June 17, 2007
By Katie Haegele
"Do It Yourself" has long been the rallying cry of radical artists. The idea behind it is this: If you make your own distribution channels you can bypass the traditional hierarchy of juried art shows, publishing houses and record companies.
But we live in the Internet age, and one of the things we love about the Internet is its ability to connect people to each other, right? Maybe instead of always doing it themselves, artists could Do It With Others once in a while.
So thought artists Ruth Catlow and Marc Garrett, the co-founders of Furtherfield.org, an online community for digital artists, and of the HTTP Gallery, a real-world space in London where they exhibit what they call net art.
Their recent email project, playfully titled Do It With Others (DIWO), took a cue from the mail art movement, in which artists avoided the gallery system altogether by distributing their work through the mail.
Catlow and Garrett put out a call for artistic submissions that could be submitted via email on NetBehaviour, their digital art-oriented email list. Every member of the list was considered part of the project, even the lurkers, and every submission would be viewable by the whole group.
From January 31 to February 28 the list was hopping with projects from all over the world: images, threaded discussions, machine-generated art, video, and audio pieces.
The idea of DIWO, Catlow said, was to be informal and experimental, and to include both established and new digital artists and those "who work at the edge of these fields in programming, software development, hacking, activism, education, and so on."
"Rather than focusing on ideas of individual artistic genius, it explores what happens when artists, programmers and thinkers of all sorts discuss, exchange ideas and share their processes with each other," Catlow said.
By its nature the Internet is an ideal medium for blending genres and, well, doing it yourself, she said.
"With the emergence of the Internet in the '90s, artists--sometimes known as net artists--became DIY techies in order to intervene and to create and distribute their concepts."
After the call for submissions closed Catlow and Garrett put together a DIWO exhibit at HTTP Gallery, using curatorial suggestions from participating artists.
Dave Miller, a UK-based artist whose piece "The Wreckers" was part of the project and the resulting show, could be called a DIY techie. His work combines textual and visual elements to tell stories, which have been described as "networked graphic novels," and he learned computer programming in order to explore his ideas.
"It took me a long time to learn how to program, but it's been worthwhile. Now I can have an idea and really make it happen," Miller said.
"The Wreckers" is based on a real event. In January a cargo ship ran aground off the coast of Devonshire, and many people looted the crates that washed up onto the beach, even after the police and the television media arrived.
Miller drew pictures of the looters in Adobe Illustrator. He then connected his pictures to live data and user comments with a software program he wrote himself. A new picture is generated when a user types and submits an answer to the question "Is it acceptable nowadays to take goods from a stricken ship, or is it crass greed?" This response, as well as comments from a BBC discussion forum on the topic, are mixed in with the generating software. The end result is a different picture each time, made up in part by shaped clusters of words. The differing responses are overlaid visually to mimic the way they would "cross" conversationally during a discussion.
"The comments work to support or create conflict with each other -- there’s a debate going on within the picture," Miller explained.
Catlow said she and Garrett will format the entire DIWO project as a mailbox that people can download and view the pieces within their email programs.
That way anyone can take part in the project, and another connection is made: the one between the artist and the audience.
Don't just do it yourself, do it with others