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nathaniel stern: ArtThrob getAway Experiment reviewRemixed/Re-signed: The GetAway Experiment
by Carine Zaayman

Marcus Neustetter and Nathaniel Stern, two bright sparks on the local new media scene, were recently awarded a net.art commission from Turbulence.org for which they created the Getawayexperiment.net. This project, done in collaboration with web designers and developers, as well as Johannesburg inner city signwriters, remixes five information-based websites by transforming their images into hand painted signs. The sites are Solidarity (Joy Garnett’s project which itself is engaged in the process of remixing), Jo’burg (the official website of the city of Johannesburg), Google‘s images page, Turbulence, and the Fox News Channel site.

The idea for this web-based project grew out of their eponymous duo exhibition at the Johannesburg Art Galley in May 2004. Notably, in that show, Neustetter explored the idea of texture as figured in a digital space by creating ‘digital frottages‘ – by scanning, photocopying and exposing his computer screen on photographic paper.

Neustetter has also been involved in the process of helping Johannesburg inner city sign artists to improve their skills and make a living from their trade. For the GetAway Experiment website, these artists recreated the generic logos and banner ads found on the original sites. Their hand made re-signs were then scanned and uploaded onto the remixed sites.

In both instances, Neustetter inverts the overwhelming shift towards slickness and computer-aided finish that we find both in digital media, and in the built environment. By reintroducing the handmade into the digital realm, the GetAway Experiment asks the viewer/user to invest in a different, more visceral way with the images. Moreover, the images become less manufactured and more personalised.

This, in Neustetter’s terms, is reminiscent of the juxtaposition of ultra-modern and hand-crafted aspects, which is characteristic of a city such as Johannesburg. In this way, the project reminds us of that the web is not a depersonalised space, but can function as a platform for communication between people.

The aspect of communication is moreover emphasised by the fact that the sites can be remixed by anyone signing on. In fact, one can view each of the sites in three ways: the original sites, the re-signed sites and the sites in edit mode. In edit mode, anyone can upload a substitute for any of the images on screen. Consequently, the site is dynamic and changes every time you hit the ‘refresh’ button, giving you a new, quirky m´elange of distinct artistic voices.

While the initial signs were produced by the signwriters working with Neustetter, other local and international contributors (from India and Eastern Europe among others) have since started adding material. Some have introduced found signs from urban environments (such as a very imposing sign for a security company on the Jo’burg site) while others have tagged the site.

The upload function is remarkably simple and images can be prepared in most of the basic editing programmes. Neustetter and Stern are hoping for increasing activity during the site’s intended three month lifespan, so consider this your invitation to become part of the project and put yourself into the mix.

Apart from the effect of the visual reconfiguration, the ability to change and edit content in this dynamic way has another implication. Stern and Neustetter emphasise that while the web is today mostly a place of navigation (predetermined interaction), it was originally intended for communication (user-determined content). The GetAway Experiment chose sites that in highly diverse ways address the notions of interaction versus navigation in order to bring some of these ideas into play.

The GetAway Experiment’s comment on interactivity is for me the crux of the project. It is not because interactivity is ‘new’ or a ‘sexy computer fetish’ that net.art is powerful. Instead, it is because interactivity has the potential power to bring diverse contexts together meaningfully, or to produce exchanges between new contexts.

Stern and Neustetter’s project is not one for computer geeks or the art world only, but has a broad reach across the production of the urban signwriters, the critical voices against the monopolisation of technology and information as well as the spectrum of people tired of the limited input they have on the web.

My thanks to Marcus and Nathaniel for the interviews.

http://turbulence.org/Works/getawayexperiment/

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