The new media and urban space – Urban space and the new media

First Installation: 29.7.2000 Last update: 30.01.2010

Lecture given at the Bauhaus, Dessau on 07.07. and 08.07.2000

1. Introduction

I am not an architect, an urban planner, a sociologist or a Quake Level programmer. I am primarily an artist and an art historian. And it is from that perspective that i speak about artists whose projects and interventions employ urban space and the new media. However, both terms, urban space and new media, introduce fundamental problems. The ‘new media’ of today are the ‘old media’ of tomorrow. The dynamics of the global telecommunications village can hardly be aptly described and understood in terms of space or urbanity. A great majority of the data and telecommunication streams have become particularly non-spatial and non-observable, a phenomenon for which Manuel Castells has coined the term "space of flows". First of all, I would like to define some of the central terms I am going to apply in order to clarify the central themes under discussion in the context of this workshop. For the way in which we think about certain concepts and relations will most certainly determine how we can observe and understand them at all.


2. Definition of terms

2.1 Communication with media

Instead of considering urban space, I would prefer to speak of social systems. This gives us the advantage of maintaining a more general, objective and abstract viewpoint. Such a shift of emphasis exempts us from depending exclusively on more or less problematical definitions of urbanity or space. For precisely these terms seem to function as the decisive obstacles in one’s attempt at aptly coming to grips with the complexity of social processes.

To put it briefly, social systems are systems of communication. They consist solely of communication. The persons, machines and media implicated in these processes are in themselves not constitutive elements of social systems, but rather parts of their respective environments. Communication systems are firmly linked to these ‘peripheral’ agents and elements. These points are also referred to as structural couplings. Systems of communication are structurally coupled to certain social, political, institutional sources, environments or contexts, upon which they depend and within the parameters of which they function. Considering possibilities of societal change, one may discern that changes of social systems sometimes occur as the result of changing communication structures. However, it is also possible that changing the structural couplings themselves may incite changes within communication systems.


2.2 Defining Media

In order to communicate some form of medium must be applied. Communication without the use of media is not conceivable. The thoughts and considerations of a cognitive system are private and non-observable. Thus, various media have always been necessary to establish communication and, by extension, to constitute social systems. Without media communication cannot take place and social systems cannot exist. A person wishing to communicate with another person is always dependent on the use of a potentially publicly accessible medium. This usually involves language – the most widely-spread and popular medium. However, the ‘fixation’ of our society on the medium of language results in its subsequent underestimation or even disrespect, both of serious consequence, of other public media. Therefore, our definition of potentially applicable media should be as broad as possible. To my mind these include gestural and facial expression, non-verbal behaviour, spoken and written language, music, painting, sculpture, drawing, prints, diagrams, notes, photography, film, video, computer, holograms as well as the various telecommunications technologies available today.


2.3 ‘New’ media versus ‘old’ media

Considering the myth of the ‘new media’, it soon becomes apparent that their fundamental problem is the fact that they will age. This is because they are very rapidly superseded. The media artist Bettina Lockemann has pointed out that the faster a new medium becomes known and established, the faster it ages. Applying the term new media implies the direct or indirect use and/or acceptance of an ideological system of opinions and values primarily based on notions of originality, innovation and outbidding, historically stemming from modern avant-garde movements. Particularly in the realm of art, in which innovation, hype and outbidding caused by new forms of expression play an extremely important role for communication, an abundance of literature has been published during the past few years on the so-called ‘new’ and its rapid aging. Indeed ‘the faster information spreads on what is new, the faster it in turn becomes old’ is perhaps the most applicable argument at present. It follows that in order to be considered as new for as long as possible, the medium needs to be introduced and distributed as slowly as possible.


2.4 Irritation

The function of what is new is to irritate. It is primarily irritating by virtue of its deviating from what is habitual and old or past. In this connection, the way in which psychic and social systems react to these irritations is decisive. In general, this may occur in one of two ways: [firstly], the inner assimilation of and adaptation to what is new as acceptable and common, or [secondly], the warding off of the irritation as disturbing and ascribing it to the external environment. Which one of the respective possibilities is ultimately chosen by a given communication system cannot be foreseen by considering the source of irritation, but rather only by examining the reactions and related communicative responses to it. This means that, on grounds of their novelty, artistic interventions in social systems may incite more or less powerful irritations.


2.5 Interventions

In the art context, the term ‘intervention’ possesses various different precedents. The Situationistische Internationale centred around Guy Debord represents a decisive influence, but also the Sit In movement of the early 1960’s in the USA, and most importantly the ultimate moment in which the term ‘Happening’ was suddenly linked to notions of political activism. Related concepts outline terms such as artistic performance or actionism, as well as the term ‘interaction’ or ‘interactivity’ that may also be applied.

