May 18, 2002
mez is the self-chosen shorthand of the Austrial net artist
Mary Anne Breeze. Since its beginning, Net.art organized itself
around international mailinglists such as Nettime and Rhizome. But
many net artists didn´t use mailinglists just to communicate
about net art, but as a net.artistic medium themselves. A popular
tactics was to intentionally spam mailinglists with seemingly
unreadable clusters of letter and number codes.
Mez comes from this tradition. Her entry
"Re(ad.htm´´ is a selection of her mailinglist
postings. As an example, I pick the first half of the piece
"_Viro.Logic Condition][ing][ 1.1_´´:
_Viro.Logic Condition][ing][ 1.1_
c u in he][l][avan
a c][yclops][hair b:cumming sane]
3.[alert & c.rash.ing
code syrup & brooding symbols]
What seems like an unreadable mess at first, turns out to be
subtle and dense if you read closer. The whole text borrows from
conventions of programming languages; it presents itself as a program
with a title, version number, main routine - indicated with the line
"[b:g:in]´´ - and several subroutines or objects
(which, like in the programming language Perl, are indicated with two
double colons). But the main device are the square brackets which,
like in Boolean search expressions, denote that a text can be read in
multiple ways. For example, the title reads simultaneously as
"Virologic Condition´´, "Virologic
Conditioning´´, "Logic Condition´´ and
"Logic Conditioning´´. This technique reminds of the
portmanteau words of Lewis Carroll and James Joyce's
"Finnegans Wake´´, but is reinvented here in the
context of net culture and computer programming.
As the four readings of the title tell already, this particular
text is about humans and machines and about a sickness condition of
both. The square bracket technique is used to keep the attributions
ambiguous. For example, the two words in the line
can be read as "arthroscopic´´ / "art
robotic´´ / "Arthrobotic´´ /
"horoscopic´´ and "Nintendos´´ /
"intentions´´ or "DOS´´. So the
machine becomes arthritic, sick with human desease, and the human
body becomes infected with a computer virus; in the end, they recover
by "code syrup & brooding symbols´´.
So mez has taken ASCII Art, as we can see it in the exhibition
above, and Net.art code spamming and refined it from pure visual
patterns into a rich semantical private language. She calls it
mezangelle which itself is a mez hybrid for her own name and the word
But why did we accept and shortlist the piece as software art?
In the jury, we defined software art as algorithmic code and/or
reflections of cultural concepts of software. In my opinion,
mez´ work fits both parts of the definition. Since her
square-bracketted expressions expand into multiple meanings, they are
executable, that is, a combinatory sourcecode which generates output.
But it's also a sophisticated reflection of cultural concepts of
software which rereads the coding convetions of computer programming
languages as semantical language charged with gendered politics.
It's imaginary software which executes in the minds of
computer-literate human readers, not unlike the Turing Machine which
was an imaginary piece of hardware.
So one could put mez' work as well into the context of code
poetry, like the many poetry written in the programming language Perl
in the early 1990s, which to the largest extent was also pseudo-code
that didn't actually execute on a machine. But while most of this
classical code poetry was kitschy haikus and highschool love poetry,
mez succeeds in rewriting code poetry into contemporary art in the
best sense of the word.