The memoir of a memoir!

In 2014, Vuk Ćosić wrote a memoir-like introduction for the catalog of his exhibition, painters and poets. Ten years later, the text resurfaced during a dialogue between Ćosić and Peter Bauman (Monk Antony). The two decided to revisit the text with Bauman posing casual questions that serve as a vehicle for Ćosić's updated thoughts. It's the memoir of a memoir.
About the Author
Vuk Ćosić, Alexei Shulgin, Andreas Broeckmann, refresh, 1996. Courtesy of the artist

The memoir of a memoir!

In 2014, I did a nostalgia show, painters and poets, a very serious thing, and wrote a very solemn memoir-like intro for the fancy catalog. Now, ten years later, it resurfaced during a dialogue with Peter Bauman (Monk Antony) and we decided to continue talking about using this text as a chess board, moving figures around, looking for some nice choreographies. That’s what chess is for. [Editor's note: Ćosić's 2014 text is largely intact below with the chat and updated writing in bold.]

First-person s̶h̶o̶o̶t̶e̶r̶ disclaimer

Here’s the thing. I was very much involved so it is a big Freudian mess to write about both as a first-person shooter and as a cool observer. It takes two parts of PR narcissism and three parts of therapy.

Which reminds me of a little piece I wrote for Jeremy Hight. It was about which artists influenced me and which were influenced by me. I googled it now and it’s nowhere to be found. As influences, I claimed Duchamp and Martek. And said I influenced and Rtmark.

Peter: Ten years later, are there any updates here? Do you want to elaborate?

Vuk: The website with that text is down but luckily the wayback machine is not.
Here, read for yourself. It’s fun.

OK, now that this tangent is out of the way, let’s move on.

Don’t worry; is perfectly normal

Just like capital, art is a little like water—it has this habit of expanding to all spheres of human endeavor. So when military-technical humans came up with this grand digital network, it was only a matter of days, if not hours, when art would follow. That is why I say is normal.

Peter: You could have written something similar about computers and their roots as military machines but it didn’t take long for creativity, curiosity and expression to mingle with them. It took longer with computers than the Internet because they were less accessible. But as soon as they were (and well before), artists were all over them.

Vuk: I was being vague in order to avoid expanding on the history of media technologies. I was looking at the artistic people who were contemporaneous with the invention of the printing press, photography or radio and who came up with new and exciting ways of doing art. You know, like when that Spanish guy came up with the concept of a novel? 

In 1993 and 1994, the seeds of the internet passed from the military and academia to the civilian sphere. While the majority of early users were looking for a way to publish their corporate brochures or academic papers, there were a few inquisitive artistic types, each of them with their own brushes with the art system, ready to take on the beast and discover new ways of asking questions. 

Peter: What questions were you asking?

Vuk: Easiest way to reply is to point you at the site I made for a conference I organized in ‘96 called per se. (Also, I kindly suggest that you click on the links in those questions because they were intended as replies.) I hope your browser supports clicking on links.

Screenshot of Vuk Ćosić's Documenta Done courtesy of the artist and

The personal prehistory of some early net.artists looks like this: JODI did video cut-ups in an art school, Heath Bunting was practically homeless and experimented with anti-corporate hacks; and Alexei Shulgin was a photographer escaping the frame. Me, I was running away from literature and from war.

Peter: ​​Care to say more about this experience?

Vuk: Sure, you see, I was avoiding making this text about me TOO MUCH so I strategically skipped the personal stuff, leaving only the hints. It was totally obvious to anybody who knows me that it was a tactic to fish for more curiosity. Terrible, terrible manipulation.

So, let me answer this. First, during my formative years, I was a writer, interested in the art of text. But fairly early—under the influence of Surrealists and Dada, later of visual poetry (as described in that other article I linked above)—I needed to escape the limitations of writing and moved to a far less safe zone of expanded media, as we used to call it. I still remained anchored in text in many ways but my method and output were way more liberated. As for war, well, it was the early nineties in the Balkans. My family is mixed and deeply connected to a few of the tribal states that went to war with each other and I was not into violence so I moved to soft Slovenia. Broke my life really, but I decided it was only one more freedom, so I’m good.

Early days

Upon my very first contact with the web, I decided to figure out the context comprehensively and it took me only two days to click through the e-n-t-i-r-e Yahoo directory. That’s how small the web was.

Peter: Wow, do you remember when this was?

Vuk: Hm, I thought that the infamous all-of-Yahoo episode happened earlier but I happen to remember checking the Daily Telegraph and seeing that they numbered the internet editions and how cool it felt that I was reading
their 7th issue. That puts this in November ‘94.