What is most interesting about the concept of artistic intervention and about the irritations it causes, is that the irritations themselves can only be evaluated and processed within the system in which they occur. For instance, the way a given artist may provoke the world of politics can only be an offer, inspiration or irritation to the latter, only able to process and assimilate it as social change according to its own momentary capacities and adaptability. At this point, the term of social change by means of provocation is of significance. Here too, it is decisive how we choose to and are capable of defining different concepts of social and societal change.


3. Artistic interventions in social space

3.1 Exchange and urban space

Exchange is one of the most basic forms of social interaction. During the past few years, there have been several artistic projects based on the notion of exchange. Usually they comprise works that function relatively well because the audience is actively involved. Curiosity for the object of exchange is generally stronger than scepticism towards what may potentially be an unfair deal. In this way a market evolves as the location in which supply and demand intersect. But they do not establish prices, but rather varying forms of (social) exchange, that is communication.


3.1.1 Clegg & Guttmann: The Public Open Library, 1993

An early, yet still topical project comes from the two artists Michael Clegg and Martin Guttmann. After a preliminary experimental run in Graz, they installed an open public library in three suburbs in Hamburg from May till September 1993. In contrast to normal libraries that often exude an intimidating or even oppressive atmosphere, this project was marked by an open, free-flowing form of self-organization, and the administration of principles of exchange. (Reproduction 1)

The library was installed in three converted switchboxes of the Hamburg Electricity Works, erected in three especially selected locations representing "in-between spaces" within the surrounding urban environment. (Reproduction 2) Based on statistical data, the artists chose three different suburbs: Volksdorf, a more elevated area, in which 43.3% of the inhabitants had graduated from high school and/or possessed other forms of higher education; Barmbek-Nord (13.6%), a densely populated, mixed, middle-class area; and finally Kirchdorf-Süd marked by a decidedly low level of education and income. (7.9%). (Reproduction 3)Ulf Wuggenig together with students from the Department of Cultural Studies at Lüneburg University worked on a sociological survey of the area to accompany the project. Thus, there is empirical data available on the successes and failures of the project.

The inhabitants of each respective suburb were asked to donate books. They were also asked which sorts of books should be contained in the ideal library. Conceivably, the donated books themselves were in stark contrast to these ideals. (Reproduction 4) Now, what is particularly interesting is how the project evolved at its various different locations, which sorts of books were added or removed, and how the growing number of books came about in the first place. The project worked best in Volksdorf. There, even a citizen’s initiative was founded to continue the open public library after the project was over. In Barmbek, the number of books decreased consistently, but the project did manage to continue till the end. In Kirchdorf, the library was destroyed. Within several days, the donated books had almost completely disappeared. (Reproduction 5)

In the same year, the two artists ran an open public music library in Firminy/France. (Reproduction 6) They asked the inhabitants of an Unité d’Habitation built by Le Corbusier in 1956 to put a selection from their respective music collections at their disposal. The library stock subsequently comprised cassette recordings of the submitted selections. The music library was located on the sixth floor of the apartment building. It included three elements: the presentation bookcase, seven photographs, also used for the cassette covers, as well as a listening station with all the necessary equipment and headphones, situated on the second level in the apartment. According to Clegg & Guttmann it was most interesting to find out which music was generally selected by the ground floor inhabitants. It became increasingly apparent that the building’s inhabitants were subdivided according which storey they were living on and their social class and work.


3.1.2 Apolonija Sustersic: Video Home Video Exchange, 1999

The Slovenian female artist Apolonija Sustersic recently presented a similar work, also based on principles of exchange and described as a "research project in communication" in Kunstverein Münster. (Reproduction 7) This artist was primarily interested in the social function of suburban architecture and the way it is represented in the movies. In the installation video home video exchange, the viewer could watch films selected by Sustersic that deal with the themes of urbanity and sub-urbanity such as "Ice Storm" by Ang Lee, "Blue Velvet" by David Lynch, "Lola" by Rainer Werner Faßbinder and "Halloween" by John Carpenter. An advertisement in a daily newspaper (Reproduction 8) invited citizens to donate private video films dealing with the themes of the house and garden. In return they could take one of the other films back home. In addition, Sustersic planned on awarding prizes to the best ten home videos and to sell them in an edition of ten in the museums bookstore. However, as no more than fifteen videos were submitted, prizes were ultimately not awarded. Earlier, the artist had organized the same project in the Project Space of Moderna Galerija in Ljubljana, where both interaction and exchange seemed to work much better. In an email she wrote to me:


I mean: - exchange...literaly with people who are living in Munster and who are also mainly the public of the Kunstverein. The work is refering to Munster as a city with small (tourist) center and big suburbian areas.

