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Nobody dare to call it plagiarism!

AN INTERVIEW WITH 0100101110101101.ORG

by The Thing Rome


In the beginning, 0 and 1 were hardly aware to be in the world. To have a body, a sensibility, a mind. Then, one day, after being assembled, shared and exchanged in any kind of permutations, they finally took consciousness of themselves. They crystallised in the shape of an aseptic string - long enough not to be memorised by human beings, but short enough to enter the URL's field of a browser. They attached it a nice suffix (.org) and gave birth to 0100101110101101.ORG.

Since then, lots of people have been dealing with 0100101110101101.ORG. In actuality, only few understood if this string hides some real "human flesh", or an entity that composes and decomposes autonomously, according to a Fate that We as Humans, are no longer able to interpret.

Since 0100101110101101.ORG came into being (someone talks about an X day, at the end of 1998, in Bologna) many have tried to grasp its real intentions, but very few have been able to understand them. The web art world, were the first who have seen one of its most notorious sites sucked by the vortex of zeroes and ones.

Hell.com, seemingly an anti-web site built in 1995, with no public access and/or contents, was a sort of conceptual black hole in the net. Within three years, Hell turned itself in a launching pad for cool designers and leading net.artists, a private parallel web. Surface was the first on-line exhibition promoting artists like Zuper!, Absurd, Fakeshop and many others. In February 1999, a limited number of visitors was invited to access the exhibition, namely the Rhizome mailing list subscribers, which were given a password allowing access to Hell.
In the 48 hours of opening, hidden in the mob, O and 1 entered the web site and downloaded the whole of it. Then, they uploaded it on their own web site, in anticopyright version, making it wide open to all netizens. The action was enough to upset Kenneth Aronson, owner of Hell.com, who blamed O and 1 for theft and threatened them with an international lawsuit for copyright law violation. Today, one year and half later, the "stolen" Hell.com is still freely available in www.0100101110101101.ORG.

Russian net.artist Olia Lalina, founder of the first web gallery Art.Teleportacia (selling works of early net.art), was the second blow. When someone asked, "how can you sell a work of net.art if everyone can access it for free?", Lialina always claimed that the originality of a net.art work is guaranteed by its domain name, its URL. The owner of a work, according to the Russian artist, should have his own access to the server hosting the work. The fact that the work could be mirrored on other sites is irrelevant: it may well be of public domain, but only the owner has the right to access the original URL through a certificate sold by the curator.

Needless to say, Art.Teleportacia was quickly sucked by the string known as 0100101110101101.ORG. The same site that was selling "original" domain art, in June 99 was doing it twice, with no great variation of prices...

September 1999 was the time of Jodi.org, the Ascii Art web site built by Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans. Since then, 0 and 1 used to randomise their downloads, uploading on their web site weird hybrids of their victims. The Jodi web site, instead, was just cloned as it was. Downloaded and uploaded with no variation at all.

The international press (The New York Times, Le Monde, Telepolis, etc.) realised that, in the friendly world of net.art, there was a site dedicated to systematic plagiarism. This raised a wave of debate about the "commercialisation of web art", and the very nature of net.art.
Nobody seemed to notice, however, that in the information-overload of present times, visibility and access are the main questions: maybe, the cloning of a net.art work feeds its "aura", turning upside down the famous assessments of Walter Benjamin on the mechanical reproducibility .

On Christmas Day, 1999, the Los Angeles-based site www.plagiarist.org (such an appropriate name, indeed!) acted in 01-style and duplicated www.0100101110101101.ORG. Shortly after, 01 responded by linking plagiarist.org in the opening page of 01.ORG, conceptually cloning a clone of their own clones!

The Year 2000 opened with two retroactive pranks.

For a whole year, the domain name www.vaticano.org hosted a seemingly official web site of the Holy Sea, similar to the www.vatican.va (official Vatican domain name) but with slightly modified contents: heretical texts, songs of crap teeny-bopper bands, and stuff. For 12 months, thousands of people had visited the web site without realising the prank. At the expiring of the first year of the contract, Network Solutions prevented the renewing of it and sold the domain name. Needless to say, the author of this smart fake site was 01, and the old vaticano.org is still on-line in 0100101110101101.ORG.

In February 2000, PROPAGANDA (the official 01 e-mail newsletter) announced to the world "The Great Art Swindle": the invention of life, works and death of the Serbian artist Darko Maver by 01.0RG. A pure act of mythopoeia, in 1999 the "Darko Maver Affair" took by storm the Italian art world, with several exhibitions, articles and debates about this maudit artist (whose supposed works were - actually - trash pictures from web sites like www.rotten.com).
At the '99 Venice Biennial, a self-styled "Free Art Campaign" showed even a short movie on Maver ("The Art of War"), with soundtrack by Laibach and Merzbow!

