Imago Aevitas – Research on net art in India

The following research posts are for the Sarai blog to illustrate the extent of research conducted under the Short term Media Fellowship by Sarai in 2015.


Imago Aevitas – Brief introduction to the genesis of the project

My research project combines two ideas that have captivated me for a long time – the image – its various forms and properties in a medium, and the viewers’ interaction with the image interface. Different points from these two wide areas of study have led me to various projects including the one proposed for the short term research proposal at Sarai.

The research titled Imago Aevitas translates to permanent image from Latin. Imago is Latin for image, reflection, picture, representation, copy. Merriam Webster dictionary gives two meanings of the English word imago [1] – (i) it is the final, adult stage of an insect (ii) an idealised mental image of another person or self. Aevitas is Latin for unending, lifetime, generation, immortality – referring to the digital life in my project title.

Imago Aevitas is a research project aimed at understanding the changing implications of web-based artistic projects. The research will analyse (inter)net art projects to draw together the changing image aesthetics in digital technology as well the participatory nature of these projects.

Several attempts by artists of articulating the human-technology relationship has led to interesting internet art projects. These are creative renditions of societal relationships, commentary on contemporary times or just an aesthetic output. Limited to showing innovative usage of technologies, many would argue that the early projects (1990s) could not present themselves in larger cultural contexts. In 2002, Jon Ippolito gave ‘Ten Myths of Internet Art’ which defined internet as a medium for art projects and its larger implications and reach [2]. When the net art projects started to dwindle in the early 2000, soon after in the backdrop of web 2.0, various artists re-articulated and reassembled new relationships with technology. From trying to find a new aesthetic language in internet in 1990s – early 2000s, the net art projects have moved into the responding to cultural production and online circulation.

Net/Web-based art projects are not simply digitised forms of art that are uploaded on the internet to be viewed. These are made specifically and only to be viewed on the internet, generally on a web browser. They use the properties of the browser that is it viewed in and employ interactivity via mouse, keyboard and now gestures through technologies like Kinect. Outreach and quick dissemination is a recognisable achievement by the virtue of the project being on the internet. Other factors like sub-culture and local culture are also employed to its advantage. Combining artistic and creative skills with website/software coding enables these projects.

Net art projects may not always be participatory and have a diverse way of dissemination through the internet. The modes and techniques used to create these vary from glitch, hacktivism, software coding, text, multi-media, flash files, animation, graphics, photographs, audio and video. They allow a collaboration between technical development of computer programming/software development and aesthetic reification in form of website, email, digital photographic print and newer versions like gif and apps. In the 1990s, Indian artist Shilpa Gupta created various interactive web projects like, and Recently Vishal Dar has created a mobile app, Raavan Chaaya, a visual interactive rendition of Ramayana. Prayas Abhinav’s Museum of Vestigial Desires is a text based website commenting on knowledge, desire, business, value and forms of human existence. Delhi Hectic, a project by Arjun Jassal and Azhar Anis combines photographs from Instagram with text to create a webcomic on Delhi. The research will study contemporary net art projects by artists, designers and developers from India and abroad to be able to bring into focus the conditions of living in the post-digital age.

The research will look at the two aspects of net art projects:

// Image making changes

In the net art projects various forms of texts and graphics behave like images. These net art projects have transformed older forms of sculpture and painting as well as newer forms like that of video. Appropriation and de-contextualisation of pop-culture images are few of methods employed. Net artists cannot get the sensory immersion of cinema for the image that they produce, but the challenge of their image lies in inviting attention of the audience and then to be able to hold it.

Questions around image–making methods, digital image semiotics, remediation and representation are pertinent. Additionally, the role of software, obsolete web platforms and new softwares emulating the older softwares as effects, are other significant questions around existence of images on the internet.

// Design and public participation

In the networked society, people are connected through interests and experiences, through common causes and attractions. The contemporary net art projects brings together the audience’s unique way of interacting with the project and sharing it with others. Relationship between the audience has shifted from being a viewer to the role of a participant. With the shifting role of an artist and audience, there is no authoritarian value of creator. Following web 2.0, sharing and collaborative features allow to understand the changing art forms in contemporary society and its relationship with the audience. The politics and aesthetics of this creative collaboration are will be explored with intentions of understanding the digitally induced collaboration and networking created by net art projects. The research will describe many layers of influence in an individual’s or interpretive community’s construction of identities.

The research will take place through primary and secondary research methods, after which the analysis and presentation of the research will take place in form of a paper. In two months time the research questions will be re-examined to narrow down the study for in-depth analysis.

