Appendix A: Email Interviews with Three Web Artists

Amy Alexander
Helen Thorington
John Neilson
Alison Craighead

Amy Alexander

1.) What do you think about the future of Web art and interactive Web art? Do you see it going in any particular direction?

Wow, that's a big question! :-) I guess there are 2 components - where does it seem like it's going and where would I like to see it going? Not to say that these are mutually exclusive..... more and more sites seem to be taking advantage of the web's ability to mutate frequently. Sometimes that's in the form of a site that updates with current-off-the-net or user-submitted material (,,, and of course the Recycler:-)) Other times it's in the form of culturally relevant content, which the artists can update frequently. The first part of that also has the effect of creating a greater number of sites that reference the web itself in some way... which I think is OK, since the web is becoming a bigger and bigger part of culture - we may as well talk about it!

Another trend I see is toward more sophisticated interface design. Sometimes you see sites that are too technical for their own good of course, but other times you see really interesting interfaces, with complex levels of interactivity. That's no surprise - the same happened with CD-ROM - there was dumb "click this button" interactivity for a few years, and then people got into things like metaphorical interfaces. It's taken a little longer with the web, at least partly because people are still working out the technical vocabulary - lessee, which implementation of DHTML do I use for this browser? - all I wanted to do was move a little piece of text...

Where I hope web art goes is away from the whole browser metaphor. Browsers and the way HTML, etc., is designed are obviously geared towards corporate sites and selling or at least advertising things, but if you want to break out of that standard metaphor it's rough. But it's becoming more and more possible with Shockwave, Java(script), etc., to break out of it, and that's where I hope it moves toward. The thing (with the browser windows that flew around the screen so you couldn't catch them) seemed to a lot of the scripting-people like, "oh, big deal, they're moving the windows around with Javascript... cheap trick..." but it hit home for a lot of people because it gave the impression that the browser had broken out of the browser, which a lot of people had never seen before. Now, when the browser breaks out of the *computer*, that will be *really* cool... ;-)

2.) In "The Multi-Cultural Recycler," and some of your other works you sample images from various sources. What are your thoughts on sampling, both audio and video, from web sources?

People talk about sampling like it's a recent trendy thing, and I understand why that is, but, collage has been around for how long? One way to comment on culture is to use scraps of it - it's not the only way, obviously, but it's one way.

3.) "The Multi-Cultural Recycler" deals with and recontexualizes the voyeuristic nature of Webcams. Likewise, many of the sounds that my installation brings in will (hopefully) be people's personal soundfiles of their music, or their poetry, etc. (and sometimes just commercials). In some ways, the Webcam thing mixed in with the fact that sex is the most popular topic on the Web seems to point toward some basic need for voyeurism and anonymity that content providers are feeding. People seem completely willing to trade identity for anonymity in exchange for the opportunity to "watch" from a safe distance. What are your thoughts as an artist on these trends toward voyeurism and anonymity?

I wrote a catalog essay once on the Recycler where I talked about this a little - I'll e-mail it to you. In the Recycler I tend to think it's at least as much exhibitionism as voyeurism - I think exhibitionism (meaning, showing oneselves off, not necessarily referring to indecent exposure) is the more basic need, even when the exhibition is in the form of voyeurism - how's that for cryptic? :-)... Examples of this - babycams, doggiecams.... nobody ever puts a webcam on someone else's dog. I think you're right about willingness to be anonymous, but I don't see it as being limited to watching from a safe distance - look at MUD's and chatrooms for example... speaking of all this - have you checked out Also, Heath Bunting's CCTV (I think that's the right title) at is a spoof on the whole "webcam as surveilancecam" thing.

The whole interest in voyeuristic webcams has been kind of funny with the Recycler, though... I noticed that in a lot of reviews, the writers described the Recycler as using webcams that were never in the piece! All sorts of bedroom shots, naked people, etc. that were just absolutely never in there....

4.) Distributing your art on the web, especially with music, means that your art has now completely left your control commercially. As it becomes more feasible for artists (both visual and audio) to distribute their work via the Web, questions arise regarding commercial and intellectual property rights. What are your thoughts on this as it relates to your work? I wonder if it is possible to make a living as a Web artist (not that that should be the all important concern). A painter can always sell a painting or a musician a CD, but can a Web artist sell a piece of Web art?

