Luther Blissett on Mon, 26 Jul 1999 00:27:49 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> An Attack on the Commercialization of Web Art

[Luther Blissett is NOT 0100101110101101.ORG, I just wrote an article
(art.hacktivism)  about him/them/her, the Mirapaul's article is good but
he has done a lot of confusion between Luther Blissett and
0100101110101101.ORG, so, if you want to talk with Luther Blissett write
me back, but if you want to talk with 0100101110101101.ORG please mail to
somebody at 0100101110101101.ORG]


from the "New York Times" on the web, "arts@large"

July 8, 1999


An Attack on the Commercialization of Web Art

Richard Rinehart thinks he may be next the next victim, and that's all
right with him. 

Last week, Rinehart sold a copy of his Web-based art work "An Experience
Base -- A Boolean Typhoon" for $52.50 on the eBay auction site, making him
one of many digital artists exploring the commercial potential of their
online efforts. But the sale makes him a likely target for activists who
in recent months have been attacking such artists by copying their sites. 

Operating under the pseudonym "Luther Blissett," the person or group has
already duplicated two digital-art sites, the "Surface" showcase organized
by and the Art.Teleportacia online gallery, and posted the
replicas on the Web site 

In e-mail messages sent to arts discussion groups online, "Blissett"
explained that the actions were based on "the conviction that information
must be free" and the hope that the Web would be a no-copyright paradise
where digital art would not "regress" by adhering to traditional art-world
models of ownership and economics. 

"Anyone can spin this any way they want, but in the final analysis, it is
just simple theft," said Kenneth Aronson, the founder of "It's a
publicity stunt to create awareness for a bunch of people who have no
apparent talents." 

Luther Blissett was a British soccer player whose name has been
appropriated by a number of media pranksters and cultural guerrillas. The site is registered to an address in Bologna, Italy,
but a Luther Blissett Project site is hosted on the server for
Idiosyntactix, a Toronto-based arts alliance. 

Dmytri Kleiner, an Idiosyntactix member, said his group supports the
activists and supplies server space for them, but has not been involved in
duplicating the sites. 

Attempts to contact the activists via e-mail yielded only silly, off-topic
replies, even less illuminating than the muddled manifestos that were
posted to the arts discussion lists. Still, the copied sites highlight the
challenges that digital artists will face in trying to assign a value to
their easily reproduced work. 

These issues are part of what prompted Rinehart, an artist in Berkeley,
Calif., to put "An Experience Base" up for bid on eBay. At the end of the
10-day auction, Robbin Murphy, a New York artist and co-founder of the
artnetweb site, made the top bid of $52.50 to acquire a clone of the
digital original. 

Rinehart said: "Is $52.50 the true value of the work? Well, it doesn't
need to be, because I sold a copy of the work to Robbin, not exclusive
ownership rights. I sold the only form of property relevant in the
'e-verse:' intellectual property. Maybe digital artists could make up in
volume at low prices what they lose in uniqueness at high prices." 

But supporters of "Blissett's" tactics maintain that intellectual property
is an elusive commodity. Referring to the creators of the
project, Kleiner said, "I refuse to admit they have any intellectual
property. They're just slightly modifying the intellectual property that
we all share. In fact, they're threatening to steal it and package it as
their own." is a private Web space for creative collaboration by artists, but
the "Surface"  showcase was opened to invited guests earlier this year as
a prelude to its contributors' plans to launch a pay-per-view Web event
later this year. 

In May, the activists put the contents of "Surface" on, as well as a playfully modified version of the
online introduction to the site. Calling it "cute," Aronson
pointe out to the activists that the site was violating copyrights and
asked for the material to be removed. It remains there. 

"It's thumbing your nose at the 'digerati' kind of elitism," Kleiner said. 

But Rinehart said the activists might be falling prey to their own
arguments. He said he disagreed with "their narrow definition of the
Internet as being purely a chaotic and idealistic free-for-all." 

"Well, some of it is, but other parts are surely not," he said. "The Net
and Net art are both big enough to contain many types of practice. I agree
that it's important that we protect the 'free' part strongly, but not that
we should become equally elitist and obnoxious dogmatists and declare that
only one type of art is right." 

Auriea Harvey, a New York artist and a "Surface" participant, took a
similar stance, but said she was untroubled by the site duplication

"Every time someone looks at anything on the Web, a copy is made" in a
browser's cache folder, she said. "I've even seen some masterful remixes
of my own work online. Who cares about copying? If you don't want
something stolen, don't put it on the Net." 

"The problem I had was with this dippy and short-sighted notion that it is
somehow wrong or anti-Net to try out new forms of presenting and
generating revenue from your work as an artist," Harvey said. "A world
where Net art as Luther Blissett wants it to be would be very boring
indeed. Out of their chaos comes stagnation." 

Harvey herself just bought a digital art work, Olia Lialina's "If You Want
To Clean Your Screen," from Art.Teleportacia, the first online gallery
where Internet-based art is for sale. Last month, the Blissett activists
copied the site's files, altered them somewhat and reposted an
"anti-copyright" version on Lialina, who operates
the site, said she liked the copy so much that she included a link to it
in the "Under Construction" section of the gallery. 

This is not the first time that an art site has been copied to make a
point. In 1997, the Slovenian artist Vuk Cosic captured the contents of
the Web site for the Documenta art exhibition, held every five years in
Germany. That show's official site was taken down, but a facsimile
survives on Cosic's site. Although Cosic remains mum on his reasons for
copying it, creating a permanent online presence for a temporary
real-world event has some artistic merit. 

For his part, Rinehart now figures he is tempting fate. Even before he was
aware of the "Blissett's" endeavors, he included a "Copyright" section in
his piece. In it, he urges visitors to "steal this Web site" and gives
examples of the flexible interplay between copyright and creativity in the
art world. 

Would it bother him if the work became part of the collection at 

"I wouldn't care that much, although I may take a little wind out of their
sails with some of the examples," Rinehart said. "I think their experiment
is also worthy, purely by way of exploring new options. More power to
them. But it leaves me a little less interested than some other art
activities I've seen." 

Rinehart noted that there may be a side benefit if his work reappears
there. "Perhaps getting hacked onto their site will become a form of honor
among digital artists, maybe even raising the price of their original

Related Sites

An Experience Base -- A Boolean Typhoon
Luther Blissett Project
Auriea Harvey's Entropy8
Vuk Cosic's DocumentaX

#  distributed via nettime-l: no commercial use without permission of author
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailinglist for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  un/subscribe: and
# "un/subscribe nettime-l you@address" in the msg body
#  archive: contact: <>