Tweets in Space: Or Social Media for Aliens
Haydn Shaughnessy for

A couple of years back artists Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern launched an art project called Wikipedia Art, an art page posted to Wikipedia that anyone could edit. It created considerable opposition from who clearly felt Wikipedia was too important to be parodied or questioned by artists. The page was immediately marked for deletion and for a short period the artists faced legal action for trademark violation.

Kildall and Stern are back with a new project: “Tweets in Space”. Whereas Wikipedia Art was meant to demonstrate that Wikipedia is not knowledge as such, but negotiated knowledge, Tweets in Space raises the issue of relevance and communications.  Who cares about Tweets?  Aren’t they just trivial in the overall scheme of the universe? Or could they be the first link between humans and extra terrestrial beings?

We might just find out. Kildall and Stern are building a crowdsourced project to beam tweets to planet GJ667Cc.

“Tweets in Space” will beam Twitter discussions from participants worldwide to GJ667Cc: a planet 22 light years away that might support human-like biological life. Although somewhat ironic in our attempt, the work is itself very serious; a look at ourselves, and how we perform for the public, and as a public, for ourselves and for others, together.”

I don’t quite get that either but the artists have a track record of creating work that gets under the skin. Full disclosure: I am a proud owner of Scott Kildall’s recreation of the American lunar landing (see below) and several of Nathaniel Stern’s scanner art pieces, including his earliest, glorious attempt to recreate Monet‘s Lilies with an HP-Flatbed. I exhibited both artists in my digital art gallery in Ireland and in Second Life but have no connection with this new project.

For anybody who wants to contribute to the cost of beaming tweets to aliens there is a Rockethub page for that.


Tweets in Space Press

tweets in space postcard“Tweets in Space beams Twitter discussions from participants worldwide towards GJ667Cc – an exoplanet 22 light years away that might support earth-like biological life. Simply add #tweetsinspace to your texts during the allotted performance times, as part of the International Symposium on Electronic Art in New Mexico (ISEA2012). We will collect your tweets and transmit them into deep space via a high-powered radio messaging system.”

Tweets in Space exploded into an online phenomenon months before launch: just as we began fundraising for the transmission in April 2012. This started with coverage on Forbes.comScientific American (twice), the NY Daily News, and, and continued to proliferate via BBC Radio 4The Daily Mail, in the blogosophere, twitterverse and mainstream press in the weeks leading up to performance time. Of note are also The Daily Dot (2012), Wired (2012), Washington Post (2012), Wisconsin Public Radio (2012), Furtherfield (2012), The Sunday Guardian (2012),Chip Chick, Twitchy, The Escapist, DVice, Twittermania, Media Bistro, and the Journal Sentinel – the lattermost of which originally broke the story. A complete list of original articles with links (not including reblogs) is available at


straight: wikipedia artCheck into Vancouver’s New Forms Festival at the Waldorf Hotel 
This article by Alexander Varty appeared in both the online and print editions of Straight

*With wild installation rooms and outdoor light-painting, the interdisciplinary, border-bashing festival takes over the Waldorf*

It’s hard to stay on the cutting edge for more than an instant. In the fast-paced world of media art, ideas come and go literally at the speed of light; yesterday’s conceptual breakthrough is all too often today’s TV commercial. Yet for the past decade, Vancouver’s New Forms Festival has stayed at the forefront of all things interdisciplinary, reliably tapping into an international network of borderless creativity.

“This year, though,” says director and curator Malcolm Levy, “something really interesting has happened.”

Indeed it has. A multimedia festival that was once amorphous, although innovative, has found renewed focus—and an event that formerly relied on various low-rent venues around town has found a new home in an old hotel. This year, New Forms takes place in what’s rapidly becoming an East Van icon, the recently renovated and artist-friendly Waldorf. With everything in one place—artists’ accommodation upstairs, fine Lebanese dining downstairs, three live-music venues, and a bar for socializing—a certain synergy is starting to build.

“What we have is a location where we can have complete control of the venue,” says Levy, on the line from the New Forms office. “The hotel rooms, the music rooms, and the whole outside façade of the building are all being used as part of the festival. So, basically, the goal this year is to make the space itself almost an installation during the weekend.”

For an event that lasts only three days, New Forms has assembled a head-spinning array of audience options—everything from wildly danceable electronic pop to serious discussions about copyright law. With its emphasis on an immersive mix of sight and sound, the event should offer what the poet Arthur Rimbaud once termed “the rational derangement of the senses”: an easily accessible route out of ordinary reality. With multisensory delights that include nighttime light-painting on the Waldorf’s west wall, it also has clear and intentional echoes of ’60s-style happenings. Sometimes new forms are just old ones waiting to be rediscovered.

“There are definitely influences from the ’60s, and from other things like the Fluxus movement, within New Forms,” says Levy. “It’s temporal in nature. You know, it’s happening within the space over the weekend; it’s about coming and being part of that and involving yourself within it. It’s not necessarily a sensory overload, but there’s definitely a chance to take in a lot at one time.”

Levy is especially excited about how festival artists will get to change several Waldorf locations into intimate galleries for the presentation and dissemination of media art.

“There are, I think, a total of 18 rooms at the Waldorf,” he says. “Eight of them have never been renovated, and those are all being used for installations. And then we have artists staying in the other rooms.…That definitely changes the dynamic in a very positive way. It becomes like one big family, in a sense.”

Given that one of the major themes of this year’s festival is the control of information, it’s appropriate that the artists will be able to take part in informal exchanges of ideas—at breakfast, say, or over a late-night drink. And in the more structured environment of the installation rooms, they will also play with notions of who controls what we see and hear.

“One of the pieces I think is going to be fun to see is the Wikipedia Art room, and that’s being done by Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern,” Levy notes. “What they’re going to be doing is creating a Wikipedia hotel room; the entire room will be set up with décor based around the concept of Wikipedia art.”

Kildall and Stern have already sparked controversy: intended to flag the ways in which content is controlled on Wikipedia, their original Wiki page was deleted by the popular information site’s administrators within 15 hours of its installation. Later on, Wikipedia Art’s appearance at the 2009 Venice Biennale was shut down by Italian police, apparently due to concerns over copyright violations, in an echo of the legal landslide California-based sound collagists and copyright activists Negativland provoked with their 1991 release of a sample-laden swipe at U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”. Negativland founder Mark Hoskins will be contributing to New Forms’ more formal aspect, a conference on copyright issues called Art, Revolution and Ownership, and Wikipedia Art’s presence should also help kick-start the debate.

Organized in conjunction with the Artists’ Legal Outreach nonprofit, the symposium opens at SFU Woodward’s today (September 8), before moving to the Waldorf. It came out of Artists’ Legal Outreach lawyer Martha Rans’s concern that the creative sector was not adequately represented in Ottawa during the federal government’s recent overhaul of Canada’s copyright laws.

“I did my spiel and I sat there for two hours listening to however many speakers say what they had to say to the minister—and I thought what we really ought to be doing is talking to each other,” Rans explains in a separate telephone interview. “What the whole copyright issue often devolves into is industry versus user, and many artists have said to me, ‘What does that have to do with me? Neither argument resonates with me at all.’ And one thing that I do know is that in order to get artists to come and talk about these issues, you kind of have to make it about them. Hence the idea of an art exhibition.…I thought this would be a rather surreptitious way of teaching [artists] this stuff by getting them to talk about their work.”

