In the first part of `The Compleat Web-ster’, I presented the challenge to web designers provided by the various `hooks’ available in HTML for snaring viewers. The hope was that further sophistication of web sites, using devices such as client-pull, would enable artists to evoke deeper responses to their online works than the standard `net surfing’. Below is a selection of web sites that have inspired submissions from a range of writers. They include both statements from web authors and responses from visitors.
Enjoy, and beware!
Intention: Brad Whitmore
The Black Hole of the Web is simply an example of dynamic page updating. An evening sometime last year I was talking my mouth off about a bunch of "useless" Web site that could be made. Many of them I never had intended to see implemented; it was more my way of making fun of the Web and where it could go. My ideas included Wedding Announcement pages, Obituary pages that would last forever, and a number more that were in really bad taste. One of my ideas was a page that would suck you in and take control of your browser - "A Black Hole for the Web". Something to add to the totally useless page. :)
Well after a year of web innovations many of my ideas from that evening have come frightening true. I have found both wedding announcements pages and obituary pages, and a number of other ones that I think are even more frightening. A page that tells the current time, a calculator page and Carlos made me a Black Hole of the Web page when the technology became available.
One thing I have found completely fascinating is we made only one posting to possibly three news groups about the BHoTW. In fact it explained to people "Do not go to this site!" It is "dangerous". Get this approximately: 1500 people a week visit the site - over 50,000 total have visited since our initial warning. What does this say about people. Is it another example of curiosity killed the cat? Tell people not to do something and about 50,000 will try it. :) The site continues to attract world wide fan mail that entertains both Carlos and I.
Response: Sadie Rose
The first time I entered the Black Hole, I thought it was a stale joke. Sure, the warning against entry was an unsubtle invitation to proceed. Once I found that my browser had been more or less commandeered by this site, however, I felt a kind of chill rare in its intensity—certainly for web sites. It was like the unexpected intrusion of a monster over the shoulder of a blithely unsuspecting victim. The space created by the web browser, I then realised, had become something I had felt completely in control of. Sure there were always delays getting images and text downloaded onto screen, but these were only technical difficulties. There were no interpersonal and political questions to contend with, as you might find queuing for books in a library, say.
The trick of Black Hole of the Web, no matter who trite it looks in hindsight, brought home the truth that Internet had lured me into an unreal sense of invulnerability. I was glad to be shaken out of it.
I know, however, that I’ll gradually lapse back into this feeling of security. With some luck, I’ll come across another `black hole’ to trap myself and thus liberate me from this nefarious web.
Boyce Thompson Southwestern Arboretum 
Response: Alan Sondheim
This site has engaged my attention. My Netscape opens onto it. I have been into and throughout the desert. The desert is inscription, domains, territories, scuttlings beneath and within the surface, plants harboring cuticles against desiccation, breathing only at night. Creosote might well be the oldest lifeform around; some circles spread for 12,000 years. The point is that the Arborteum site reminds me of my presence there in the past, that it creates an intensity of lifeforms other than the AI on the screen, that it connects through a projection into what I'd still call the wilderness, no matter how few young saguaro there are. I can dream and breathe in the desert, see from one end to the other, myself lost like a membrane collapsing against the dry heavings of the sky, crystalline, hot and cold.
And the Arboretum has done an excellent job; like many other environmental and cultural sites across America, it has been hard-pressed for money; I'm not even sure whether or not the Desert Plants magazine (which I have subscribed to) is still in existence. The Web pages, complete with maps and illustrations, radiate heat. They're not fancy, but they bring to life something which shouldn't be forgotten and should never be misinterpreted. Too often the desert, particularly vis-à-vis current Continental philosophy (i.e. Baudrillard for example), is treated as empty and "American," as if it were nothing but a furlough for our spirit, criss-crossed by desire and confused notions of frontiers. Nothing is farther from the truth, and these treatments are devastating, since they amount to a cultural imperialism, consuming but _not looking_ at the reality of these spaces, with their complex ecologies; systems of Native American nations, rites, and domains; trade routes and animal trails; late-night fireballs, mirages, and dreams...
