Thursday, June 28th, 2012
9

A Suitably Bizarre Interview With The Early Web Provocateurs At Jodi.Org

Like those “computer hacker” characters from 90s movies who’d wear trenchcoats with old circuit boards sewn into them, web artists who wear their HTML on their sleeves can seem like cyberpunk relics. One goal of “Net Art” is to manipulate and expose the hidden code that flows beneath the internet, empowering users by making them aware they are only using the controlled "surface.” That was the common goal back in the 90s, when Net Art began, and it remains the goal now. But has this philosophy lost its relevance? Has the the trend of exposing the internet’s hidden code become outmoded—in the vein of those  late-90s iMacs with with the clear cases that allowed you to see inside? Or is it still a futuristic and revolutionary concept—here having something in common with those persistent rumors that the iPhone 5 is going to be made of “clear” metal?

Two artists who did this sort of thing (quite well) in the early days of the internet were Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans, also known as the Jodi Art Collective (aka Jodi.org), which got its start around 1996. Heemskerk and Paesmans possessed genuine hacking skills, but they weren’t hackers. Their aim was a more user-friendly techno-apocalypse, and they created hacker-like Net Art that valued accessibility over annihilation (their work has been called “faux-code” and “faux-virus” by their critics). Their stuff managed the goal of forcing drastic choices on web surfers who became entangled in their uncompromising websites, having to think quick as they watched their computers appear to break.

Back in 1996, they angered internet users far and wide with a website known only by its url: http://oss.jodi.org. You'll note that's not a live link, and that's because visiting the site will crash your computer and we didn't want any of you to accidentally click over. Still online, remarkably, the website causes fluttering browser windows to rapidly open all over your screen, each triggering automatic downloads that duplicate the process every few seconds, a process that goes on until your browser crashes. Restarting your computer just makes it happen again and again. There is a way to turn it off, but it requires you to stop only looking at the surface of the internet, and open your lazy, web-surfing mind to the potential of the code beneath the blah blah… you get the point. The website wasn’t a legitimate "hack," Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans have stated (here’s one online debate). Jodi.org went on to create all kinds of annoying, migraine-inducing, genuinely stimulating projects using the internet (and now video games) as their medium. And they’re still at it today.

Looking back now, in a world where web designers devise increasingly obtrusive ways to force web users to interact with advertising, Jodi.org mid-90’s web headaches seem like digital diviners.

Website: http://oss.jodi.org (WARNING! Again, only visit that site if you feel like experiencing a crash!), http://wwwwwwwww.jodi.org/, http://asdfg.jodi.org/——————————-/——————————-/——————————-/———————–402vm981/vb411.html, various others
Date created: 1996
Wayback Machine earliest archive: “Page cannot be crawled or displayed due to robots.txt”
Internet History Relevance: net art, coding mastery, hacking, alternatively annoying and mind-expanding experiences for the unsuspecting and unthinking internet user, internet pranks, Anonymous precursors, blank is beautiful

I interviewed Jodi.org about their uncompromising work via email and, in typical fashion, they refused to respond to me using text… communicating only in scrambled HTML code and links. No, really. It was like interviewing someone from the future (or the past's version of the future?). You try to figure it out.

Mark Allen: Can I ask you guys a few questions about your work?

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On Jun 18, 2012, at 9:26 PM, Mark Allen wrote:

MA: Um… okay. Well, anyway, you two are the most famous Net Artists around, going back to 1996. Do you think it is still an important cause for activists and artists to poke behind the "surface" of the internet and reveal the code beneath, forcing users to question their interaction levels with the web?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDNPYcwlB40

MA: Hmmm. As preparation for this interview, I was able to finally locate the website that I remember introduced me to your work in the late 90s: http://oss.jodi.org/ [again, warning!]. I can't believe it's still online. Even now, fifteen years later it ended up crashing my browser and cause me to have to restart my computer many times, and lost my browser history and bookmarks in the scramble. I was pissed off all over again! Do you still get complaints about it?