The following interview was conducted between March and May 2000, and first appeared in September 2000 at The Thing Rome web site (http://www.romacivica.net/thething)

Q: The first question is about your background. When did you decide exactly to start 0100101110101101.ORG? What were your previous activities - as artists, programmers, activist, pranksters, troublemakers?

A: 0100101110101101.ORG never answers to these kind of questions. Anonymity is not merely a "proper names" matter, but deals also with "backgrounds" and "biographies". Every time we start a new work we change our identity. Here and now we are 0100101110101101.ORG, and that's the only thing you need to know.

Q: In which way does the process of plagiarism take shape? You begin with the sources, to insert variations in the contents in a second moment?

A: 0100101110101101.ORG doesn't care that much about the "subject" of the plagiarism, sometimes doesn't even like it. 0100101110101101.ORG is especially interested in the action itself of copying/duplicating, downloading/uploading. Of course the "subject" has to have some features to give the cloning a certain meaning, but it's not the most important thing.

Q: But with Hell you turned upside down the meaning of all the information that the user gets at a first glance, when s/h/it enters the web site. Expressions such as 'Hell is a private parallel web site' have been turned into 'Hell is a free parallel web'. Downloading and uploading it without passwords, you basically hacked the site, socialising it with a broader public than Rhizome's subscribers. In this case, the plagiarism of the structure and the shifted meaning of the contents, were explaining and keeping each other in a state of mutual tension. So why do you consider the intervention on the "contents", as less important than the one on the structures? Don't you think that they are equally important?

A: Of course they are, you cannot keep them separated. The action of duplicating a site like Hell.com, strongly copyrighted and password protected, has some implications. To violate the copyright and the protection is part of the action because it amplifies the meaning of the cloning. But than you don't have to look only at this aspect, because you risk to fall into a simplistic interpretations.

Q: I've seen that you made use of Web Stalker as well, but employing it not as a browser, but as a sort of interface, a different way to access the plagiarised sites. In which way do you decide to recombine different softwares and "aesthetics"?

A: 0100101110101101.ORG works with Web Stalker because is experimenting with different kinds of Internet use. 0100101110101101.ORG considers duplication one of the possible attitudes towards the web, and the Web Stalker is another one. It represents the technical opportunity of finding other ways of developing and using the stream of data. There are many alternative browsers - Riot, , Netomat etc. - but Web Stalker is the most interesting, at the moment. It imposes looking at the web from another point of view, not 'esthetical' but 'structural', that is, in a certain way, what 0100101110101101.ORG does duplicating a site. A good off-line browser - like Web Devil - keeps all the original names of the files and the hierarchy of the folders, so, while downloading it, you discover the internal structure of the work; it's somehow like looking inside the brain of its author, and sometimes can be interesting.
The work shows some sites from an unusual point of view, not the HTML simulation but other sides of the same sites: the map of the links, the list of the files and the source codes. It's a contribution to affect the standardised and "welfare" way of navigation of traditional browsers. Most of people like net.art because of its design, but the most interesting thing is often the source code and the "internal architecture" of the sites.

Q: As far as i know, most part of online plagiarism, has been related to a more strictly political content. If we accept the Documenta X theft (stolen by Slovenian net.artist Vuk Cosic), most of the plagiarism has been orientated against corporations (Tesco, WTO) or politicians (Rudolph Giuliani, GW Bush) and so onů In these cases, plagium seems an act of disturbance aimed to raise doubts and create confusion about the truth of certain messages spread through the net. What is the plagium of art sites aimed to?

A: 0100101110101101.ORG doesn't deal only with artistic sites. The work with www.vaticano.org - a fake site of the Holy Sea apparently identical to the official one but with completely different contents - started even before and went on for one year, until the Network Solutions cut the contract because of mysterious "technical problems". This site is a good example of a hacktivist use of the web.
On the other hand you don't have to be explicitly political to do something political. At the moment 0100101110101101.ORG is working on different issues, ideas like originality, reproducibility, authorship and copyright, raising issues and contradictions that are no longer strictly art matters, but deal with the free flow and exchange of information. The Internet has entered the "infoware era", and information is going to become the most important productive force.

Q: Do you think that on-line art has a possible market?