Now you can (maybe) imagine how peculiar a moment it was to try and actually succeed in creating something that was entirely different from what the whole world is doing. That was the first adrenaline rush.

The second one was finding out that there are other people with similar thoughts. I guess I was also a bit lucky and Geert Lovink invited me to the founding conference of Nettime in June 1995. That was important because I met Heath there and we started to post our stuff on the Nettime mailing list—otherwise dedicated to internet theory and critique. 

Peter: Were you two the first to start posting "art" as in visual creative expression?

Vuk: is only partly visual art and in it’s structure, it resembles all sorts of historic avant-garde, with the debate among practitioners being integral to the overall meaning of our practice. On the nettime list itself, we didn’t post pieces that could be displayed or collected but we spoke about it and gave it life. I personally adored the JODI posts that were consistently pushing the idea of as a liberating force. They were the first in many regards. I believe Alexei Shulgin wrote the most precise short essays. His mind is so beautiful. 

Peter: Is this archived anywhere?

Vuk: Oh sure, all of Nettime is well archived at All you have to do is check the sweet years. And perform the simple task of empathizing with the time when NONE of the Internet culture existed and everything you see is an attempt at creating one. I liked how Charlotte Frost covered the early history of communications infrastructure in her book Art Criticism Online

Screenshot of JODI's Courtesy of the artist

Paul Garrin [who worked closely with Nam June Paik from 1982 to 1996] was there too, and he was a bridge with Nam June Paik and all that fine Fluxus work. Most impressive was Pit Schultz who later gave name to our group and did the first show of ours. Soon after that meeting, JODI began sending in some eeevil ASCII glitch materials and Alexei wrote the most deadpan anti-art manifestos. 

The stage was set. We all met for the first time in Amsterdam in January 1996 at the Next 5 Minutes conference and finally had a chance to consume our affair.

Peter: What do you remember about this? How did meeting in person enhance or change the dynamic? Was it important?

Vuk: I was in continuous email touch with Heath and Alexei in ‘95 but this was the first time I met Alexei in person and I actually remember the how-do-you-do moment. Nothing special, just two dudes in a break between panels. What is weird is that I do not recall the same with JODI. I only know that we spoke. What the N5M did was that it cemented our status as internet artists in the broader Nettime community. A few months later, Pit Schultz invited us 4 to send him materials for the famous Bunker show, our first. is also physical

One common misconception about is that it was somehow limited to web sites, mailing lists and the purely digital. No.

As a matter of fact, the backbone of our heroic period was the constant flow of festivals, conferences and sometimes exhibitions where we would meet and fiercely discuss. We really liked each other very much and some of these links are still the closest I got to true friendship.

In retrospect, it is also fair to say that we were the first generation to intuitively grasp the digital sphere. We were also among the first to understand that it is really not a separate realm.

It is clear today that humanity did not exactly emigrate from the physical world into a digital one. We are rather confronted with a dynamic hybrid of the two. In a similar fashion, it seems clear that the boundary between analogue and digital art is not a matter of some razor sharp technology driven divide but a blur of cross-penetrating techniques and approaches. 

Just as we managed to import some of the older avant-garde concepts to the digital space, we have also exported explicitly digital features to good old analogue art practices. I call this analogue/digital vista the Umpire and it has nothing to do with Toni Negri. 

But it is also important and fair to say that the vast vast majority of what we produced as projects was in fact digital. Only in 1998 and ‘99 did some of us did material things, such as hardware, prints and similar. Early was browser art to a large extent.

Screenshot of refresh courtesy of Vuk Ćosić is only partly art

Our early online work was rather technological and formalist, meaning that it took us some time—a week, maybe more—to learn the underlying technology (HTTP, HTML and such four-letter stuff). But then it began to turn conceptual and reflexive. In our case this meant understanding the possible and probable social implications of the network.

I said social, not only artistic, because for one reason or another, it was clear to all of us that we had a job beyond decorating people’s browsers. 

Peter: What was this job? And what role—if any—did aesthetic concerns play in all of this?

Vuk: We were very serious artists on a crazy historic task and similar to the number of earlier generations, we saw aesthetics as a side dish. Or in other words - we were changing the world, and art was our platform. This also meant that our output can be understood as art, which we don’t mind.

You can say that aesthetics happened to us while we were doing actual art research about freedom.

We had different cultural baggage, taste and judgment while composing our output. JODI were grand originators of the glitch approach, while Heath and Alexei almost exclusively did text-based work. It is fun nowadays that the reproductions of our early pieces really look good and extra recognizable when framed with Netscape. At the time, I would have been appalled by this.