The research starts by studying regimes of theoretical and creative practices of internet art, in order to understand the conditions of their existence and survival. Drawing from various techniques, the analysis will be to understand the visual aesthetics. Simultaneously, the new developments of techniques will be studied to map the contemporary culture of visuality. Examining the properties of internet art, I will investigate net art projects by artists and designers from India and abroad, to observe patterns and changes in their viewing and audience participation. The research project will draw from various fields like media studies, software studies, art theory, culture studies and philosophy.



[1] Merriam Webster Dictionary, accessed May 24, 2015

[2] Jon Appolito, “Ten Myths of Internet Art” Leonardo (2002): 485 – 498, Vol  35, No. 5, accessed April 12, 2015,


Imago Aevitas: Beginnings of art projects on the internet in India and the world

This second post gives a brief introduction of as a precursor to internet and web art. A few observations on one of India’s first net art projects in form of websites, by Shilpa Gupta, illustrate the subversion of web design aesthetics to making socio-political statements. is associated with certain aesthetics and ethics of artists, designers and technologists in the mid-1990s. The term has an interesting anecdote on how it got the name. In December 1995 Vuk Cosic, artist and theorist, got an email that had garbled text. Maybe due to an incompatible software there was only ASCII in the email, except for two words that looked like parts of two sentences – Net. Art [1]. Vuk Cosic held onto the term and started using it often. It soon became popular specifically among a certain groups of people, including Antonio Muntadas, Alexei Shulgin, Natalie Bookchin, Heath Bunting, Olia Lialina, Jodi and Vuc Cosic. This small group rejected existing systems of gallery, looking for alternate networks, were bound by their common interest in technology and its artistic exploits. They were interested in represented new ways of creating and receiving art and media. Lists like Nettime are primary constituents of Though the terms, net art and internet art are used interchangeably, has been accepted as one of the movements of internet and web based art [2].

The first big event to feature net art was Documenta X, 1997. Catherine David, the curator, brought together different disciplines including writers, filmmakers, sociologists from Asia, Africa and Latin America. For the first time a website was created for Documenta. Curated by artist and curator Simon Lamuniere, the website was conceived as an art project and was not merely an information portal. Several net projects like Visitor’s Guide to London by Heath Bunting, A Description of the Equator and some Otherlands by Philip Pocock, Florian Wenz, Udo Noll and Felix Stephen Huber, unendlich, fast… by Holger Friese, were also part of Documenta X. Peter Weibel, the Director of ZKM termed net art as ‘a great power which radically transforms a closed system of object aesthetics into modern art – into an open system of post-modern (or new modern) space of activity’ [3]. In 2001 Venice Biennale, the Slovenian pavilion presented a computer virus. The source code of the virus,, was made to spread in the invitations to the 49 Venice Biennale on the opening day. The source code as well as deinstallation instructions were also made available. While it was controversial and received flak for being irresponsible, but at the same time it was exciting, testing the digital medium and highlighting new networks and modes of circulation at a mainstream art event. Conceived to create alternative temporary space, net art is anti-establishment and non-object. It destabilises the traditional relationship between the spectator and the art object. Even though net art has been absorbed by many institutions, it largely remains outside their control due to the nature of internet. The reluctance of institutions to integrate net art and forms of digital arts in their discourse has led to an ambivalent relationship with the art world; while net art thrives in the creative practices of technologists, designers, coders and digital architects.


The beginnings of net art lies in algorithmic and graphic art in 1960s where algorithms were created on the computer to make drawings via a plotter on paper. To create algorithms, one should define the constituents of an image, which in turn is broadly made up of shape and colour. Looking back, it is not surprising that part of it lies in visual perception. Bela Julesz, a neuroscientist, was also one of the first computer artists. Along with Michael A Noll, they are one of the first digital artists. The first exhibition of computer graphics, George Nees: Computergrafik, was held in Stuttgart, Germany in 1965. In 1965, Howard Wise Gallery in New York displayed the works by Bela Julesz and Michael Noll including the computer generated picture of Piet Mondrian’s Composition with Lines.


1964-michaelnoll-computercompositionwithlines          mondrian-compositionwithlines

Left: Michael A Noll, Computer composition with Lines, 1964, digital computer and microfilm plotter

Right: Piet Mondrian, Composition with Lines, second state, 1916-17, oil on canvas, ©Rejikmuseum Kröller-Müller

With massive technological growth, our familiarity with computer screens grew and they became a ubiquitous equipment in the house like refrigerators and televisions. With the internet, new connections were being drawn and the world was a closer space. New ways of sharing ideas, reaching out to people and developing a common platform for exchange were pursued. Looking at alternative ways to voice their opinions and concerns, the net artists of the 90s and early 2000s were opting out of the existing art networks and circulation. With no limitations of space and outreach, the internet emerged an easy platform to get the message across in an effective way. More importantly art was no longer accessible only in galleries and institutions; it was no longer passive and object based, anyone anywhere could access it. The participatory nature of net art is an important aspect that makes the audience the participant as well as creator of the project.