- not only communication between work and viewer but also between the visitors - participators who are participating in the Exchange.

- communication between the Kunstverein and the city, and the wider public not only the usual visitors of the kinstverein.

The project was advertised through other media as well in order to inform other audiences (not only art audience)....

3.1.3 The Exchange Theory

Exchange is one of the most significant social mechanisms allowing the direct or indirect interaction or communication of two or more individuals. The ceremonial or symbolic aspects of exchange are often more important than purely economic factors. Already in the 1920’s Bronislaw Malinowski examined the cultural significance of exchange in connection with the cohabitation of communities. Particularly anthropological analyses of the Polynesian Kula Ring or of the Potlatch of North West Coastal Indians make clear the communicative importance of giving and the symbolic meaning of exchange. Theories of social exchange in emulation of Claude Levi-Strauss (1949) distinguish different forms of exchange: the direct, limited exchange and the generalized exchange via a third party (Peter Ekeh 1974). In the case of generalized exchange, emotional participation is not that strong. Theories of social exchange are based on the premise that people strive towards the maximization of their net rewards (gross rewards minus extra charges). According to the resource theory of social exchange by Foa&Foa 1976, typical rewards resulting from social interaction include love (affection, warmth, support), status (prestige, self-esteem, self-respect), information (advice, opinions, instructions, explanations), money, goods and service. On the other hand, the ‘extra charges’ of social exchange may include time, anger, interferences, effort and uncertainty.


3.2 Nationality

3.2.1 Jens Haaning

In principle, anything is exchangeable, including one’s nationality. In 1997/98 the Danish artist Jens Hananing founded an office for the exchange of citizenship. (Reproduction 9) (Reproduction 10) Haaning describes his aims as follows:

P.O. BOX 160, 1043 VIENNA


Office for Exchange of Citizenship’s aim is:

-To arrange the exchanges of citizenship

-To assist people in their contact with the relevant authorities who want to exchange their citizenship

-To investigate the need for the exchange of citizenship

-To promote the idea of OEC – exchange of citizenship

-To accumulate knowledge that is relevant to the idea of OEC

If you are interested in exchanging your citizenship, please write to our post box.

Your letter should include:

Which citizenship you have at the moment

Which citizenship or citizenships you are interested in

What you are willing and/or able to pay for the change of your citizenship.

We cannot guarantee that you will have your citizenship exchanged, but we promise that we will do our best.

In 1996, Haaning produced a work in progress situation in the Vleeshaal in Middelburg (Reproduction 11) , in which the ‘Maras Confectie’ textile factory run by Turks in Vlissingen near Middelburg was moved into the exhibition space itself. This included the entire factory, from the production section, the office and the break room. The Turkish, Iranian and Bosnian employees continued working as usual in de Vleeshaal.

Haaning’s idea of granting foreigners free entry to certain locations (Reproduction 12) is another example of a very simple yet highly effective intervention in urban space and the institutions contained within it. This was the case during the opening exhibition Ontom at Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst in Leipzig as well as at a public swimming pool in Denmark which especially foreigners could enter free of charge.

This February, in the Kunstraum Innsbruck, Haaning organized a workshop (Reproduction 13) in which only foreign citizens living in Innsbruck were invited to sew a flag designed by the artist and which was given to visitors free of charge as a means of distributing it. The flag itself is fictional. (Reproduction 14) Its design is somewhat reminiscent of the flags of Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea or Guyana. Its colours remind of Ethiopia and Guinea but also India.


3.2.2 Judith Siegmund: Social Noises III (The aesthetic of experience)

In August 2000, the Berlin artist Judith Siegmund will carry out a highly interesting work entitled Social Noises III (The aesthetic of experience) in Frankfurt/Oder and Slubice (Poland). (Reproduction 15) This work addresses, amongst other things, notions such as xenophobia, both a most topical and tabooed issue in Germany. The artist will collaborate with high-school art students and the Museum Junge Kunst in Frankfurt/Oder to work out questions for an interview with the city’s inhabitants. (Reproduction 16) The questions will refer to changes occurring since German reunification, hospitality to foreigners, the way one perceives foreign cultures and how the city Frankfurt/Oder is presented by the media. Here are some sample questions: What do you think has changed most in Frankfurt/Slubice since German reunification? Have you ever experienced hospitality to foreigners in other countries? How do you view cultural coexistence? Are you happy about people from other countries living in Frankfurt/Oder? Have you ever heard negative reports of Frankfurt/Oder? Siegmund intends on displaying large banners bearing excerpts from the interviews of Frankfurt/Oder citizens in the Lenée and Oderturm shopping malls. The banners will measure 6 by 2 metres in size and bear red writing on a white ground. They will include captions such as "In Africa, foreigners get more work than the indigenous inhabitants", or "I think that Polish people are less envious than we think", or "Many Germans go over there to the brothels". Additionally, 20,000 questionnaires will be distributed as a special supplement of the Frankfurt edition of the Oderzeitung newspaper from the Mark Brandenburg. Participants deposit their completed questionnaires in the respective boxes located near various shopping centres.