As any self-absorbed artist, I also have a habit of collecting books and articles about my work. Some are great, some insulting, but one thing is common for all of them: none succeeds in defining 

Well, here it goes. I am giving you a formula to calculate the proper definition: Take the quote “Art was a substitute to internet” and rotate it by 45 degrees.

Peter: Is this an actual quote from someone?

Vuk: Happens to be by yours truly and reflecting on a deep conviction I had quite early on about our role and position in history. It was a part of
an interview with Tilman Baumgärtel for Telepolis, a very good online medium, quite similar to yours. The mystified and arty point of the aphorism being that everything that humans did before then (‘97) and called art was now internet.

Peter: It seems to me this rotation was often a conceptual layer, a prank, some mischief, social commentary or all three. What do you mean by the rotation?

Vuk: I am sure that the rotation part sounds like one more rant by that crazy old artist at the bar but to me, while I was writing this text ten years ago, it was a self-deprecating mix between pompous self-quoting and Titanic. Super-softly signaling that I, of course, realize that our revolutionary naivete from the nineties sank in the icy ocean of commercialized internet. Or I just invented this right now in order to further confuse you. 

Vuk Ćosić, history of art for airports: duchamp (left), pieta (middle), cannibalism sign. Courtesy of the artist was not totally eviaN

Just like with every other generation, our lives and work as net.artists were part constant work sessions, part constant talk with our peers and part constant interaction with the outside world. Just like with every other generation, net.artists were in touch in order to understand their own work, to learn the techniques and also to conspire against the art world.

During the heroic period of from 95 to 98, we were thus in a permanent session of devising strategic statements and projects. First, Pit Schultz came up with the name, together with a little dot. We immediately loved it because it was somehow fair that our label would sound like a file name. He then created the first show of net art ever and it included us four. That was the fixing of the Pantheon. Pit is our Apollinaire and our Vollard.

Nettime was our studio, where the most crucial connections were made with activists and theorists.

The fact that people of such different focuses were sharing the same mailing list was not trivial. It was a normal thing to read about TAZ and about Castells and about surveillance and do browser damage in the same day. Nettime made better. 


Exactly twenty years later, history repeated itself. Just like in 1977, a grassroots creative/life movement met the broader world and it was marvelous. Just like with the year of the Pistols and the Clash, we had everything lined up: good work, success and mortality.

That year, we were suddenly getting invitations to big art places, most notably the documenta X which was really a display of absolute unpreparedness on both sides. Our ambition there was to show that we matter (we didn’t really) while the curators tried to prove we don’t matter (actually we did). 

That was the year when we divorced from Nettime which was a sad thing. The habit of Nettimers to be theoretical and activist about stuff was great but it was disappointing when we realized our friends wanted safely away in a browser with their debate space left alone. We split and did our own mailing list called 7-11. It was moderated by Keiko Suzuki who is the mother of child prodigy Satoshi Nakamoto, author of most remarkable post-internet art.

Peter: What more can you say about the split with Nettime?

Vuk: Just like
the recent AGH group project (Asendorf Gysin Herzog), we felt like we needed MORE autonomy—we wanted a less academic and more free / open / asemic / random / experimental mailing list. We wanted to call those shots. As a side, I should say this: Heath was using the name Keiko Suzuki for his email pranks for some time and I decided to use it too as a hat tip to the grand condividual Luther Blissett (the word condividual not meaning con-man, but a pseudonym used by multiple artists). And then I found it interesting that the originator of the crypto casino also used a Japanese pseudonym so I put them in an obviously bogus kinship diagram. 

Vuk Ćosić, Alexei Shulgin, Andreas Broeckmann, refresh, 1996. Courtesy of the artist was dead

In the autumn of ‘98, Heath invited us all to Banff, which is a wonderful place in the Canadian Rocky Mountains where artists go to die. The occasion was a conference entitled “Curating and Conserving New Media,” where very eminent art leaders and statesmen were discussing our destiny in eternity. So it was necessary to hold a press conference right there and declare the death of I thought of that as a cool situational performance, also reflecting the hated professionalization of our field. Instead, it became a useful parenthesis with which to close a period that we now call heroic. Also, it did a disservice to a little bit, giving the wrong kind of signal to the literal types that happen to dominate. 

Of course, with that press conference, nothing died, and least of all did art. None of the artists involved stopped working; many new ones showed up and plenty of fine work ensued. What may have finished was the hype that was unintentionally aligned with the first wave of the startup goldrush called the dot-com era. This rhyme is repeating itself nowadays with the second startup goldrush being aligned with the post-internet art. That thing is of course The only difference is that selling out is not a topic any more. 

