Invited talks and public lectures

  • Megan Sapnar Ankerson – Zombies, Robots and Time Machines: Improbable Histories of the World Wide Web
  • Wendy Hui Kyong Chun – Exit: The Web that Remains.
    Public lecture. Date: 20 June. 2019. Time: 15:00-16:15. Location: OMHP D0.08
  • Florian Cramer – The Web that Never Was: Debunking myths of the 1990s World Wide Web
  • Olia Lialina – Collections
  • Geert Lovink and guests – History of the media arts content provider
  • Fred Turner – Machine Politics: The Rise of the Internet and a New Age of Authoritarianism.
    Public lecture. Date: 19 June. 2019. Time: 17:00-18:15. Location: OMHP D1.08

Megan Sapnar Ankerson
Zombies, Robots and Time Machines: Improbable Histories of the World Wide Web
What is “the web that was”? In important ways, the question is an invitation to reimagine what it means to do web history and think historically about networked algorithmically-generated records more broadly. Born-digital archives encountered through platforms like the Wayback Machine and Google Streetview are important objects to think with about the epistemologies, temporalities, and lived experiences of a digitally networked archived life: they are material-semiotic sites through which we encounter history anew. While the “material turn” has inspired research into the infrastructural, algorithmic and programmable aspects of digital platforms, surging interest in materiality has come at the expense of critical attention to the semiotic dimensions of sociotechnical systems. This talk therefore turns to the “tropic” role of language in order to probe the tensions and contradictions that trouble categories of truth, knowledge and evidence in the digital era. Drawing inspiration from Donna Haraway’s famous figure of the cyborg in modern technoscience, I turn to three figures that can be found lurking in the technical documentation of web archives: zombies, robots, and time machines. These figures emerge in these documents not for fictional or dramatic purposes, but as a way to help explain the uncanny temporalities encountered in the process of archiving the “live web.” More than just colorful metaphors that infuse geek culture, I approach these figurations as material-semiotic nodes that register interference patterns in the archival epistemologies of modernity. Zombies, robots and time machines trouble distinctions between past and future, archived and live, automated and human, and in doing, they direct us towards the political work and queer potential of grappling with “improbable artifacts,” historical records that challenge the categories and schemas put in place in the creation of modern archival systems and principles in the 19th century. Recognizing the queer potential of web archives, I suggest, is an opportunity to harness different perspectives on “what was” and what “will be” in order to read against the grain of algorithmic logics of probability and prediction.
Megan Ankerson is an associate professor of Communication Studies and Digital Studies at the University of Michigan, where she studies media and communication technologies from historical, comparative, global, industrial, and cultural perspectives. Her new book, Dot-com Design: The Rise of a Usable, Social, Commercial Web provides historical context for contemporary design paradigms like User Experience (UX) design by examining the commercial development of web industries and aesthetics from 1991-2005. The book maps shifts in dominant discourses of “quality” web design alongside changing cultural imaginaries, modes of production, financing, and industrial logics that resulted in a massive speculative bubble in internet stocks during the 1990s.


Wendy Hui Kyong Chun
Exit: The Web that Remains
This talk questions nostalgia regarding the web that was by tracing the links between 1990s visions of “cyberspace” and today’s embrace of AI. Both seek to solve political problems technologically through promises of an impossibly autonomous sovereignty.
Wendy Hui Kyong Chun is Simon Fraser University’s Canada 150 Research Chair in New Media in the School of Communication. She has studied both Systems Design Engineering and English Literature, which she combines and mutates in her current work on digital media. She is author of Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics (MIT, 2006), Programmed Visions: Software and Memory (MIT 2011), Updating to Remain the Same: Habitual New Media (MIT 2016), and co-author of Pattern Discrimination (University of Minnesota + Meson Press 2019). She has been Professor and Chair of the Department of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University, where she worked for almost two decades and where she’s currently a Visiting Professor.


Florian Cramer
The Web that Never Was: Debunking myths of the 1990s World Wide Web
The critique of the corporate takeover of the web is practically as old as the web itself. In 1998, the artist and activist Heath Bunting mapped its dotcom-ization and gave it up as a medium. Back then, Yahoo and AOL were what Google and Facebook are today. Before blaming capitalism for this development, one should remember that the Internet (as a whole) had even not been publicly accessible before its neoliberal commercialization in the early 1990s. This talk will also investigate the degree to which fundamental design limitations of the Web’s client/server architecture, HTTP protocol and HTML format may have paved the way for its platformization.
Florian Cramer (1969) is reader in 21st Century Visual Culture/Autonomous Practices at the Willem de Kooning Academy, Rotterdam, Netherlands.