On the Polish side of the border (in front of the Collegium Polonicum), more banners (in Polish) will also be displayed with further excerpts from interviews, arranged in such a way to only be visible after crossing the border. (Reproduction 17) The same questions will be distributed in Polish as a supplement of the Gazeta Slubicka, a regional newspaper published in an edition of 2,000 copies. This work also appears to aim at perturbing and irritating established habits of communication, views and convictions, in the hope of inciting a more positive mode of social acceptance and integration.


3.2.3 Erik Göngrich: Interface Rue du Chevaleret (1998/99)

From December 1998 to April 1999, the Berlin architect and artist Erik Göngrich (batofar scholarship holder in Paris: batofar is a lightship anchored on the River Seine in the 13th arrondissement; (Reproduction 18) performed an exceptionally interesting intervention in this part of Paris. The 13th arrondissement is a suburb with a high percentage of foreigners and a high rate of unemployment, and is currently subject to much pressure to (re)develop. It is roughly subdivided into two parts; on the one hand comprising old buildings between two and four storeys high, interspersed with the 25 to 40 floor apartment towers of Les Olympiades (developed during the 1960’s and 1970’s). On the other, the newly-built Bibliothèque Nationale by Dominique Perrault is nearby.

Göngrich carried out different projects in two buildings on the same street, Rue du Chevaleret: firstly a hostel for foreigners run by Sonacotra (Société Nationale de Création pour les Travailleurs) (Reproduction 19) and secondly a building for the homeless belonging to the Salvation Army and designed by Le Corbusier in 1933. Originally, Algerian immigrant workers lived in the Sonacotra building, 63 Rue de Chevaleret, that now primarily houses immigrant workers from Black Africa.

The second building is the main building of the Paris Salvation Army in 41/43 Rue de Chevaleret, also called Cité du Refuge. (Reproduction 20) The building was constructed by Le Corbusier in 1933 as a model of educative architecture with the intent of educating people to the better. Originally, the visitor, entering the building across a footbridge could reach the middle of the entrance hall moving along a curvilinear reception desk, moving up to the first floor and entering the library, leading out onto a terrace bearing Le Corbusier’s sculptural work made of a labyrinthine arrangement of flower planters. Now, the terrace is kept closed, the flower labyrinth, an important work by Le Corbusier, was removed in 1991 and the library was converted into offices. (Reproduction 21) The only remaining meeting point is the central hall that is hermetically sealed off from the outside world by a wall made of glass bricks. All the other rooms in the building are private. The inhabitants are not allowed to take a visitor along into their rooms. The living quarters are strictly divided according to gender.

Göngrich interconnected these two locations by means of a guided tour, starting and ending at Batofar (Reproduction 22) . In the Sonacotra building, Göngrich organized an exhibition in cooperation with its inhabitants presented in the only, incidently windowless, meeting room in the building’s basement. (Reproduction 23) The exhibition attempted to show the city outside on the building’s inside, including various local citizen’s initiatives, the presentation of associations and other groups, the project ‘Paris Rive Gauche’ serving to inspire reactions, and provoke discussion and the exchange of ideas amongst the suburbs inhabitants. (Reproduction 24) The second stop on the artist’s guided tour was the entrance hall of Cité de Refuge in which Göngrich placed one of his foam objects that attempted to refer to the history of the building; other foam works made by people living in the hostel were also on display. (Reproduction 25) The foam objects in the waiting room at Cité du Refuge were combined with slides of some of the inhabitants and of quotes from interviews with them, projected onto the board bearing the names of those who financially supported the original project by Le Corbusier. The walk then continued through various different areas of the arrondissement (Reproduction 26) , such as Les Olympiades and ended after approximately six hours at the installation work in the ship’s lighthouse.