The garden sites on the Web spread like the rhizome beneath the post- modern culture MOO (PMC2-MOO); they are worth thinking about beyond the cleverness of the Web, which detracts from its underlying economics, corporate roots, and construction of the consumer. They remind me of shifts beyond the Web, beyond the Net itself; as openings onto the Net, they keep me healthy and wise.
"The Dark Pool" [http://] and "Love Letters from a World of Awe" .
Response David Odell
These are interactive sites based on branching choice graphs. In "The Dark Pool" this graph is web-like in its interconnections, with multiple re-entries, clearly designed as a maze-like place where one may wander. One is drawn in by a strong narrative desire but indeed the essence of the piece as a possible narrative becomes more elusive as one wanders, and we are forced to recognize that our wanderings reflect only ourselves, our own choices in this finite mini-universe.
In "Love Letters from a World of Awe" the graph is tree-like framed by a personal testament by the artist, "these reflect the attempt to live an artist's life in a time that is hostile to the endeavour", the little narratives, or theatres of found motifs that radiate from the central stem, all reflect back onto the absent subjectivity of the artist, they are much like letters or diary entries, experiments towards or material for possible artworks.
There are three discernible levels in "The Dark Pool", the links to a framing context, the Compleat Web-ster page or the sponsoring Art Gallery page, the links within the work proper, delineated by a familiar "artistic" mode of presentation, black background, elegantly cropped mysterious photograph, paragraphs of hypertext, seemingly simple but becoming more complex as the enigmatic relations between them emerge, and certain special links which suddenly take us out of the work and into the context of its making, grey informational screens entitled "Artist's note:" with texts that tell of the origin of some image or part of that image, "A couple of years ago in Amsterdam I went to the torture museum (it's pretty tacky). When I saw a drowning cage for witches I was completely filled with fear. I knew then that I had been in one of them before." It becomes clear after a short time that the universe of the work is strictly finite, one keeps returning to the same points, so that the game for me became to try to get to every node on the graph.
Here a pure desire to exhaust this object took over from an initial desire to solve the mystery of the disjointed narrative. As I did this I kept coming back to a screen containing a photograph of a type-writer and a hypertext link that would take me to a further screen where I would be invited to contribute a response. The enigma becomes a reflection becomes a demand.
"Love Letters from a World of Awe" makes no such obvious demand. One explores the attempt to redeem the everyday by giving it form, making it memorable within the context of this strange medium of virtual and indefinite co-presence. The implicit acts of construction of these memorials to salient moments in the flow of everyday life, have little more intensity to them than one's own acts as a browser, perhaps the coolest activity available to us these days.
One is struck by the how close one of the major motives in recent art, that of making works of a radically democratic kind, works utterly stripped of aura, is here to complete realization. The embodied subjectivities that graze this work are all in their most casual dress, utterly at home, surrounded by household objects, free to scratch and fart as they wish, and each capable of generating from its own "life" a succession of similar possibilities. What would have once been a certain New York style to the piece, a sophisticated and very light knowingness and delectation with the everyday, a filament of Cage, is nothing now but an international style in the loosest sense, a locationless point in cultural space.
We do not yet have a name for what is increasingly being called "cyberspace", since such a name, at this early stage would have to look back towards the receding shore. Whatever it may be, it remains arguable that every "work of art" produced in this new topology of subjective form is an allegory of the nascent ontology proper to it. Who are we as subjects in this prosthetic hyper-community? The two works discussed here are certainly no exceptions to this proposition, but they also seem to illustrate a limitation that still pervades the project. The very aptitude of this synthetic cosmos for finite branching models, seems to hobble its attempts at self-reflection. As if the point at which something finally interesting can occur recedes further and further into the nebulous and neutral gaps when one stares at the banner at the bottom of the screen, waiting on the daemons.
Response: Heather Fernon
Decoding the Virtual Unknown
For those whose early childhood memories are founded amongst the story telling methods of modern media; captured moments on television relaying the fragments of personal drama and tragedy, shot and edited for mass consumption - how does the on-line engagement challenge our understanding of communication practices?