In this post, I would like to introduce a couple of works by Mumbai based artist Shilpa Gupta. She is one of the first people in India to make net art. Gupta has been working across medium like digital interactive arts, video, photography, sculpture and installation. At a time when there was hardly any net art in India, Gupta’s projects include Diamonds and You (2000), (2001), My Email (2002), Kidney Supermarket (2002), (2003) and (2003). Gupta’s was working as a web designer in 1999 when she decided to explore web projects to question the familiar and disturb the relationship between art – patron – artist – audience.

Shilpa Gupta’s first web project was Diamonds and You on the free Geocities server ( in 2000. The website was focussing on the global diamond trade and e-commerce.  The audience has to buy diamonds based on their cut, clarity, carat and colour. Before making the payment they were asked questions on the route that the diamond import should take, the age and salary of the diamond cutter. The process of selecting the diamond is meant to draw attention to the smuggling of diamonds, exchanging diamonds for guns in Sierra Leone, the political and humanitarian crisis of such places and the exploited labour of diamond cutting and polishing in India. The website does not exist anymore since the closing of Geocities.


Screenshots of


Diamonds and You gets the attention of the audience by sale offers on diamonds. It is only mid-way in the process that the audience realises that the website has a larger point. The steps in the online process enables the transformation of the audience into participant. Uniting acts of interaction and performance, the artist creates acts of subversion. There is a dislocation of the role of a consumer when the participants decide the kind of diamond they want only to discover the political and economical effects of their choice. The work exists in collaboration with the audience/participant. The experience of interacting with the website creates the work. “Like Andy Warhol’s factory, the people as well as the methods of production and distribution were all part of the project’s meanings” [4]. While the elements exist in terms of hyperlinks and meta data, the cohesiveness of the website is created only by interacting with it. The user is the simultaneous creator and the audience, evolving the role with the time spent on the website:


The audience interaction with the website goes beyond the ostentatious function of the website, establishing a relationship with technology. In my recent conversation with Gupta, she shares that in 1999/2000 a lot of e-commerce websites were coming up. As a web designer she was creating many of the static product viewing and selling webpages, and subverts that design aesthetics in Diamonds and You [5]. Gupta’s strategy of employing consumerism as the basis of such actions, gives the participant a false sense of control. It is an instance of using technology to reveal conditions of socio-economic oppression.

Another project,, commissioned by Tate Online, gave instant blessings to the visitors of the website. The visitor can choose from five religions – Hinduism, Muslim, Sikhism, Christianity and Buddhism, to receive their blessings. Upon choosing the religion, the website shows the photographs of the places of worship of the chosen religion. Upon clicking the place of worship, warnings signs for covering heads, removing footwear and menstruating women to leave the website, come up. The visitor performs a three step ‘ritual’ to take the blessings before being presented with a verification certificate. The visitor can also keep a diary of sins and dress up a deity as per the chosen religion.


Screenshot of


The screen in becomes an extension of the physical space. Taking the ability of people to take a journey without leaving their desk, the work questions our relationship with religion and God in the digital age. The computer screen gives a true experience of being ‘a window to the world’. The screen enables in creating a new relationship of the visitor with God and spirituality. It is a gateway to redemption from sins. The visitor can move between different religions and activities by clicking links giving the screen a spatial architecture from where the participant can easily move in and out like alternate reality. got a lot of attention not only for using web as a medium, but also for the content. It was a time when net art was getting bigger than being an alternate platform and independent voice; institutions had started taking interest and were commissioning projects. For the institution, preservation of the website was a concern, but Gupta’s artistic vision was not burdened with it.

The underlying concept of these websites extend to the larger practice of Shilpa Gupta where she subverts norms, plays with alternate structures, fracturing existing narratives, questions global politics and acts of violence.



[1] Alexei Shulgin on nettime, 18 March, 1997

[2] In the strictest sense, internet and web based art is that uses internet as the platform for creation and reception of art whereas net art exists within specific networks on the internet and not necessarily on world wide web.