Levy agrees. “You have this interesting two-fold dialectic happening,” he explains. “On one hand, you have people fighting for the opening of all content, this really strong push towards opening up the airwaves, so to speak. And then, on the other hand, you have the very important need for artists to be paid for their work, especially in a time when downloading and access to information is so ubiquitous.

“I don’t know if there is a resolution to that,” he adds, “but I think it’s a good discussion to be having.”

And if things get too heated? Well, there’s always the Tiki Bar.

The New Forms Festival takes place at the Waldorf Hotel from Friday to Sunday (September 9 to 11).


This article by Michael Szpakowski appeared in both the online and print editions of digimag, in both English and Italian

Furtherfield Gallery is currently haunted by three ghosts. And the haunting is as stylish as we’ve come to expect there – elegant, carefully disposed and thoroughly good-looking.

The first ghost is the ghost of Marcel Duchamp, summoned by artist Scott Kildall…

The second ghost is the ‘bloody child’ of the epigraph, Kildall and Nathaniel Stern’s now notorious Wikipedia Art. The original work, an attempt to use Wikipedia as, not simply an art platform (misunderstood by many thus; hence: ‘why don’t you start your own Wiki and put your art on that?’) but to embed a generative, or at least multiply-authored work within Wikipedia according to its own rules and logic, was still born or, rather, had its infant brains dashed out on the rocks.

What remains? Acres of print-outs of discussion, ranging from the offensive, dumb and illiterate ones to commentaries you could spend quality time with. A brisk and cheery little introductory video in the lovable puppy-dog tones of Stern the über-enthusiast, with more sober interjections by Kildall, and a show-reel of remixes by others with which Stern and Kildall, with characteristic boldness and generosity, opened out the project.

It’s all gripping, in a museological way, but there’s no doubt that what we are left with are traces, shadows and fragments. Ghosts. It’s the perennial difficulty of representing something essentially performative and, as it turned out, ephemeral – hard to avoid simply documenting. But we can say a few things (and of course one of the interesting things about the project is the huge volume of commentary it has spawned, rendering it eminently capable of being discussed and footnoted on Wikipedia though not, of course, itself flourishing there).

We can say that in a period when the word ‘investigate’ is massively overused in an art context, and usually quite fatuously so, Wikipedia Art genuinely did the job. It uncovered stuff and forced it to the surface, into the light. Like the irritant which begets the pearl, it forced the Wikipedia organism to put on display some truths about its own structure: the cyber-serf labour force, the deeply conservative priesthood of initiates with an ever proliferating set of arcane and bureaucratic rules and a pitifully rudimentary and apparently uncontested notion of what constitutes knowledge. Also – and this needs to be said – idealism, generosity and genuine hurt at perceived mockery, slight or vandalism.

We can say too, that in Kildall and Stern’s attempt to do something that, frankly, looked from the start doomed to failure, there was a beautiful and inspiring utopianism. An act of willing life into being in the face of dullness. Defiance. Something convulsive. And that act of sheer will (something about its heroic, impossibilist quality, made me quote the slogan of 1968, “Sous Les Pavés, La Plage!”, early on in proceedings) in turn shines an unforgiving spotlight back on what is dull, unimaginative and routine.

I suspect in the longer run Wikipedia Art will prove to be about a good deal more than Wikipedia (or at least it will herald it). Artists are often the storm petrels of looming social convulsion and one can see why Wikipedia, familiar to and used by millions, standing Janus faced on the cusp of idealism and cynical routinism, might be an early test case of interesting times to come.

Lastly, the tutelary spirit of Nathaniel Stern’s Given Time is the ghost of Félix González-Torres. In 1991 González-Torres created – assembled – a work, Untitled (Perfect Lovers) in which two battery powered clocks, set initially to the same time, sit side by side, eventually falling out of synchronisation as the batteries fail and they weaken and die at slightly different rates. Stern explicitly acknowledges this as a source (I say source rather than influence; influence is too weak) of Given Time. If it was a piece of music one might call it variation on a theme of. Stern retains the delicacy, tact, grace and indeed ‘deep structure’ of the original piece whilst inserting these into a new context (and this move will have consequences).

Given Time is easy to describe. Two Second Life avatars, projected from machines that are permanently logged in there, ‘hover’ in ‘mid-air’, ‘facing each other’ on opposing screens, such that each ‘figure’ is ‘seen’ through the ‘eyes’ of the other (I’ll stop now – you got the idea). The figures hover, blinking occasionally and from time to time moving vertically, slightly up and down as if subject to a strong breeze, though anchored invisibly.

In the distance, behind each figure, are mountains. Nearer by are reed beds and water. The water does not move, though it reflects the land above it. The mountains behind one avatar are darker and higher than the others, and there is a strong sense of the directionality of the light (and this was the same on the two periods, of an hour or so, I spent with the piece. I gather it is sometimes night.)

For me the overwhelming association of the piece, or at least of its look, is children’s book illustration. I don’t mean it in a slighting way. Some of the most powerful emotions of my life were connected with the explosive impact of relatively banal and schematic illustration, which I had not then learned was a type. Stern’s piece returns me to that childish consciousness. I find myself speculating, in very much the same way as I wondered as a child, what it would be like to live inside a book or what furniture thought, what the two avatars are feeling.

It’s not only González-Torres’ concept Stern honours. González-Torres was interested in found and appropriated objects (often banal, mass produced, indistinguishable multiples) which he imbued with an extraordinarily potent poetry by giving them a twist (not the twist of a thriller or soap opera but a Möbius twist, around a hidden corner) and Stern brings the same intense poetic parsimony to Given Time. The birds that hover and call around the two figures were an off the shelf buy (there’s a wonderful moment during one pass of the bird on the darker screen as it dips behind a distant mountain and we realise its wingspan would be ten yards or more ‘in reality’ to be consistent with what we see).

Second Life itself, of course is off the shelf in the Web 2.0 sense. The reeds which wave in front of each figure’s feet have a curiously of-a-piece awkwardness. However, the two figures are anything but parsimonious in execution – carefully and richly drawn in pastels, graphite and charcoal they have a strong sense both of visual interrelatedness and of individual character. (It will be interesting to see the ‘patina’ that time brings to them. In thirty years I suspect we’ll see them as archetypes of men of about Stern’s age at the end of the noughties… more anchored in time and richer with wear in the same way as the characters in older movies are now).

It is this assemblage quality: the thin, the found, the patched, the borrowed and the luxuriant too, that lends the work much of its power – it sings out that it is a work: a complex weave of inter-related symbols, eye candy, suggestion and reference. Some of it we encompass intellectually, some we feel, some passes us, but not others, by.

Stern claims the work is about (continues) the theme of love, and this is clearly so. However it seems to me the piece is also very much about death. The figures hover there forever (and the upload-our-brains-to-computer crew spring forcefully to mind here) in a setting which is beautiful but finally cyclic and predictable. We go round and round. The slightly jerky movements as the figures deviate from their invisible tethers suggest, if not crucifixion, at the least a kind of imprisonment (perhaps the good old science fiction force-field trope). Again: how would that feel? What do they think? Love they might, for ever and a day, but their immortal stasis takes them further and further away from what it is to be a human being, which is to live and die in time (and which Perfect Lovers expresses so clearly; that piece made shortly after the diagnosis with HIV of his lover, Ross Laycock, five years later González-Torres himself was gone).