Olia Lialina
On the photo that accompanies this abstract you see me posing with my collection of early web manuals. Each of the books in turn contains its author’s collection of links to good or useful websites, many of which were collections themselves: of graphics, sounds, code, scripts and further URLs, where somebody else has already found what you were looking for. Collections were a cornerstone of the vernacular web. This environment was more about spirit than about skills, and to accumulate and distribute was no less important than to create. Making your own site and building collections was often a parallel process. Because of the modular structure of web pages, even sites that never contained a collection section were, in themselves, collections, since each of their elements had its own URL and could easily be singled out and extracted. Still, some web masters made collecting the main purpose of their web site.

This talk will highlight the earliest known collections: Alan and Lucy Richmond Graphic Resources, Randy’s Icon Bazaar, the first Gallery of pureGIF animations started by Royal Frazier, Netscape’s animated GIFs, and BHI graphics. I address the role of these and other collections, and the subsequent transition from collections of items to sample pages, sets, and templates. Let’s wander through Sonya Marvel Creations, Mardi Wetmore’s Graphics on Budget, Moon and Back sets; look at the heritage left by GeoBuilder, Intel’s Web Page Wizard, Front Page, Yahoo Page Builder, and their templates.

The GeoCities Research Institute archive and library provide quite some evidence to understand the logic, structure, and evolution of materials and tools available to web amateurs of the medium’s first decade. However, most of the time we deal with fragments, splinters, and web masters’ voluntarism. Creating our own collections helps to complete the picture.

Born in Moscow in 1971 and now based in Germany, Olia Lialina is among the best-known participants in the 1990s scene – an early-days, network-based art pioneer. Her early work had a great impact on recognizing the Internet as a medium for artistic expression and storytelling. This century, her continuous and close attention to Internet architecture, “net.language” and vernacular web – in both artistic and publishing projects – has made her an important voice in contemporary art and new media theory. Lialina has, for the past two decades, produced many influential works of network-based art: My Boyfriend Came Back from the War (1996), Agatha Appears (1997), First Real Net Art Gallery (1998), Last Real Net Art Museum (2000), Online Newspapers (2004-2018), Summer (2013), Self-Portrait (2018). Lialina is also known for using herself as a GIF model, and is credited with founding one of the earliest web galleries, Art Teleportacia. She is cofounder and keeper of One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age archive and a professor at Merz Akademie in Stuttgart, Germany.


Geert Lovink and guests
History of the media arts content provider
Geert Lovink and guests will, for the first time, dig into the history of internet content provider for the arts, which launched late 1994 to provide a workspace and internet access for Amsterdam’s burgeoning net culture and hosted early projects such as Rhizome, nettime and net.artists including Jodi.
Geert Lovink, founding director of the Institute of Network Cultures, is a Dutch-Australian media theorist and critic. He holds a PhD from the University of Melbourne and in 2003 was at the Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies, University of Queensland. In 2004 Lovink was appointed as Research Professor at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam and Associate Professor at University of Amsterdam. He is the founder of Internet projects such as nettime and fibreculture. He is the author of several books on net culture and critique, including his latest monograph Sad by Design, On Platform Nihilism (Pluto Press, 2019).


Fred Turner
Machine Politics: The Rise of the Internet and a New Age of Authoritarianism
In 1989, as Tim Berners-Lee dreamed up the World Wide Web, a deep faith in the democratizing power of decentralized communication ruled American life. Even Ronald Reagan, the Great Communicator of the Hollywood era, could be heard to proclaim that “The Goliath of totalitarianism will be brought down by the micro-chip.” Today of course, we know better. The question is, how did we go so far wrong? To try to answer that question, this talk returns to the 1940s and shows how our trust in decentralized communication was born in the fight against fascism during World War II. It then tracks that trust through the counterculture of the 1960s to the Silicon Valley of today. Along the way, it shows step-by-step how the twentieth-century American dream of a society of technology-equipped, expressive individuals became the foundation of today’s newly emboldened and highly individualized form of authoritarianism.
Fred Turner is Harry and Norman Chandler Professor of Communication at Stanford University. He is the author of several books, including the award-winning From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism, and most recently The Democratic Surround: Multimedia and American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties. Before coming to Stanford, Turner taught Communication at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and MIT’s Sloan School of Management. He also worked as a journalist for ten years. He has written for newspapers and magazines ranging from the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine to Harper’s.