[3] Peter Weibel, Art/Politics in the Online Universe

[4] Rachel Greene, Web Work: A History of Internet Art, ArtForum, May 2000, pg 163

[5] Shilpa Gupta interview on 1st June, 2015


Imago Aevitas: Works of three net artists in India: 1999 onwards

This month’s post looks at projects by three Indian artists in 1999, marking the beginning of net art and web based interactive projects. These three projects could not be more different to each other, each working with different nuances of the internet in late 1990s and early 2000. An exhibition in Paris in 1985 became the predecessor of net art and questioned human relations with immateriality that were to soon become our reality.

In 1999, Baiju Parthan paid serious attention to the changes that were slowly taking place with the novelty of the internet. The next advancement since industrial revolution, the world wide web was becoming a reality. Computers were getting as common as television. Our understanding of the world and relationships was changing. It was around this time that Parthan made one of the first interactive digital work in India. It was called Brahma’s Homepage.

Brahma’s Homepage had two aspects – a painting on the wall, and the same painting on a computer screen. Through this work, Parthan attempted to draw a parallel between the physical and the virtual. Various parts of the image were hyperlinks, clicking on them revealed different stories. Just as the painting on the wall can be decoded/read through its icons and metaphors, the painting on the computer revealed meanings and narratives. Parthan created a fictional narrative of incidents inspired from his life along with a brief history of painting, as hyperlinks. Referring to Brahma, the creator of the world, Parthan wondered what would Brahma’s webpage look like and attempted to answer it in the artwork giving a historical reference to the art of image-making.

                                                                                          brahmas-homepage-1999_interface              brahma_page2

Baiju Parthan, Brahma’s Homepage (Image courtesy: The artist)

Brahma’s Homepage was a simple HTML program created by Parthan himself and was run on Internet Explorer. Parthan being trained as a painter, is used to doing all the work himself, even if it means learning new skills like computer program coding [1]. With available tools on the computer, he wanted to explore if computer can be included in visual arts and learnt HTML to be able to code. The similar sensibility of embedding hyperlinks in webpages can be seen in his other works created around the same time like Necessary Illusions with 24 cups of Coffee (2000).

Code, created in 2000, is one of Parthan’s most successful digital interactive work. This work allows the audience to ask questions to the computer that answers from the I Ching database. Made on HTML, Java and JavaScript by Parthan and run on Internet Explorer, Code is presented as an art installation. This work also displays the code for the viewers to see. A basic algorithm based on randomization answers the question from I Ching. The answers are fairly open-ended that the audience can easily contextualise with the question, thus surprising the audience with its prophetic vision. A synthetic persona in form of a face is also present – a simple gif that smiles when clicked on.

This work is significant as it is probably the first artistic project to explore the digital presence. Subsequent to this work, Parthan established his practice in digital interactive installation and interrogated the idea of cyborg and virtual identity in his projects like A Diary of the Inner Cyborg (Asystole- Disrupting the Flow) (2001-2002), showing at London, Vienna, Glasgow and Tokyo.

It will be interesting to see if works by Parthan can be presented as websites or can be made available as downloads. It would then truly take the form of a net art project. For Parthan it was a conscious decision to not disseminate them so easily in order to maintain their identity as artworks. “The aura of the artwork needs to be protected”, he says [2].

Artists’ engage with techniques of image making to express meaning. This leads them to explore multiple medium. Parthan is an artist and is continuously looking for different forms; digital images were his medium for a long time before he moved onto other ways of expression. The pressures of keeping up with programming language and technical update drew him back. He is currently working with lenticular printing.

In 1999, another artist Kiran Subbaiah, based out of Bengaluru, was delving into net art. His first project Netscape Escape , and probably the first net art project in India, was a network of chances that leads to the same end. It was a flash program, made by Subbaiah himself, whereby he narrates a story to the audience and presents them with choices each time. The audience chooses the way in which the story progresses. They have an illusion of choice as no matter what is chosen the end is the same every time. This program still runs on Windows 98 version, but the computer screen sizes that are currently used are not suitable. When he made this

work in 1999, the screen sizes were completely different – they were 4:3 and 800 X 600 pixels, as compared to 16:9 and more than 1024 X 768 pixels that we have in desktop nowadays.

Subbaiah did a few flash based projects, but his interest was in creating pseudo virus programs. He made Crash Run (2001-02) using existing programs. Like a 1990s mixed tape, he created a few programs as one compilation which when played would wreck havoc on the screen of the user. This program automatically deteriorated the screen. The computer seemed to crash uncontrollably. But it was just a simulation of the crash provided by the program, the system was otherwise secure. The program had to be uninstalled to be able to use the computer normally. This program can be downloaded from Rhizome and Subbaiah’s website. The latter does not exits since the shutting down of geocities. One can still run the program on the Windows 98 OS.


