The Rhizome Digest merged into the Rhizome News in November 2008. These pages serve as an archive for 6-years worth of discussions and happenings from when the Digest was simply a plain-text, weekly email.

Subject: RHIZOME DIGEST: 01.31.04
Date: Sat, 31 Jan 2004 12:44:11 -0500

RHIZOME DIGEST: January 31, 2004


1. Francis Hwang: Help Rhizome improve its search engine!
2. Renato Posapiani: Nike throws in the towel

3. David Bernard: Machinista 2004
4. Rasheeqa Ahmad: YAH (YOU ARE HERE) FESTIVAL 2004: Call For

5. Cornelia Sollfrank: Cornelia Sollfrank's ' generator' as
Collectors Object

6. Noemata: A proposition for book publishing

7. Perry Garvin: Review: Reimagining the Ordovician Gothic: Fossils from
the Golden Age of Spam

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Date: 1.19.04
From: Francis Hwang (francis AT
Subject: Help Rhizome improve its search engine!

If you are a Rhizome user who lives in the New York City area, you can
help us improve our search engine by coming to our office and
participating in a usability study.

This study will take place during the week of February 2 to February 6,
at our office in the New Museum building in the SoHo neighborhood of
New York City. It should take around 30 minutes of your time.

Study participants will receive a one-year extension of their current
Rhizome membership. You can participate if your membership has expired;
in that case you will receive a membership that is good for one-year
after the day that you come in.

Please email me if you would like to participate.


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Date: 1.26.04
From: Renato Posapiani (propaganda AT
Subject: Nike throws in the towel

January 25th, 2004


Nike throws in the towel
...and withdraws case against European art project

In December there was still uncertainty about the final outcome of the
lawsuit filed by Nike International against Public Netbase for producing
0100101110101101.ORG's art project "Nike Ground -- Rethinking space".
For several weeks, the fate of the renowned Vienna-based net culture
platform hung in the balance, its continuing existence threatened by the
court action. But we can now confirm that the sportswear company has
yielded under the pressure of international public and media attention
generated by the action.

"We won! -- declares satisfied 0100101110101101.ORG spokesman Franco
Birkut, -- and our victory is proof of at least one thing: the famous
"Swoosh" logo belongs to the people who actually wear it every day.
These commercial giants think they can beat anyone who annoys them, and
they're unable to distinguish an artistic or critical project from
unfair competition or commercial fraud. Nike was not the target of our
performance, they are just one amongst the many tools we use to make our
point. We were not against them, but they reacted in such a hasty and
unseemly way, with no style at all. In the end it was a pleasure to play
with Nike: the bigger they are, the harder they fall!"

"It was worth the risk in order to insist on the right to free artistic
expression in urban spaces -- Public Netbase director Konrad Becker
declares -- The intimidation attempts of this company known for its
sneaky marketing strategies have turned back against them". The
worldwide interest generated by the project can also be explained by the
fact that it emphasized the importance of a cutting-edge artistic
practice that employs the real means of production of a society
increasingly determined by the media and technology. Becker: "The
project drew attention to important issues such as the globalized
dominance of economic interests over cultural symbols and gave rise to
controversial perspectives and contentious interpretations".

In mid September 2003, 0100101110101101.ORG started a surreal art
project called Nike Ground ( ), a "hyper-real
theatrical performance" built around a fake guerrilla marketing
campaign: Nike was supposedly buying streets and squares in major world
capitals, in order to rename them and insert giant monuments of their
famous logo. A 13 tons hi-tech container was installed in Vienna, the
first city to host a "Nike Square", as part of the action.

Nike wasted no time: "These actions have gone beyond a joke. This is not
just a prank, it's a breach of our copyright and therefore Nike will
take legal action against the instigators of this phoney campaign". On
October 14th, Nike released a 20 page injunction requesting the
immediate removal of any reference to copyrighted material, and that any
activity related to Nike cease immediately. Failure to comply with this
request would mean that Nike would claim 78,000 Euros for damages.

"When they started legal action against us -- says Franco Birkut -- they
knew perfectly well that we were not a competitor and that they were
dealing with an art project, but they continued legal proceedings in
order to crush us and erase any trace of the work. We didn't allow them
to intimidate us, we ignored their ultimatum and went on with the
performance till the end of October, because this was our initial idea".