Yeah, that's the hot topic these days, isn't it? :-) .. I don't know of anyone who makes a living as a web artist except to the extent that some web artists get grants as artists-in-residence various places. Which I guess *is* making a living as a web artist. :-) But obviously you don't have objects that you go around selling to people. For a lot of web artists that's the whole reason they got into it - they were fed up with the commercial art market and wanted to present their art directly to the public, without the gallery system filtering what work got out and who it got to, and making money off it in the process.

The flip side of this is - hopefully more for aesthetic than for economic reasons - is that web art doesn't necessarily have to be objectless art. I was only half-kidding when I said it would be cool for the browser to break out of the computer - one thing I think is interesting - and it's actually something I'm working on now - is gallery (or other physical place) based web installation. Just as some people do sculptures and projections with video and/or sound, so it can be with web-based or generated material. Why? Because the real world and cyberspace are getting so mixed up, I think it makes sense for cyberart to do that too...

As for the intellectual and property rights question - that's an interesting one too. Since the Recycler deals with appropriation, I've never minded when people use images from the site for non-commercial purposes, unless of course they pass it off as their own or something, which there wouldn't be much point in - the images don't make much sense unless you know the context. A weirder thing is when I find links to the Recycler from web art exhibitions that didn't contact me about it first - just all of a sudden, the Recycler is in some show. I usually don't mind, but it's pretty strange - I guess people figure if it's floating around cyberspace it's up for grabs - obviously that doesn't happen with paintings and sculptures much...

The fine line between appropriation and plagiarism is something I play with in my domain, Everything on the plagiarist site is made of things I "stole" from the web. On one page I "acquire" large corporations by putting their domains into the domain. So there's,, etc. If you link to their sites, it shows up in your browser as though it's really part of This was much more cost-effective for me than purchasing them outright. ;-) However, I'm very proprietary about plagiarist - I say on the site: " is the registered domain and intellectual property of plagiarist(tm)." After I had put that up I was reminded of the Tape Beetles (I think it was them...) doing something called "plagiarism(tm)." So I guess the plagiarist plagiarized plagiarism. I suppose that's inevitable these days....;-)

Helen Thorington

1.) How long have you been involved in Web art, and what brought you to the medium?

From 1985 - 98, I was the director and producer of "New American Radio," a national weekly series that commissioned artists to create new work for the radio medium. I began my migration toward the web in '94 when it became apparent that public radio was no longer interested in supporting programming for specialized audiences, and that funders would not support the arts at livable levels, and particularly not radio arts. In other words, both funding and access to the airwaves were declining.

In 1996, we (my not-for-profit organization, New Radio and Performing Arts,
Inc.) moved the "New American Radio" series to the web, where it can still be found, archived on the site.

Also that year, we launched Turbulence was intended as an experimental site. It's purpose, like that of "New American Radio", was to commission artists, give them the opportunity to explore the medium, to identify its characteristics, and to create new works that make use of web and multi-media technologies.

I've been its producer, webmaster, and all purpose flunky since.

For a long time Turbulence survived with only funding for its artists. Beginning in December 1998, however, thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, its administration and expenses have been partially funded.

During those three years (1996-99), I also created my own work for the web, including the recent "Adrift" performance series, with Jesse Gilbert and Marek Walczak, and "Solitaire" with Marianne Petit and John Neilson.

2.) Who initiated the works Feedback and Loose Ends/Connections? How long did it take to develop them? How and why do you think they are important from an Internet perspective?

In early '98, Jesse Gilbert and I initiated an Online.Arts project. This was a direct result of our experience with the online "Adrift" performances, where three artists – Gilbert, Walczak and myself -– in three different geographical locations and working with three different computer environments ---– text, sound and VRML – created an ongoing work that came together (as the result of some magnificent Java scripting) and was delivered simultaneously to online audiences and to audiences in various geographical locations. "Adrift" was premiered at the Ars Electronica Festival in September 1997 and performed monthly from then until April 1998.

"Adrift" made all of us acutely aware of how few art sites are equipped to receive or participate in online performance events. The Online.Arts project was begun in the Spring of '98 to help deal with this problem. As Jesse and I both had backgrounds in music and sound, we elected to work initially with sound/music organizations, and to help make as many of them as possible "broadcast-enabled." Harvestworks, inc., The Pauline Oliveros Foundation and Mills College were the first. Others are expected to take part this year.

The idea was to develop each site so that artists could collaborate over space and over time in the creation of medium-specific work. This included the development of a schedule of regular, coordinated performances that would be made available simultaneously to local and to Internet audiences. The archives of these events would be permanently available on the Turbulence site.

