the gender model of male/female mean on the net? Is it possible to check if there's a male or a female person behind an e-mail address? Is the number of virtual identities into which a net.artist can split up limited? FEMALE EXTENSION does ask these and many more questions.

But first of all FEMALE EXTENSION demonstrated that art on the internet can mean much more than just creating websites. It is about picking the technological dispostives of the net as a theme, and working with them as the material of art.

From the Artist's stie:

EXTENSION

In February of 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, SPIEGEL, and their website, SPIEGEL ONLINE. The name of this competition was EXTENSION, and 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.

The call for contributions to EXTENSION asked explicitly not for art on the net, but for net art. Traditional works of art should not be represented in digital format, but artistic works that applied familiar art concepts, such as "material" and "object" to the internet. The Gallery of Contemporary Art entered a new territory with this experiment, and at the same time gained the attention of a world-wide public.

The announcement of EXTENSION met the Zeitgeist of the year 1997. The established art world had started to become interested in this new art form and tried to deal with it more or less appropriately. Nobody wanted to miss the hype, everybody wanted to take advantage of the potential publicity and -- in the best case -- be the discoverer and supporter of a new art form. A subcultural phenomenon was about to be turned into high art. But still, the lack of a market potential of this new art form posed great problems for the art world. Net art had to conform to the needs of the market, or the art world had to change.

Typical for this development is the lack of competence and the insecurity of those who show, curate, categorize and judge net art. To deal adequately with net art, those experts who are trained in traditional art, need an understanding of the new medium which is based on practical experience. Without this understanding, the characteristics of net art fall victim to the aesthetic and economic considerations of the curators. This happened at Documenta X, where "net art" was presented predominantly without any connection to the net.

In the case of EXTENSION, it was planned to upload the projects of the artists 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, or with works linked to other sites? In addition to that, the call for contributions implied that the internet and the World Wide Web were the same, and limited net art to web art. What was left out were works that use other protocols such as e-mail, muds and moos, as well as context systems such as The Thing and t0-netbase.


FEMALE EXTENSION

This problem became particularly clear with my contribution to EXTENSION. I simulated more than 200 international female net artists. Their names were assigned to 7 different nations. Not only did they have complete addresses with phone numbers, but also working e-mail accounts on a number of different servers. I registered these "artists" for the competition and got a password for each of them. The art museum was happy about the large number of contributions, and issued a first press release on July 3rd, 1997: "280 applications - Two thirds are women". A number of print media published this news tidbit, and disseminated the surprise and the joy about the high number of women.

I proceed to produce net art in an appropriate quantity. Using a computer program that collected HTML-material with 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: "On the closing date on June 30th, 120 MegaByte of net art had 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 to win a prize with this intervention, I also took "Internet as material and object", the theme of the competition, particularly seriously.

Unfortunately, my attempts were not met by success. I did not get a prize for this automatically generated net art. Even though two thirds of the participants were women, the three money prizes went to male artists.

The jury that consisted of the art historians Prof. Dr. Uwe M. Schneede and Prof. Dr. Dieter Daniels, the artists Dellbrügge & deMoll and Prof. Valie Export, as well as 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, I issued a press release that revealed my contribution. Nobody had discovered my intervention until then.

Credits:
I could have never realized FEMALE EXTENSION on my own. Therefore I would like to thank the network that helped me:
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).


CYBERFEMINISMUS

I consider FEMALE EXTENSION as a typical example for CYBERFEMINISM. The term CYBERFEMINISM describes a group of artists, activists and theorists that started to meet the male dominance in cyberspace in an unusual fashion in the last couple of years. We use the potential of the term CYBERFEMINISM that arises from its contradictory and undefined nature. These contradictions didn't develop out of the fusion of CYBER and FEMINISM, but are already inherent in the two terms. The fusion of these two terms creates additional confusion. An important strategy of CYBERFEMINISM is the use of irony. Irony is about humor and seriousness. Only with irony can the contradictory views can be joined. All these diverse approaches are necessary and important and create a productive tension. That's why CYBERFEMINISM is not just a rhetorical strategy, but also a political method.

A new concept of politics is needed. The methods of earlier decades don't work anymore. An expanded concept of politics has to contain the possibility of both paradox and utopia. It has to be in opposition, able to argue from different perspectives at the same time, and at the same time make meaningful political action possible. A concept of politics that simulates politics, while being politically effective at the same time. With this concept of politics, once again, we approach art.

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