The international press reacted badly to Nike's legal action:
"Regardless of the outcome of the trial -- wrote Cathy Macherel in Le
Courrier -- their action will have been success: hasn't operation Nike
Ground shown the public the other side of the "Swoosh" corporation
advertisement? Far from being a free symbol integrated in the public
sphere, here Nike reveals itself as a humorless multinational that has
lost all sense of play as soon as someone touches its interests".

The Commercial Court has rejected Nike's plea for a provisional
injunction on formal grounds. After this refusal Nike didn't take
further legal action. The match is over: Nike threw in the towel.

Nike Ground is the latest surreal action by the European art group known
as 0100101110101101.ORG, a band of media artists who use non
conventional communication tactics to obtain the largest visibility with
the minimal effort. Past works include staging a hoax involving a
completely made-up artist, ripping off the Holy See and spreading a
computer virus as a work of art.


Nikeground AT 0100101110101101.ORG

Public Netbase
office AT

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Date: 1.25.04
From: David Bernard (davabernard AT
Subject: Machinista 2004

Call For Entries -  DEADLINE: 28th February 2004

Submissions for the following three themes are
welcomed in all media.

1. "Art from the Machine: gleams of the inhuman"
Works created completely or mostly by a machine or an artificial
intelligence system.

2. "Artists Against Machinic Standards"
Breaking, destroying, hacking, unexpected (non-utilitarian?) usage of
customary programs as an art experiment.

3. "Full-Screen Robovision"
Moving image works (experimental/scientific imaging, audiovisual code,
short films, animation and VJ mixes) illustrating "the world as seen by

see for more details and to participate.
(Deadline: 28th February 2004) Machinista is a yearly
unmediated open-submission online exhibition. Creative and technological
practices including visual and software art, science and design
projects, moving image, experimental music and performance are featured
in various scales and stages of development ranging from documentation
of prototypes and exploratory installations to fully operational
systems. In 2003 there were 128 submissions featured in Machinista plus
offline events in Moscow and Perm in the Urals.

An offline festival each year in a different host city showcases key
entries to the online exhibition. Participants in are
commissioned to travel and present/ exhibit/install/ perform to wide
audiences.  This year, Machinista talkes place in Glasgow, Scotland on
the weekend of May 7-9 2004 with some additional events later in the
year in Perm, Urals.

Machinista 2004

Machinista 2003
htttp://  (Russian) (English)

*Supported by the Scottish Arts Council & CCA Glasgow

(please forward)

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Date: 1.30.04
From: Rasheeqa Ahmad (rasheeqa AT
Subject: YAH (YOU ARE HERE) FESTIVAL 2004: Call For Submissions!


On 20th January, the You Are Here Festival team released the submission
form and details for the second YAH Festival, taking place from 24th
September to 3rd October 2004. Applications are welcomed from anyone,
regardless of experience, geography or preferred media. The deadline for
submissions is 1st April, so get your thinking caps on! Some brief info
for you below, but we suggest you direct yourself to ( for
more info, and a downloadable application form.

You Are Here Festival 2004 Info
Friday 24th September - Sunday 3rd October 2004
Nottingham, UK

Now in its second year, this annual artist-led event seeks proposals
from contemporary artists working in all media. The YAH Festival 2004
will provide a unique promotional platform for artists, groups, and
venues across the East Midlands region and beyond. Providing artists and
audiences a like with 10 jam-packed days and nights of exhibitions,
performances, screenings and discussion.

Artists will be selected through open submission on the basis of
producing an exciting and diverse programme of work that is responsive
to the varied sites that make up the Festival. As the Festival seeks to
be responsive to artists? proposals/needs, not all sites are finalised
but will fall within the following strands of activity:

- Central Venue - a building taken on by the Festival to act as the core
of the Festival, taking on a dual role as contact point and venue with
an ongoing programme of installed works, shows, performances and events
over the 10 days.
- The team will select, curate and install a series of solo and group
shows/events across several venues (BridlesmithGate Gallery, Lakeside,
1851 Gallery, Bonington Foyer, Powerhouse and the Basement with others
to be confirmed).
- This year the team is particularly keen to be responsive to artists
requirements and develop locating the relevant site for a work. Last
year specific works were housed in a range of outside venues, a library
and cafes. The Festival is already negotiating the use of sites ranging
from churchs to trams. If you have a specific site in mind for a
proposal please get in touch to discuss.