Kiran Subbiah, screen grab of Crash Run (Image courtesy:

Another program that Subbaiah wrote from scratch was Use_Me in 2003. Unlike Crash Run, this program has to be run by the user. It is dependent on the user’s interaction. If the user does not interact, it remains unobtrusive. Once it is run, the user has to interact with actions like clicking, typing, which leads to different result. It is like a game from which the user cannot get out easily. A certain combination of keys has to be used to get out of the program.

Subbaiah’s was drawn to net art as it offered new possibilities and an opportunity to connect to people. In my recent conversation with him, he points to the fact that in the late 1990s, his early years as an artist, there was a lot of emphasis on Indian art. He wanted to escape this and started exploring internet as a medium not only for communicating with an audience, but also to share ideas and learning. Back in the day internet, according to Subbaiah was very liberating, not unlike today when it has become like television – too much noise and less access to what one wants [3]. Subbaiah also points out to another frustration with technology – it gets too old too soon. Unless one is a digital technologist, we can’t really predict the technology that evolves fast, rendering many tools obsolete too soon. This is not encouraging for Subbaiah as he thinks art should last long. He chooses the emphasis on longevity that is provided by other medium such as video and sculpture, instead of works that are left only as documentation.

In early 2000, Prayas Abhinav was distributing his e-publication, Crimson Feet, through email lists. These lists were created by compiling email addresses from all over the world wide web. Equivalent to spamming people, between 2001 and 2004, Prayas sent 6 online editions of Crimson Feet to an audience that never signed up for it. In my conversation with him, he explained the process of getting the email addresses by sending spiders to various web pages. Crimson Feet contained English poetry and fiction, and was built on Dreamweaver for sometime before Abhinav shifted to Spip [4]. By 2006, Abhinav stopped renewing the the domain leading to the end of Crimson Feet.

In 1999 – 2000, Abhinav opened a website called Stinksite. He published his writings on this site. At a time when blogs had not yet emerged, Abhinav used static webpages for writing, which were given as hyperlinks on the homepage. Stink site was built on HTML (Microsoft Frontpage) and lasted only till 2001.

Soon Prayas Abhinav started exploring content management systems. With easy access to server space (his brother had a server) he immersed himself in developing web architecture. Zope, a content management framework and Plone, a content management system, were his major areas of attention 2004 onwards. Concerned with open source software and free content distribution, Abhinav’s exposure increased by visiting conferences such as Wizards of OS in Berlin in 2004. Abhinav used softwares to create online institutional structures based on ideas and functions that existed only in words and never for real. Situating ideas around temporary architectures of grandiose, but fictitious institutions.

Expanding upon this idea, Abhinav launched Museum of Vestigial Desires in 2012. Another writing based web project, Museum of Vestigial Desires attempts to define processes and concepts through language. Reflections on museums, writing, reading, cinema, conversation, play and many more, exist on this website.

Built on Kirby CMS, it seems self serving though Abhinav insists that it is a way of broadcasting experience. “When you produce an experience, you have the freedom to narrow its scope of access to alter its intensity. Intensity and access are inversely related, the more the access, the less the intensity and the less the access the more the intensity. So the freedom to narrow the scope of experiences that we produce is important. If we didn’t have that freedom, we would be compulsive mass- broadcasters.” [5] Prayas Abhinav as the museum’s co-director is available for interviews and conversation on selected days and times, details of which are published on the museum’s Facebook page.

Prayas Abhinav says that his desire to experiment led him to delve into software technologies. He points out that people did not have much choice as the content management systems were being created. The web software development relied heavily on communities of interested people who would ask, share, review and learn from each other. Mostly one doesn’t need to familiarise with the entire software, but can be task oriented learning to be effective and productive.

In 1985, Jean-Francois Lyotard and Thierry Chaput curated an exhibition, Les Immateriaux, at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. The exhibition took two years in the making and was the largest and most expensive exhibition till that time. The exhibition explored questions around man’s relationship with nature and other man- made objects on the arrival of new technology. New technologies, its challenges and re-articulations of relations in post-modern conditions were the areas of concern. The exhibition showed new materials including personal computers, integrated circuits, and works by Daniel Buren, Delauney, Jaques Derrida, Kasimir Malevich, Dan Graham among others. Viewing the exhibition was actually experiencing it and interacting with it. The audience members were given headphones which would catch different radio frequencies at different locations in the exhibition. Five zones were created in the exhibition — material (the support of the message), materiel (hardware that moves the message), maternity (the function of the sender), matter (what the message is about), and matrix (the code of the message) [6].


