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Oktober 10th. 2002: Interview with Mogens Jacobsen

[Oktober 10th 2002]
Mogens Jacobsen
Mogens Jacobsen (b. 1959) is one of the founders of and a driving force behind Artnode. He has a BA in Film and Media Studies, and works as a design and concept executive at the internet company Mondo.

“Being a nerd is a beautiful and heartfelt human endeavour.”
Interview with Mogens Jacobsen
The quote is from
Roy Ascotts and stems from a conversation between Ascott and Mogens Jacobsen.

Artnode is a provider of internet art, and has been since 1995, something that we are quite impressed with. This is why we met with one of Artnode’s six founders,, Mogens Jacobsen, for a chat about how it all began, and where its headed – both Artnode and internet art in general.
Text: Kristine Ploug. Photo: Torben Zenth.
Translated by David Duchin.

Artnode: 1995 to the present
Artnode was conceived as a merger of two independent projects. Back in the beginning of the ‘90s, when the internet was new and untried, Mogens Jacobsen, Niels Bonde and Kim Borreby created a website with articles about internet art called ‘High Density’. Meanwhile, Nicolaj Recke, Martin Pingel and Christian Heide started an art gallery on the net called ‘Artspace’. The six of them met and decided to combine the two sites into one, larger project called Artnode. In 1995, entered cyberspace as a site for internet art and related articles.
Around the same time that Artnode was born in Denmark, Slovenian artist Vuk Cosic was sent an email that was damaged in transmission, and the only word left on it that was legible was ‘’. Legend has it that this was the birth of the phrase, or in Danish, ‘netkunst’.
When Vuk Cosic received that mail in 1995, had only just begun. That was also the year when the American group äda´web was established, and in 1996, Rhizome opened in Berlin (they’ve since moved to New York).
So Artnode was there from the very start.
Artnode invited artists to create pieces on the net, and then helped them with coding. “We spent the first two years going around saying to people ‘go on and make something, look at this, it’s exciting.’ More often than not, this resulted in a text with an image next to it. The third year, people started saying, ‘yes, we’d like to, but can you produce it for us? Then we spent two years making the High Density Project (a project on interactivity, which included, among other things, the exhibition Users’ Club at Statens Museum for Kunst, incorporating the museum’s own site and High Density, which is a slew of net artists tied together by a search engine – Ed.) And now, here we are …’

Mogens JacobsenMogens JacobsenMogens Jacobsen
Mogens Jacobsen

Blame it on Flash…
From the beginning, has been very interested in the possibility of interaction between machine and man. That something will happen when you click. But now, people talk about how the fascination with interaction is descending, because in principle, there has always been interaction, it was only with the advent of mass media that interaction disappeared. And it’s only now that we’ve gone back to it…
“Yes, I would hope that this superficial interest in interaction is on the way out… But no, I’m not that sure that it is. I still believe that interaction is an important element of this new medium. The problem, I think, is that it has been so overestimated that it’s overshadowed many of the other elements of And if you have to blame it on anybody, then I say: Blame it on Flash. It’s so easy (at least that’s what they say – I can’t figure it out myself), it looks great and it can do so damn much… The problem is just that people become far too happy about making something that can move and looks cool, but doesn’t really do anything else. I think that Flash has held’s development back by at least two years.” in the future: nerdy pieces about infrastructure and surveillance
“I think that will be more and more about the structure of the internet instead of on-screen design. It will be about what happens behind the screen, not on it. It’s very nerdy, but it’s a subject that I personally think is far more exciting. JoDi have done it for years, and some of their work is so strange that I am only now beginning to figure out how it works. A more modern example of someone who works specifically with the whole of the internet is Lisa Jevbratt (S/USA), who created – among other things – 1:1 , where she registered all the addresses of all the world’s internet sites. But not by their names, like, she did it by the IP address behind the name, which is made up of numbers. And there’s a lot of addresses, around 4 billion. Lisa Jevbratt herself admits that she’s a nerd!”

“Another central theme is surveillance, and a fantastic example of this is the Radical Software Group’s ‘Carnivore Personal Edition’, which I saw recently at Ars Electronica in Austria.”