Submissions Surgery Day

If your idea doesn?t fit within what we have described then please get
in touch to discuss how the Festival could accommodate or facilitate the
proposal, we will also have a day when you can come and talk to us:

15th March 2004 (12-6pm) Broadway Media Centre, Nottingham: Submissions
Open day - face to face surgery to develop proposals with the people who
will select and develop proposals on behalf of the Festival. To book a
place email festival AT

Submissions deadline 1st April 2004

The Festival will produce and install key works/events across Nottingham
in existing and created venues/sites. The Festival will also collaborate
with other groups and organisations to realise events across the region.
(If you are an artist or a group with an idea for an event you would
like to organise as part of the Festival please get in touch to

Central to our aims is that the artists involved get more than simply
the opportunity to exhibit existing work ? through artistic and
professional development, collaboration and involvement in the process
and the commissioning of new work.

So, don't miss your chance to get involved with what looks like being a
truly exceptional ten days of activity. The world will be looking in, so
make sure they see you...

Partners, supporters, friends, galleries, orgs - please do for us what
we always do for you, and forward this here email on to your numerous
mailing lists. Email the festival address if you want to be involved
with the 2004 festival. Don't delay!

Also, if you've not registered as a member on the YAH site, do so
quickly, as we'll be holding a members-only competition for some cool
stuff next month...

YAH team, January 2004 ( , the arts resource for Nottingham
and beyond.

To be removed from all of our mailing lists, click here
mailinglists.php?p=mlist&rem=rasheeqa AT

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Date: 1.28.04
From: Cornelia Sollfrank (cornelia AT
Subject: Cornelia Sollfrank's ' generator' as Collectors Object

Net Art as Collectors' Object -
How Smart Artists Make the Machine do the Work

With the purchase of artist Cornelia Sollfrank's generator
'nag_04', the Sammlung Volksfürsorge becomes a pioneering art collector.

In 2003, the Sammlung Volksfürsorge put together one of the largest
collections of contemporary art outside a museum. With a budget of EUR
800,000, contemporary works from a wide variety of media were acquired:
from painting and sculpture to photography and video art to Net art. The
permanent exhibition space for the collection is the newly opened luxury
hotel Le Royal Méridien Hamburg on the Outer Alster Lake. The Galerie
Ruth Sachse, overseeing the project, proposed acquiring for the
collection not only completed images by Cornelia Sollfrank but also the
computer program that generates the images. In cooperation with Panos
Galanis of IAP GmbH, Hamburg, the artist developed a new
generator that works exclusively with images.

Since 1999, Cornelia Sollfrank has been making new images, texts and/or
automatic collages out of sites and HTML material available on the World
Wide Web. So far, five versions of the program based on this concept
have been created with varying emphases and formats. What they all share
is a user-friendly WWW interface. The programs are based on Perl scripts
which, once the user has entered the title of a work and the name of an
artist, send the request to a specific search engine. The material
called up according to the search terms is then processed in 12 to 14
randomly generated steps and placed in new combinations. The
automatically generated images, texts or Web sites are stored in an
archive, the ' gallery.' Furthermore, the source code of the
generator has not become private property of the collection, but is
subject to the General Public License, GPL, which makes it possible for
the code to be modified and distributed.

Processes of rationalization via computer and automatization become
means of artistic production via the generator. Art works,
traditionally understood as authentic, unique, creative and innovative
can then just as well be created by a computer program. With the advent
of new media, classic questions regarding authorship, originality,
materiality, the role of the artist and the work are newly challenged.

"And surprisingly quickly, you get used to the idea that the production
of art can, in the end, only take place via the repetition, theft,
quotation, combination and reprocessing of an underlying aesthetic
program." Ute Vorkoeper in 'Programmed Seduction'

Anyone who finds all that too complicated can go to the six floor of the
hotel and see for themselves a series of automatically generated and
aesthetically quite appealing images of flowers.

Le Royal Méridien Hamburg, An der Alster 52-56, 20099 Hamburg

A smart artist makes the machine do the work. Keep on Generating!