The Internet has become a catacomb of the late twentieth century western culture. It provides an ongoing exchange space for visual and written dialogue - a dynamic platform through which images and symbols of contemporary society are rendered.
Yet the true identity of the electronic pigeon remains an enigma, hidden behind notions of science fiction and advertising cliché. The possibilities of on-line communication are both restrictive and unique. New boundaries are drawn within screen space and time, which are peculiar to each new user's experience. The interaction of provider and viewer becomes dependent upon the web’s ability to utilize and translate its flood of dialog and visuals. With such outpouring of material, the stems of communication are defined by the network of chosen navigational symbols.
One American media artist, Scott Becker explores culturally significant symbols as navigational tools within the 3D virtual environment. The journey through the Australia Interactive for instance, is determined by the participants response to these icons.
The computer becomes the conduit through which to translate knowledge without the sensory experience of human understanding. Like television, it defines without perception of the original aesthetic or its tangible replacement. The identity of the original is hence transformed through the 14" coated light source, glowing two feet or more away from the viewer. Images are dispersed through cultural filters, mediated by technological constraint.
However, the sensibility of the original can only be gained by direct personal experience. The on-line recreation of this identity reflects more upon contemporary sensibilities and symbology than it does the artifacts it seeks to translate. The common experience is one of mass dissemination and translation. It requires the suspension of belief, beyond the experience of the original depth and texture of form - into a contemplation of what lies beyond the digital veil.
Intention: Hugo Heyrman
I like to work with the digital image in its ultimate elements, the immaterial abstract information of pixels. I love the world wide transportable dimension of the Internet, where the digital data-stream can travel at the speed of light.
*Interactive Dreams* is an ongoing WWW-project. Expect the unexpected. Based on the non-linear structure of dreams, it gives more significance than simply freedom of choice. It draws correspondence with the creative pattern of consciousness. It blows your imagination away.
The *i-dreams* are made up in HTML, as an exploration of hyper-fiction by using the art of color transparency. The files are ultra-light & fast and constructed without the use of a scanner. The images are made of enlarged pixels, constructed in Superpaint & Photoshop. Meaning is presented as a poetical metaphor by browsing text & images into a personal morphing of meaning, in order to find simplicity in complexity. It is a form of private art, a dream-like 'synaesthetic experience'. I want to explore Cyberspace and develop a new virtual ABC.
Response: Robert D. Manne
Interactive dreams opens with an invitation to participate in the exploration of unconscious musings. What follows is 19 pages of jagged hyper-pixelated images captioned with messages dealing with heterosexual dilemmas, such as `In his imagination he understood the nature of a female space’. The final page has an image of man and woman, backs turned to the screen, embracing. The caption reads: `For them, emotional alchemy was a flexible form of art’. The effect of this conclusion is to give the site a comic feel, assuming some basic understanding shared by couples that helps them overcome the war of the sexes.
The design logic allows for fast downloads and a fairly swift journey through the site. But there seemed an obvious paradox in the use of a linear sequence to evoke a dream logic. The captions seemed a little too declarative to represent the submerged dream narratives that usually manifest themselves as fragments.
If felt by the end that I had witnessed the very surface of someone’s dreams, not the churning unconscious forces that motivate them. One positive result of this was to suggest the suitability of WWW as a space for dreams. The ease of publication invites web users to present personal experience like dreams for global dissemination. This contrast between the microcosm of an individual life and the macrocosm of a global computer network would have some pathos. How best to design their presentation is another question, but a thicker weave of hyperlinks would be an obvious place to start.
Response: Katherine Phelps
Once upon a time art was about beauty and ecstasy. These days it is far too often the angst-ridden cry of the professional victim or works of ice cold intellection. Art, for me at least, is a celebration of life in all of its diversity and should express and/or evoke an awareness of our feelings from our encounters with life. This should include elements of both dark and light, not one to the exclusion of the other. I object to art being seen as only those things that are dark and only those things accessible to an elite audience. Where would Shakespeare or Dickens be today? They were both popular humorists. Art can be considered good when it is skillfully executed. It is only great when it touches a broad and enduring audience who carry it from generation to generation. I believe the reason why we have seen so few good answers to the question, "When has a multimedia title made you cry?" has more to do with the sort of art we have been institutionally encouraging rather than the limitation of the media. I know any number of people, myself included, who have cried over Travels with Samantha which spans the spectrum of human emotion in an online travelogue.
