[Oktober 10th 2002]
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
Being a nerd is a beautiful and heartfelt
Interview with Mogens Jacobsen
The quote is from Roy
Ascotts and stems from a conversation between Ascott and Mogens
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
Artnodes 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, Artnode.dk 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 net.art. Legend has
it that this was the birth of the phrase net.art, or in Danish,
When Vuk Cosic received that mail in 1995, net.art had only just
begun. That was also the year when the American net.art group äda´web
was established, and in 1996, Rhizome opened in Berlin (theyve 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, its
exciting. More often than not, this resulted in a text with
an image next to it. The third year, people started saying, yes,
wed 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 museums own
site and High Density, which is a slew of net artists tied together
by a search engine Ed.) And now, here we are
Blame it on Flash
From the beginning, net.art 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 its only now that weve
gone back to it
Yes, I would hope that this superficial interest in interaction
is on the way out
But no, Im 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 its overshadowed many of the other elements of net.art.
And if you have to blame it on anybody, then I say: Blame it on
Flash. Its so easy (at least thats what they say
I cant 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 doesnt
really do anything else. I think that Flash has held net.arts
development back by at least two years.
net.art in the future: nerdy pieces about infrastructure
I think that net.art 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. Its very nerdy, but
its 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 worlds
internet sites. But not by their names, like kopenhagen.dk, she
did it by the IP address behind the name, which is made up of numbers.
And theres a lot of addresses, around 4 billion. Lisa Jevbratt
herself admits that shes a nerd!
Another central theme is surveillance, and a fantastic example
of this is the Radical Software Groups 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 Rhizomes
umbrella. RSG got hold of the program and developed it further.
Now, anyone can download it (here)
and monitor their local network.
Carnivore dont produce any visual imagery of their own, so
theyve 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.
Its 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 net.art. 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, theyre
being watched! But while we were at Ars Electronica, we talked about
what would happen if you were the FBI and youd made this software
- how would you get people to relax and accept it? What would you
do? Youd ask some net.artists to create a nice interface for
Nevertheless, Artnode is in the process of making an interface for
Theres a real danger in making works like these, and
that is also true for artists that make viruses (EpidemiC)
who made a virus last year called biennale.py 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.
net.art at the museum?
Most museums have a bit of a problem with net.art. There is
a fundamental contradiction in being a physical museum exhibiting
At the moment, there are no Danish museums that
have really made an effort at this. A few foreign museums have tried
exhibiting net.art via a computer with projectors and huge screens,
but it rarely works. Others have created portals, for example the
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 Artnodes site.
I actually thought it was a good thing that net.art didnt
want anything to do with art institutions in the start. But now
it seems that net.art has succumbed, because artists do actually
want to exhibit in museums, you know? But its difficult to
put net.art 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 net.art 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 bodys
research of the net.art 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 net.art as performance. As time
and place specific art. As something that can be documented, but
not recorded. Maybe net.art 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 net.art, theyve also started editing
a book on the subject. Its cool to be a group. We never
agree. I dont think we could even agree on what net.art 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 net.art to be released next autumn.
Mogens Jacobsens personale
Jevbratts projekt 1:1
Jevbratts interface to Carnivore: Out of the Ordinary (http://cadre.sjsu.edu/jevbratt/ooo/)
Napiers interface to Carnivore: Black and White
Brucker-Cohens interface to Carnivore: Police State