Internet Addresses:
Sammlung Volksfürsorge:
Homepage for the generators: generator nag_04:
Images (download):

Contact: Julia Eble
Press and Publicity
Tel.: 040/2865-4603
FAX: 040/2865-5771
E-Mail: Julia.Eble AT


Net Art as Collectors' Object

Cornelia Sollfrank in conversation with Dr. Joachim Lemppenau, Chairman
of the Board of Volksfuersorge Versicherungen. As head of the insurance
company, he is also responsible for the art collection and, as a jury
member, took part in the selection of the artists.

Hamburg, November 1, 2003

C.S.: You've acquired one of my generators for your collection.
The purchase of a Net art work makes you a pioneer among collectors.
What moved you to take this step and introduce Net art to the collection
as well?

Dr.L.: The generator is a contemporary work of art that makes
use of one of the most important media we now have - the Internet. With
this purchase, the Sammlung Volksfuersorge is supporting current
directions in art. Ownership of a materially tangible art work is not
our concern; other sponsors make a sculpture or a painting available to
the public in a museum. We find this more appropriate for our time, and
besides, we're making the work available to a broader public by doing
this on the Internet and with Net art.

C.S.: One of the fundamental problems with purchasing Net art is the
administration of copyright and rights of ownership regarding data that
is online. What does it mean to you to be the owner of this generator?

Dr.L.: It was agreed that the generator would have a
user-friendly Web interface for anyone who might be interested in using
it. So the generator is a sort of public work in our collection.
We allow the "user" to create the art on his or her own. Anyone can
become a (Net) artist.

What's more, the code of the generator, that is, the program, is subject
to a license, the so-called General Public License, GPL, which makes it
possible for the code to be modified and distributed.

C.S.: How will you be handling the needs that arise for the maintenance
and administration of an online project?

Dr.L.: The budget for the art collection ensures that the work will be
maintained by another company for two years. After two years, we can
decide how to carry on. (The costs aren't very high.)

C.S.: Could you imagine expanding further in this direction, that is,
adding another work of Net art to the collection?

Dr.L.: The art collection has initially been set up to document
exemplary works of contemporary art in various media immediately after
the turn of the millennium. The plan does not currently project much
further than that, particularly since it's a collection which
principally has a single, immobile location - the Hotel Royal Meridien.
The generator represents the widest reach in terms of contact
since it is accessible via the site

____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ___ ___ ___
||a |||r |||t |||w |||a |||r |||e |||z || .org

take it and run!

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Date: 1.25.04
From: Noemata (noemata AT
Subject: A proposition for book publishing


Define a book as the set of pages containing the book's ISBN.

By this proposition the book is essentially unbound.

In addition, no bound book is possible. Considering a bound book, there
will always be pages containing the book's ISBN outside its bounds - a
minimal example being a record in the ISBN administration system, if
not, the book would simply not be part of the ISBN system. So being part
of the ISBN system the book will be unbound per se.

With objective irony the ISBN system make the unbounding of books not
only possible but the logical conclusion - if a book is uniquely
identified by its ISBN, then why not uniquely identify a book by its

Following the proposition the books could be considered 'hyperbooks' in
the traditional sense, being non-linear, extra-dimensional, fragmented,
fractal, viral, etc in varied forms of open-ended, possible, mutable, or
generative structures. Another suggestive term could be 'cypherbook' -
cypher/cipher meaning 'writing/volume'[1] in general; 'number, zero'[2]
as the book is defined nominal empty and by its ISBN only;
'transformed/coded/symbolic'[2] as the content is transformed/coded more
extensively by its (unbound) dispersal in different contexts, and with
structures codified to a higher degree than traditional books; in
addition, an anagrammatic relation to the 'hyperbook' term. A generic
term might simply be ''.

The term 'book' itself may take on some specific meanings - the basic
notion of a written document, writing on beech, collection of sheets of
paper or other material[3]; as cortex, etym. from 'bark', as
inscriptions in the outer regions of a structure[4] (in fact, any
inscription is 'outer' and marginal in regard to the book as cypher),
which brings the image of neural networks closer to the idea of the
book; the verbal 'book' links 'booking' up to the nominal use of ISBN to
define them; or as 'making a book', bookmakers running the numbers,
rackets, a possibly illicit, anarchic use of the international standard
book number system.