In speaking as strongly as it does to our temporality the work allows the spectator – a breathing, pulsing human being, who was born and will die, who has been Given (a little, specific) Time – to experience a sharp and painful beauty that the immortals will never be able to experience. Finally, just to be clear, it should be evident I don’t, of course, believe in the supernatural. The ghosts here are metaphors and, like all metaphors, have their limits. They can help to limn the concrete but never encompass its concreteness (see hauntology for the thing over-shoehorned). I do however believe in enchantment.

Read the article in its entirety

Enfield Independent

Trust, trolls and trademarks – Artists suffer for artwork made on Wikipedia
This article by George Nott appeared in both the online and print editions of the Enfield Independent

It’s fair to say Nathaniel Stern and Scott Kildall have suffered for their art…. Since their first collaboration, they’ve been labelled vandals and trolls and suffered personal insults both “nasty and completely untrue”.

“We’re not artists because we want fame, glory and money,” says University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor Nathaniel. “We think it’s important stuff for the world, and are willing to invest in it.”

Lucky that, because although their 2009 work, being exhibited for the first time in the UK at the Furtherfield Gallery in Haringey, found them discussed on internet forums in more than 15 languages and profiled by the world’s media – it also cost them a hefty sum in lawyer’s fees…. They met on the internet, in person a year later, and soon began work on Wikipedia Art. At first glance, a straightforward entry on the online encyclopaedia; behind the webpage, says Nathaniel, an “intervention into the power structures behind the most powerful, and most-often used, information resource in the world.”

A quick lesson in the way of Wikipedia. One of the most popular websites in the world, it is closely guarded by eager volunteer editors and a “citation mechanism” which means all entries must be cited by a mainstream source.

“However, these ‘notable’ media sources often siphon their facts directly from Wikipedia,” explains Scott, “creating a problem of there being no original source.”

A feedback loop of misinformation the pair pounced upon. Before their page was launched it was written about by their media friends in various publications. Wikipedia’s safeguard had been sidestepped. And the trouble began.

A war of words broke out between Wikipedia’s editors. They were outraged, they’d been duped. The page was deleted within 15 hours.

And it wasn’t long before the lawyers started circling with talk of copyright infringement and trademarks.

“We felt they proved our point for us,” says Nathaniel. “Behind Wikipedia are powerful individuals with agendas and flaws and mood swings, even in their commendable efforts to disperse information widely.”

Think of it… as an “art intervention” [Nathaniel] says, defined (by Wikipedia, who else?) as “art which enters a situation outside the art world in an attempt to change the existing conditions there”…. Art, activism or both, the work continues to change. Just by mentioning it, this very article becomes part of Wikipedia Art’s existence and history, the author now too a collaborator….

“Thanks to this work,” explains Nathaniel, “far more people than ever before are aware of how Wikipedia and its surrounding community function, and thus tend to look at it with a more critical eye when using it….

The piece, in a physical form made up of legal letters, scrolls of online debates, media coverage and the reactive work of other artists, is at the Furtherfield Gallery, Ashfield Road, with some of Nathaniel and Scott’s individual works until June 25.

Judge it in person for yourself – because you won’t find it on you know where.

read all of Trust, trolls and trademarks – Artists suffer for artwork made on Wikipedia


In conversation with… Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern
by Paul Squires

In 2009, an article was published to Wikipedia, called “Wikipedia Art”. To substantiate its publication, several articles were simultaneously published and cited. In the following few hours, the article was fiercely debated on Wikipedia, and eventually deleted; legal wrangling followed, with specific reference to the use of the term “Wikipedia”.

The work, by Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern, was selected for exhibition at the Venice Bienalle that year, and is now on display as part of “Made Real” at the Furtherfield Gallery in London. We caught up with Scott and Nathaniel, to get a first-hand account of the work, and the culture of Wikipedia.

NS: Wikipedia Art was really two projects. On one hand, it was this beautiful found object that anyone can edit. On the other, it was attempting to be an intervention into the hierarchy, the power structure behind Wikipedia, in order to bring it to the surface, and to make people aware of it.

We still love Wikipedia. We still both contribute to it and we still think that it’s a good thing, but we wanted to make a critical work and not in the sense of negativity, but in the sense of critical analysis. We want people to be aware of what’s behind that system.

When we made it, we thought “Oh, this would be a fun little thing”. We knew that there was going to be a big debate on Wikipedia. We figured that there would be the 15-hour deletion, with the scrolls of discussions. But, the fact that it went straight to the top… Jimmy Wales calling us names. Mike Godwin fighting with our lawyers…

SK: … and the threatened lawsuit. That’s when it got interesting. A lot of people felt territorial: almost as if we had got inside their house and peed on the wall. We had trespassed.

read all of In conversation with… Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern

Money Not Art

We Make Money Not Art: Transmediale awards: booze, trolls and German financial deficit
by Régine Debatty

…Another nominated work i need to mention is Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern’s Wikipedia Art. The conceptual work was launched two years ago on Wikipedia as a conventional Wikipedia page, requiring thus art editors to abide by Wikipedia’s standards of quality and verifiability, Any changes to the art had therefore to be published on, and cited from, ‘credible’ external sources from ‘trustworthy’ media outlets. Wikipedia Art blossomed this as a collaborative performance that kept on transforming itself through its editors discussions.


15 hours after its creation the page was deleted. Jimmy Wales called Kildall a troll. The artists were sued for trademark infringement by the Wikipedia Foundation, when they set up to archive their project.

The art world was not so supercilious. The project was even included in the Internet Pavilion of the Venice Biennale for 2009. In an interview to myartspace the author of the project explained that “one of the problems we discovered is that a huge demographic of very young people (ages 16-23) dominates the Wikipedia culture, ethos and information trade. The result is a bigger emphasis on pop culture and esoteric geek factoids, while topics like art movements and artists get sidelined. Try looking up something like “Warlock (Dungeons & Dragons)” as compared to, say, digital art star Cory Arcangel, who is currently on the cover of Art Forum. The standards for the two are completely opposing! The D&D page only uses online sources far from the mainstream, while the Cory Arcangel page references some of the most important museums in existence today. Despite this, the D&D page actually calls for “expansion,” while the Arcangel page is prefaced with a disclaimer that its citations are insufficient.”

read full article: Transmediale awards: booze, trolls and German financial

The Huffington Post

The Huffington Post: The Truth According to Wikipedia
by Claire Gordon

…A couple years ago, two artist activists, Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern, decided to prod at these quirks through a piece of collaborative art, in the form of a Wikipedia page.

In order for Wikipedia Art to qualify as a Wikipedia entry to begin with, it had to be discussed on some of the sources Wikipedia considers citation worthy. So Wikipedia Art was blogged about. The artists were interviewed. And then, on Valentine’s Day 2009, Kildall and Stern launched the Wikipedia Art page, citing the blogs that had mused on it and the interviews they gave, and inviting edits. In doing so, Kidall and Stern made Wikipedia Art exist.

Wikipedia Art is what J.L. Austin called a “performative utterance” — an expression that is also an action, like saying “I do” at your wedding or a declaration of war. The words transform reality, bringing a thing into existence by saying it.

Kildall and Stern’s “collaborative performance” and “public intervention” was a feedback loop, existing only through its documentation, and so called to attention the cracks and short-circuits in Wikipedia’s totalizing claims to knowledge.

Within 16 hours the page was deleted. A month later the Wikipedia Foundation sued the artists, who had established to archive their project, for trademark infringement.

