Martha Wilson

I founded Franklin Furnace in 1976 to champion ephemeral forms neglected by mainstream arts institutions. Franklin Furnace has developed a place in art history for artists books, temporary installation art, and performance art, and researched the history of the contemporary artists book through such exhibitions as Cubist Prints/Cubist Books, The Avant-Garde Book: 1900-1945, Fluxus: A Conceptual Country, as well as thematic shows such as Artists Books: Japan, Multiples by Latin American Artists, Contemporary Russian Samizdat, and Eastern European Artists Books. The organization set upon a course of substantial change in 1993 when its collection of artists books published internationally after 1960, the largest in the United States, was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. During its 20th anniversary season, Franklin Furnace reinvented itself as a virtual institution, not identified with its real estate but rather with its resources, made accessible by electronic and other means, in order to provide equivalent freedom of expression to the artists it presents as was possible in the loft at 112 Franklin Street in TriBeCa in the 70s.

Franklin Furnace has had an indelible impact upon art by launching the careers of artists whose work has influenced art and cultural discourse. Franklin Furnace s niche remains the bottom of the food chain, premiering artists in New York who later emerge as art world stars: Ida Applebroog, Eric Bogosian, David Cale, Patty Chang, Willie Cole, Nicole Eisenmann, Coco Fusco, Guillermo Gomez-Pea, Ann Hamilton, Murray Hill, Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Sherrie Levine, Liza Lou, Robbie McCauley, William Pope.L, Theodora Skipitares, Michael Smith, Annie Sprinkle, Krzysztof Wodiczko, Paul Zaloom, and hundreds of others. Franklin Furnace s website, which we are building as a research resource documenting ephemeral practice, receives four million hits per year, reaching an international audience of every stripe, including artists, arts professionals, scholars and the general public.

Franklin Furnace's 20th Anniversary Season

Not too long after the decision to go virtual was taken by Franklin Furnace, I was approached by performance artist Nina Sobell and artist Emily Hartzell to perform on ParkBench s ArtisTheater. ParkBench ( was originally conceived by Sobell as a network of kiosks, which through videoconferencing, internet access, and a collaborative drawing space, would enable people in diverse neighborhoods to access the internet, talk to and see one another, and communicate collaboratively. This project was invited to become part of NYU s Center for Advanced Technology before the Web s emergence, so the artists used Director to design the ParkBench interface, and later after the graphical Mosaic browser was introduced, they adapted ParkBench again. It was Sobell and Hartzell who, in 1994, performed and archived what C. Carr of the Village Voice believes was the first live web performance in the history of the World Wide Web via a remotely controlled webcam. Their Web Sance was comprised of brainwave drawings, live heartbeats and a question-and-answer interface of e-mail and video-conferencing kiosks. These artists saw the potential of the Internet as a live art medium, with its new textual and visual vocabulary as well as its potential to draw artists and audiences into interactive art discourse.

For my performance on ParkBench, I decided to impersonate Tipper Gore singing The Star-Spangled Banner. I thought the well-known lyrics and my pantomime of them would best accommodate the one-frame-per-second speed, without sound, of the netcast. The performance was a collaboration: The Parkbench crew hung a red velvet curtain behind me and was inspired to superimpose the lyrics of the U.S. national anthem, in blue, upon my body as I sang. I came away satisfied with my first virtual performance, although now I admit I was in a fog as to the potential of the Internet as an art medium. This was in October 1996.