By inverting the definition of a book, actually turning it inside out,
the concept of book is attempted brought back to writing, like an
expansion of the void towards the periphery through an anti-gravitating
force. "The idea of the book, which always refers to a natural totality,
is profoundly alien to the sense of writing."[5][6].

Any writing containing the ISBN would be part of the book, thereby the
notion of content is also altered, say, like matter of the universe,
where only 4% is estimated atomic matter - the rest being dark matter
(23%) and dark energy (73%). The content of a book could spread out in
any degree in the spectral dimensions
public-private/information-noise/text-cypher/etc, making book a body of
matter in the more physical sense, like consisting of atomic text,
dark-ambient text, dark-ambient writing.

Concerning licensing, since the books are inherently unbound no overall
copyright can apply. If a book cannot be bound, surely it cannot be
copyrighted. In fact, copyrighting the book would violate the ISBN
system - the ISBN system itself would actually be violating the book's
copyright by recording it - which again would violate the book, making
it impossible. Copyright issues would therefore have to be partial to
the book and in practice distributed to its pages and actual writing
which could be copyrighted in the usual manner. Following this, an open
source/content copyleft licence[7], would seem the proper thing and
default modus for the book and assure its essentially open and free
distribution and mutation.

Expanding on the idea of constituting the book on its ISBN only, other
usages and notions of the book concept could be opened up for creative
investigation, one reason being that technology and new media
immaterializes and fuses different forms into basically one digital
form, and since the content of that form often is aggregates into one
big, interconnected blob - or so we would like to think, alltogether
emphasizing the virtuality of the book, freed from its material basis.
In a more general interpretation, the book could constitute any kind of
real or virtual intellectual 'work', ranging from physical artwork to
networked ideas, by being its possibly unique identifier, like a
signature, tag, etc, and thereby help and preserve different kinds of
distributed, networked arts and gain identity - by analogy, maybe as the
IP identifies a machine in a network, the ISBN would identify a work in
the cultural net, dispersed or immersed into it.

To begin with, announcing the publication of 12 books accordingly:
ISBN 82-92428-05-4
ISBN 82-92428-06-2
ISBN 82-92428-08-9
ISBN 82-92428-10-0
ISBN 82-92428-11-9
ISBN 82-92428-13-5
ISBN 82-92428-14-3
ISBN 82-92428-18-6
ISBN 82-92428-19-4
ISBN 82-92428-20-8
ISBN 82-92428-21-6

True to the initial proposition these books are defined by their ISBNs
only, the content of a book being the (possible empty) set of documents
containing the ISBN. Actually, some of these specific books already have
some form of content from preliminar usage and are based on various
topics[8], but that doesn't change their status or limit their usage as
they are principally open, subject to writing, being what is actually
written into them, being written, written beings.

For practical purposes, once the books attain some sort of substance,
stabilizes, or in other ways attain a reportable identity they'd be
reported and updated to the appropriate ISBN office by the publisher
owning the ISBNs, and thereby available like any other book in their
information system.

Since the books are unbound they won't have any interface other than
their pages' immediate contexts, so if any overall interface at all, it
would have to be made, which is precisely an etymologic meaning of
'face' (from facere, to make), so interfacing the book would in a sense
also be the making of it (and be part of it in a selvreflexive way).
Such interfaces could be readily made for instance using search engines
or scripts in indexing/gathering/filtering material into different

Additional structuring of the books could be made using cyphers for
signing, authenticating, encrypting material if they were intended for
special authoring or ways of reading.

A closing topos, restating Baudrillard in his exposition of value[9],
query-replaced into this setting of book publishing as seen apt for the
purpose: Book stages: natural books, commodity books, structural books
(hypertext), fractal books (viral, radiant). Fractal books prolificly
only refer to themselves, radiating in all directions - publishing as
contiguity. The book no longer has any equivalence, an epidemic of book,
metastasis of text, haphazard proliferation and dispersal of book. We
should no longer speak of 'book' at all, for this kind of propagation or
chain reaction makes all books impossible. Yet things continue to
function long after their idea have disappeared and in total
indifference to their own content, the paradoxical fact is that they
function even better under these circumstances. The book is no longer a
metaphor for logos etc or anything at all, but merely the locus of
metastasis, of the machine-like connections between all its processes,
of an endless programming devoid of any symbolic organization or
overarching purpose: the book is thus given over to the pure promiscuity
of its relationship to itself as ISBN - the same promiscuity that
characterizes networks.