Göngrich’s project is situated on a highly complex level of discourse. The sculptural presentation of useable foam objects, the information notice boards placed in an area that is usually not accessible to the public, the slide projections, and the personal guidance by the artist himself also deserving particular mention – together succeeded in changing the visitor’s consciousness and understanding of the complex urban and social predicaments inherent to this part of Paris. Göngrich’s approach seems particularly suited to disclosing the intricate processes of urban transformation occurring in a suburb in the age of telecommunication, that are otherwise almost impossible to visually represent. Göngrich successfully combines and interconnects multifarious levels of activity; at least one from each of the fields of information, politics and aesthetics. The artist’s work aims at the unification of various, usually divided communication systems.


4. Urban Space and the New Media

4.1 Clarification of terms

The World Wide Web exists as we know it since the end of 1993, that is for approximately six-and-a-half years. That is not really a long time. It evolved far more rapidly than normal developments usually require in ‘real life’. One quarter of a year of net history has been defined as one year of real life. Thus we have a period of approximately 25 years of net history behind us. This also corresponds well with the speed and rate of distribution of artworks depending on the net.

All newly-developed media are usually not applied in an innovative manner during their formative stage. Generally, they initially serve to reproduce or imitate older media such as text, photography, film or sound. "Faster, cheaper, further" is often the slogan fuelling the development of new media. Only after some time of intensive use of the respective medium do experiences of it begin to become significant. Only then do the specific possibilities of a medium become apparent. The world wide web is only now in the process of discovering, comprehending and testing its intrinsic properties as a medium.

4.2 Artistic interventions on the net

The situation is not particularly enlightening if, on the grounds of these theoretical guidelines, one attempts to seek artworks that use the internet as a means of social and/or artistic intervention into urban space. To date there are only very, very few profound, significant works that really function in terms of social interaction between the net and urban space. Most works are only informative or documentary and hardly take into consideration the specific properties or possibilities of the net. Thus, it appears that the net is presently still in an experimental phase of its evolution. Some ideas and concepts seem to be construed in the right direction, but often their realization is doomed to failure due to the conditions and relations both in the net and in real life.

In the past, it has become apparent that net-based interventions worked particularly well in those cases in which they precisely define the interface to real space. If the work not only functions in the internet, but also possesses a significant counterpoint on the other side of the net as it were, in real life, then their specific structural coupling in form of a reciprocal irritation between the two systems appears particularly noteworthy. Often, most works of art situated at the interface between the net and urban space involve the problem of ‘observation’, or rather where precisely the ‘observer’ or viewer is located. The border between VR and RL has two sides of which only one, namely the side you are looking at it from, is visible at any given moment. This is what makes it so difficult to simultaneously observe the other side of that border. Thus, one is always only on one side of this crucial distinction, either ‘in’ the net or ‘in’ urban space. But is not possible to be on both sides at once without crossing the border. A work of net-art is always located there where the respective user accesses it: in America, Asia, Europe, Africa or Australia. It is countered by the physical existence of the local topography, a real space with a real geographical location. The net and real space are thus necessarily always entirely segregated. When one is in real space one does not consider himself conceivably being part of a work of net-art, and inversely, the user of a work of net-art does not have a real physical relationship with the environment which is depicted in the work he views.


4.3 Interventions between virtual reality and real life

4.3.1 Heath Bunting

The net-pioneer Heath Bunting particularly successfully exploits the net as an extension of real life, and real life as an extension of the net. More so than any other net-artist, he picks out the interface between virtual reality and real life as the central theme of his artistic pursuits. Especially those interested in learning about how to establish simple, yet effective structural couplings between urban space and the net should have a good look at his extensive oeuvre.

In 1996 for example, Heath Bunting wrote the URL in chalk on the walls of various buildings at different locations all over the world. Those users who noticed the URL (Reproduction 27) and typed it into the location field of their browser were asked to complete a questionnaire stating where they had seen the text, who they they thought the author was and what the sign means to them. (Reproduction 28)

The work entitled Closed Circuit Television World Wide Watch employs four web cams used for the surveillance of public spaces. (Reproduction 29) IThe first window contains four camera shots. The user is able to access images being broadcasted live from New York (Reproduction 30) , Oviedo, Spain, Broadgate, United Kingdom and Gütersloh, Germany. The user is asked to notify the nearest police station by internet fax if he sees any crimes being committed at any one of these locations. The resulting list of reports may also be accessed. (Reproduction 31) Interestingly enough however, the web cams are used unknowingly by each of the participants, and they are therefore part of an entirely new structure. (Reproduction 32: Original Web Site by Manhattan Transfer)

In 1999, Bunting realised a project at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Canada (Reproduction 33) employing the possibilities offered by internet radio stations (that can be received world-wide), illegally broadcasting from a pirate radio station in the Banff area. (Reproduction 34: Weekly Schedule) Again, in this work, the artist considers the interface dividing the net from real space. As an intervention it serves to render visible the structural couplings between the internet and urban space.


