intima on Sun, 17 Sep 2000 14:37:27 +0200

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Syndicate: degrees feet inches

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degrees feet inches

Degrees Feet and Inches. Launching the penultimate dfi selection, 
curated by Matt Locke, Artistic Director, TEST Digital Research 
Facility (

Would the last person to leave this website please turn out the lights?

intima                                    MOBILE TRILOGY
Nina Pope and Karen Guthrie  ISLAND
Fiona Raby                            FLIRT

intima's Mobile Trilogy explores cultural developments in mobile  
technologies such as SMS and the use of vibrating mobile phones 
as intimate sex toys.

Nina Pope and Karen Gutherie's Island exists as a three-
dimensional scale model and an on-line MUSH environment. It 
continues to evolve on an ongoing basis.

Fiona Raby's Flirt traces mobile phone user's movements around the 
city of Helsinki, engaging its users in various communications, 
games and interactions.

dfi is dedicated to supporting artists and curators seeking to site 
work specifically and exclusively on-line. The site will change on a  
quarterly basis with a lifespan of two years ending March 1st 2001.  
dfi is funded by the University of Westminster and is coordinated by 
Alison Craighead. Alison Craighead is a researcher at the University 
also working as an artist in collaboration with Jon Thomson. The dfi 
site structure is the design work of avco productions Ltd.


"Would the last person to leave this website please turn out the 

by Matt Locke

DFI - degrees feet inches; a curated space for internet specific 
artworks; UK
(September, 2000) 

Vivienne Selbo, in her DFI text, remarked that the series of 
selections in this project seems to form some kind of thread, a line 
taken for a walk through the shifting landscapes of networked art. As 
the penultimate tenant of the DFI space, it seemed appropriate to 
shift direction; to test the underlying assumption of DFI as a curated 
space for internet specific artworks before the project hits its 
terminus. In particular, it seemed a good opportunity to take up the 
baton from the other DFI curators and focus on areas that move the 
practise of out of the curiously linear definitions that Pauline 
van Mourik Broekman described in her intro to the May 99 DFI 

Ironically, it has been the success of these definitions - originally 
formulated as a radical response to the perceived commercialisation 
of the web and the naturalisation of the browser as an interface - 
that has led to the increased interest and gradual assimilation of into institutionalised spaces such as the Tate and the 
Whitney. Shows such as net.condition at ZKM and the recent 
Whitney Biennale have attempted to graft a seemingly ephemeral 
and intimate art-form onto the white walls of the gallery or museum, 
a process that simultaneously introduces the spectre of 
commodification and the desire to develop a canon of historical 
works that can define the genre. In a recent Rhizome panel session 
at the Kitchen in NY, Mark Tribe suggested the term net.installation 
to describe artworks (for example, John F Simon's Every Icon) that 
flirt with the speed and radical connectivity of networked art 
practises in a format that the institution can endorse, without 
threatening the existing rhetorics of display in the way that, say, a 
temporary media lab would. If the rise in prominence of video 
installation is because, as Isaac Julien has said, something had to 
replace painting, then net.installation could replace video art in 
curators affections as the edgiest, coolest, most-up-to-the-minute 
work around. By demanding that such work creates a spectacle 
equivalent to the cinematic works of Bill Viola, Stan Douglas, et al, 
more intimate works that only really make sense in a one-to-one 
browser space will be relegated to the margins of art history along 
with other difficult to commodify practises like mail-art and kinetic art.

ISLAND/An Artists Impression, by Nina Pope and Karen Guthrie, 
deals with these dilemmas by laboriously constructing a three-
dimensional scale model of an on-line MUSH environment in the 
gallery space. The MUSH has developed a curiously rural English 
identity, with car boot sales and campaigns to stop tourists building 
holiday homes, and a similar suburban aesthetic pervades its 3-D 
equivalent. With the sculptural model of an on-line, textual 
environment, Pope & Guthrie provide a solution to the problem of 
spectacle in a way that undercuts the pomposity of institutional 
display rhetorics, presenting the sculpture as a curiously pointless, 
hobbyist pursuit. Like the scale models of the D&D environments 
that were the textual precursor of MUDS and MUSHES, or the 
obsessive mapping of your home town in a model railway (or its 
virtual equivalent the flight sim landscape patch), An Artists 
Impression compensates in its detail for what it lacks in purpose. A 
similarly fruitless task to Umberto Ecos one-to-one scale map of an 
empire, it can never hope to represent the thing it describes, but 
nonetheless stands as a beautiful, futile monument to the physical 
and temporal differences between the two spaces.

Fiona Raby's FLIRT and Igor Stromajer's Mobile Trilogy both point to 
another route around the imposed colonisation of networked art by 
institutional curators by targeting a space that is even more intimate, 
networked and non-spectacular than the web-browser. By routing 
the work to a platform that is ergonomically incorporated into the 
users' intimate space, it is hard to imagine how either of these 
projects could be re-presented in a museum or gallery. Instead, the 
projects use mobile devices to target an ephemeral space that is 
defined by a mix of geography and the user's transient personal 
space a kind of temporary intimate zone that is impossible to 
accommodate architecturally.

In FLIRT, the movements of user's around city of Helsinki are traced 
via their mobiles frequent contact with transmitters around the city. 
By this method, the location of the user can be identified to a single 
reception cell of no more than a few blocks of a street, and can then 
be targeted with information specific to that cell. In FLIRT, this 
information ranges from simple communication or dating games to 
interactions with a virtual lost cat that is roaming the city, appearing 
on user's phone displays when they share the same cell. In one 
game, a virtual moose stampede crosses the city, crushing any user 
that doesn't exit the affected cells in time. Although FLIRT is 
primarily a research project for NOKIA, the specific connections 
between content and geographical spaces, and the way in which it 
encourages performative responses from its audience both point to 
a fruitful area for further cultural research. 

Igor Stromajer's Mobile Trilogy has a similarly playful approach to 
mobile spaces. In this case the focus is on existing cultural 
developments in mobile technologies, such as SMS's vernacular 
vocabulary and the use of vibrating mobile phones as intimate sex 
toys (developed further as a concept in Lucy Kimbell's VIP project Projects such as vibra.action appreciate that the 
mobile phone, of all the networked technologies that have entered 
the mass market, has most successfully crossed over from being an 
external tool to part of the user's intimate space. Whether worn as a 
fashion item in a holster or carried as an accessory in a handbag, 
the mobile phone has broken free from the physical network and 
become a communication space with a very specific and emotional 

With mobile interfaces, the relationships between user, interface 
and network are so intimate, yet so ephemeral, that it is difficult to 
imagine how this territory could be successfully occupied by 
institutional or commercial content. Undoubtedly, this will change, 
partly because commercial pressures will try to shift the platform 
from being a low-media, richly interactive text space to a rich media, 
passively consumed audio-visual experience. The web's claim to be 
a unique media platform has gradually been undermined by it being 
a little too similar to television or cinema; ultimately too distant from 
the user to prevent it from becoming another anonymous screen. 
There might still be a chance, however, that mobile interfaces will 
fare better than the browser in resisting this homogenisation of 
platforms towards the common denominator of passive spectacle, 
and retain some of the radical qualities specific to networked 

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