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Back in 1994, when the Internet was still young and most people were struggling to grasp what it even was, the net.art movement was born.
Internet was a substitute for Art.
“Net.art”, a term widely attributed to Belgrade-born artist Vuk Cosic, refers to a group of artists active during the second half of the 1990s that used the Internet as both a tool and a subject, the medium and the message.
During the second half of the 1990s, Vuk Cosic was at the vanguard of the net.art movement. His early work utilized ACSII (pronounced “ask-ee”), an acronym for “American Standard Code for Information Interchange”, and a system for coding letters of the English alphabet as numbers. An active participant in and early enthusiast of all things Net (BBS, hacking, etc), Cosic created his own software to convert the pixels from still and moving images into ASCII. Cosic used this process to reinterpret famous pop cultural works like Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup, as well as whole scenes from movies like Hitchcock’s Psycho and the iconic 1972 porn film Deep Throat.
As Cosic explained it, “The net…was an opportunity to emigrate from the realities I didn’t agree with. One of them was the art world.” As such, net.art was intended to exist online and outside of the gallery, with the square-edged personal computer monitor as its frame.
Later Cosic would acknowledge that the net.art movement’s influence was transient. As he told one interviewer a few years ago, “net.art is a bit like Eastern Europe. There were lots of expectations, some of them were met, but in general we stopped being terribly attractive and scary some time around the dotcom boom.” Indeed, Cosic’s experiments with ASCII ended around the same time his net.art work was presented at the Venice Biennale in 2001.
Today, Cosic lives in Ljubljana, where he remains active in exploring the intersection of art and tech. He is the co-founder of the Ljubljana Digital Media Lab or Ljudmila an open-access digital media laboratory that aims to connect artists and NGOs with new media and technology. Ljudmila also runs an open-source platform for the distribution of free artistic and cultural content.
While Cosic himself may admit that he finds the idea of net.art a bit dated today, some curators still find relevance in his early online experiments. Last year, the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive hosted an exhibition of Cosic’s work entitled Vuk Cosic: ASCII History of Moving Images. As Richard Rinehart, Digital Media Director and Adjunct Curator of the museum said of Cosic’s work, “Now that Internet art has become part of the language of mainstream contemporary art, it seems opportune to look back to innovative and vivid experiments like ASCII History of Moving Images from an era so near yet so far away.”