4.4 Participation

In connection with the evolution of new telecommunications media, the notion of citizen involvement in processes of urban development and city planning has recently been fundamentally revised. Several teams of artists, architects and urban developers are currently generating new concepts and projects dealing with this topic.

4.4.1 Institute of applied urbanism: Divercity

Recently, the Berlin based Institute of applied urbanism (ifau) (Bäucker, Heinemann, Schmidt, Schuler), in collaboration with the Berlin architects Inge and Ulrich Königs presented a proposal via the internet, concerning the application of the ‘open source’ concept (in use for several years now, particularly in connection with the Linux system for the development of computer software) to methods and processes of urban planning and development. (Reproduction 35) In a manifesto they recently published onthe net with the title Divercity they have made interesting propositions:

If one were to apply the open source model to the realm of urban planning, this would first of all remove the conceptual sovereignty from the municipal government and its respective developers and affiliated agents in terms of fixed temporal and spatial parameters (the source code needs to be accessible at all times), and would allow all sorts of different people to intervene and participate in the processes determining urban development. Thus, urban space would no longer be predetermined according to certain given rules and regulations, but rather would be treated much like a consumer product, being gradually ameliorated over time through the active participation of various (competent) parties voicing their respective needs and interests. The ‘removal of conceptual sovereignty’ refers above all to the system of predefined, clearly result-oriented urban planning, by which urban space is often determined on the grounds of certain (unclear) prognoses. Establishing a more process-oriented, constantly revisable approach to urban development is by no means aimed at its complete deregulation, but rather seeks to incite a shift of responsibility, resulting in a different realization and enactment of central tasks.

Introducing broader time-space parameters makes more traditional approaches to result-bound urban planning seem no longer feasible. Alternative, process-based methods need to be found serving to change the urban developer from a conventional planner/designer to more of an organizer.

In September and October 2000, the team of architects will organize an urban design competition for the grounds of the prior O’Brien barracks in Schwabach near Nuremberg. Visitors will be invited to play around with a model of the site built in a scale of 1:87, thus reflecting notions of changeability and constant revision. (Reproduction 36) The movable model, in its ability to show interventions and alternative positions resembles a somewhat playful instrument of planning and communication. Collages made of photographs of the model and of the site itself will be published in newspapers, on posters and in the internet, with the hope of inspiring reactions and the urge to participate.

At the same time, a website will be installed on which one will be able to see the current changes taking place in situ. The grounds will be represented in scale. A special software programme will make it possible to intervene and participate in the redevelopment and design of this experimental area. The modifications and proposals submitted via the internet will be processed as a re-entry to the real, and integrated into the "real" model. Thus, reciprocal interaction and irritation between virtual reality and real life will undoubtedly ensue. Those interested may visit so-called "log.lounges" (Reproduction 37) situated in Nuremberg, Erlangen, Schwabach and Fürth, offering information on the current state of the open source planning project and from where supra-regional participation in the development process itself is possible via the net.


4.4.2 Superflex: Karlskrona2 and Wolfsburg2

In 1998, the Danish group of artists called Superflex (including Jakob Fenger, Bjornsterne Christiansen and Rasmus Nielsen) conceived a virtual 3-D model of the city of Karlskrona in Sweden (Reproduction 38) , ‘Karlskrona2’, in which inhabitants and guests are invited to erect virtual buildings and other constructs and discuss problems of urban development by means of discussion rooms via the internet. (Reproduction 39) Currently, some 20 people are actively involved in the discussion. In September 2000, a large screen will be installed in the "real" city of Karlskrona showing projections of the developments taking place in Karlskrona2. Recently, Superflex launched a second project dealing with the predicament of urban development in Wolfsburg. (Reproduction 40) There is already a discussion room for this project (Reproduction 41) , and the remaining supplementary tools are currently under work. Norbert Käthler, an urban planner from Wolfsburg has already voiced his opinions on the project:

The approach of Superflex permits an entirely novel form of citizen participation in public planning. The internet introduces a method of addressing groups of people, that are conceivably represented less well in the context of conventional modes of interaction (such as public meetings and political committee meetings). This may result in young people, particularly those who are used to dealing with the electronic media, stating their opinions and suggestions more actively.

As an urban planner, I think Superflex’s approach is interesting, especially if it were to be fully integrated in all communication systems, and above all in these areas where the realms of public administration and of the private citizen intersect.


