25 February 1998This is a post and subsequent responses to the eyebeam/blast forum on "Artistic Practice in the Network", moderated by Jordan Crandall.
My original post to the eyebeam/blast forum:
SUBJECT: Vertical Invasion
I've enjoyed reading the posts so far and have nothing particularly significant to add at this point except to say that while reading these posts I am also rereading three texts as research on VRML,
"The Philosophical Brothel" by Leo Steinberg
"The Success and Failure of Picasso" by John Berger
"Neuromancer" by William Gibson
I'm still in a confused state brought on by a recent bout with technofatigue which may explain why I'm reading about Picasso to understand VRML:
In his book Berger calls Picasso a "vertical invader" who dragged the romantic nineteen-century concept of the gifted artist/genius into the twentieth century not by continuing the tradition but by creating the outrage of "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon". The painting, "unlike any previous painting by Picasso, offers no evidence of _skill_. On the contrary, it is clumsy, overworked, unfinished. It is as though his fury in painting it was so great that it destroyed his gifts."
[To me "Les Demoiselles" was a convenient focal point, maybe even a switch, that Picasso and others used to validate "Picasso," cubism and modern art after the fact and created an environment of fame for Picasso to do whatever he wanted. I don't know or really care if this is good or bad just that it is one of many possible/virtual interpretations.]
Still, I'm intrigued by the idea of a "vertical invasion" into what I've come to visualize more and more as the horizontal space of the Internet. (One problem I have with VRML is that I can't seem to map the Internet in 3D no matter how hard I try.) We talk of nodes, links, community but rarely of the value of unexpected disruption from another direction.
True hackers who come from another direction seem to have faded from the scene or have been successfully kept out to be replaced by those who represent "hacking" (for example, jodi.org or Heath Bunting). Is it possible to have an electronic disturbance that will significantly alter the Internet, even retrospectively, the way "Les Demoiselles" altered visual representation and would that be a good thing to happen? Was the recent alteration of the Mexicon Government Web Site by the Zapatistas an effective intervention or like a Greenpeace publicity stunt (effective but not the main event)?
A response from Alan Myouka Sondheim:
Hi Robbin - I'm not sure what you mean by "true hackers" but I suspect that the phrase is already troublesome. Anyway, as you know, it was within the past year that Panix was hit and out for close to a very bad week indeed by a SYN attack launced by erstwhile readers of 2600 as I discovered (it had the entire code printed) - these things happen... But I also suspect that when they do, people protected by layer after layer of code - i.e. webfolk - wouldn't notice - or would only notice a slowdown and temporary collapse of say DNS resolution (which just happened here in Japan as I discovered). But without the tools - or rather with the tools but not so close to the barebones of the Net, what might be a temporary wound would only seem like a contusion.
I also want to add that "true hackers" have _never_ been "in the scene" - as far as I know. It's not a scene, or not a scene of that type. While I love jodi.org, I don't think of them as hacking so much as mystifying in the manner that, say, a lot of post-fluxus work mystified. Which is to say embedded in the artworld (look at Art-Language magazine for another example), as if they were not.
My Response to Alan:
At 11:04 AM -0400 2/17/98, Alan Myouka Sondheim wrote: >Hi Robbin - I'm not sure what you mean by "true hackers" but I suspect >that the phrase is already troublesome. I hesitated to use the term but decided I like the abiguity of the term "hacker" because it can mean both an activity that is very personal but can also become very public. Its very troublesomeness makes it useful and, well, troublesome. My use of it was more in reference to Picasso metaphorically 'writing code' in Les Demoiselles. Some say he was "hacking the code" of his rival, Matisse, others that he was expressing his rage at contractig VD. Whatever his reasons the result was an agressive vertical invasion that he either could not or didn't want to repeat. Instead he developed cubism with Braque (a sort of browser application for modernism). The analogies are strained, I know. While I don't approve of doing damage to networks for the fun of it I can see the value in the impulse to do damage to the system out of some personal need, intentionally or not. The internet, being "pre-smashed", can accomodate this kind of action in the same way a forest needs the forest fire in order to stay healthy. For me this has to do with the recent discussions about localization and the concept of a national art form as well as the possible "posthuman" relationship between humans and technology. But I'm also seeing the impulse to reconstruct or do "cultural hacking" in the work of artists like Robert Gober and groups like rtmark that is different from the Duchampian strategies or deconstruction of the past.
A response from Craig Brozefsky:
On Tue, 17 Feb 1998, Alan Myouka Sondheim wrote:
> Hi Robbin - I'm not sure what you mean by "true hackers" but I suspect > that the phrase is already troublesome. Anyway, as you know, it was > within the past year that Panix was hit and out for close to a very bad > week indeed by a SYN attack launced by erstwhile readers of 2600 as I > discovered (it had the entire code printed) - these things happen...