With our experience in performance work and our access to a RealAudio server, New Radio and Performing Arts became the lead organization, and with access to facilities on Morton Street in NYC, thanks to Jesse, has served as the hub site in all performances to date.

How long did it take to develop the specific performances?

How far back do you want to go. Each performance takes about three weeks of preparation – mostly mine, getting performers to agree to the time, preparing the web pages etc. The performance day itself is generally horrendous, as the so-called Morton Street studio is really an office space with a T1 line, and Jesse and I must set up the hub from scratch -– We usually allow about five - six hours.

Are the performances important? To those of us who do them, yes. Perhaps they are also important because they contribute to the accumulating knowledge about performance in the networked medium. For the casual audience viewer/listener, who can attend concerts whenever he/she wants, they are probably not important. Or, not yet.

3.) What do you think are the current advantages and disadvantages of the medium with regard to online art? How do you think they are reflected or dealt with in Web works in general and in Loose Ends/Connections and

1. The process we are developing has the potential to achieve a result that cannot be achieved by any other means: a noncommercial network, exchange, and in time community of artists of many different mediums, cultures and points of view... As sound, image, text, movement can all be combined and eventually interacted with, the process should be looked upon as one that will eventually result in new forms of expression. "Loose Ends/Connections" and "Feedback" are baby steps on the way.

Some of the things at which we are currently looking are: 1) how to make the visual potential of the medium interact with the sound. For "Finding Time", Jesse's new work -- the first performance was March 20th -- Jesse programmed a way of scoring for artists in diverse locations. This means there can be more control over the work, that it need not be limited to improvisation. This was a first. Neither "Loose Ends" nor "Feedback" provided this control. The score was visible for the audience to follow. There was limited interaction for the audience. They could watch the whole score, or by clicking on a number watch the score as it affected individual performers. This is a step. 2) How to make it possible for the listener/viewers to interact with the work. In "Feedback", Neil Zusman made it possible for listeners to paint while they listened; in the upcoming April 18th performance, he will carry this work a step further.

"Loose Ends/Connections" – the first performance of the Online.Arts Group used Mary Lucier's video as a slide show. It did not interact with the music, or allow interaction on the users part.

It is hard to look on any of these things as disadvantages: they are the given in the early stages of a medium's development, and in that respect, challenges. Things that need to be worked on.


(In my opinion "Adrift" was a more "advanced" work than any of the above, in that it does begin to integrate sound, image, text and movement in a decentralized but "filmic" way. Audience members were able to contribute text; we developed a way to input video to VRML, and if finances hadn't been so dire at that time, we would have gone on to make a local performance, such as that of a dancer, impact on the Internet performance, and eventually, alter something in another performance site.)

The current most influential drawback to developing the Internet potential lies in the failure of traditional arts funders to recognize its significance and back it. Not, as will probably happen this year, at a museum level, where the democratic nature of the medium will be denied, but at a grass roots level.

The second difficulty is that many performers view the opportunity we've offered as a way of reframing their work for the current market, rather than as a challenge to develop an art form for a new medium. It's difficult to engage in the much-needed discussion until the excitement and challenge of the new medium are felt...

In this respect Jesse's new work, "FindingTime," has been more successful than Loose Ends or Feedback... The artists he's dealing with are looking at the medium, talking about it and appear to be willing to embark on something that isn't a repetition of a concert...

I know these aren't the answer you want... but advantages/disadvantages – the little things that drive us crazy, or that delight us – are less significant, I think, when you understand that the digital domain will be the primary medium of the 21st Century, and that you have the opportunity to help develop the way the medium is used. (Am I optimistic... well actually, I'm not all that optimistic. I just enjoy working where things aren't yet fixed... and I'm delighted to say that I'm not alone)

John Neilson

1.) How long have you been creating Web art?

The first real Art project I did was a collaboration with video artist/illustrator M.R.Petit, which is also on Turbulence. It's based on a Grimm's Fairy Tale, and it got a lot of attention when it first went up. M.R.Petit conceptualized the project and made most of the graphics and the music, and I put the thing together, and came up with the scripted parts. It was the first site that I know of that used hidden frames to let the MIDI soundtrack play through whole "chapters" of a story, which made it easier to for people to sit through an old-fashioned narrative like that.

From there I got an offer to do a site of my own, which was Radio Stare, and since then I've also collaborated with Petit and Helen Thorington on a storytelling card game (Solitaire) and done audio work on Annette Weintraub's Broadway site.