In December, Jordan Crandall, director of the X-Art Foundation, invited artists to curate works for Blast 5. From its beginning in 1990, Blast set out to explore contemporary texts and images and their accompanying practices of reading, viewing and authoring by embracing content that is material and digital, online and offline, recorded and live--abandoning its role as a conventional publication, and instead positioning itself within the globalized sphere of communications. Artist/curator Adrianne Wortzel, who was involved in the preparation of Blast 5, asked Sobell and Hartzell to recommend work; they, in turn, invited me to select Franklin Furnace performers to be a part of the cyber/physical space/time installation at Sandra Gering Gallery. I selected six artists/collaborators: Alexander Komlosi (Wilson Fig.2); Tanya Barfield and Clarinda MacLow; Anita Chao and Rumiza Koya; Prema Murthy and Diane Ludin; Deborah Edmeades; and Murray Hill and Penelope Tuesdae. Their performance works are still archivally available at

Spring 1998: Time and Space

The first netcasting season presented by Franklin Furnace was in collaboration with a for-profit company, Pseudo Programs, Inc., located in a loft on the corner of Broadway and Houston Street in New York. On 6 February 1998, artist Halona Hilbertz performed Pseudo Studio Walk, consisting of video documentation of her figure walking up to the camera, obscuring the lens with her bushy hair, then receding deep into Pseudo s loft, then up to the camera, then deep into the loft . . . for 50 minutes, from 5:00 to 5:50 p.m., EST. Upon reflection, this deceptively simple performance raised some sophisticated issues: Exactly when is the live performance of the pre-recorded video presentation? What space is the artist occupying, the loft or the circulatory system of the Internet itself? Live chat was being received by the Pseudo chat jockey from viewers around the world. After the live show was performed, the streaming video image was saved on Pseudo s server for 6 months. This event subsequently could be viewed on demand from any point on the globe with a live Internet connection for as little or as long a time as the viewer chose, adding yet another dimension to time and space as embodied by art on the Internet. Launch this project and others netcast by Franklin Furnace at Pseudo Programs by following this link:

The level of discourse during this first on-line event was disappointing; instead of commentary about the shifting parameters of space and time created by works of live art on the Internet, several viewers commented, Nice ass. Franklin Furnace understood that it would need to prime the pump to get discussion of liveness going, and henceforth invited its museum interns and Franklin Furnace members to chime in with their views.

The artists selected by annual peer panel review to be part of Franklin Furnace s program lost no time in exploiting the artistic properties of the digital realm. Nora York paid $750 of her $1,000 honorarium to Pseudo animation technicians (since our agreement with Pseudo provided only 6 hours of technical staff time for each artist s netcast) to animate a Sheela-na-gig, an image by Nancy Spero of a Celtic fertility figure. Then York situated her mouth inside its vagina to sing, producing the image of a vagina dentata !

1998--1999: Digital Originality

Franklin Furnace presented 10 live netcasts during its first season in Spring 1998, and 22 during its second full season of collaboration with Pseudo, whose goal was to emulate television with the added feature of chat interaction. During this full season, renamed The Future of the Present at the suggestion of Franklin Furnace s producer at Pseudo, Robert Galinsky (known universally as Galinsky), Franklin Furnace learned that trying to produce a work of live art on the Internet every other week from September to July (infrequent by live performance standards) was difficult to do in cyberspace. Franklin Furnace s artists ultimately were frustrated by the lack of time and support available to take advantage of the array of possible digital technologies, such as animation and randomizing software. Yet others, such as Irina Danilova and Steven Ausbury, exploited the quality of the crude, jerky image being broadcast, investigating inner space by pretending they were in outer space, moving slowly in motorcycle helmets and ski boots and looking for all the world like an astronaut and a cosmonaut. Still others, such as Mark Fox, took advantage of the extreme closeups that made streaming video images readable on the Internet by utilizing puppets as performers.

Rae C. Wright s netcast, Art Thieves, presented 25 September 1998, skewered Western pride in originality, proposing that it has always been the modus operandi of artists to steal from generations who have gone before. She stole cloud images from Anna Moseby Coleman, an artist presented in Franklin Furnace s inaugural netcasting season, demonstrating that digital technology makes it easier than ever to borrow, copy, alter and distribute other artists work.