The attack had been outlined and explained close to a decade ago in a paper by Steve Bellovin, I believe. You may want to check on the details before quoting me. There were fixes available at the time for most OSs. SYN attacks are very difficult to trace to their origin without the cooperation of every organization whose router appears in the path between attacker and target, and then requires a level of knowledge that some organizations which may be attack vectors do not have.
There have been very few political disruptions online, in comparison to the number of lame script kiddiez who grab some sploit and nuke the nearest box not owned by them. There was the AlterNIC sploit of DNS response caching and a failure in most DNS server implementations which allowed it to hijack name->host mappings to a limited extent. This was done in protest of the monopoly on name mapping held by the NIC. There have always been alot of Usenet cancelbots run by people to protect certain online spaces from nameless spam which exploit some security flaws in the handling of Usenet control messages. Then you have your run of website hacks with political commentary.
But the sum of these acts approaches zero when compared to the script kidz attacks and sploit which have no technical merit, and serve mostly as joyriding and ego boosting. The dozen or so hacks that I have found were all easily trackable and not a one was politically motivated or pulled off by someone over 23 and who had written their own code for the sploit. These include attacks against ISPs, small companies and large financial institutions.
I guess it's romantic to think of "true hackers" dispensing their own brand of techno-justice to the exploitive international telecommunications conglomerates, and then speeding off into the flourescent night.
> I also want to add that "true hackers" have _never_ been "in the scene" > - as far as I know. It's not a scene, or not a scene of that type. While > I love jodi.org, I don't think of them as hacking so much as mystifying > in the manner that, say, a lot of post-fluxus work mystified. Which is > to say embedded in the artworld (look at Art-Language magazine for > another example), as if they were not.
Agreed. I find that jodi.org illustrates a different relationship to the code, protocols and systematic accretions that make up our online experience, than say, "true hackers" do.Craig Brozefsky firstname.lastname@example.org onShore Inc. http://www.onshore.com/~craig Programmer loitering on the edge
My response to Craig:
I'm getting romantic here, but I would say that jodi are in search of the truth or, rather, for a way to understand the net that is true rather than false. So it's not truth in the scientific sense in that it is a proof but the old-fashioned German Romantic "I'm going to take a peek over the edge of the abyss" truth.
The motivations of hackers are complex and personal and difficult to define and so my attention is drawn to sort-of-hackers, like jodi or someone like Mark Pesce, with his gay, lapsed catholic and spiritual rationalization for VRML. There's a crusade in this kind of work, not found in those who run the cultural edutainment industry.
Perhaps it's just plain old passion that will fuel the forest fire?
A response from Mark William Christopher Watkins
Interested in a couple points by Murph:
Mapping the internet: the nodes and communities are perceivable as 2d in the sense that they spread out in real life over a vast, mostly flat global carpet, but I can easily imagine them hovering in 3d space, waiting for a line to link one to another, like representations of molecules. Until the link is made, a node just drifts, lost in space. I'm unclear whether the existence of this space is "real", "virtual", and/or "actual". I believe that VRML and its kind are as 2d as any other program, merely creating the illusion of space through a manipulation of a coordinate system. Or, on the other hand, all programs are latently 3d, just ignoring the potential third dimension.
Vertical is usually understood as a two-dimensional direction, 90 degrees to horizontal, in 3d modeling. At the risk of sounding like a tech-head, I believe you are describing "z", understood in some programs as opposed to x (left and right, horizontal) and y (up and down, vertical).These descriptions of direction are interchangeable and only fixed in relation to each other, so vertical, or the "y" axis, could service, of course, but it sounds confusing.
This dimension does seem relatively unexplored by artistic intervention, chiefly on the net. The manner in which the first splatter paintings resisted the notion of depth seems equivalent to your Picasso example. You are describing an employment of something atypical as the creator of the new. I assume the electronic disturbance you are thinking about is a three-dimensional one. For instance, I believe the technology behind networked gameplay like Doom and Quake has yet to be used in an artistic context. 3d is still entertainment, but obviously ready to be disturbed.
Athough I tried to avoid posing a question, it's a lost cause. Can you elaborate on the Steinberg a little?
Mark William Christopher Watkins
My response to Mark:
I've been trying to comprehend "z" and GIS (= geographic information system) lately. I wish there was more discussion of it here since I'm having trouble wrapping my x-y mind around it in any productive way (lots of unproductive activity always).
Or is the discussion hear mainly about this "z" world we have trouble plotting on our grid?
My imagination leaps from "Les Demoiselles" to Pollock and then on to the net where I think there is a spiritual/psychological dimension that might also be "z" but could just as well be something else depending on your location.
I'll pick up again on Steinberg's "The Philosophical Brothel" at some point. I have to read it again. I've tiled an image of Les Demoiselles filched from the MoMA site on my desktop and my mundane daily routines are now in the brothel space. I don't know yet if I'm the missing medical student holding the skull or the drunk sailor.