Carnivore PE is a copy of a surveillance program originally developed by the FBI. RSG is a software group working under Rhizome’s umbrella. RSG got hold of the program and developed it further. Now, anyone can download it (here) and monitor their local network.

Carnivore don’t produce any visual imagery of their own, so they’ve added a number of interfaces, created by various net artists, including Lisa Jevbratt and Mark Napier, who interpret information in unusual ways. One of the 11 interfaces reacts to the words ‘bomb’ and ‘terror’ in e-mails by manipulating radio controlled devices (Jonah Brucker-Cohen). Carnivore PE won the Net Vision award at Ars Electronica.

“It’s actually really funny. There had been rumours that the FBI had developed this surveillance program nicknamed Carnivore, but confirmation actually came for one of the people behind RSG. One of his friends worked at Hotmail, and one day – actually it was September 11th – the FBI turned up to install the program. Afterwards, RSG created an improved personal version. I firmly believe that this is It plays on this fear of being watched, and the socialising effect of suspicion. Now, everyone can know for sure that if they are close to anyone from Artnode, they’re being watched! But while we were at Ars Electronica, we talked about what would happen if you were the FBI and you’d made this software - how would you get people to relax and accept it? What would you do? You’d ask some net.artists to create a nice interface for it!”

Nevertheless, Artnode is in the process of making an interface for Carnivore…

“There’s a real danger in making works like these, and that is also true for artists that make viruses (EpidemiC) and 0100101110101101 who made a virus last year called as a part of the Venice Biennial 2001 (read more here – Ed.). The danger is that while they might in fact be discussing something important, it might drown in their art.”

Mogens Jacobsen

Mogens Jacobsen at the museum?
Most museums have a bit of a problem with There is a fundamental contradiction in being a physical museum exhibiting virtual art… At the moment, there are no Danish museums that have really made an effort at this. A few foreign museums have tried exhibiting via a computer with projectors and huge screens, but it rarely works. Others have created portals, for example the Whitney’s Artport. A third possibility is to do something like what Artnode did in the Autumn of 2001 with Users’ Club, which included an installation at Statens Museum for Kunst combined with a special online section on Artnode’s site.

“I actually thought it was a good thing that didn’t want anything to do with art institutions in the start. But now it seems that has succumbed, because artists do actually want to exhibit in museums, you know? But it’s difficult to put in a museum. How do you do it? Do you just put up a screen that people can sit and look at? At the same time, museums have a responsibility to make archives, to preserve art for the future. This is a little absurd in the case of because it just develops so quickly, which makes it impossible to observe that way. At Artnode, we have a couple of pieces that were optimised for Netscape 1.1, which you can hardly even find anymore. I was actually confronted with a concrete problem myself when both Niels Bonde and I had contributed to the Danish art funding body’s research of the genre for the project ‘Stedet3’, and the art foundation wanted to file everything on a CD-ROM. My project was done on the net, and was placed on servers all around the world. Part of the concept was that after a while these servers would eventually start to go off-line, and ‘holes’ would be created in the project. This meant that my project could absolutely not be loaded onto a CD-ROM. It ended with the creation of a CD-ROM anyway, but my project was only documented, not shown. I really think that people should regard as performance. As time and place specific art. As something that can be documented, but not recorded. Maybe projects should just be allowed to die a natural death?

Artnode: 2002 >
In addition to making an interface for Carnivore, Artnode has begun cleaning up and expanding their site. Because of their long history of working with, they’ve also started editing a book on the subject. “It’s cool to be a group. We never agree. I don’t think we could even agree on what is! We discuss things a lot and yell at each other, and at the moment, we run reading groups where we hit each other on the head with our articles. The plan is to collect enough articles for a publication on to be released next autumn.”

Mogens Jacobsens personale portfolio
Radical Software Group: Carnivore
Lisa Jevbratts projekt 1:1

Lisa Jevbratts interface to Carnivore: Out of the Ordinary (
Mark Napiers interface to Carnivore: Black and White
Jonah Brucker-Cohens interface to Carnivore: Police State


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