Whether or not you agree with my stance, interactive media such as the Web works best when you have a deep understanding of the nature of play. Trying to get people to wander from segment to segment of your site because they "should", because what you have created is "high art", is unlikely to be successful. Better reasons are: suspense, curiosity, sense of wonder, anticipation, humour. A certain apparent effortlessness, like the intricate dance movements of a ballerina, also needs to flow from page to page giving your audience just enough in each page so that they want more. I find engaging the audience's imagination highly effective. On Glass Wings I describe the subject areas of my site as if they were physical spaces without providing any graphical representation of these descriptions. An example of this would be the Giggle page. This has been the most remarked upon feature in many Glass Wings reviews. In any case Netculture has traditionally been more focused on the lighthearted. Though student angst abounds, its appeal to other angst ridden students has been limited. Angst ridden humour, on the otherhand, seems to be a winning combination.
As in any medium if you want an audience, you have to care about yourself, care about your art and care about your audience. No one of these three elements can be skipped over in the process of creation. With the Internet the artist has to confront real numbers in measuring their success rather than relying on how big a party their opening had, then remaining blissfully unaware of their impact in subsequent days. Nevertheless, success is measured in many ways, not the least of which is simply the joy you received from creating a work. No computer I know of has a way of measuring such matters.
Intention: Fiona Giles
Dick for a Day is due for release by Villard Books, a division of Random House (USA) in fall 1996. The webpage digitizes both original material and excerpts from the book, including written text, visual artwork, quick-time, and audio. The page will also be a net to catch more contributions, and will include questions for visitors to answer if they're inclined to, for this purpose.
Mostly I've regarded the page as a form of glamorous, yet virtually free, advertising. Networking advantages are also beginning to emerge as links to other sites, particularly girlie worlds such as All Men Must Die and Femmeworld, begin to take shape. The opportunity for networking without the financial constraints imposed by mummy and baby Bells et al. is especially appealing.
As I work with the painter Yael Kanarek (who is doing both design and html together with many of the illustrations), other benefits are becoming apparent, such as the (to me) liberating lack of a need for uniformity in design or sense of wholeness. After working with books and magazines, where cohesion and consistency is God, this is a huge relief. The space we've been allocated by Razor Fish is truly a playground. The immediacy and disposability of the medium (which may to an extent be an illusion given users' ability to download) also invites greater risk-taking and innovation with material. Rooms (of which we have six to begin) may be discarded and others developed, as we gauge visitors' interests. Although we're striving to include only excellent content, with at least the standards of book publishing, the opportunity for experiment is much greater.
The metaphor of being in cyberwaters which are necessarily shallow, comes merely from the knowledge of screen-watchers' minimal attention spans. But catching the fish quickly, needn't mean losing it with the same alacrity, if (and only if) the content survives the often overwhelmingly visual design favoured by website techies. For this reason Dick for A Day has clean and low-key look despite its filthy, funny and intensely communicative desires -- initiating speech across, under, over and through genders and identities. In the land of the girlie hard-on, we trust that our hook is as good as our rod.
`Island’ Quicktime VR
Response: Yael Kanarek
One project I have come across though is a QuickTime VR piece by Janie Fitzgerald and Robert West. I have not experienced a lot of work in this medium and I'm not familiar yet with the technical issues in producing such movies, but purely from the artistic sense I would like to note a few things.
The first few pages that come across as an introduction to the "real" thing are very aesthetic but somewhat unclear in their intention. They remind me of medical drawings and are very different from the actual piece itself. Secondly, I couldn't figure out if there is one QT VR or more. I came across one (which I totally don't regret) called 'island.mov'. I'm not going to get into a detailed description because I would like you to go and see for yourself but while moving around in 'island.mov' some witty shifts in our sense of location and sense of fantasy versus the real world accrue. I found it very enjoyable discovering it by the interactive feature of the QuickTime VR and I found the subject matter totally integrated with the medium.