With their project, Kildall and Stern proved the vulnerability of Wikipedia to the comic or malicious machinations of vandals or fools. But more dangerously, the artists showed how Wikipedia is in the business of truth-making, influencing the reality it tries to record….

read all of The Truth According to Wikipedia

The Sunday Guardian

Sunday Guardian:  Art as Critique: Tackling the bias, flaws in WikipediaThe Sunday Guardian: Art as Critique: Tackling the bias, flaws in Wikipedia
by Shweta Sharma

The growth of Wikipedia as an institution has mirrored, and possibly even propelled, the growth of Web2.0. As the importance of Web2.0 has grown in our lives, Wikipedia has become the world’s go-to encyclopeadia, a veritable treasure trove of information on all sorts of topics. Because Wikipedia is user-generated, relying on its readers to add the information, it manages to cover more topics than any other encyclopedia before it. And with its rise has come about the demise of Encyclopedia Britannica and World Book, those handsomely bound, meticulously edited, multi-volume tracts that were the first source of research for student and teacher alike in the days before the Internet.

But of course, not everything in Wikipedia-land is hunky dory. The first and most important criticism of the encyclopedia is that, by allowing users to generate and edit their own entries, there is no one who is accountable for any errors that creep in – and any expert on a topic will tell you just how many errors creep into almost every Wikipedia article. This was the basis from which digital media artists Nathaniel Stern and Scott Kildall launched Wikipedia Art in February 2009. Their goal is to bring to the public’s attention the most vital failings of Wikipedia as a media source; to inform them that the world should not trust everything they say under the famous W symbol.

“Wikipedia Art arose from our discussions about how important Wikipedia is as a resource of information, but how little people know about its internal mechanisms. Nathaniel and I had tried working as Wikipedia editors to compensate for the absence of contemporary arts coverage in it. We realised that many assume that Wikipedia is the ‘free encyclopaedia that anyone can edit’, while it’s actually quite difficult to make a new page. And there’s a lot of politics and lobbying involved in trying to get across an important information in it,” says Kildall.

continue reading Art as Critique: Tackling the bias, flaws in Wikipedia

N Adams Transcript

north adams transcriptVirtual world crosses over to our own
This article by John E. Mitchell appeared in both the online and print editions of the North Adams Transcirpt.

ADAMS — Artist Nathaniel Stern likes to take media from the past and present and put them together without compromising the integrity of either, revealing them to be equal in artistic expression.

Stern’s show, “Arrested Time” — featuring work with collaborator Jessica Meuninck-Ganger — opens at Greylock Arts, 93 Summer St., tonight with a reception at 5:30. UPDATE: Due to a snow storm, the reception has been postponed until Saturday at 5:30. The show will feature two works — the large-scale installation “Given Time,” alongside some derivative work, and a collection of the self-described “monovids” done as part of an ongoing collaboration with Meuninck-Ganger.

“Given Time” is a screen projection featuring two life-sized avatars derived from the Internet community Second Life. This virtual space takes social networking like Facebook to a whole other level. Rather than being in the form of posting boards and messages, Second Life is like a freeform computer game in which the point of the play is to inhabit the space and get to know others around you.

Each member is represented in the three-dimensional screen world by a computer figure – an avatar – that is customized to his or her own desires based on templates supplied by Second Life. The service is the closest thing we have to a known parallel universe that we can perceive physically, rather than the more abstract psychological spaces provided by Web sites like Facebook.

Stern has used Second Life as a medium much like oil paint or marble, hand-drawing two Second Life avatars and pulling them from out of their universe and into ours. In the gallery, they exist on two large screens facing each other, and the viewer may only encounter them by walking between the screens. Thus the figures become actual existing beings in our own dimensional plane.

“Second Life became the perfect environment to situate this piece in, in that there is no time; there is no body, and yet you cannot access this space without a body,” Stern said during an interview this week. “There is no avatar without a person actually sitting there. Here, the viewer lends their body to the piece, and they become the avatar – and there’s this feedback loop where the avatar we’re looking at we’re only seeing through the other avatar’s eyes.”

The result comes from the culmination of Stern’s physical artistic efforts, combined with the more difficult realm of computer coding.

“I imagined the avatars to be very visceral and older and not as beautiful as they are,” Stern said. “The problem was that when I sketched that out, people didn’t recognize it as Second Life, and so what I wound up doing was basing it on actual avatars in Second Life and drawing on those so they still had the shape and the pretty-boy aspects, and they were recognized as being in a virtual space while still being hand-drawn.”

He added, “Making those hand-drawn elements was very difficult to figure out how to do it and put it on an avatar – making an avatar translucent actually isn’t possible in Second Life, so we had to find a lot of work-arounds in order to accomplish that. Because of those work-arounds, we weren’t able to use the built-in breathing and winking that comes with avatars. We had to hand-write our own scripted animations and introduce histograms and probability factors to make sure the blinking wasn’t perfectly timed and always in the same interval and things like that.”

The technique of building a totally customized figure through Second Life is reliant on a technical understanding of how the figures are structured. Prims are single-part digital objects that are used to create portions of a Second Life figure – for instance, hair – by attaching them to the animated figure.

“What people very often wind up doing – and what we wound up doing – is we actually shrink the avatar down to very small size and make them invisible and then put prims on top of the avatar that are built onto it,” said Stern. “The most complex avatars are actually almost entirely prims – they’re avatars that are tiny and invisible, and you attach things to their body.”

Stern was inspired by Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ work “Untitled (Perfect Lovers),” a minimalist piece that featured two clocks together, slowly winding down to their deaths – it was inspired by news of Gonzales-Torres’ partner’s diagnosis of being HIV-positive.

“Part of the beauty and the devastation, once you find out what these clocks are pointing to, is that they are precisely not anthropomorphized until you know, and then there’s that shift and that visceral wrenching on your stomach,” Stern said. “Once the decision was made to use this medium, then the depth and the layers aren’t going to be the same as they are with ‘Given Time.’ It’s not going to be this amazing shift once you hear this story but rather much softer layers that you slowly dig out to feel it. Hopefully, because of their enveloping experience, that can become more visceral. Rather than seeing two clocks on the wall, you actually enter between two projections.”

Stern’s work with Meuninck-Ganger involves a variation on the practice of monoprints that includes video screens. There are two different types of work in this body. In both, Stern and Meuninck-Ganger created video animations to display in digital photo frames. The variations are that, in one, the team painted directly on the video screen, while in the other, Meuninck-Ganger utilized her skills as a printmaker to create a translucent paper work that is permanently attached to the video screen.

“I had already figured out the technology of which screens were going to work when she started working on the technology of the papers,” Stern said, “but in terms of each work, we usually worked on the video and on the drawing at the same time. Sometimes we would just shoot a video and it would be cool. Sometimes we’d have an idea and would sketch it out, but because of the way things had to line up and decisions about the size of the screens and the size of the plates, everything had to be worked on simultaneously.”

Stern and Meuninck-Ganger use the same video for an ongoing series of their monovids. What distinguishes the works is a different drawing on each, done with Sharpie paint markers right on the video screen.

“The particular video that we’ve been using for this monovid is one I took over the Atlantic Ocean, where you can see the railing of the boat cutting across the screen and then rolling waves behind it,” Stern said. “We’ll sometimes put sea serpents in the water or boats in the water or little fish bowls in the water or swans in the water, and we’ll just draw those right on the screen.”

The other side of the work involves backgrounds for the images on the frames. Stern has used Second Life for this, as well, and this has helped him realize that old technologies are still technologies: It is not out of the question for the old and new to find common ground in order to fabricate an entirely fresh form of art built on varying stages of technology. More importantly to Stern, digital progression does not rule out the more physical arts.

