The Daily Mail

‘We want to democratise the universe’: Artists plan to send your tweets into space
(…but will E.T. care about your musings?)

Eddie Wren for the Mail online

Twitter is a force for both the good and the mundane.

For every useful piece of information, witty statement, or earnest communication, there are a dozen tweets revealing such insights as ‘Fell over in the shower today LOLZ’.

Now, in a bid to democratise the universe, two multimedia artists plan to send out all and any tweets into the cosmos, sharing everything with any lurking aliens with an ISP.

All anyone has to do is add the hashtag #tweetsinspace to their message, and artists Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern will collect them and forward them on to E.T.

Tweets in Space: The campaign hopes to raise $8,500 in order to share humanity's thoughts with the universe
Tweets in Space: The campaign hopes to raise $8,500 in order to share humanity’s thoughts with the universe

The duo are collecting donations via RocketHub, a creative funding website, to fund the project.
Their aim is to ‘build or borrow a high tech communications system that will beam your real time text messages to a planet that can support extraterrestrial life.’

The pair are aiming to raise $8,500 – a surprisingly small amount for such a long-distance, 22 light-year phonecall – and so far have received more than $2,500. When they have their equipment, the pair will be ready to ‘inform extraterrestrial beings of our culture and society’ – both the good and the bad.

Asking for pledges, the pair say: ‘We will beam Twitter discussions from participants worldwide towards GJ667Cc – an exoplanet 22 light years away that might support earth-like biological life.

‘Anyone with an Internet connection can participate during two performance events, which will simultaneously take place online, at the International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA2012, New Mexico), and in the stars.

‘By engaging the millions of voices in the Twitterverse and dispatching them into the larger Universe, Tweets in Space activates a potent discussion about communication and life that traverses beyond our borders or understanding. It is not just a public performance; it performs a public.’

Earth's ambassador: Scott Kildall appeals through RocketHub for funding to get our messages out there
Earth’s ambassador: Scott Kildall appeals through RocketHub for funding to get our messages out there

Beam it up: The duo hope th buy or hire powerful transmitting equipment to send our earth-bound messages off to the universe
Beam it up: The duo hope to buy or hire powerful transmitting equipment to send our earth-bound messages off to the universe

The pair added: ‘We will collect all Twitter messages tagged #tweetsinspace and transmit them into the cosmos via either a home-built or borrowed communication system.

‘Our soon-to-be alien friends will receive scores of unmediated thoughts and feedback about politics, philosophy, pop culture, dinner, dancing cats and everything in between.

‘All tweets will also be streamed to a live public website, where they’ll be permanently archived, as well as projected – as animated twitter spaceships towing messages – at the Balloon Museum and planetarium-like digital dome (IAIA), in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

‘Tweets in Space asks us to take a closer look at our spectacular need to connect, perform and network with others. It creates a tension between the depth and shallowness of sharing 140 characters at a time with the entire Internet world, in all its complexity, richness and absurdity, by transmitting our passing thoughts and responses to everywhere and nowhere.

‘These “twitters” will be stretched across all time and space as a reflection on the contemporary phenomenon of the “status” updates we broadcast, both literal and metaphoric.’

Kildall stated his reasons for the campaign in a video on RocketHub.

He said: ‘Previously only elite institutions or rich and powerful individuals could transmit to our alien friends.

‘We want to democratise the universe.’

On The Daily Mail

BBC Radio 4 (Today)

BBC News – Today – Tweeting to a planet near you

“Why is an artist about to send tweets into space? Nathaniel Stern, associate professor at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, and Anu Ojha, Director of the National Space Academy in Leicester, explain.”

Here I discussed Tweets in Space, my collaborative project with Scott Kildall, in an interview with Justin Webb of BBC Radio 4 on the BBC’s flagship news program, Today.

BBC News – Today – Tweeting to a planet near you

“Why is an artist about to send tweets into space? Nathaniel Stern, associate professor at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, and Anu Ojha, Director of the National Space Academy in Leicester, explain.”