A: Like all the other forms of art even net.art will build its market. It's naive to think that because net.art is "immaterial" it won't be saleable, it only needs time enough to create its "space" in the market. It's a delusion that surfaces again every time a new form of art crops out; everything has been sold as art: actions, landscapes, living animals, ideas, air, people. Everything, potentially, can become and be sold as art. So why not net.art?

Q: Can the replication of some sites threaten the development of a net.art market?

A: The digital reproducibility threatens one of the pillars of the market - not only of art but of all intellectual production in general - that is the authenticity. It is no longer possible to defend the property of the artwork when it is reproducible at a low price, in an infinite number of copies, without losing quality. The creation of new forms of commercialisation of intellectual property appears to be evidently necessary.
0100101110101101.ORG's actions are not "against web art", they are rather 'on', 'through' or 'with', but not 'against'. When 0100101110101101.ORG replicated Hell.com it was not a pay per view site yet, it was just 'copyrighted' and 'password protected'. 0100101110101101.ORG thinks that time has come to start to re-use art, and culture in general, instead of making new "art", and this can be done only in a way: with a truly "interactive" behaviour.

Q: What do you mean by "interactive"?

A: A work of art, net or not doesn't matter, can't be 'interactive' in itself, it's people that must use it interactively, it's the beholder that must use a piece in an unpredictable way, one that the author didn't foresee. Copying a site you are interacting with it, you are re-using it to express new meanings that the author didn't foresee. Interacting with a work of art means being beholder/artist simultaneously; the two roles take place at the same time. Thereby we should talk about meta-art, the falling-down of all barriers in art: the beholder becomes an artist and the artist becomes a beholder: a powerless witness of what happens to his work. The necessary condition to the spreading of culture re-using is the complete abandonment of the concept of copyright, that is a natural need of digital evolution.

Q: But there are different ways to re-use something. If you just copy, your level of interaction remains pretty low. In the past, during the Roman empire for instance, copying was considered an art itself: plagiarise a Greek sculpture or, later on, a Picasso or a Rembrandt was something that only few artisans could do. The imitator or the plagiarist had to go through a long process of self-training in order to acquire the techniques of the masters. Nowadays, with the digital format, anybody in possession of a few computer skills can easily replicate and also manipulate complex web sites just using software, a piece of code.
Do you think that a massive approach to replication technology will favour a collective growth of creative forms of expression? Don't you think that, on the other hand, the risk is to have an increase in the white noise, in which people will fight to emerge from anonymity and get some public attention? Don't you think that this process of democratisation risks killing any contractual power of artists and intellectual workers? I mean for corporations and art-dealers it is much better to have a big offer than a scarce one, it gives them much more power of selectionů

A: Paradoxically, the more replicating sites would become a common behaviour, the less the action itself of replicating sites would have an artistic value. In the contemporary art system the biggest need is the "novelty". If 0100101110101101.ORG copies a site, it's considered "art", because 0100101110101101.ORG is supposed to be an "artist"; but if somebody else would start to copy sites in the same way as 0100101110101101.ORG does, they would be considered a "fake". Of course it doesn't mean that 0100101110101101.ORG approves of this system, but that's what happens. And that's why 0100101110101101.ORG has a value only as an example to suggest that you have to find out new ways of behaving towards art. When plagiarist.org cloned 0100101110101101.ORG the point under discussion wasn't that somebody else was starting to copy as an artistic expression, but another point that is the fact that plagiarist.org had to copy his own site passing through 0100101110101101.ORG. It's because it was the first time that this kind of situation happened. The art system always needs something new, it's the instinct of self-preservation.

Q: By the way, copying mainly web art sites you automatically fall in a determined circuit and you encounter a determined audience, there's no way to escape it. Don't you think that it is important to stretch the boundaries between art and non-art, crossing different fields and practices?

A: Since you don't live in a desert island everything you do is not restricted in a specific field and isolated from the rest. The destruction of the boundaries between art and life is an old utopia raised by the historical avant-garde. The more the avant-garde tried to demolish the distinction between art and life, the more the distinction grew. Fluxus represents a good example of this way of thinking, and nobody would appreciate or even understand this kind of art without having studied contemporary art. Salvador Dal?, who's probably one of the biggest frauds ever, was explicitly elitist and apparently "complex", (because of all this superficial-surrealistic aesthetics), and he has become one of the most popular artists ever, one of the most "known" and appreciated especially by "common people". If you try not to be "recuperated" you fall into Debord-style paranoia, and the result is often to become more and more elitist. On the other hand, if you try to do what the publics expect from you, you fall into "pop banality". The more you become 'popular' and the more you lose the control of your work. It becomes "public property".