“A lot of people talk to me as if I’m this super tech geek – I am, but just because computers are thought of as a technology, people forget that ink and paper, that kind of stuff, is a technology, too,” he said. “Yes, I sometimes speak over Jessica’s head, but she sometimes speaks over mine. I have no idea what she is doing in that back room.”

It’s in this nexus of the two ends of art technology that a warmth has been created – digital technology has been brought into the human senses and is related as such, emotionally. It’s a huge leap forward in not only the presentation of creativity, but also the harnessing of it – and Stern points out that it’s not unattainable to those from outside its realm; it just takes an effort to use it as a material in an artist’s creative arsenal.

“That’s where our technology is coming now – you can feel it,” Stern said. “It used to be that you couldn’t just feel technology; you had to know how it worked in order to make something interesting; whereas we have this new generation growing up with technology. You can feel what’s working or not. And some people just have to work harder.”

Nathaniel Stern can be found online at

Caption: Stern’s Second Life avatars, Ross and Felix, in their digital environment.

(c) 2010 North Adams Transcript. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Media NewsGroup, Inc. by NewsBank, Inc.
Record Number: 14475092


networked: a networked book about networked art

Book: edited collection of essays

Deseriis › No End In Sight: Networked Art as a Participatory Form of Storytelling
Ulmer › The Learning Screen
Varnelis › The Immediated Now: Network Culture and the Poetics of Reality
Helmond › Lifetracing: The Traces of a Networked Life Chapter Icon
Freeman › Storage in Collaborative Networked Art
Munster › Data Undermining: The Work of Networked Art in an Age of Imperceptibility
Lichty › Art in the Age of DataFlow: Narrative, Authorship, and Indeterminacy

Editor: Jo-Anne Green
Date of Publication: 2009
Language: English (and some translations)

See the book
See the section featuring Wikipedia Art

MKE Journal Sentinel

milwaukee journal sentinel feature on wikipedia artDeconstructing Wikipedia
This article by Mary Louise Schumacher appeared in both the online and print editions of the MJS, under different titles and with slightly edited content.

Two artists staged an art intervention within Wikipedia, turning the “free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit” into an art medium.

By making a sort of readymade art object from a Wikipedia page, Nathaniel Stern, of Milwaukee, and Scott Kildall, of San Francisco, have challenged the conventions of art in a way that doesn’t happen everyday.

The wikiwar that’s erupted is not unlike the outrage inspired by Marcel Duchamp‘s urinal or Andy Warhol‘s Brillo Boxes.

“Wikipedia Art” was, to the artists’ minds, both an artwork and a legitimate Wikipedia page.

After seven months of preparations, it was spiked 15 hours after launch by an 18-year-old Wikipedia administrator and software developer named “Werdna.” And now, the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia, has threatened the artists with legal action, demanding that they fork over the web address where they moved the art project.

That Wikipedia, an organization that prides itself on open critique, radical transparency and the advancement of human knowledge, would get heavy handed with these artists is galling.

Did “Wikipedia Art’ deserve a permanent home on the site? I don’t know. But in reading the voluminous debates it seems a main source of agitation was the fact that artists would dare to ask in the first place.

Here’s how it worked.

The project was a standard page on Wikipedia that, like all entries, anyone could alter, as long as Wikipedia’s standards of quality and verifyability were adhered to. Within those constraints, the artists invited “performative utterances” from the public and from other artists, in order to create an ongoing composition.

It is an artwork and an article, a deconstruction and a construction of Wikipedia. It is the scrupulous and lively debate that the original piece inspired and the web site where the project now lives.

The artwork — and yes, it is art — is certainly relevant. Like good art sometimes does, it makes us look at things differently. It critiqued the way human knowledge is organized by one of the most important sources of information on the planet.

And, more than that, it revealed a common response to contemporary art — particularly the cerebral sort — that’s common in our culture. We’ve seen other manifestations of this of late in the Emily Thomas dialogue, the debate over Janet Zweig’s public art and now the consensus that Stern and Kildall have revealed within the Wikipedia community.

Here’s how it all went down.

Within an hour of the page’s posting at noon on Valentine’s Day, the “deletionists,” volunteer editors who scour for inappropriate content, swooped in and marked the page as lacking sufficient “notable” sources, among other things. Moments later, the artists’ own pages were marked as suspicious, too.

The artists had cited online essays and art blogs, creating what they believed met the Wikipedia standards.

The editor who first panned the page and opened the floodgates of debate had some second thoughts. The 30-something IT specialist from the London area made a cry for help at a wiki-water cooler of sorts.

The debate was “turning into some sort of art intervention which might be worse than the ‘article,'” wrote Daniel Rigal (emphasis mine).

“I am just getting worried that…..the postmodernists are going to hold an exhibition of ‘Look how we made the encyclopaedists dance’ with me as the star attraction,” Rigal wrote.

Fervency for a “speedy delete” of the page grew. According to Stern, one editor wanted to apply the “snowball clause,” a polite way of suggesting the project didn’t have a snowball’s chance, and could everyone just dispense with the mind-numbing dialogue, please.

What emerged was a telling portrait of the way Wikipedians view themselves and exercise their authority. When Wikimedia’s lawyers started throwing their weight around, too, Stern and Kildall talked about dropping the project. Stern, an assistant professor of art at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, shelled out half a month’s salary for a lawyer’s retainer.

Thankfully, Paul Levy, an attorney with Public Citizen, the group founded by Ralph Nader, volunteered to defend the artists pro bono out of conviction that the supposedly egalitarian-minded foundation was legally and morally out of bounds. Wikimedia has since gone quiet, perhaps backing down.

In truth, I can see why this project might prompt some to bristle, why it comes off as academic antics. But these artists, devotees of Wikipedia themselves, are serious artists who have been interested in the intersection of art, virtual space and collaborations for years.

And, they do have a point.

Wikipedia admits on its own site that its administrators, who rise through the ranks by being sufficiently devoted to their task, are more prone to be young, male and affluent. Is it possible some of these lads who service Wikipedia’s 9.5 million registered users tend to dismiss arts sources?

Could that be why a search for “Superman” yields volumes of pages on Wikipedia, while content related to contemporary art is not only scant but routinely questioned?

The entry for Cory Arcangel, an artist recently featured on the cover of Artforum, for instance, is topped by a giant question mark and a warning that the “sources remain unclear” and “insufficient.”

The sources? The Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Tate, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and Columbia University, among others.

Stern and Kildall’s work is of art historical significance, picking up on many threads, such as the Surrealists and their exquisite corpse. It challenges the very definitions of art, media and knowledge, and it taps into a real truth about the distrust many have toward art.

By writing these things I suppose I am creating a citable reference in just the kind of “mainstream media” venue that Wikipedia goes for, potentially bolstering “Wikipedia Art” itself or, at least, a page about the event and its controversy. These are interesting times in which we live, yes?

read the entire online article
view the print version

Wikipedia Art Press

various Wikipedia Art pressThe Wikipedia Art project is an ongoing intervention and performance that sheds light on the inner workings of one of the Internet’s most powerful sources of information – its editors, its founders, and its board of directors. It began as an article and debate on the pages of Wikipedia itself, moved to the art blogosphere as a critical discussion, and finally exploded all over the web after an  Electronic Frontier Foundation story (and Slashdot feature) about how the Wikimedia Foundation was threatening litigation around potential trademark infringement. Although this issue is still officially unresolved, Wikimedia have publicly stated that they are happy with the disclaimer now on the front of the Wikipedia Art site, which basically says, “This is not Wikipedia.” Original stories about the work – including the domain dispute – have appeared on over 75 web sites, and in at least six languages, including the Milwaukee Journal SentinelDe TelegraafArs Technica,Digital JournalPBS.orgWall Street JournalTechDirt and The Guardian, among many others. For an almost complete list, see the Wikipedia Art Press Page.