Here I discussed Tweets in Space, my collaborative project with Scott Kildall, in an interview with Justin Webb of BBC Radio 4 on the BBC’s flagship news program, Today.

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Tweets in Space: Contacting E.T., 140 Characters at a Time
Anoosh Chakelian for Time Magazine Web Site

— Meet the pair of digital artists trying to raise enough money to send your online musings across the cosmos.

scott kildall and nathaniel stern

You carefully hone your tweets like they’re the Great American Novel and painstakingly cultivate your Twitter followers. You obsess over your Klout score and consider yourself a true social media maven. But have you sent your tweets into space?

Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern, the duo behind such multimedia experiments as Wikipedia Art, are collecting donations via RocketHub to fund their latest project: “build or borrow a high tech communications system that will beam your real time text messages to a planet that can support extraterrestrial life.”

How does it work? Simply add the hashtag #tweetsinspace to any Twitter message. Kildall and Stern will collect them and, funding permitting, beam them spaceward in order to, as Mashable puts it, “inform extraterrestrial beings of our culture and society.”  “Previously only elite institutions or rich and powerful individuals could transmit to our alien friends,” Kildall says in their video appeal. “We want to democratize the universe.”

At a mere 22 light years away, their chosen planet, GJ667Cc, is the closest to Earth that’s likely to host lifeforms. (That’s 164 trillion miles — hey, neighbor!). They plan to use the money raised to obtain access to a laser or radio transmitter “with a dish strong enough for extraterrestrials to read from across the cosmos.” They’ll also open source their code so that anyone can do the same. The idea is to have the project up and running in time for a performance at the International Symposium on Electronic Art in Albequerque, N.M. in September. As the duo say in their mission statement:

Tweets in Space asks us to take a closer look at our spectacular need to connect, perform and network with others. It creates a tension between the depth and shallowness of sharing 140 characters at a time with the entire Internet world, in all its complexity, richness and absurdity, by transmitting our passing thoughts and responses to everywhere and nowhere.

Sure, whatever — the important thing is tweets in space.Kildall and Stern are only about $2,100 toward their $8,500 goal, however, so if you Twitterati are tired of communicating with the dull old human population, better  get donating.



Tweeting to E.T.: Project Will Use Twitter to Send Messages to Space
Kris Holt writing for The Daily Dot and

Twitter’s bringing the world together in 140 characters or less. But can it bind together life forms from across the universe?

A project that aims to send tweets to a distant planet capable of sustaining life is in the process of being funded, and your tweets could potentially be picked up by extraterrestrial life forms.

At a live performance scheduled for September, Scott Keldall and Nathaniel Stern plan to send tweets bearing the #tweetsinspace hashtag to GJ667Cc, a planet that has the potential to support life. The planet is 22 light-years or around 164 trillion miles away.

The duo behind the plan has created other collaborative art projects in the past, such as Wikipedia Art—artwork that was composed on Wikipedia so that anyone can edit it. Following the success of that piece, they’re now looking to the stars.

“The intersection of our work is around networks and performance,” Kildall told the Daily Dot. “[S]ince we live in separate cities, communicating as many of us do exclusively by the Internet, we wanted to make a project in which the public could perform but also looked at our own need for understanding one another at 140 characters at a time.”

“Scott planted the initial seed of combining Internet art with transmission and space art,” Stern added. “[T]hrough our manic brainstorming process it grew into using the discussion platform of Twitter and lending an amplification and intensity to what it ‘does’ as a stage and platform, by beaming a feed to the closest exoplanet that might support Earth-like biological life.”

Stern and Kildall are seeking funding for the project through RocketHub, which, unlike Kickstarter, offers an All & More model where project creators get to take all the cash they raise—regardless of whether the project meets its stated goal. With 18 days remaining until the funding deadline, they’ve raised $2,080 of the $8,500 funding goal.

They plan to borrow or build a communication system, or upgrade an existing one. This will be used to send the tweets at the International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA), taking place in Albuquerque, N.M., in September.

