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The Thing (Staehle, Wolfgang), 1991

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The Thing, initiated by the artist Wolfgang Staehle. The Thing was originally a bulletin board, but other sections were added, like regional branches of The Thing in several European cities creating a network of Thing nodes. But The Thing most visibly changed when a Web interface was created for its presentation at the 1994 Ars Electronica.

Staehle worked as a video artist in the 1980s. He says in an interview with Dike Blair about three years after founding The Thing: «I did originally conceive it as an art project; but, the addition of the other nodes certainly changed all that.» [16] Some years later he says: «To me it is irrelevant [whether The Thing is art, JB]; that is for the historians to decide.» [17] So The Thing was conceived as an art project, but the artist felt its definition changed as its functions changed and expanded. In a recent e-mail Staehle puts it like this: «When I started The Thing I conceived of it as kind of a conceptual art project, sort of an ‹art by all, art for all› kind of thing.» He thought it would only last about a few months. In the meantime, The Thing has gone through many transformations to become a multi-layered platform consisting of, for example, mailing lists, artist


presentation Web pages, a review section, and a commercial company to sustain all of it.

Although The Thing has trouble finding funding, [18] unlike its peers that did receive funding, in the last few years it has offered sanctuary to a few controversial and also influential art projects. The art activism of Ricardo Dominguez and RTMArk has brought The Thing considerable trouble. It is unlikely that projects like these would have been possible on other local, US platforms. The Thing is not only a collaborative, conceptual art project; it also provides all the means, from discourse and theory to technology and access, for other projects to evolve. It is one of those spiders in the Web. Wolfgang Staehle in an e-mail : «I like to think of it as a laboratory in which people are able to follow their inclinations and interests in a collaborative setting. Online and offline….»

This brings me to another aspect of artist platforms on the Net. Staehle’s mention of the offline part of The Thing, an office and meeting place in New York, reminds us of something that is easily underestimated in the approach of any art in the digital sphere: its

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