Installation shot of Les Immateriaux

The exhibition was significant in two aspects. Firstly, it presented a new form of exhibition practice. Secondly, the exhibition is directly concerned with media practices. The second aspect is of concern to us with respect to net art practices. Many of the questions that were raised in the exhibition, phenomenon that were present behind the works, were later tackled by various artists in net art. “…Many more of the activists of telecommunications and net art period of the 1990s did not see the show or even know about it , yet they dealt with some of the same subjects; so it appears that Les Immateriaux, dug up almost instinctively, ideas that were about to surface in the arts in the following years.” [7]

Les Immateriaux is rarely contributed with being an important marker in digital art and media practices. The term ‘net art’ had not been invented and internet based communication were far from familiar. Largely, it’s presentation of the immaterial nature of media was problematic [8]. In this regard Documenta X in 1997 is credited with capturing net art in the mainstream media art practices. Net art had been brought out of its alternative existence and was noticed by museums and institutions. The net art projects in Documenta X (I have briefly written about it my previous post), can be accessed here The inclusion of net art projects stemmed from the curator, Catherine David’s vision of looking beyond the spatial and temporal limitations of experience provided in object based art.

The ideas of immateriality find their true resonance in net art. “By ‘semiotizing’ the phenomena of the real world, the net opens up very specific gaps for artistic interventions…. the contradictions between the physical and real and the virtual and immaterial are not limited to net art, but have been dealt with in other, more traditional art forms, in the environment of the Internet and its technical structures, they have an even greater relevance.” [9] One structure of the digital in which relations with the immaterial is reified are software coding and programming. Softwares facilitate the creation, execution of actions and staging of their effects. The artists discussed above were able to learn HTML, Java and Flash in order to produce their work. They used software to create content and engage with their audience. It was their interface to the imagination and the world [10].



[1] Conversation with the writer on 24th July, 2015.

[2] Conversation with the writer on 24th July, 2015.

[3] Conversation with the writer on 29th July, 2015.

[4] A collaborative publishing system for the internet

[5] Abhinav, Prayas, Self, 2013, accessed on 24th July, 2015,

[6] Martin, Lesley, Art & Text 17, 1985, accessed on 25th July, 2015,

[7] Baumgartel, Tilman, Immaterial Material, At a Distance: Precursors to Art and Activism on the Internet, Ed Annmarie Chandler, Norie Neumark, MIT, 2005.

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Manovich, Lev, Software is the message, Journal of Visual Culture, 2014, Vol 13, Issue 1.


Imago Aevitas: Forms of web based art projects

This post looks at the various forms of distribution of web based projects starting from 2000, mapping the changing methods of reaching out and interacting with the users. 

In the course of the research I have come across several projects that are using different functions of the web, internet, software to create and distribute them to users. These projects allow users to interact, collaborate, re-write and re-mix existing elements of the project or the entire project. In this post, I am discussing a few projects with different methods of distribution.

Distribution or dissemination of web based projects is as important as creating them. In one of my earlier posts I had talked about, a computer virus presented in Venice Biennale in 2001. The virus by Mattes in 2001 existed simply because it was circulated by people, knowing or unknowingly. While, certainly the form of the project decides the distribution method. But, in some cases the technical limitations allow only the project to exist in a certain form only. Due to heavy content of images, graphics, text and sound, some of the earlier works could be distributed through CDs only. At the same time not all projects utilise the properties of a distribution method. A project on social media can be low on interaction and collaboration; instead they are largely driven by faster and wider circulation through social media.


Distributed through CDs

Indian Documentary of Electronic Arts (IDEA) was a project between 2000 and 2004 by Shankar Baruah. Baruah, a writer and photographer, had been following electronic (digital) practices (visual and sound) since early 1990s. IDEA was a gazette available and distributed on Compact Discs (CDs). Each IDEA, edited by Baruah, contained text, images, video and sound entries from people all over the world. An extremely rich compilation using video, images and graphics, it was unthinkable for it to exist as a website at that time. Self marketed and distributed in hand made paper covers, the CDs were created through the professional CD making method of stamping/cloning. When the CD could not be made in the auto play mode, Baruah decided to let the contents be in folders. Made in HTML, the user had to click on start.html from the list of files that opened when the CD was initiated. After the first CD, all followed the same format of the content shown in a table and accessible through hyperlinks. This simple yet kitschy, low maintenance design was conceived and executed by Baruah himself. The first CD was priced at Rs 100, but soon the idea of sale was abandoned and the CDs were distributed for free.

