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going native in cyberspace

The Net's full of art now, entire galleries full of stuff. If this is a new medium, then the question arises as to how much of that art is really "native" to the medium -- native to cyberspace. Look around, everywhere you find computer jockeys trying to do art and artists trying to grok computers, but how often do you find an artist who's also a quintessential computer geek? That's Bob Anderson, a cyberarts pioneer, a dedicated artist who for the past seven years has been responsible for a gonzo mass of individual and collaborative work conceived and realized in cyberspace.

The story starts in 1988 when Bob Anderson (a.k.a. Bazooka), a surfer from Southern California came to teach drawing at University of Texas, Austin. A year later, he bought his first computer, an Amiga. Bob got on the Amiga-based BBS Alliance; he befriended the sysop, Bart, and a user known as the Mentor -- Lloyd Blankenship, who was working at Steve Jackson Games.

With Lloyd's and Bart's help, Bazooka started Pair O Dice BBS. He also discovered the net and the web. On a newsgroup called alt.artcom, Bob found a suggestion from artist Ed Stastny about creating a place online where artists could store their work, and so achieve "digital immortality." They got together. This was the beginning of OTIS (now SITO)

Jonl: What happened in that first encounter with Stastny?

Bazooka: I had been doing regular mail art, so I was real interested in extending the idea of collaborative art. On our first project I sent him images through email; they never reached him -- I didn't get to take part. But I've had a hand in most collaborations since then.

For the first Panic projects, someone would have a party; folks'd do video grabs and ftp the images to OTIS. The OTIS artists would circulate them, manipulate them, and send 'em back. That's pretty much what happened at Robofest'93.

As they gained more web and html experience, a lot of the original people ended up with too much work and not enough time. Some fell by the wayside -- even Ed, after a while. If you spend all day on a computer, you don't want to come home and spend all night on a computer (looks at Jonl)-- well, most people don't.

Jonl: When did you start thinking of yourself as a cyberartist? -- that there was a distinct form of art that you could do online, and that it was evolving into a genre?"

Bazooka: OTIS worked as art. When I first started my BBS, I was trying to convince myself that the BBS itself was open-ended art. But it didn't look like art. It seemed pretty much like any other BBS.

I talked with colleagues about how to make art with a computer -- not just using the computer to re-represent art in a different form. How do you make something exist only as cyberart, within cyberspace, without a necessary connection to a physical object?

The collaborative process seemed to satisfy me, just organizing people. Like with Cristo Javacheff. Cristo's art lies less in the wrapping of objects, than in the social construction: getting volunteers to come together, getting all these people to work. The artwork is an excuse for the art. The social activity of cyberspace interests me more than using Photoshop to make whizbang pictures.

Jonl: The real new thing about SITO is that it's basically a social construction. It's collaborative and it's interactive. To me, it's one of the best implementations of the interactive nature of cyberspace.

Bazooka: One guy came to SITO with the login name 'bad art,' and came down on everyone for making good art. He was really disturbing. Some people were saying: 'Throw this guy off.' "Well, if you're gonna throw him off, are you gonna throw me off? 'Cause I'm gonna leave if you're going to exclude anyone. Everyone has a right to be here -- bad art, good art ...."

Jonl: Everywhere you look, you see analog traditions rolling over for the sake of digital efficiency. That's the change. How does the artist keep pace with that change?

Bazooka: By doing things you wouldn't normally do. Collaborative projects keep reshaping the process. In them, I give myself permission: I'm not gonna be consistent, not gonna worry about fitting in with all the other things that I've done. (Not that I'm very consistent anyway.) Artists have all sorts of weird conflicts about their work. Once people start writing about your artwork, once people start talking about it, you begin to wonder what it really is. It's hard to see your own work when you're experiencing it through other people's eyes.


jzitt said:

One thing I liked about living in (of all places) Brooklyn, was that I could walk to anything I needed to get to. For that matter, I've lived over the years in two places in Austin where I didn't need a car except for getting to work: Riverside Drive a few blocks from I-35 (back when Half-Price Books was still there) and at the Northcross Apartments, across from the Northcross Mall and the Village Theatre. The Northcross location was quite nice -- I was off a walkway far enough, but not too far, from the parking lot. I ate at Furr's at the mall a lot -- It was actually closer to my apartment than the college dining hall was when I was a student, and the food was of comparable quality, so I sort of considered it the commune eatery. :-)

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"The artwork is an excuse for the art. The social activity of cyberspace interests me more than using Photoshop to make whizbang pictures."



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