Wall Street Journal

wall street journal features wikipedia artThe Internet as Art:
In the digital age, the medium is the new message.

This article, by Goran Mijuk and featuring Wikipedia Art, appeared in both the online and print editions of the WSJ

Next time an error message pops up on your computer screen or if your machine succumbs to a software virus, it may be more than just an annoying glitch. It may be a work of art.

Just as video and computer technology attracted pioneering artists in the 1960s and 1970s, the Internet today is inspiring artists to tinker with the possibilities and boundaries of the World Wide Web. What started as a playful and often tongue-in-cheek experimental venture by a few code-savvy artists in the early 1990s has grown into a global art movement that is attracting attention from museums and private collectors.

But artists aren’t stopping here to question and challenge, criticize and eventually redefine the Internet. They are embracing the Internet’s ability to connect people to share ideas and become active both in the digital and the real world. They’re also exhibiting their works in unusual public spaces, generating more attention than they would in a museum.

South African artist Nathaniel Stern, together with American artist Scott Kildall, for example, have created a mock-Wikipedia art page,, where other artists and art lovers can create and edit their own art and discuss aspects of art such as censorship and copyright. The work was originally intended to be part of the actual Wikipedia site, but the online encyclopedia blocked the artists’ initial attempt because the editing process on the their Web site did not conform to Wikipedia’s standards.

read the article online
download a PDF scan of the print edition

rhizome feature on wikipedia artWikipedia Art

“Nathaniel Stern and Scott Kildall’s “Wikipedia Art” project, which was deleted by Wikipedia users soon after it went live, was intended as an artistic intervention in the open yet closely regulated space of Wikipedia. Considering the context, it is unsurprising that the project was so short-lived. In the artist’s statement, Kildall and Stern claim that the work “MUST BE written about extensively both on- and off-line” and, indeed, it did generate ample debate. Check the Rhizome Discussion board for a conversation related to the function of truth on Wikipedia, as well as the discussion section for the Wikipedia Art entry itself, where users consider the place of an art project of this type within Wikipedia.”

read the discussion that followed this feature
or another rhizome thread about the piece

Two Coats of Paint

two coats of paint featureHello Wikipedia, it’s the blogosphere calling

If you have any experience contributing to Wikipedia, you’ll appreciate “Wikipedia Art,” an online project launched today by artists Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern. Of course, by the time you read this, the whole project may have been deleted by the anonymous band of pedantic Wikipedia editors (see Update below). The artists want everyone to sign on as Wikipedia contributors and keep the project alive.

Here’s an excerpt of Kildall’s and Stern’s Wikipedia entry for “Wikipedia Art:”

“It was performatively birthed through a dual launch on Wikipedia and MyArtSpace, where art critic, writer, and blogger, Brian Sherwin, introduced and published their staged two-way interview, ‘Wikipedia Art – A Fireside Chat.’ The interview ended with Stern declaring, ‘I now pronounce Wikipedia Art.’ Kildall’s response: ‘It’s alive! Alive!’

“Within one hour, it was marked for deletion. Following that, the Wikipedia entries on Stern, Kildall and Sherwin suddenly had Wikipedia standards problems which were non-existent before (in Stern’s case, for nearly 2 years before). Later that day, in response to Kildall and Stern’s call ‘to join in the collaboration and construction / transformation / destruction / resurrection of the work’, Shane Mecklenburger linked every word on the page, a move to ‘clarify’ which arguably highlighted theQuixotic, absurd utility of Wikipedia’s enterprise. Artintegrated erased highlights from the original article only that were made by Shane Mecklenberger referencing Robert Rauschenberg’s ‘Erased Dekooning’.

“The Wikipedia Art page is a self-aware exploration of Wikipedia’s mission of collective epistemology. It enacts and describes Wikipedia’s strengths, weaknesses, potential, and limits as both a system of understanding and as a contemplative object of beauty. It demonstrates how a Wikipedia page can transcend the medium of Wikipedia while retaining its basic utilitarian Wikipedia function. The page is similarly a self-aware example of the strengths, weaknesses, potential, and limits of new media art. Wikipedia Art also calls into question the basic function and purposes of the encyclopedia itself. “

Don’t forget to check out the ongoing debate on Wikipedia Art’s “Articles for Deletion Page,” where you can watch the Wiki editors spar with artists and advocates over the project’s right to exist. Ironically, Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia, does not accept online sources (like art blogs) to verify references. Even more curious are the unsophisticated ways they apply their Guidelines for Notability…but that’s another matter.

Update: The “Wikipedia Art” entry was deleted from Wikipedia on 2/15/09 by “Werdna,” an eighteen-year-old Wikipedia buff from Australia who recently graduated from high school. Werdna (real name Andrew Garrett) has been tinkering with Wikipedia since he was 14 years old. According to his user page, Andrew thinks that “we should delegate decisions to trusted users instead of involving the whole community in everything; that democracy is the worst system of government, except for all the other ones that have been tried; that it is perfectly fine to specialise away from article-writing, so long as you’re doing something useful; and that we should give the fairy penguin populations more rights and freedoms.”

“Wikipedia Art’s” Facebook Group can be found here. A list of project collaborators can be found here. interview with Nathaniel SternWikipedia Art – A Fireside Chat (February 2009)

An edited transcript by Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern

Nathaniel Stern: I was lucky enough to spend some time with Scott Kildall in Second Life last week; Scott works with various forms of digital media (video, prints, performance, sculpture) looking at what he calls “realms of the imaginary.” Around a virtual campfire, we discussed our new collaborative project, Wikipedia Art. Wikipedia Art is an artwork composed solely on Wikipedia, and so is art that anyone can edit – with a few stipulations, of course.

Scott Kildall: I finally got to meet Nathaniel Stern in person last fall at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, where we gave a double lecture about both our bodies of work and practice. Nathaniel works across socially participatory art, interactive installation, digital and traditional print and video. During this conversation, we got a chance lay out the framework for Wikipedia Art.


NS Places virtual hands out over virtual fire. Nice fire, Scott. Feels good. But not really.

SK: Thanks. I coded it myself. Well, not really. I bought it online.

NS: This kind of playful non-reality re-mix is a common thread in your work. You often slip into roles, re-edit histories, create virtual worlds and characters and performances, to question material and knowledge and ownership. 

SK: I believe we are on a precipice of losing what is real, culturally speaking. Our relationship to knowledge and histories has become murky. We see this in places like Second Life where identities are anonymous and copyright law is largely flouted. It’s like the Wild West of digital culture. I think that’s where much of my work has been focused, from performances in virtual worlds, to a recreation of the Apollo 11 moon landing, to videos that capture dream-spaces by using  “in-between” shots in Hollywood films.

NS: And this led you to the idea of an intervention on Wikipedia?

SK: Yes, well, that largely came out of our discussions together; but I’m most excited about questions of knowledge and how online institutions – like Wikipedia – frame remembrance. Online histories (and memories) get confused because they can be so easily overwritten. Although it is archived somewhere, the “truth” can get buried in the eighth page return of a Google search, rendering it effectively invisible.