4.4.3 Maila-Push (Jan Briese, Kim Grüttner, Klaus Teltenkötter): Zone 63065, 2000

The group of architects, urban planners and programmers calling themselves ‘Maila-Push’ from Darmstadt have also established a new form of structural coupling between the problems of citizen partizipation in urban planning processes and the popularity of computer games. They created an urban development computer game based on the topography of the city of Offenbach near Frankfurt/Main, in which the player is required to fulfil certain tasks. (Reproduction 41a) The group proposes among other ideas that above a given score, the user of the computer game should be invited to take part in a real competition, such as a go-cart race. Central urban problem areas in Offenbach, including the so-called ‘Ebene 1’ in the city centre, the ‘Tambourbad’, the suburb of Lohwald and so on, are thus rendered topical, playfully linked to the possibilities offered by the new media. The young architects hope to achieve a new form of reflecting upon and reacting to central concerns of the city.


4.4.4 Programming urban spaces in Quake Level 1

Another type of urban space is also becoming increasingly dominant in the world of computer games. According to their own priorities young artists, architects or urban planners may take in using the new media, the accents may be set that variously emphasize aspects of the game, of urban development or of aesthetic pleasure without didactiszism. In any case, the possibilities offered by object-oriented programming enable the generation of an entirely new surface aesthetic. Recently, because of the freely-accessible Quake Level 1 source code, some few artists have started programming new architectonic environments and spaces, permitting up to 16 players to play Quake in real time, either via intranet links from interconnected stations, but via the internet itself. The most interesting aspect of the game is that the majority of its data, including its textures, geometries and spatial determinants are stored on the user’s hard disk; a remarkably rapid real time transmission is afforded by the fact that only the respective coordinates of the opponents’ moves need to be transmitted. Tom Ehninger (Reproduction 42), Holger Friese (Reproduction 43), noroomgallery (Reproduction 44) and Christine Meierhofer (Reproduction 45) contributed programmes for inspiringly vivid virtual spaces to ‘Re-load’, a show organized by shift e.V. in Berlin in 1999.


4.5 Digital Cities

4.5.1 The digital city of Amsterdam

On January 15th 1994 the world could witness the première of the first digital city in history in the World Wide Web. Using the internet provider xs.4.all, Walther van der Cruissen, Geert Lovink, Marleen Sticker, Patrice Riemens, David Garcia and others developed a virtual city in Amsterdam in which websites and e-mail accounts could be installed and managed and chat lines were established. This is the only example of a ‘real’ virtual community deserving mention and still existing today. It has approximately 100,000 inhabitants. The digital city of Amsterdam explicitly employs the metaphors of urban space, thereby facilitating a parallel construct in the realm of virtual space. Especially the first interface of 1994 (Reproduction 46) exhibits its creators’ metaphoric use of symbolic types of building such as the "railway station", the "museum", the "café", the "library", the "post office", the "tourist information" or the "newsstand". In addition there are ‘places’ or ‘squares’ and ‘apartments’, and chats are generally described as ‘cafés’. There is a hospital as well as other municipal institutions, and even the Amsterdam police corps has been given a virtual central headquarter in this virtual city with its own chat line. (Reproduction 47) Furthermore, in this city, ‘squatting’ is also allowed. If one of its inhabitants happens to leave a website unattended or vacant (as a ghost-site), other net-users can simply proceed to occupy it. Citizens choosing to move out of the digital city are given a gravestone in the virtual cemetery of the city. (Reproduction 48)

Now, in retrospect, Walther van der Cruissen is critical of the notion of the digital city. He claims that the digital city of Amsterdam rapidly evolved from a space of uninhibited social interaction into an educational device. Its initial social significance increasingly diminished. Today, van der Cruissen seems to criticize the concept that such a project is only useful in terms of its emulating the structure of a real city, rather than in its attempt at founding a new, autonomous city in sync with the inherent specifics and possibilities of the world wide web.


4.5.2 Berlin – International City (Summer 1994 – 1.4.1998)

Some six months later, the Berlin group of artists centred around Joachim Blank, Karl-Heinz Jeron, Barbara Aselmeier and Armin Haase launched a project examining the specific structures offered by the net more closely. Originally, the idea of an international city had been conceived of as getting citizens involved in a network providing information on their city. Many communal or commercial information networks are based on experiences of the international city of Berlin or in the digital city of Amsterdam. It was possible to access the city either as one of its inhabitants or as a visitor. (Reproduction 49) Visitors were not allowed to enter certain areas reserved for the city’s inhabitants. In addition, a tool powered by CGI script was put at the user’s disposition, enabling him/her to determine the very configuration of the city’s urban structure. (Reproduction 50) A website provided information on who had just logged in (Reproduction 51) and a special IS chat channel facilitated direct communication. (Reproduction 52) The revised IS surface showed the respective percentage of particular sectors or categories within the overall structure. (Reproduction 53) In this formative stage of net-art, it was noticeable how strongly the International City was oriented towards the art world. Many artists such as Eva Grubinger, Pit Schultz or Philipp Pocock already created their first incunabulae of net-art as early as 1995 (Reproduction 54) . A further novelty of the international city was its radio station, still in use today as an autonomous system with the original layout . (Reproduction 55)