2.) What are your thoughts about the future of sound art on the web? What do you see as current trends or commonalities among web art works, especially those that incorporate sound?

It's funny, I don't see a lot of audio art out there, which is partly my fault for spending less time just surfing and looking. I see a lot of audio on pages, and I love getting radio over the Web, but that's not the same.

3.) Why did you choose to create Radio Stare, and how or why is the medium important to the piece?

When I got the offer to do a site I wanted to do something that was audio-based *and* unique to the Web. (When we did The Grimm Tale we knew that it was an adaptation of an old form in a new medium. With this one I wanted to do something that couldn't be done any other way.) What the Web offered was a way to make a sound art installation that combined elements from remote locations into a work that was accessible world-wide and presented a unique experience to everyone who spent the time.

4.) What influenced you in deciding to use a ready-made sound source (the scanner) as the basis for the piece?

I've use short-wave radios in musical contexts since the 70s, so that part was easy. I have very vivid memories of discovering John Cage's "Variations IV" in the library when I was in high school, and since that time it's become commonplace to hear samples of every kind of sound imaginable in music, for example in the work of Holgar Czukay, Pere Ubu, Byrne & Eno, and all sorts of current electronica.

It turned out the hard part was trying to find a way to have the radio coexist with any other sound sources. I originally wanted to get more elaborate with layers of sounds originating from different sources, but even if that was possible over a 28.8 modem most home computers would choke, so it ended up being just the two, plus the visual loop.

5.) I have the feeling that I am listening to the sonic equivalent of a Webcam, except the subjects have no idea that they're being incorporated into a work of art. Do you consider this work intentionally voyeuristic, and if so, why?

There's definitely a voyeuristic element to the scanner – and a paranoid element, if you're so inclined – but the intention was to use it as an ever-changing audio ‘verité' device in a musical context.

I've overheard some moments of drama that upped the voyeurism factor considerably, but it works equally well as a piece when the audio is just utterly banal, disembodied voices and bursts of radio noise. At that point the scanner and the rhythm loop meld into music.

6.) I also see (hear) some interesting parallels drawn between their network and ours. They (the cops) are all on their own nodes within their radio network. They also cannot completely determine the content of their transmissions because they respond to usually unpredictable events, and thus there is a lot of chance involved in their network chatter. I also find it interesting that your work samples one network to broadcast it into another. It captures the unpredictable nature of their network and uses it to its advantage to create surprise (offset against the repetitive MIDI and graphics). Do you agree with this? If not, why?

Definitely. Part of the appeal of the piece for me is that the scanner is live and unpredictable and real. You don't know if you're going to hear a five-alarm fire call in L.A. or a couple of bored cops in Dallas wondering where to have lunch. And you never know how the sounds and voices are going to fit into the loop. The moments where synchronicity seems to take over are the ones that make me come back to it again and again.

7.) I feel that some of the best electronic art is that which is technically simple but conceptually deep (such as certain pieces by Alvin Lucier). Radio Stare combines three simple elements in an elegant, unified, thought provoking manner. Do you agree with this? If not, why?

I like works where you can see the process (the phase pieces of Steve Reich are another good example). I also like works that have a process you can enjoy intellectually but that also appeal on an engaging aesthetic level.

As I said above, part of the simplicity came from trying hard to restrict the piece to something that would actually work over the web. There's a lot of Web art that uses a lot of bandwidth in an attempt to wow the viewer, but it's usually a sign that the work is designed without consideration for the limitations of the medium. The real experience most people take away is a mix of annoyance and frustration when everything takes forever to happen.

I have no control over the scanner, which uses a steady stream of bandwidth, so to work as I wanted everything else had to be extremely lightweight. For the music loop I had to use a MIDI file, instead of compressed audio. The downside of MIDI is that it's going to sound different on different machines, but on the plus side the files are extremely compact, and more importantly, most sound cards will play MIDI simultaneously with the RealAudio stream. (If I were to do it again now I'd probably replace the MIDI with a similar thing done in Sseyo's "Koan" software, which generates endless variations out of a single file, thereby increasing the uniqueness of each experience.)

In fact, I may actually have to redo part of the site, since from what I can tell the newer versions of the RealAudio player are piggish and grab the whole sound card, so that it will no longer play MIDI and RealAudio streams at the same time. I've emailed Progressive Networks, but I don't hold out any hope that they'll correct this.