Franklin Furnace s first full netcasting season, presented September to June, 1998-99, was collected by Steve Dietz, then director of the Walker Art Center s Media Initiatives department and founding director of Gallery 9 (the Walker has eight physical galleries; Gallery 9 is the one that exists solely in cyberspace), where it became archivally available through the Walker s web site. In the spring of 2003, the Walker made the decision to terminate Mr. Dietz employment, eliminate the curatorial acquisition of new works for Gallery 9, and to not provide space dedicated to new media in its new building. However, the works he collected are still archivally available online at

2000: The Team Approach

The process of creating live art on the Internet must accommodate the interactive and highly technical properties of the Internet itself. Live art on the Internet is created by a team of people, each of whom contributes different skills to a project. A concept might involve programmers, animators and network administrators in addition to camera, sound and projection personnel. Furthermore, in Franklin Furnace s experience, everyone has a hand in developing the final form of the artist s initial concept; in almost every instance, discussion of technology and available resources had an impact upon the final form of the work. So in 2000, at the invitation of Sven Travis, Chairman of the Digital Design Department at Parsons School of Design and Zhang Ga, artist and faculty member at Parsons, Franklin Furnace redesigned The Future of the Present as a residency program.

The staff of Franklin Furnace thought that when the organization went virtual, the body of the artist would be left behind, and indeed, our first collaboration in 2000 was an on-line game, Superschmoozio: The Game of the International Art Market, proposed by artist Jack Waters. This interactive on-line game replicated the climb through the ranks of the art world in order to become a professional artist, complete with the schmoozing and backstabbing necessary to reach this goal. Building a game modeled on Super Mario Brothers, which predicts every possible interaction, costs approximately $500,000 in programming, and was therefore far beyond the reach of the classroom environment as well as Franklin Furnace's budget. Franklin Furnace assisted Jack Waters with implementing his idea by introducing him to artists Lisa Brenneis and Adriene Jenik (selected in their own right to present in 2001) who had developed desktop theater using The Palace on-line software in environments in which avatars, controlled by individuals located around the world, interact. The use of avatars in place of the body and virtual environments in place of real ones touches the heart of discussion of liveness, presence, and the mediatization of performance. Jenik and Brenneis are represented by avatars on their site,, and Jenik told me she got flak in the past for representing herself with a fat avatar, since why not be an idealized figure if you have the chance to create your own image?

But the body never disappeared from Franklin Furnace s programs, nor from the discourse. Also in 2000, Franklin Furnace presented a work by Scott Durkin centering on the nature of identity, which involved performances in New York and California by the artist and his identical twin, as well as the participation of people around the country named Scott Durkin, whom the artist had contacted. Each Scott Durkin got a bottle of sand representing his identity. One of the Parsons M.F.A. Digital Design students pointed out the parallel between particles of sand and the pixillated digital image of the netcast. I later asked Durkin how he felt about this idea that was implicit in his work being identified by someone else, and he allowed as how our notions of originality and authorship were being changed by the team process.

Andrea Polli, an experimental programmer, sound artist and technologist, created Rapid Fire, a technically intricate performance presented at The Kitchen in New York on June 19 of 2000, using tracking technology first developed by the United States military. A giant image of Polli s eye was projected on the rear wall so that the audience could see the voluntary and involuntary eye movements that produced sound through her experimental software program, a grid that tracked where she was looking, allowing her to make music with her eye movements. Another lesson of 2000 was the realization that some artists, such as Polli, were training themselves to become competent software designers in their own right, and therefore were capable of sophisticated investigations into the nature of the Internet itself as a venue and art medium:

2001: All the World s a Stage

In 2001, Franklin Furnace again reduced the number of artists in residence, from 10 to three, and raised honoraria from $3,000 to $5,000 in order to provide more time and support for the development of these complex works of art. We also made the decision to facilitate partnerships with other collegial institutions as appropriate to artist s ideas. Artists could choose to utilize the resources of Parsons School of Design, or Franklin Furnace could broker a relationship with another suitable partner such as The Eyebeam Atelier, Location One,, Downtown Community Television, Hunter College, the Kitchen to name a few local organizations with which we have worked.

