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March 30th 2004: The Net Wants to be Free - The Saga Continues
[March 30th 2004]

The Net Wants To Be Free - The Saga Continues

Interview with Jacob Lillemose

Kristine Ploug has asked Jacob Lillemose (b. 1974) about his curation of the net art exhibition The Net Wants To Be Free - The Saga Continues, in Basement which is part of the RADAR festival. An exhibition that according to himself is easily accessible instead of being digital weightlifting and show off. Jacob is a MA in Modern Culture, specialising in concept art, social criticism and software theory and is a part of Artnode.
Translated by Sofie Paisley.

The Net Wants To Be Free - The Saga Continues
Net art exhibition with Natural Selection, The File Room, and Anti-Capitalist Operating System.
1 April - 4 April, open 1pm-7pm - no entrance fee
Enghavevej 42, København V

Tell us about the works in the exhibition. How were they selected?
The four works for the RADAR net art exhibition have been selected as representatives of a widespread tendency within net art of dealing with the net as a new kind of global public with equal parts commercial traps, controlling power mechanisms and a critical and democratic potential. Referring to Jürgen Habermas' concept of modernism as a still incomplete project, the virtual intellectual Geert Lovink has stated: "the internet is still an unfinished project". I would like to concur with this. And without kidding myself that the selected works in any way complete the project, I think that they show ways towards continuing the development of the net as a unique communicative network. This is also why I have chosen the title "The Net Wants To Be Free - The Saga Continues" which refers to the classic hacker motto, that information wants to be free.

At the same time, the exhibition situation itself has played a role. The exhibition will last for four days as part of a larger arrangement with lots of other activities. It will therefore not become the centre of attention, but a room that the audience will pass on the way. I wanted to accommodate this with works you could relatively easily understand and could use in a rather concrete way. Above all, I wanted to avoid an experience dimension only addressing experts, in the sense that you would have to know a lot about IT to understand the works. So it's fully intentional that all four works are formally rather simple. In other words, they are straightforward invitations to interaction instead of digital weightlifting and showing off.

Udsnit fra The File Room

The File Room (1994- ) is a classic within early net art, and even though a lot has happened since the mid 90s where Muntadas created it, I think it is still an important work for understanding what the net is. It is simply an online catalogue of examples of censorship from the birth of the civilised world and up to now, with the opportunity for users all over the world of adding their own examples. It's probably not able to counteract censorship, but by using the net as a medium it exposes censorship in all its narrow-mindedness and absurdity and reminds us that censorship becomes seriously dangerous if we are unaware of its existence.

Søgeresultater fra Natural Selections browser

Natural Selection (1998) by the collective group Mongrel is somewhat an extension of this line of thought. It's a kind of browser, which 'protects' the user against various politically incorrect content on the World Wide Web. If you enter racist- or sex oriented words such as 'Ku Klux Klan' or 'anal violence' you get a list of search engine results, as you would, had you searched through Google. Or so it seems. Although Natural Selection more or less lists the same results as other search engines, most links are either dead or take you to alternative sites created by Mongrel. The criteria for selecting the links are in this way not commercial, as is the case with the browsers most of us use daily, but ethical and political. I see it as a prototype of customised browsers where the users set their own criteria for their search for information, at the same time as it hopefully can make us more critical towards the results the browsers present us with.

Nogle af søgeresultaterne fra Natural Selections browser

Anti-Capitalist Operation System 2.0

Both (1999- ) and Anti-capitalist Operating System 2.0 (2002) by The Yes Men and Together We Can Defeat Capitalism are declared anti-capitalist works that in each their way, with humour, play subversive tricks on the symbols of financial powers. is in appearance a copy of WTO's homepage posted on the address, the initials of the organisation, which was named The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade until 1995. Even though the site is, contentwise, obviously WTO-critical, people have mistaken it for the real thing and invited The Yes Men to different conferences as representatives of the WHO. How that turned out can be seen in the film The Horribly Stupid Stunt that is also part of the exhibition. Anti-capitalist Operating System 2.0 in a similar way uses the design of Windows 98 to create a platform for the politically aware media user. It contains links to video documentary, networks, texts and digital tools to fight Microsoft's standardization of the net. They are both rounded by an activist way of thinking, which at times can seem naïve and high-strung, but at the same time they are rather ingenious in their use of the net's possibilities of using the instruments and symbols of power against itself.

Uddrag fra

The exhibition is almost historical. Why is it interesting to take a historical retrospective glance at an art that has only existed for about 10 years?
The historical retrospective glance isn't something I make a big deal about. I just think that the newest works aren't always the best, and that there are a number of important realisations in earlier works, which would be good to 'consult' within a field that is often preoccupied with the new.

But even so it must play a role - the historic aspect. The File Room is often referred to as the first ever net artwork.
True, The File Room is often referred to as one of the first net artworks, and that I have selected it is a expression of my opinion that net art (whatever that is?) must look back or in other directions, and consider the conceptual and aesthetic use of the internet, instead of being solely fixated on technological capacity and development: what is possible, how good it can look and how complicated it can be set out. And with this I mean that The File Room in all its innocence offers a good example of how a global digital network can be used in relation to the socially critical tendencies found in contemporary art from the 50s and onwards.

What thoughts have you had about exhibiting net art at all?
I am, of course, aware of the paradox of getting people to go to a place to see something that they could just as well have seen on their computer at home. But with the current situation there is a need for a presentation of net art, both making people aware of the works and also placing the works in a context which isn't 'out there in cyberspace where only the initiated can find their way', but here in our world with a connection to lived experiences and simultaneously giving the users a language for understanding the works. And in this connection, I think that a physical exhibition space/ an institution has its legitimacy. It can contribute to remedying a widespread alienation among the people not acquainted with the phenomenon. That a lot of institutional problematics emerge is obvious, and I agree that it isn't optimal or unproblematic to exhibit net art, but at the same time I think that you have to lose the paranoia towards any kind of connection to the institution (even if this is not currently as big a problem as earlier, where net art considered itself as being avant-garde). The institution is currently comparatively spacious and can help the project of net art. That the institution would do injustice to net art, I think is a misunderstanding of the institution and of net art itself. It is certainly not the case with an exhibition like this one.
The arrangement of a round table with four computers plugged into the internet, each 'dedicated' to a work by a link on the desktop and a brief introductory text to the left of the keyboard, is inspired by transmedia.04 that had a similar arrangement which functioned positively in spite of the works being far more complex.

All the works can - of course - also be viewed on the net:

The File Room:
Natural Selection:
Anti-capitalist Operating System 2.0:


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