Finally, three small images of books for the occation: (6k) (8k) (7k)

(Redistribute where appropriate, comments are welcome.)


[1] cipher - This word has a comprehensive meaning in Scripture. In the
Old Testament it is the rendering of the Hebrew word _sepher_, which
properly means a "writing," and then a "volume" (Ex. 17:14; Deut. 28:58;
29:20; Job 19:23) or "roll of a book" (Jer. 36:2, 4).

[2] ¹ci.pher n, often attrib [ME, fr. MF cifre, fr. ML cifra, fr. Ar
sifr empty, cipher, zero] (14c) 1 a: zero 1a. b: one that has no weight,
worth, or influence: nonentity 2 a: a method of transforming a text in
order to conceal its meaning--compare code 3b b: a message in code 3:
arabic numeral 4: a combination of symbolic letters; esp: the interwoven
initials of a name
-- Enc. Britannica

[3] book - [Middle English bok, from Old English bc. See bhgo- in
Indo-European Roots.] Word History: From an etymological perspective,
book and beech are branches of the same tree. The Germanic root of both
words is *bk-, ultimately from an Indo-European root meaning ?beech
tree.? The Old English form of book is bc, from Germanic *bk-, ?written
document, book.? The Old English form of beech is bce, from Germanic
*bk-jn, ?beech tree,? because the early Germanic peoples used strips of
beech wood to write on. A similar semantic development occurred in
Latin. The Latin word for book is liber, whence library. Liber, however,
originally meant ?bark? that is, the smooth inner bark of a tree, which
the early Romans likewise used to write on.

[4] cor·tex (kôrÆteks), n., pl. -ti·ces (-tà s?zÅ). 1. Anat.,
the outer region of an organ or structure, as the outer portion of the
kidney.the cerebral cortex. 2. Bot. the portion of a stem between the
epidermis and the vascular tissue; bark.any outer layer, as rind. 3.
Mycol. the surface tissue layer of a fungus or lichen, composed of
massed hyphal cells. [1650?60; < L: bark, rind, shell, husk]
-- Random House Dict.

[5] The End of the Book: In Of Grammatology, Jacques Derrida equates the
culture of The Book with logocentrism, the belief in a signifier which
is both outside of structure, and hence beyond scrutiny or challenge,
and at the very centre, providing it with a central point of reference
that anchors meaning... It is the encyclopedic protection of theology
and of logocentrism against the disruption of writing, against its
aphoristic energy, and ... against difference in general.

[6] The Book: The west has been called "the civilization of the book"
(Derrida, Of Grammatology 3).

[7] In short, open source/content licences assures different degrees of
open and free copying, modification and distribution.
-- The Open Source Initiative,
-- Creative Commons,

[8] Books published by

[9] From J Baudrillard, Transparency of Evil. verso.

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For $65 annually, Rhizome members can put their sites on a Linux
server, with a whopping 350MB disk storage space, 1GB data transfer per
month, catch-all email forwarding, daily web traffic stats, 1 FTP
account, and the capability to host your own domain name (or use Details at:

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Date: 1.29.04
From: Perry Garvin (garvinpr AT
Subject: Review: Reimagining the Ordovician Gothic: Fossils from the
Golden Age of Spam

Review: Reimagining the Ordovician Gothic: Fossils from the Golden Age
of Spam
Spaceworks at The Tank through Feb. 7

Reimagining the Ordovician Gothic: Fossils from the Golden Age of Spam
is a show based on the contention that spam e-mails are not just
irritating anonymous missives that glut inboxes, but cultural artifacts
capable of providing insights into our culture's dreams, fears,
obsessions, and hopes. That e-mail sitting in your Junk Mail box
condemned to deletion is not just an ad promising a larger penis but
evidence of the social anxiety surrounding contemporary standards of
masculinity. That offer for a cable descrambler? Not just a method to
unlock all five hundred channels on your television but an insight into
the ubiquity of 21st century digital piracy.