The project lasted for a period of approximately five years before its initiators decided to remove their city from the internet. They had also come to the ultimate conclusion that neither a virtual community nor a space of social interaction had really evolved, but that rather they themselves were the only ones providing the city with the necessary input to keep it alive. Looking back, one is forced to declare experiments with virtual communities as failures. They were optimistically launched in numerous different variations during the latter half of the 1990’s and were then soon abandoned. However, as soon as the notion of the virtual community was factually dead on the internet, it became an object of scientific research. In 1999, the International Research Centre for Cultural Studies in Vienna declared the theme of ‘communities’ as a central area of research. On the other hand, precisely the example of the digital city discloses the shortcomings of the urban metaphor. The sites are only two-dimensional. They tend to be inspired by the aesthetisc of graphic design rather than by a real, three-dimensional understanding of space.


4.6 Visualising Abstract Data

An important, thoroughly unresolved problem is concerned with the visualisation of exceedingly large quantities of abstract data. The decisive information flows and technological transmissions are entirely invisible. Therefore, it is not surprising that artists have chosen to deal with this phenomenon in their projects.


4.6.1 Joachim Blank/Karl-Heinz Jeron: re:re:represent, Nuremberg 2000

The work entitled "re:re:represent" (Reproduction 56) examines the question of how the global financial markets and the institutions responsible for the transferral of capital in the information societies manage, if at all, to visually represent and record their transactions. Blank/Jeron use the data from their own analysis of a series of key terms applied by Germany’s largest internet broker ‘Consors’ to create flow charts and pie diagrams presented either as laser ink jet prints or 3-dimensional illuminated units. (Reproduction 57) The accompanying software especially developed for the project is applied to analyse user information and contributions to the community boards on the grounds of data size and the number of times particular selected words are used.The community boards of the website of the online-broker "Consors" provide on the one hand the source material of the data analysis for "re:re:represent". On the other hand they represent an exemplary object of research in the context of an increasingly mixed mode of internet communication and stock exchange terminology within the "new economy".


5. Conclusion

The term of urban space functions as a metaphor in the context of the net. For on the net nothing is neither ‘urban’ nor ‘spatial’. It is far more concerned with different terms of observation. Distinctions may be more or less helpful in our attempt at discerning the importance of telecommunications technology in the context of communication. The internet is a highly complex and operationally closed media circuit, entirely dependent on external input provided by the user. Nothing can be put into the net that has not been transformed into the binary code of data, and no data can be put out of the net into the real space without having been converted into a publicly accessible medium by means of specific effectory devices such as screens, printers and loudspeakers.

According to which side of the barrier we are on, the ‘surface’ of the internet may appear entirely different. We experience the net from an external position, as structurally coupled to both our physical and its technological environment. But what might the net look like from within? We are not able to imagine what the surface dividing the internet from real space looks like from inside the net, as we are not able to cross the border. However, we have every reason to presume that the net is capable of observing us. It records and registers every minute fluctuation occurring between itself and its environment. It processes and stores every tiny bit of incoming data. Seen from within, the microphone, the video-in, the keyboard and the data uploads are the internet’s outermost sensory peripheries. These tools are its sensory devices with which it is capable of observing us in real time. In its log files and its routing informations we are constantly being observed and pursued in all the moves we make. The log files know where we are and were we were, when we last accessed the net.

All this would lend itself perfectly to a new science fiction movie in the style of Alien 4. The alien internet watches us secretly and attentively via its log files and its routers. Then, in the next scene, a dumb, unsuspecting user sitting down at his small, tiny keyboard in his dark lonely home in the hills of Virginia to read his latest e-mails unlocks the gateway. Then its too late. Captain Ripley is asking: Quick, quick, bring me the plan of the cable tunnels! Commander Jordan is shouting: Where the hell is the main switch? But its already too late, the alien is in. Therefore I would like to end my lecture with a short audio piece from welcome in wonderland by Julia Scher, a early piece of net-art dating from february 1995. (Reproduction 58)

Hans Dieter Huber