2002: Human Interaction and Interactive Technology

The body of the Internet itself was the subject of Jeff Gompertz s Capsule 2002, a two-city Internet work that linked a capsule hotel site in Tokyo (these are beehive-shaped spaces large enough for one person to occupy) and a reflective installation environment in New York City. The project drew a parallel between the compartmental nature of a capsule hotel s physical structure and the structure of on-line experience: In a chat room, or other multi-user social environment, individuals are electronically interconnected but physically alone; in a capsule hotel, individuals are physically connected by a common space but are electronically and psychologically isolated.

Claims on the body and on both private and public space; parallels between human interaction and interactive technology; and translation, understanding and misunderstanding across cultural and technological boundaries are themes of G.H. Hovagimyan s Brecht Machine (EU Popstar) performance, which used the Internet to stream, translate and play audio and video between two sites on two continents. The two points, Split, Croatia and New York, connected via the internet streamed live audio, and live video using a video chat program. At each location, a text was spoken in one language into a microphone connected to a computer. The computer using a dictation program converted the speech to text. The text was then fed into a translation program and automatically translated to another language and sent across the internet. On the receiving end a synthetic voice read the translated text. In September 2002, the performer in Split spoke French and the New York performer spoke English, with the programming interface translating each performer s text into the other, so that the software itself was performing its adequacy and its mistakes for the live and international viewing audience.

2003: The Body of the Net

Franklin Furnace presented Mouchette in collaboration with Postmasters Gallery in New York on 20 April 2003. Mouchette is the Net-based alter-ego of an anonymous artist whose identity is a closely guarded secret. Mouchette is a very young artist, who remains perpetually "not yet 13" and who created her own web site in October 1996. Since then, she has taken part in numerous art manifestations, exhibitions and events in the art world, creating a new part of her web site each time and developing an important presence within the Net Art community.

The power of the Mouchette persona and this anonymous artist s exploration of identity on the Internet was demonstrated recently when the widow of Robert Bresson, director of the 1967 motion picture from which the contemporary Mouchette took her name, brought the influence of the French Socit des Auteurs et Compositeurs Dramatiques to bear in seeking to censor part of Mouchette's site. Still more recently, right before the event in New York at which Mouchette s identity was to be finally revealed to the public, discussion raged on If Mouchette was actually a man or an adult, her site was the work of a pedophile. None of this discussion was picked up by local print media; C. Carr of the Village Voice attended the public event, but explained that since it did not fit into any existing column (Theater, Film, Art, Dance) at her paper, she could not cover it.

On November 5, 2003, Mouchette launched her identity-sharing interface at, a website which allows every registered user to share Mouchette s online identity. Personal emails may be read, webpages added, and users may pass as the author. There is an internal message board and users may meet privately. While the identity of the artist who created the Mouchette persona is still anonymous, this persona is now open to endless expansion and change, rendering discovery of the artist s real identity moot.

While Future of the Present 2003 artist Ricardo Miranda Zuniga is profoundly engaged with new technology in the creation of his work, his Public Broadcast Cart allows any pedestrian to become an active producer of an audiocast, thereby reversing the usual role of most people as audience for radio broadcasts or on-line content. The Public Broadcast Cart is a shopping cart which Zuniga wheels to various locations, outfitted with a microphone, speakers, an amplifier, a personal computer and a mini-FM transmitter. The microphone is plugged into the amplifier, which feeds the audio to the speakers and the audio in of the computer, which has a wireless ethernet card and a sound card and to the mini-FM transmitter. The audio captured by the microphone is converted into an MP3 audio stream via the computer and on-line radio software. Using free wireless nodes (802.11b) available at various public locations in Manhattan such as Bryant Square Park, the stream is fed to the s server, which hosts a net radio station. The stream is then available to anyone logged onto the net radio station on-line.


