This article was written for 'Content-Type' in 2001, which I conceived of as an idea virus, later as the site evolved, I was to think of these texts as symptomatic of the Media/Art Identity Crisis in style of delivery.
"...I would like to see people using it in an almost sculptural way, there is a certain aesthetic kick of revealing the inherent structure of a site which I think appeals to a lot of people..." [Tom Betts/ Null Pointer] *1
That the underlying topology of networks can be mapped into infinite projections was first made apparent by IOD's Webstalker software. Since then there have been other software artists who have been reinterpreting the web. Recently, Maciej Wisniewski's 'metabrowser': Netomat (TM) has been included as part of the 'telematic Connections: Virtual Embrace' exhibition, and this week NullPointer have released the beta version of Webtracer, a 'new web visualisation application' *2.
In an interview with Tom Betts of NullPointer, Matthew Fuller talks webmapping. They share common concerns with creating awareness of the limitations of 'official' browsing software and the desire to : "repurpose the information that comprises hypertext and the web into another plane of perspective and interaction". *3 It is the aesthetics of interaction with the database itself which is expressed through this particular form of software art.
And it is the 'modifiers' which help to create a different projection of the data structures. In WebTracer, these are "both the order of links as they appear on a page and the relative depth of links within the host webserver's html docs directory." *4 This spatial interpretation creates information objects, which are taller if the site has hierarchical file structures and flatter or planar if the site is 'database driven'. By using the metaphor of molecules and atoms for sites and pages, the information objects which result from a 'trace' become 'molecular models'. These can take the distinct forms of what Betts calls 'plateau', 'crown' and 'tree'.
Netomat is different again. A contrasting aesthetic, more free flowing, less transformational of the data itself than WebTracer: "... Netomat(TM) displays data as free-floating and independent, not constrained by a web page or site. In response to words and phrases typed in by the viewer, Netomat (TM) dialogues with the Internet to retrieve text, images and audio, which it flows onto the screen." *5 As well as being included in Telematic Connections: Virtual Embrace as 'Netomatique', Netomat is now part of the exhibition 'Data Dynamics' which opens tomorrow , 22nd March, at the Whitney Museum, New York. Data Dynamics is looking at this very area of mapping data in order to visualise dynamics in contexts other than the web: "While the featured projects all address the concept of the dynamic mapping of data, each of the installations focuses on different dynamics in varying contexts that involve mapping language, stories, memories, or traffic in physical and virtual spaces." *6
What is interesting is that Netomat is being exhibited as an installation within the Whitney, both in the gallery as well as online. "...visitors enter a Netomat theater where they are surrounded by a collage of streaming images, text, animations, voice, and music triggered by a series of inputs. Visitors can then traverse the Internet's data structure both by selecting the inputs and steering the visual flow of the information." *7 Interviewed about Netomatique for Telematic Connections, Wisniewski says:" the Netomat technology employs a voice recognition and text-to-speech engine as well as a search and rendering engine" *8 It is voice inputs which "trigger evolving streams of information representing the network's memory." *9 This is Software Art being exhibited as software in its own right, and as a means to enable the participant to 'converse freely' with the Internet.
21st March 2001
*1, *2, *3, *4 RHIZOME_RARE, WebTracer interview, Matthew Fuller, 16.03.01
*5, *6, *7 http://www.whitney.org/information/press/13.html
*8, *9 http://telematic.walkerart.org/telereal/wisniewski_index.html
Maciej Wisniewski's work can be seen at www.whitney.org/netomat/, in Data Dynamics, one of two new exhibitions, also Bitstreams opening at the Whitney Museum of American Art, 22.03.01