I think it's a great piece.
Intention: Tangled Webmaster
“The Tangled Web” began as a rather harmless social experiment. I was writing an email message to Brock Meeks in response to an article of his in a local newspaper about the whole Time magazine, CyberPorn nonsense, and we both agreed that Time's own illustration of the article (of the man fucking a computer screen) was more offensive than anything we had seen on the Net so far. I made the comment that I was then going to take it upon myself to create a site which would fill the gap in the online porn-market, because it obviously wasn't living up to all the press it was getting... so I began surfing and collecting images. “The Tangled Web” sprang from my web experience and every image on my site originally came from the web. I Tangled them together and put them back out there.
Of course, I wasn't content with actually creating a porn site, and “The Tangled Web” isn't the least bit pornographic. I used that as an excuse to do a piece which deals with sexual identity and preference. “The Tangled Web” calls sexual identity into question and gets confused by the answer. The fillout form, asking if you'd like to see pictures of men, women or both, is fake. It takes you to the same page regardless. It pokes fun at the notion of sexual preference. I get lots of email saying that the site is both erotic and hilariously funny. I love that.
The site went online August 4th and has gotten over 213,000 hits on the first page. That's not bad for an underground art site. If I just went ahead and put some straight forward nudy pix there I'd get 10 times more hits, but who gives a shit? I reached a bigger audience than I ever thought possible, it's great.
Response: Kevin D. Murray
The opening page of “The Tangled Web” evoked my worst fears. The warning page asked for my consent before continuing. Looking carefully at the details, however, I realised that the warning was a hoax. Clicking `I am not 21’ sent me to a search engine—plainly I should try elsewhere. Agreeing `I am not a net nanny’, however, took me into the site. Each step deeper into the site brought similar satirical caveats.
The substance of “The Tangled Web” is basically black and white images taken from porn sites that have been merged together to form a pastiche of body parts. It’s a welcome opportunity to marvel at the enormous attraction that such as an abstract medium has for human flesh.
“The Tangled Web” marks progress in the consciousness of the web. At a simple technocratic level, its mission seems to disseminate information more widely than ever before. Yet, with a McLuhan-esque irony, we note that this medium has its own messages internal to its political structure. This promiscuous spread of information prompts the construction of virtual doors, made up of warnings and passwords. As soon as any space--no matter how abstract--is divided like this, it opens possibilities of false entrances and bogus exits. Those possibilities are left open to the more imaginative web artists, like the creator of Tangled Web.
Response: Alex Demidenko
Coming across the “Refugee Republic” on the web is like discovering an Atlantis, slowly emerging from its watery depths. My initial reaction was shock that I hadn’t heard of this interesting initiative before. Here was a unique governmental structure supposedly catering for the 50 million refugees scattered around the world: a virtual nation just waiting for its global debut.
I readied myself to gather information. The opening screen provided an image map with pointers to such items as maps, offices, passport, investment and history. The “Maps” sections provided a colour-key globe of landmine density, UNCHR bases around the world, and a world atlas in outline, without the coastal outlines that divided them.
Exploring further into the logic, I read that “Refugee Republic maintains that refugees are essentially unrealised capital and that their involuntary fate of an international avant-garde can be turned into productive assets.” My first response was dismay that this proposition was being put forward as a calculated form of venture capitalism. Then the penny dropped that this entire site was a satire aimed to highlight the plight of refugees in the world today.
With this revelation I began to enjoy the more speculative propositions it contained. There were RR passports, Universal Translators and The InteRR(efugee)net. In vain I searched for a sound file of the national anthem (“I was born under a wandering star”?), but the possibility was there.
One of the pointers led to different languages. Critically reflecting on the dominance of English, the French and German extensions seemed to contain information lacking in the English version.
In the end, RR demonstrated the potential of the web for dealing with the rise of diaspora consciousness (as much as it promotes it). Just as we now find an increasing number of pages bonding through abstract forms of identity, such as common names (see the Jessica Page), so it is possible that those whose plight knows no sovereign state, might gain new purpose in this medium. I doubt whether this impression could have been conveyed as powerfully, had not I been skillfully deceived at the opening page.