On 21 May 2003, K9, a work by Zlatko Kopljar, a performance artist from Croatia, was presented at The Kitchen. To my thinking, this event marked the conjunction of the body and technology. The piece consisted of a 5-minute video of a series of identical performances made at various places around New York City; this video record was then visually manipulated by software written on the basis of the artist s DNA, moving the pixels of each video frame to new locations within the same frame. The result was a visually abstract portrait of the artist.

Well before September 11, 2001, artists were exploring the ramifications of intrusions into privacy, and surveillance as an ever-present reality of contemporary life. Julia Scher and the Surveillance Camera Players, for example, presented coordinated outdoor actions intended to be recorded by surveillance cameras. In 2004, a trio of artists, Beatrice da Costa, Jaimie Schulte and Brooke Singer, proposed Swipe to Franklin Furnace. The artists constructed a bar equipped with a tablet laptop, an electronic driver s license scanner and a receipt printer and arranged for it to be installed in art spaces. Then they served as bartenders in order to card visitors, revealing to them the personal data contained in the magnetic strip on their driver s licenses, and discussing with them the possible use of this information after it has been collected in consumer databases built without notification or consent by subjects.

A project selected by Franklin Furnace which is still in process challenges the nature of identity and the composition of personality as it has been mediated by technology. Adrianne Wortzel s Eliza Redux, is based upon her studies of Joseph Weizenbaum s 1966 computer program, EILZA. This project will enable theatrical scenarios in the form of online psychoanalytic sessions available to visitors through an interactive website featuring real-time interactions between a physical robot responding orally as the psychoanalyst to the patient s text-to-speech input. Presently, the robot is housed in a blue-screen studio at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York, such that virtual backgrounds may be added to its environment as interpolations of Freudian psychoanalytic projections. The artist plans to archive sessions in text form, developing in the robot a form of memory so that it can recognize patients in subsequent sessions.

A collaboration by Joshua Kinberg and Yuri Gitman selected for Franklin Furnace s current 2004-05 season also marks the convergence of the body and technology. Their Magicbike is a mobile WiFi (wireless Internet) hotspot that provides free Internet access wherever it travels. A custom-designed printing device mounted on the bike prints spray-chalk text messages from web users to the surfaces of the street, overlapping public art with techno-activism by creating a montage of the community wireless movement, bicycle culture, street demonstrations and contemporary art. Theory became practice on August 30, 2004 when the Magicbike being ridden by Joshua Kinberg in preparation for protest at the Republican National Convention in New York was impounded by the police on the grounds that text messages being printed on the street would deface public property and were therefore subject to laws intended to prohibit graffiti. Joshua Kinberg s collaborator, Yuri Gitman, was on the scene with a camera as the arrest took place. A Quicktime movie of events may be seen at

As this review of projects presented and produced by Franklin Furnace during the last decade or so demonstrates, there seems to be convergence going on not only among technologies (palm pilots becoming telephones that can transmit images), but in the practice of artists and their audiences. International on-line discourse has been the theater in which issues raised by live art on the Internet have been played out, an appropriate development for a form that is perhaps the first truly international art medium. Franklin Furnace has seen the audience for live art on the Internet grow from 700 hits per week during its inaugural netcasting season in collaboration with Pseudo to 4,000,000 per year, representing more than 60,000 individual visitors to its website,, at present. The reasons for this growth are several: physical location of viewers is limited only by access to the Internet itself; the World Wide Web is now the first research resource of choice for students; and the networked environment in which Franklin Furnace now operates vastly extends its reach.

I believe artists use of the Internet as an art medium will have profound effects upon the culture at large. In the networked environment in which e-mail is commonplace, individuals are more socially equal than they were in the hierarchical art world of only 10 years ago. This equality is fostering partnership instead of competition among individuals as well as organizations and is additionally flattening the internal structures of organizations. The creation of artworks by teams is challenging long-held notions of originality. What s next? Perhaps a radical reevaluation of the role of art in relation to society, made possible by the networked art and social environment. Well, a girl can dream.