The pair plans to collect and transmit all tweets bearing the #tweetsinspace hashtag to GJ667Cc to inform extraterrestrial beings of our culture and society. The tweets will also be archived on a website.

“By structuring this project as a performance, we will have a live component where people can respond to each other’s tweets in both physical space at ISEA, and at home, through the Tweets in Space website,” Kildall noted. “Each tweet can then build upon the previous, so that extraterrestrials who are listening could hear a whole conversation rather than single short messages.”

Stern said the project is more than a public performance, that it aims to encapsulate how humans converse:

“Although we take the science of the project very seriously, this project is more about us than anything else. What do we say, and to whom, in public, online, in brief? How do we respond? What does that do? These are questions worth asking in the everyday, and Tweets in Space reminds us how important these questions are, by making them more important, even if just for 45 minutes in September.”

So far, the project has created a spirited debate on Twitter.

“There has of course been criticism (mostly social, some scientific), but more excitement,” Stern noted. “There have already been #tweetsinspace political posts, requests for pick up, and dialogues around impossibility and imagination.”

We’ve already had astronauts tweeting from out with the Earth’s atmosphere. Getting a @reply from outside the galaxy would be—quite literally—out of this world.

NY Daily News

‘Tweets in Space’ plans to send Twitter messages to a planet that may support life
Scientists say the recently discovered planet has the potential to support some form of life
Brian Browdie for the NY Daily News

“Tweets in Space,” a live performance event expected to take place this fall, will broadcast Twitter messages to a planet 22 light-years away that scientists say may support life.

“Tweets in Space,” a live performance event expected to take place this fall, will broadcast Twitter messages to a planet 22 light-years away that scientists say may support life.

Get ready to tweet to the cosmos.

Twitter users around the world may be able to find followers 22 light-years away thanks to “Tweets in Space,” a project that hopes to beam 140-character missives to a potentially habitable planet this fall.

During a live performance set for September 21 at the Albuquerque Balloon Museum, collaborators Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern plan to beam tweets carrying the hashtag #tweetsinspace all the way to GJ667Cc.

Scientists say the recently discovered planet has the potential to support some form of life.

“We look at it from the standpoint of democratizing deep space transmissions,” Kildall told the Daily News. “All tweets sent during the performance, whether you’re at the event or at home on your computer, will be transmitted.”

“We thought it would be worthwhile to show the sea change in how information is broadcast in our culture,” he added.

Kildall and Stern expect to send out their interplanetary Twitter feed via a high-powered radio transmitter. They hope to pay for the gear with donations they collect via the fundraising website

So far, they’ve amassed nearly $1,600 of the $8,500 they say they’ll need to beam the messages a distance of five light-years.

There hope is that five light years is far enough into space for any ET’s on GJ667Cc who might be tuning in to pick up the signal.

“We’re making some assumptions about their listening technology,” Stern told the Daily News. “We’re assuming a similar intelligence to our own can pick out patterns.”

A light-year is the distance light travels in a year, or the equivalent of 5.88 trillion miles.

Stern says he and Kildall are discussing the project with scientists in the research, governmental and commercial fields who may be able to contribute expertise in sending signals into outer space.

On Daily

Scientific American

Tweets In Space!
Caleb A. Scharf for Scientific American: Life Unbounded

When the interplanetary missions Pioneer 10 and 11 launched in the late 1970s they each carried a metal plaque engraved with a set of pictorial messages from humanity. Eventually these extraordinary probes will traverse interstellar space, carrying these hopeful symbols towards anyone, or anything, that might one day find them. A few years later also saw the launch of the Voyager probes, this time carrying golden record platters filled with images and sounds of our homeworld and species. These were thoughtful and quietly speculative artifacts, cast to the stars for eternity.

