Anarchy on the internet

Boris Kelly @ ANIMA

http://wimsey.com/anima/ANIMAhome.html [expired]
I never knew what a synarchist was until I discovered ANIMA. A synarchist—derived from synchronous, synthetic anarchy—“is an individual linked technologically, socially, collaboratively and professionally in organic spontaneous relationship webs instead of in rote linearly defined or institutionally directed roles”. So there. Making this anti-system possible is a computer assisted community network facilitating intercommunications within the “nomadic virtual tribe”. There are no meetings, no dues, no qualifications except the self-declaration of participatory engagement: “I network, therefore I am”.

ANIMA is a multimedia cultural information service for the internet which provides a forum for artistic expression, critical analysis, educational outreach, experimental projects and research information. The overarching focus of the project, according to chief WebWeaver Derek Dowden, is to research net design, which makes ANIMA a site for experimentation with online multimedia publishing interface, structure and design. The web becomes both the subject and medium of dissemination of the group’s work. Work on the site began in 1993 and the project launched in March 1994. ANIMA currently runs several hundred html pages and GIF images. In designing the site the group has tried to take into account the frustration of excessively long download times for images and have attempted to strike a balance between visually appealing graphic content and low bandwidth speed. A particularly welcome design feature, given the vast acreage of the site, is the Fast Find Index which presents the entire web node in a logical hierarchical structure for top sight access—a methodology which, theoretically at least, defies ANIMA’s underlying synarchist principles but, hey, who’s complaining.

Following a fairly standard structure ANIMA is divided into zones, each with a particular focus: ART WORLD—images, ideas, sounds and experiences of digital art spaces on the net worldwide; SPECTRUM—a selection of new arts and media publication on-line; ATLAS—a resource and reference library; NEXUS—artists’ projects online; TECHNE—research on interface, immersion and interactivity; PERSONA—community voice/vision—forum for individual exploration and community discussion of the evolving world media network; and CONNECTIONS—special events from around the world.

With so much to choose from I freaked out and decided to go just down the road to the Australian National University Art Serve location offering an extensive collection of art and architecture mainly from the Mediterranean basin. This server offers access to around 16,000 images—1.6Gb of data—all concerned in some way with the history of art and architecture and claims to have over 14,000 accesses per day which, if true, would make it an opportunity missed by prospective advertisers. The site has a mysterious logo on its home page indicating it has been designated the honour of being amongst the top 5% of web sites, but no-one seems to know who is responsible for the award or what criteria are used to determine it. But in my opinion the honour was deserved. The use of thumbnail images to allow for the pre-selection of full-screen graphics was welcome for the savings made on download times. It’s a feature which should be standard on the Web where so often the images, when they finally do appear, aren’t worth the wait. The thumbnail gives you the option of choosing to look at an image in more detail or of overviewing the collection in a single screen as was the case with the Leni Riefenstahl examples from Olympiad (1936) and Triumph of the Will (1934).

I was immediately struck by the inclusion of Riefenstahl as the only artist listed in the otherwise categorical main index of the site and wondered why a 20th century photographer was given such prominence. So I e-mailed the webmaster and asked, only to be curtly told that Leni Riefenstahl was one of the most prominent filmmakers of the 1930s but, perhaps, I just had a problem with fascists. Naive as I am, I imagined the only people who didn’t have a problem with fascists were, well, fascists and given that only the day before the Sons of Gestapo had bombed a train in the USA I didn’t quite know what to say or think. So I clicked and moved on.

But it must have been the phase of the moon which led me immediately to the work of one Antonio Mendoza whose personal gallery was a lusty cornucopia of pornographia which I’ll leave readers interested in such pursuits to discover for themselves. More sobering was the OTIS site: http://sunsite.unc.edu/otis/otisinfo.html#what-is [expired]—an acronym of Operative Term Is Simulate, a place best described as an open-ended collective of artists where works can be posted and ideas exchanged. Any type of original art is welcome. Photos, drawings, raytracings, video stills, paintings, computer-assisted renderings, photos of sculptural/3D pieces, photocopier art, zine covers, quilts, tattoos and pyrotechnic displays are all mentioned.

Although OTIS’ focus is still-image, it does have space set aside for animations, self-executing slide-shows and multimedia works. Instructions, including copyright information, are posted for prospective exhibitors. OTIS comprises an archive of thousands of images, a list of participating artists, tips on compression, resources, links and so on. Frankly, what I saw on OTIS was less than spellbinding but it is a fact of life that most images on the net take on a homogeneity of surface and colour quality which immunises the viewer against the possibility of pleasure. Nevertheless, the desperate or foolhardy may wish to paste something on the virtual walls of OTIS.

ANIMA is a project financed by the Canada Council (Media Arts), the City of Vancouver and the University of British Columbia and although a worthy enough enterprise it suffers from trying to do too much. There is a lesson here for Australian public sector organisations wishing to construct grand joint ventures on the internet. I imagine the ambitious ANIMA concept may have looked great as a project description in a grant application but my tour of the site reminded me of Warhol’s aphorism “Always leave them wanting less”. At this stage in the development of online services it is wise for developers to adopt a less-is-best approach to design both in terms of download times and interactivity. To some extent we have to assume that users will be frustrated by the cumbersome, arcane qualities of the net by the time they get to our site, so we should give them a break by providing high quality content which is technically transparent and functional.

RealTime issue #10 Dec-Jan 1995 pg. 22

© Boris Kelly; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 1995