The visuals were done in Shockwave Flash, which had just come out, making it possible to pack what is essentially a 3-minute full-screen movie loop into 250K. I experimented with using looping and streaming video, but Flash let me create something that would have been impossible with those tools.

Part of the piece is about passive viewing (once you get into the loop there's nothing to click on) versus active listening, so there's just enough going on visually to simulate a sort of (Infomercial Super-)highway hypnosis, which it also gives you plenty of opportunity to consider how all this communication is out there, millions of lives intersecting in the aether (and now, cyberspace). It's as ubiquitous as oxygen, and just as invisible.

Alison Craighead —

1.) How long have you been involved in web art?

The first on-line work we made was in 1996 -a speculative work called, 'Short story.' Prior to that we had been working with computer hardware (and electronic spaces) to realize gallery installation work, and for us, a more significant work in which we began to think about how one might navigate a non-linear or networked space was an installation called, Thalamus.' [see our website for documentation of the work] In it we drew comparisons between the idea of unearthing biologically stored data with aspects of data retrieval in electronic space, by transplanting a documented narrative of a man undergoing past life regressive hypnosis into electronic space, and allowing a user to navigate the work in a way that is similar to tuning a radio.

and what brought you to the medium?

It was an almost inevitable cross over from installations we had made using video and sound as the primary mediums.

2.) How do the current limitations of the medium, particularly bandwidth, influence and affect your works?

Just as gravity has a huge influence over the way in which we may stage an installation in a gallery (or another 'physical' space), bandwidth and other technical limitations provide a framework within which we must operate if we wish an on-line work to function in a way that, broadly speaking, will be experienced in a similar way by a diverse audience.

Of course in the networked spaces of the world wide web, these constraints are constantly changing and in this way, as bandwidth increases, our subsequent works tend to weigh more (in terms of memory)

3.) To what degree, if any, do you think your works turn the limitations into advantages?

To simply understand certain things about the web is an advantage. The need to contextualize artworks is an ever more important aspect to the work of contemporary artists. The internet is an oddly distinct space (as opposed to the gallery) because it is medium, means of production, means of communication/dissemination and venue all rolled into one. A collapsed space if you like.

Of course we are constantly looking for technical 'tricks' that allow us to optimize the speed of download when accessing our work, but we have yet to produce a piece that utilizes bandwidth limitations.

4.) In your work, "Weightless," to what degree did you use realtime content sampling, i.e. are the chat room segments sampled live? What about the animated gifs and the music?

Everything is edited and represented in a different context. Some of our work uses search engine cgi scripts and relies on 'live' network connections to other parts of the web, but in the case of weightless, we were happy to manipulate existing bodies of data without using live streaming.

At one stage, we were going to stream chat to weightless as it happened, but after a few tests which were not without substantial technical problems (such as automatic termination of our connections by the chatlines once our use of their bandwidth was detected) we opted for editorial control. After all, much of our interest in 'Weightless' is drawing anthropological content from an emergent web culture and to transcribe such elements (midi files, animated gifs and chatline texts) to a relative vacuum where they can be seen to stand alone and be scrutinized in a different way.

We also want the work to preserve itself as a kind of cultural snapshot.

5.) Was there any particular platform or software you used to develop the
piece? Any particular language?

We tend to use javascript, dhtml, html and flash/shockwave for most of our work online. For weightless, we used combinations of html and javascript

6.) Do you see any particular directions or movements currently forming
within web art?

Yes, but not as any real single strand. Much of the work by artists on-line that we find particularly interesting tends to acknowledge the defining control of the browser as a 'window' onto the web and/or the nature of networked space. As it is such a fluid environment, it is inevitable that a certain amount of attention is always placed on the nature of the space in which on-line work finds itself at any one time. We also favour it as an environment where the manipulation of existing data becomes more akin to more traditional notions of representation.

Art institutions are obviously staking their claim and bringing with them, notions of curated on-line spaces and quite 'traditional' interpretations and uses of the world wide web. By this, we mean an imposition of gallery terms and conditions onto the Internet. Adaweb, the diacenter, walker arts centre and the Guggenheim would all be examples of this.

There are reactionaries who seek refuge in this largely unlegislated space, perhaps in the hope that a new order of things will evolve and many of these object to the institutional approach. Roy Ascott, antiorp, would all be examples of this but in such cases, it is our feeling that all they do is construct a mirror image of all they seek to criticize.

One fairly consistent phenomenon seems to be how the Network promotes the development of communities, that while globally accessible are often surprisingly insular, almost becoming ways of sheltering from blizzards of information noise.