I keep coming back to the strange fact that Wikipedia is an assumed source of authority. Despite the huge amount of information-space on the web, one central repository of encyclopedic information persists. This is wonderful since it is to some extent democratic, but it’s also full of holes and omissions.

What led you to the Wikipedia Art idea?

NS: I’ve been interested in performance and in words for a long time. I used to do slam poetry when I lived in New York, and my first interactive installations asked people to chase or maneuver around text with their bodies. With interactivity more generally, I’m less concerned with how software responds to us, and more with how we physically move in relation to space or words or meaning. My recent prints are performances as well, where I traverse the landscape with a scanner to make dynamic and time-based images. I think of Wikipedia Art, which is somewhat text-based, as a performance, too. Even more than that, it’s performative.

SK: My spell-checker says performative is not a word.

NS: Performative utterances, or speech acts, perform some kind of action. The most classic example of such an event is a wedding. With the spoken words, “I do,” the speaker is transformed from a single person into a spouse. If I knight thee, you are henceforth Sir Scott; or if I declare war, peacetime has ended between us. These words distinctly change my or your state of being. I (or you or our relationship) become something else the moment I utter them.

SK: Roasting a marshmallow. So how does this lead us to Wikipedia Art?

NS: Well, you’ve noted the inherent tension around notions of truth on Wikipedia. On the one hand, it’s currently the second most visited website in existence. And Google (#1) often lists Wikipedia entries at the top of any given search page. The entire world sources most of its information from Wikipedia. On the other hand, anyone can edit most Wikipedia pages, can say something there for the world to see. So, if I “utter” something on Wikipedia, it becomes “true.” This is classically performative.

SK: Yes, but Wikipedia’s success lies in that it has certain standards that enable it to function as a viable entity. Any Wikipedia articles that do not have citations from credible external sources are removed. Otherwise, anyone could post or change any article. It would be a smorgasbord of fact and fiction.

NS: But even with that regulation, there are still problems.

SK: Right: problems such as perceived lack of authority. After all, who gets to decide what is a “credible” source of information? These sources are granted an authority that winds up influencing reality, the worldly information that we “know” as “true”. The inherent problem here is that Wikipedia is not always true, and never really real. This is Wikipedia’s strength and its weakness. It is currently affecting the real world in tangible ways.

NS: That’s the funny thing. Wikipedia is indeed controlled information – try starting your own page some time and see what happens. Its odd hierarchy grants authority to people who simply have the time and inclination to write and discuss details, who get clout through their ongoing involvement and self-propagation on the site. These folks have a lot of power, and are, both wonderfully and scarily, semi-anonymous.

The artist David Horvitz played with this, with affecting the real world and propagating himself, by editing Wikipedia. Horvitz altered the Wikipedia entry for Ian Curtis – lead singer of Joy Division – to read that in the last moments before Curtis committed suicide, he glanced at one of Horvitz’s photographs. The falseness of this tidbit was eventually found out and removed from the page, but not before it became part of the mythic story: many Curtis fan sites still include Horvitz in their account of his death. In other words, Horvitz didn’t just edit Curtis’ Wikipedia page; he edited his story (history).

SK: Good example. These sorts of cases where fake stories are granted a pass in reality have appeared in popular culture as well. Remember the Halloween tale of the person who put razorblades in apples, then passed them out to kids? This never really happened! But we hear it every Halloween, from parents, on the news, from teachers and in emails. (You can verify its untruthfulness on Wikipedia, by the way.)

With online communities, instant access to research and communication, there are more opportunities for ongoing interplay; you can redress propagation stories like these.

NS: And that’s where our project starts. The core “activity” of Wikipedia Art first addresses then plays with the invisible authors and authorities of and on The Web / The Google / The Wiki. It is an artwork that is composed on Wikipedia, and so is art that anyone can edit. If people edit the Wikipedia Art page, then they performatively edit Wikipedia Art itself.

SK: And here’s the rub: before we can publish the Wikipedia Art page for the very first time, we have to be able to cite its existence and “credibility” from external and “reliable” sources of information.

NS: In other words, we have to publish this very interview before we can “birth” Wikipedia Art. They have to come out at the same time. Otherwise, the page may be removed by the powers that be: Wikipedians. (Thank you, Brian Sherwin and MyArtSpace, and all rebloggers and writers elsewhere, for your performativity.)

SK: Chickens and eggs. This is a classically interventionist piece. According to the Wikipedia page on “art interventions,” this is “an interaction with a previously existing artwork, audience or venue/space.” Like Wikipedia and its community. “It has the auspice of conceptual art and is commonly a form of performance art.”

NS: And in addition to being a kind of performance, Wikipedia Art is conceptual art because the idea is more important than the material. In fact there is no material.

Go on then.

SK: “Although intervention by its very nature carries an implication of subversion, it is now accepted as a legitimate form of art and is often carried out with the endorsement of those in positions of authority over the artwork, audience or venue/space to be intervened in. However, unendorsed (i.e. illicit) interventions are common and lead to debate as to the distinction between art and vandalism.”

NS: You’re right about that. I worry about this being seen as vandalism by the Wikipedia community, about the powers that be simply removing the entry. This is where the press and citations act as a kind of doubled gesture: they validate the project while also potentially changing it (and that change also validates the project, because that’s the point of the intervention).

SK: “Performative citations.” We invite bloggers, writers and editors to join in the collaboration and construction, the transformation, the destruction and the resurrection of the work itself – by publishing then citing and thus changing Wikipedia Art.

NS: I have a feeling that there will be many Wikipedians who will see Wikipedia Art as neither valid information, nor art.

SK: Which is also why it’s such a good intervention. Wikipedia Art intervenes in Wikipedia as a venue in the contemporary construction of knowledge and information, and simultaneously intervenes in our understandings of art and the art object.

NS: Like knowledge and like art, Wikipedia Art is always already variable. It is an intervention to be intervened in. It is a project that lacks material, but still has a make up: that of social space, of the social interstice, of its own and our potential.

SK: The layered intervention. You can hijack the intervention itself. Wikipedia has flexible meaning; art has flexible meaning; meaning has flexible meaning. We are problematizing all of this, and asking others to participate in the process, in that performance.

NS: Just as the term “art intervention” alludes to, Wikipedia Art is a subversion from within the dominant paradigm. It uses context and media to speak back to power; it’s a feedback loop between what is, what could be, and who says so. Like Banksy hanging his own art in the Tate without permission; or Duchamp’s submission of a signed urinal to the Society of Independent Artists in New York.

SK: Those examples are from the Wikipedia page on art intervention.

NS: Point illustrated. And for the grand finale: “I now pronounce Wikipedia Art.”

SK: It’s alive! Alive!

Wikipedia Art is Dead. Long Live Wikipedia Art. (April 2009)

On February 14th, 2009 – in a nod to the infamous ILOVEYOU email virus – Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern launched a page on Wikipedia called “Wikipedia Art.” The idea: art that anyone can edit. They simultaneously oversaw the publication of several online articles about the work, and cited these back on the Wikipedia entry page itself, so as to circumvent immediate deletion by strict Wikipedia editors.

Wikipedia Art was made “legitimate” and “encyclopedia-worthy” by Wikipedia’s own standards of verifiability, since its page referenced what are considered credible sources by Wikipedia’s own editors – including this very blog. The project lived on Wikipedia for approximately 15 hours as an intervention, performance and artwork.

