f0rwardpunk by Francis Hunger
F0RWARDPUNK is consisting of 11 mail-adresses, and each will send itís mail to the next one, without knowing what happened before and where it will be sent after. A loop has developed. Each of the mail-systems is doing what it has to do. While a mail is in the loop, headerlines will repeat, except the time, that alters. [...]
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The Work of Art in the Age of Copy & Paste

Featured by Inke Arns.

Exactly five years ago, on June 19, 1999, the mail server of the Academy of Visual Arts in Leipzig (HGB), Germany, crashed, due to the unexpected malfunction of a project by one of the academy's students' net projects. f0rwardpunk by Francis Hunger [1] (*1976), such was the title of the wrongdoer, was a non-interactive e-mail based net art project.

f0rwardpunk consisted of eleven e-mail addresses forwarding mail to each other, thus creating a loop. Each time an e-mail was forwarded by one of the addresses to the next, its headers were repeated - only the information indicating the computer's configuration, its operating system, local time and timezone as well as its geographical coordinates would change. While an e-mail was in the loop, its file size was thus constantly growing due to the addition of header lines: Each forwarding action would add about 200 byte to the header. If a mail had reached a critical size (10.000 byte), it was taken off the loop by a small script at student2@hgb-leipzig.de, and sent to another outside address (francis@geocities.com) to be saved for documentation on hard disk.

On June 19, 1999, the geocities address did not work, thus automatically issuing an "unknown user" failure message and returning the mail to the sender. When receiving this mail, student2@hgb-leipzig.de, in return, decided to take the mail off the loop because its size exceeded 10.000 byte, and sent it again to francis@geocities.com. After five hours the sendmail program on the HGB server had no swap/temp space left - by that time the mail grew from 12.207 byte (or: 12 KB) in the beginning to 2.679.157 byte (or: 2,5 MB) - and stopped working. [2] The last line of sendmail's error log reads: "Jun 19 10:59:45 media18 sendmail[17475]: KAA17475: SYSERR(student2): savemail: cannot save rejected email anywhere". [3]

However poetical these last lines may be, what's interesting in this project is not so much its grandiose failure, but rather when it is doing the work it is meant to do. Francis Hunger himself claims that f0rwardpunk generates a digital text sculpture based on the technical structures of the Internet which it aims to expose. The artist is interested not so much in the content of what is circulating on the net, but rather in the technical architecture enabling the global network to exist. By over-exposing what is normally left in the dark, he's pointing to the very material structures of the Internet: a distributed network of small industrious machines busily fulfilling the tasks given to them, diligently copying and pasting [4], a global labor force of machines made to talk to themselves, to perform work for work's sake, producing and reproducing a never-ending stream of transport information. And, in this way, creating a "sculpture" that consists of nothing else than its own paths, of nothing else than information on its own history of its coming into being. [5]

It is this "autistic" element of machinic assemblages which connects Hunger's piece to projects like David Rokeby's n-cha(n)t (2002), where a community of computers fairly independently integrates spoken words from external sources (i.e. visitors) into their own communication, or Maurizio Bolognini's installation Sealed Computers (since 1992) which consists of several computers producing and exchanging a continuous flow of random images. These computers are sealed and left to work indefinitely, and also remain unconnected to any kind of output device (like, e.g., a monitor).

But machines don't like being listened to and to be looked at when working (Bolognini's project actually seems to pay tribute to this fact). That's possibly the reason why f0rwardpunk today only exists as a mere documentation. During another crash the project files on the HGB server were deleted. And finally, in 2003 the artist's private computer took the remaining local documentation into the digital nirvana.

[1] http://www.irmielin.org/

[2] The reason for this was that the sendmail program saved a local copy of each mail which was bounced. The 1.430 mails which were sent within 5 hours summed up until all the swap space (ca. 1,5 GB) was eaten up by the process.

[3] This file is entitled "superpunk", see http://www.hgb-leipzig.de/~francis/f0rwardpunk/3.htm

[4] For Francis Hunger, the "copy&paste" action is the central element of digital media. In order to point to the importance of this, he produced the project digital work (2001) which consisted of the artist himself copying & pasting text for one hour per day between March 1-30, 2001. The results can be accessed at http://www.hgb-leipzig.de/~francis/digitalwork

[5] See on this also the ongoing project Semiology of Cyberspace (2004), http://www.hgb-leipzig.de/~francis/soc_docu/

by admin, posted 14 Nov 2004

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