With every edition, Baruah presented an editorial outlining its contents. The editions never had a thematic. “It was always a bouquet and never a thematic”, says Baruah[i]. Several Indian digital practitioners like graphic designers, animators, filmmakers and music/sound artists featured with their latest work/project or just their practice discussing several projects together. Global Health Manual (discussed below) by Raqs Media Collective was also featured in its third issue in 2001.

In 2005, all the CDs were complied onto a website ( by sound artist and researcher Laurie Spiegel. All editions of IDEA exist on the website in the same format as they did on the CD. The website mounts IDEA as a rich archive featuring the changes brought in different creative fields with the introduction of digital technology. In 2004 Baruah closed this chapter and moved onto CeC (Carnival of e-Creativity), an annual public event for digital creative practitioners.

With its unique collection, Baruah considers each of the editions as artworks.


CD cover of IDEA 2, 2000

Distributed through CDs and collaborative/participatory website and software

Raqs Media Collective, an artist collective since 1992, have done projects on the internet in form of websites, CD programmes, software, co-created local networks and installations. The three projects distributed in CDs were Global Village Health Manual (2000), No_des (2004) and Ectropy Index (2006). These were run as HTML programs and were produced at the Sarai Media Lab. Global Village Health Manual was co-created by Raqs Media Collective and Mrityunjay Chatterjee. No_des was co-created by Mrityunjay Chatterjee, Raqs Media Collective and Iram Ghufran with additional research by Bhagwati Prasad, Lokesh and Rakesh Singh. Ectropy Index was co-created by Raqs Media Collective, Mrityunjay Chatterjee, Iram Ghufran with research notes by Taha Mahmod.

Global Village Health Manual (GVHM) showed a new visual landscape where images from 19th century printmaking and digital images and texts were combined to create an interactive interface. The user could access information by clicking on various hyperlinks. This information collage was created from various sources on the internet and draws a parallel between printmaking in 19th century and the internet. Raqs elaborates “In the late nineteenth century, printmaking entered the public imagination as cheap, accessible and popular means of producing and circulating pictures, stories, information and rumors. This was a culture that eluded censors and skirted copyright. Today, a hundred years later, a cluster of technologies centered on the computer and the Internet has made possible the birth of a new folklore of images and ideas. Which, like its print ancestor, is also busy eluding censors and skirting copyright.”[ii]


Screenshot of Global Village Health Manual

No_des and Ectropy Index followed the format of GVHM. Calling these works as “info-faces” (information interface) the three works were distributed on CDs as the images and text made the pages too heavy to open as a website. Another reason was the unwillingness of people to share images and text and issues of appropriation which have since disappeared with web 2.0.

No_des celebrated practices of sharing, reproducing, editing and distributing information which are labelled as piracy. Texts and images were presented as hypertexts constructing a web of information. Ectropy Index contested the order of information in the system through words linked to text and images.

OPUS (Open Platform for Unlimited Signification), perhaps Raqs Media Collective’s most well known web project, was created in 2001 at Sarai media lab. As the name signifies, the online software,, was an open platform for users to upload their work in form of image, text, video to be used by others. By starting a project, a user could invite others to use the existing media as well as add more files. Every file was uploaded with tags and keywords. The project was based on the idea of ‘recension’ that is reconstructing of the earliest form or forms of an object that can be inferred from the surviving evidence.[iii] In the process of recension, various means of evidence like citations in different languages, sources, its context, time period and association, throws light on the transformation of an object after revision, analysis and destruction. In this project, the uploaded material could be re-used and re-contextualised by anyone. Created in support of the Free Software movement, alluring to downloading, modifying and sharing any information, the project was regenerating ‘digital commons’. It was not only about using information, but also creating works, sharing a common space and co-authoring works.

OPUS constituted the very model of hypertextuality where a web of inter-connectedness determines the proliferation of knowledge, which is the very basis of internet. In fact, OPUS embodies features of web 2.0 where interactivity, re-editing and easy sharing are highlighted. New forms of authorship, relationship with the producer and consumer are emphasized. The re-mix and re-appropriation of content that we see commonly in memes and other forms of internet culture occupy a central thought in OPUS. Lev Manovich, who saw the project in Documenta11, 2002, points out “OPUS project stands out from the rest in how it tackles with the question of authorship in computer culture.  Importantly, OPUS, created by Raqs Media Collective (New Delhi), is both a software package and an accompanying “theoretical package.” Thus the theoretical ideas about authorship articulated by Raqs collective do not remain theory but are implemented in software available for everybody to use. In short, this is “software theory” at its best: theoretical ideas translated into a new kind of cultural software.”[iv]

Investing on the features of Opus, Raqs decided to create Apna OPUS at Sarai media lab, for an ongoing project, Cybermohalla, in 2005. Working as intranet, it could be a database of text, images and videos that are available to the community for use. But due to technical issues like slow internet, the project did not generate much interest[v].