http://goo.gl/ayPqV
http://is.gd/sjW5rM
http://sup.im/3li+

MA: Interesting. Back in the early 90s, before you were online, as artists, what were your pre/non-internet inspirations?

http://rt.se/6Y4
http://ow.ly/bJ3I1


MA: Thinking back, did you have any ideas about doing these types of things before the internet came along? Getting under the roots of things and exposing other mediums?

http://goo.gl/NcZZX

MA: I love your http://globalmove.us/ piece, which sometimes successfully starts up a user's Google Earth plug-in, and also Google Street View, then uses markers and settings automatically to make sprawling designs without their control. And I hate your http://asdfg.jodi.org/——————————-/——————————-/——————————-/———————–332xc675/rttywxxx.html piece, which you made around 1998, and I'm sure could cause seizures in people who are sensitive. You seem fearless in your love/hate relationship with the internet. What are some things on the internet that you love and hate now?

http://is.gd/zJ6QlP

MA: Cute! Okay, before you got to that point… you were both video and photography artists before using the internet as your main subject. Do you remember the moment of inspiration where you thought about using HTML code as a medium?

http://goo.gl/bmkQt
http://goo.gl/b6nD3
http://goo.gl/UlNrI

MA: So… you’re saying you lived near Silicon Valley in the early 90s, which inspired your website http://wwwwww.jodi.org/ which shows images of bombs (when the user figures out how to to use the "view source" option on their browser), and also you’d like to conclude with “404 not found?”; I think I understand? But back then, I think most people who wanted to make websites had to do it the hard way (they had to learn to build with raw html, and use “frames,” or go to a bookstores and buy books on web design). Did you have to do these same times of things in order to learn how to un-make websites?

http://www.computerhope.com/issues/ch000746.htm

MA: I plan to! What are things you feel would have been easier with your work as the Jodi.org using today's internet, as opposed to the late 90s/early 00s internet?

http://tiny.cc/jvt8fw
http://xrl.us/bncek2
http://x.co/lJwe

http://➡.ws/forMarkAllen

MA: But this series is about the memory lanes of the internet! So, when the Jodi.org name was spreading all over chat rooms and message boards in the late 90s with warnings "Do not go to this website!" and "Hackers!" however long ago it seems, did you consider it a badge of honor?

http://ohinternet.com/Old_meme

MA: So you're over it like people are over dancing baby? (Were you aware he's making a small comeback?) In a 1997 interview you seemed angry when the interviewer implied that Net Art's primary exhibition space was office cubicles rather than an art gallery, because people looked at websites while bored at work. You claimed this was a cliche that was "untrue, and not funny." You ended up being right, with computers being so mobile now. So in 2012, what untrue cliches exist now?

http://bit.ly/MGJ1fr
http://tinyurl.com/3eryoga
http://vimeo.com/15852288
http://gli.tc

MA: What do you think today's "social media"-based internet?

https://twitter.com/#!/sex

MA: Ha! Do you think Net Art is still relevant? Will it ever not be?

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Previous interviews in series: Rob Cockerham, Early Web Prankster; Rex Booth, Early Web Cam-mer; and Jennifer Sharpe, Early Web Aggregator



Mark Allen is a writer and performer living in New York. He has been on the internet way too long.

9 Comments / Post A Comment

max bread (#5,970)

Oh, man, so good to hear from these guys! Great interview!

roboloki (#1,724)

i hate days when nothing happens on the internet.

sergomcmhn (#235,314)

Amazing Work

BadUncle (#153)

Yeah, and why are we able to just get into a car and get from point A to point B? Someone should create a car that forces the driver to get under the hood and manually force automatic steering fluid in the right direction before the vehicle crashes into a freeway abutment.

ukwebhost1 (#235,324)

error found…

produk100 (#235,339)

ahmm..

There's a typo.

cussertom100 (#235,388)

yeah.

pepper (#676)

Like hearing an old RevCo song on the radio. Nice. But not nice enough to induce me to click on a jodi link ever again – I gave in the '90s, thanks.

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