Peter: Well, I'm eager to hear your update here about hype and money in art from a 2024 perspective.

Vuk: Peter dear, I can tell a slippery trick question when I see one. Let me use a punk analogy one more time: We were the Ramones/Pistols/Clash, proposing a revolution mixed with attitude, finding our way to the mainstream just like Aristotle or Byron or Chaplin (see, ABC… so smooth). Then came the boy bands, generated by the business execs. Some could compose—most not—but the business was good. And now it looks like those label managers want to be bankers and have persuaded others that money has gone to heaven. Artists will apparently always come to THAT kind of backstage party. 

Legacy of 

I̶ ̶w̶a̶n̶t̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶c̶l̶a̶i̶m̶ ̶n̶e̶t̶.̶a̶r̶t̶’̶s̶ ̶r̶o̶l̶e̶ ̶i̶n̶ ̶h̶i̶s̶t̶o̶r̶y̶. My personal value claim is that the role of artists is to spread the virus of freedom and it is through those optics that I view the meaning and consequences of

The point here being that played a role in society’s early dealings with internet technology, consumerism and democracy. Early net culture, including as its armed wing, has provided solid questions and half-solid answers about the general sense of direction. 

We have all done our share in what turned out to be yet another instance of technology behaving as an amplifier of social relations.

Then I was looking at the fact that, after twenty years, we can now relatively safely say that there are some strong works of art there. 

The expression test of time is interesting because it seems to imply something mysterious and objective. In reality, it is a check on social investment. This is what I see: first, you have the primary hype of contemporaneous investors in some art work and careers, which means media, curators and collectors claiming grandiosity and, as a consequence, intertwining their credibility with the status of the artist in question. Then time passes and the codependence loosens—the fashion changes, some people move on in life and there’s new stuff to talk about. The thing that remains is best condensed in the glorious story about Velvet Underground selling only a few records but everybody who bought them started a band. 

There is a bit of
info about the Ljubljana show online and it is conveniently in Slovene. But through careful observation, you will be able to see the full list of works and not only artists. In the show, we tackled the issue of displaying browser art. 

Instead of providing the one and only proper answer, I suggested that we show the history of answering the question. 

The result was an exhibition of exhibitions.

One more thing we did in the show was to ask the venerable historic figures from the first generation to rat on some fresher art that they find important. The crucial thing here was to show that there is lots of genuine two-way, intergenerational respect even among us weird electric artists.

Vuk Ćosić's Documenta X install at 2001 Venice Biennale, Slovenian Pavilion. Courtesy of the artist

From to the internet of bad things

I see as a crucial chapter in my personal history that coincided with an important phase in global developments. 

All these years later, it is, of course, very sad to look at what humans did with the net. My only thought is that a very nice opportunity was lost. I once read a book by Brian Winston where he explains the so-called period of disruptive potential in each media technology. Read that.

Now we are all investing a good portion of our annual income on hypnotic technological objects that function as status symbols but are simply tools for corporations and governments to better record our habits and friendships, direct our attention and punish us if we breach some secretly agreed-upon invisible protocol. 

Think about it: your wrist watch is sending heartbeats to the cloud, your car is telling your insurer about every meter of your ride, your glasses are turning everything you see into ads and your phone and computer are conspiring to send a drone after you. 

Our technology is ratting on us. 

And none of this has changed in the ten years since I wrote this text. 

More closing thoughts

If you are the type that reads from the end, here’s a nice summary of my relationship with It lacks details and grand statements but I am glad to report that my position didn’t change in the last ten years. 

Each generation of humans contains some specimens that make it their task to dive into the utter edge and with there was this sense of urgency.

I clearly remember being aware that there was art that needed to be done in order to deal with the internet.

And by this, I don’t mean art as some personal therapeutic note-taking while looking at the phenomenon. No. I am honestly talking about a tangible feeling of being in the room while something new is being dumped on society. My job was to help. Our art was in large measure aimed not just at other net.artists, the art bureaucracy and art consumers but also at our fellow humans creating the internet infrastructure, early internet economy and other grand structures. That feeling is turning its ugly profile now and I feel bad about the ways in which the digital sphere is mirroring human nature. And I think that art should address that. Good luck.


Vuk Ćosić is a contemporary artist, classic of and digital strategist. He is the Co-founder of the Ljubljana Digital Medialab.

Peter Bauman (Monk Antony) is Le Random's Editor-in-Chief.