Curators Jesse Jarnow, Daniel Greenfeld, and Mike Rosenthal collectively
take on the fictional identity of Dr. Harold R. Tuttledge, a cultural
anthropologist from the future sifting- through layers of spam so as to
understand this particular culture of ours at the turn of the century
(the "Ordovician Gothic" as he labels it). Tuttledge's survey is
facilitated by all manner of pseudo-scientific measures; e-mails are
classified like organic specimens according to content and method of
delivery. They are labeled in a cataloging system of numbers and
letters, and organized by type in a book with introductory section
headings explaining the cultural context of such future anachronisms as
Viagra, breast implants, and war-torn Africa.

This approach of presenting spam from the perspective of a future
researcher is effective for it disarms the viewer and suggests a
perspective from which the examination of junk e-mail for cultural clues
might seem worthwhile. As such, the book of compiled spam e-mails,
classified and organized, is the best part of the project. With each
e-mail isolated from its junk context, in a printed-out format, and
treated as a bound volume worthy of study, it is a surprisingly
interesting compilation that directs attention to the formal
characteristics of a genre of text so commonplace but vehemently

The show veers terribly off course, however, in the physical
installation, designed like a science museum show with a series of small
exhibits displaying and illustrating select spam e-mails. The exhibition
is supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek re-creation of our culture based
solely on the information circulated through spam e-mails; a history of
deposed African statesmen with money to deposit in first world bank
accounts, pills and remedies for all manner of medical ills, real estate
opportunities to produce riches beyond imagine, and the like. The show
comes off, sadly, as one long gag, contradicting the serious attributes
of spam as advocated in the book.

Throughout the space, light boxes like those found in science museums,
complete with reductive texts, cartoons, diagrams, and graphs, guide the
viewer through the classification processes used in analyzing the spam,
the history of American salesmanship, and other topics relevant to Dr.
Tuttledge's "study." One exhibit presents three spam e-mails - one
advertising pornography, another real estate, and the third a work from
home opportunity. The content of each is then "illustrated" by an
artist's rendering. Oddly the re-creations, despite cogent e-mails as
source material, are utterly nonsensical. One suitcase is open, dildos
hanging from the upper section, medical pills and pornography on the
bottom. Another valise presents architectural diagrams mounted above
detritus sinking into a nest of dirt. A third piece of luggage is closed
with a child's pink hiking boot glued on top. The sculptures are too
busy emulating the characteristics of Dadaist sculpture to effectively
direct attention to the subtleties of the e-mails themselves.

Another exhibit presents three e-mails of the familiar scam of an
African statesman run out of his country with millions of dollars and in
need of the safe haven of a bank account. Above these e-mails are
dioramas set into the wall depicting the historical facts embedded in
the text, meant to give the scam authenticity: photographs of the key
players of the saga, African bank notes, maps, and physical artifacts.
An audio headset provides an opportunity to hear the e-mails being read.
Although the connection between the objects and the e-mails is clear,
the dioramas do nothing to tease out the Postmodern implications of the
show: the blurring of representation and the real, the power of an
illicit mass media to construct historical fact out of fiction, even the
cultural consequences of mass communicated scams. Instead, all the
exhibit provides is an extended riff on the conventions of museum

To make matters worse, the whole project is marred by inexcusably poor
craftsmanship. There are spelling errors not just throughout the wall
texts, but even on the cover of the catalog. One of the show's
contributing artists who showed me through the space confessed that one
of the African statesmen dioramas with a blue robot, toy keg of beer,
and map was nothing more than random filler for a diorama that was not
completed in time for the opening of the show. Slips like these are
inexcusable and such sloppiness casts the entire project's sincerity in

It's difficult to make the case that spam is worth anything more than a
mouse drag from the inbox to the trashcan. After all, junk e-mail is the
digital form of junk mail?cons, and scams that have been around for
centuries. But spam does exist within a cultural present and seeks to
salve deep-seated cultural needs, fears, and desires. In the right
hands, one could argue for the value of spam as a provider of insight
into our culture. Unfortunately, this show is not the place. Its
overriding flaw is that instead of focusing on the spam, the show
focuses on mocking the conventions of historical museum exhibition
design and the consequences of poor anthropological research. This
tangential criticism ends up diverting attention from junk e-mail as
cultural fact and subordinates it to the status of a foil.

- Perry Garvin

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Rhizome Digest is supported by grants from The Charles Engelhard
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Rhizome Digest is filtered by Feisal Ahmad (feisal AT ISSN:
1525-9110. Volume 9, number 5. Article submissions to list AT
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