Screenshot of OPUS taken on January 27, 2003

Distributed through an interactive website

Archana Hande, trained as a printmaker from Santiniketan, practices in various medium. Known for her tongue-in-cheek humour, her works comment on social behavior of the current times. One of her projects,, is a take on arranged marriages in India. The project was eight years in the making and was activated on the world wide web in 2008. The idea of the project was seeded in 2002 during the Gujarat riots. The discussion around identity, purity of race and secularism were the starting point of the project [4]. Taking a cue from the booming business of matrimonial sites in India, became a satire on the tradition of arranged marriage.

The website gives options to the user to create their partner with face and clothes. An astrology compatibility match is also available. The user can also design wedding invites from the six available design options. The user can choose a religion in which they want to legalise their marriage. There are items that can be shopped for like calendars, postcards and ‘Honeymoon Kits’ that consist of two aphrodisiacs and 4 drawings of bed designs and a book called ‘All About Sex’. These are real items that are made to order by Hande. The last component of the website was the legal aspect which was updated in 2012.

The homepage of the website featuring the close-up of just the fingers of God and man, from the painting Creation of Adam by Michelangelo. This is page exists in HTML and the subsequent pages open as pop-up windows running on Flash. Due to this the website doesn’t open on mobile phones, i-pad and Safari browser. She later presented the project as an installation as well.



Screenshot of

Influenced by methods of generative art, computer algorithms and chance, Adityan Melekalam has recently started making web based interactive projects. Cornelia’s Supper (2014) ( interrogates the spatial aspect of world wide web. The user views a fragmented narrative on the browser, which is followed by moving the screen in any direction to chance upon dialogues/conversations by a character called Sir Nigel Twitt in the 1950s. Aditya Menekalam trained as a filmmaker from NID, frames form of storytelling in an interactive technological framework. Influenced by Thomas Bernhard’s novel ‘The Loser’, he borrows the name Sir Nigel Twitt from the name of one of the alter egos/pseudonym of pianist Glen Gould. Gould was one of the characters in ‘The Loser’ [7]. The narrative of the story is looped – the same conversations reappear while traversing through the web screen. The project is based on sights of interaction provided in the size of the computer screen.


Screenshot of Cornelia’s Supper


Distributed and created on social media

The project Delhi Hectic by Arjun Jassal and Azhar Anis makes use of the current functions of the internet in creating and distributing. Using web as a medium for creative expression, Jassal and Anis worked on their Instagram images to create episodes of their experiences in Delhi. Delhi Hectic consisted of various chapters or episodes like ‘This Summer’, ‘Dil-li’ and ‘That’s What He Said’. Each chapter, commenting on different aspects of the city, consisted of 8 – 15 images with text. Sometimes they talked about the people, sometimes about the history of Delhi. The urban yet derelict aspect of Delhi and a satirical take on hip Delhi parties, were a few other topics of Delhi Hectic.

Jassal maintains that Delhi Hectic was a very personal project that got extremely popular. He says, “We started as a personal project but when it got so popular among people, we continued doing it as we enjoyed it. It was not work for us.” Delhi Hectic consisted of 15 chapters created between February 2013 and December 2014. From the ideation of the project to the processing of images and text, the process of completing one chapter took no more than two weeks. About the process of creating and disseminating their project via internet, Jassal comments “Internet works like lego. How people put together the blocks is what matters.” [8]

Delhi Hectic was first released on Jux – a blogging platform that allowed the project to maintain the feel of a slideshow. Since Jux closed in November 2014, it has been hosted on Facebook ( with all its chapters. Facebook is not the presentation that was planned by Jassal and Anis, but it works now as the project is over.


An image from ‘Chapter I: An 80s Party’ of Delhi Hectic



[1] Baruah, Shankar. Personal interview. 1 Sept. 2015.

[2] Artist statement on Global Village Health Manual. Shared with the author among programs and images of the project.

[3] Rescension is part of the critical process of ‘textual criticism’.

[4] Manovich, Lev, Models of Authorship in New Media, 2002. Web. 3 Sept. 2015.

[5] Bagchi, Jeebesh and Narula, Monica. Personal interview.  6 Aug. 2015.

[6] Hande, Archana. Personal interview. 17 Aug. 2015.

[7] Melekalam, Adityan. Personal interview. 19 Aug. 2015.

[8] Jassal, Arjun. Personal interview. 15 June. 2015.