Forty years later and our world has moved on considerably. We’re now a vastly more interconnected species, huge amounts of information flows around our planet on a daily basis, a torrent of articulate and inarticulate signals. We’re much more attuned to events as they occur anywhere on Earth, and much more likely to voice our opinion and to assume that our voice has a chance of being heard. It’s a tremendously interesting and exciting time, as well as an unsteady and often nerve-wracking one. And as this plays out we are also discovering that the universe is filled with other worlds, an enormous and terrifying number of planets around, and between, the stars. Some of these will almost certainly bear at least a passing resemblance to our own, perhaps never ‘Earth-like’, but conceivably ‘Earth-equivalent’, and we may have already found a few of them.

All of which makes a new art-meets-science project even more provocative and exciting. “Tweets In Space” is the creation of Nathaniel Stern and Scott Kildall and seeks to do nothing less than transmit a stream of your tweets towards one of the best current candidates for a planet capable of harboring life, the super-Earth GJ 667Cc – a roughly 5 Earth mass world orbiting an M-dwarf star only 22 light years away.

If all goes well then in September 2012 Tweets In Space will go live at the International Symposium on Electronic Art in New Mexico, and your Twitter account will become (as the creators suggest) your personal interstellar communications device. Tweets with the hashtag #tweetsinspace will be broadcast towards GJ 667Cc, as well as form part of an extraordinary live and web-available animated display (you really have to check out the video, below here). It’s tremendous fun, but it’s also a fascinating experiment. Stern and Kildall are no strangers to investigating the possibilities of human interaction and art brought about by the internet, their collaboration “Wikipedia Art” was a genuine phenomenon, making it to the hallowed pages of the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and The Huffington Post.

I asked them about the more technical aspects of the project – such as actually making an interstellar transmission, and they have an impressive technology road-map for trying to make this a reality (including making decisions about whether to send Tweets as digital data or as analog, pictorial representations, which is very clever). Right now they may have to build their own transmitter and so have a call out on the fund-raising site Rocket Hub to try to raise the approximately $8K needed to be confident that the Tweets have a chance of making it to GJ 667Cc. It’s also possible that an equipment option will be forthcoming from established commercial or federal organizations who can lend ‘big gun’ infrastructure to the transmission.

What I personally find very exciting about the whole concept is the unfiltered nature of it, and the fascinating mirror it will hold up to us all. We really are a different world from when the Pioneer and Voyager probes launched, and other deliberate radio transmissions to the stars have typically been sober and highly structured. The general radio noise we spew into the cosmos has also diminished as we’ve moved into the low-power digital age, so the well-worn adage of aliens coming across our dreadful TV shows may no longer be true. Is it safe to send thousands (millions!) of 140 character long missives to the stars? Older posts at Life, Unbounded have certainly considered the problems of interstellar memes (units of cultural information), but the bottom line is that we really have no idea.

So I think that anything which forces us to stop and consider what it is that we really feel represents humanity – good, bad, or indifferent, is an excellent opportunity. Tweets In Space is well worth our support – so go check it out, and consider helping build that transmitter! The icing on the cake is that Stern and Kildall will make all of their technical work open source, making one wonder how long it is before high-school kids forget about weather balloons carrying cameras to the upper atmosphere, and instead reach for the stars.

See original article and follow-up article


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

Bad At Sports

Bad at Sports Episode 244: Nathaniel Stern
by Duncan MacKenzie

“Bad at Sports is a weekly podcast produced in Chicago that features artists talking about art and the community that makes, reviews and critiques it. Shows are usually posted each weekend and can be listened to on any computer with an internet connection and speakers or headphones.”

This audio interview (available streaming from the site, or as a download to your computer or mp3 player) begins with Nathaniel Stern rapping a bit of Beastie Boys / Q-Tip, and quickly degrades to him lovingly poking fun at his dad. It’s actually a great interview, where you can hear some off the cuff chatting with Duncan MacKenzie about hektor.netDistill LifeCompressionismWikipedia Art,Given TimeDoin’ my part to lighten the load, and more. It’s good fun, with lots of tangential stories and jokes, and many mentions of good friends and colleagues. Enjoy!

listen to or download interview on B@S

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.