Kildall and Stern, both together and individually, agreed to answer a few follow-up questions about their work.

What were some of your initial intentions for a work of art on Wikipedia?

We hoped to create a piece that would continuously transform, die and be resurrected, by a collaborating public. Once the initial entry and essays were published, we invited any and all potential partners – perhaps Wikipedia would call them conspirators – to write additional articles about the work. Our suggestion was that such writing should not just “cover” Wikipedia Art, but could also “change” it. If someone publishes, for example, “On March 16, 2009, Wikipedia Art spawned the Wikipedia Art Object – which is green and spherical” on a “credible” blog, then one could cite that quotation back onto the Wikipedia page itself, making it “true.” In addition to being an interesting and artistic feedback loop between online communities and one of the main systems that informs them (Wikipedia), the work also serves as an intervention in, and pointer to, the egos and biases behind said system.

What was the response on Wikipedia itself?

Within an hour, the “Wikipedia Art” page was tagged AfD (Article for Deletion) by Wikipedia editor, Daniel Rigal. After an AfD tag, the standard process is to have a 5-day community review on the merits of the article. What ensued was a hotly contested debate on several discussion pages. 15 hours its after its birth, an 18-year old Wikipedia admin calling himself “Werdna” removed the page, and locked it down from future inclusion on the site. Interestingly, this move was in violation of Wikipedia’s own standards, but we have no recourse there.

During these discussions, both of us stepped back and let others hash out the legitimacy of the project. We never participated in any of the Wikipedia Art online debates, on Wikipedia or elsewhere. We take the fact that so many people were involved in edits to the page, heated deliberation on Wikipedia, Rhizome, Art Fag City and elsewhere – not to mention that there were many outside attempts by others to put the work back on Wikipedia’s meta-Wiki, their page for Conceptual art, the page called “Wikipedia loves art,” and several others – as a testament to the piece’s success as both a collaboration and intervention.

What were your expectations and hopes?

We had expected, as stated in the press release, that the “Wikipedia Art” page would just be removed temporarily, not locked down completely. We hoped there would be a chance, or chances, to get it back up after more publications came to the fore. In retrospect, we realize that this was a vain hope— the Wikipedia powers that be would never allow it. We feel lucky that it was not simply deleted immediately, without a whimper. We would have seen that as a real failure.

What was revealed to you about the Wikipedia structure?

We are both strong Wikipedia supporters. We still contribute to the site on a regular basis and promote the values behind it – free information, creative commons and GNU licenses, etc. Like most encyclopedias, it only scratches the surface in its entries, but it’s a great and easy place to start when embarking on new research, or just looking for a few useful tidbits. And the fact that Wikipedia is not owned and run by a corporation is of enormous importance.

One of the problems we discovered is that a huge demographic of very young people (ages 16-23) dominates the Wikipedia culture, ethos and information trade. The result is a bigger emphasis on pop culture and esoteric geek factoids, while topics like art movements and artists get sidelined. Try looking up something like “Warlock (Dungeons & Dragons)” as compared to, say, digital art star Cory Arcangel, who is currently on the cover of Art Forum. The standards for the two are completely opposing! The D&D page only uses online sources far from the mainstream, while the Cory Arcangel page references some of the most important museums in existence today. Despite this, the D&D page actually calls for “expansion,” while the Arcangel page is prefaced with a disclaimer that its citations are insufficient. The pretenses that Wikipedia is somehow objective, that same standards apply across the board, that anyone who cares enough and knows enough and is willing to dedicate their time can be an editor, all need to be challenged. Like it or not, Wikipedia is the dominant power behind online information, and so it is our responsibility – and theirs – to take each other to task.

In short, we see a self-propagating loop of dis- or mis- or what we call un-information, where websites and other references will now quote or cite Wikipedia as proof of vitality – or worse, assume something is unimportant if it does not have a Wikipedia entry, or its entry is short or full of disclaimers – reinforcing holes in cultural knowledge. Given that so many top sites simply copy text from Wikipedia in order to flesh out their content – making their surface scratching text the dominant online information – in a post-Wikipedia age, we very often have less information at our fingertips, rather than more.

How did the blogs respond to the event?

Kildall: We definitely received a polarized response from blogs and the public. I felt like my name was dragged around in the mud while at the same time I received numerous private emails commending the project.

The critiques ranged from the old refrain: “this is not art” to being “too slick” to being “half-baked”. The congratulations were on setting up a simple framework that led to discussions about Wikipedia’s power within a conceptual art context.

That a huge number of people had such diverse reactions to the project, in a time when many art projects simply get ignored by the blogosphere, shows that people care about how the structure of Wikipedia is deviating from its original mandate.

Stern: What I found most fascinating on both Wikipedia and in the other debates (for example, on Rhizome) was how quickly people imputed their own issues or desires on to the project. While playful artists like Pall Thayer and Shane Mecklenburger attempted to transform Wikipedia Art through conscious decisions and performative utterances on its Wikipedia page (mostly skipping over the publishing elsewhere part), many others just wrote about what it “meant,” and transformed the piece in that way, rather than how Scott and I had initially intended. Still, that precise process and debate, at least for me, was far more interesting than I would have expected.

For example, Wikipedian Daniel Rigal, who first marked the page for deletion, saw it as a well-meaning experiment that happened to break the rules; ironic, given that Wikipedia itself is a well-meaning experiment that happens to break its own rules. Performance artist and professor, Patrick Lichty, gave it its academic, tactical and tautological flare – things he and his online personae are endowed with. Wedrna, the 18-year-old and recent high school graduate Wikipedian who eventually deleted the page, thought we “made it up at school.” Laid back artist and blogger Jon Coffelt just asked people what they thought; he found the whole thing rather amusing and interesting, from a distance. Art blogging star Paddy Johnson felt pity for the Wikipedians, and how hard they must work to maintain such a huge web site – something she is all too familiar with over at her own site, Art Fag City. Rhizomer and blogger Tom Moody made it all about himself, his ideas, his own bruised ego – something, anyone who reads his blog or Rhizome discussions will know, he manages to accomplish with just about every online debate he involves himself with (and there are many). South African writer, thinker and arts critic Chad Rossouw says the project is about how art only exists fully through discourse – most critics (myself included) would likely agree.

And so on; in retrospect, it seems so obvious that this would happen, that Wikipedia Art could not last, that the debates would start out interesting but then egos would get in the way and the debaters would place themselves in the front lines, then blame each other if they got hurt, and then blame the project itself as it, and they, unraveled. But during the actual unraveling, we mostly cocked our heads, opened our mouths, and watched in earnest. It was quite a performance. 

What are your future plans with Wikipedia Art?

Wikipedia Art is in Phase II. It has been taken off of Wikipedia, the online discussions have mostly died down, and we have properly archived the performance on our own website at We’re now hoping to see more in-depth writing about the work; we are courting a few academic publications and writers to see how Wikipedia Art’s meaning might still be transformed over time.

Where does Wikipedia Art lie within Conceptual Art’s history?

Scott: This remains to be seen. At this point, Wikipedia Art is driving a stake into the ground, contextualizing what it was, or could be, through this very interview and beyond. It depends on how people write about it.

Nathaniel: Isn’t that, how people write and talk about a work to find its place in history, the case with all art – conceptual or otherwise? For better or worse, it’s the writers, the media, the Wikipedians who decide.

According to his Wikipedia page, New York Times arts critic Jerry Saltz once said, “We live in a Wikipedia art world.” So be it.