Amanda Wasielewski

Art History/ArchitectureCity University of New York (CUNY) / Graduate Center

Award Information

2017 IDRF Program

Art History/ArchitectureCity University of New York (CUNY) / Graduate Center

Krakers in the Virtual City: From Squats to Net Art in Amsterdam, 1980-2000

In 1982, ARTEX, the first online bulletin board system designed exclusively for artists, listed thirty-five users in its directory. Mazzo, a punk club in the heart of the heavily squatted Jordaan district of Amsterdam, was one of these pioneering users. The Jordaan was among several areas in the city that attracted squatters in the early eighties, who took over abandoned, unused, or vacant properties and set up autonomous, communal living arrangements. As Mazzo's participation in ARTEX demonstrates, the punk and squatter scene overlapped with the earliest Internet art. In Dutch, squatting an abandoned building is called kraken (cracking), and a squatted property is a kraakpand. Buildings, computers, visual culture, and communication networks were all actively cracked open in Amsterdam in the 1980s, where artists experimented with DIY (do-it-yourself) media including pirate radio and cable television channels. The political implication of these activities was clear: seize existing infrastructure from those in power and subvert dominating structures of information distribution. The parallel trajectory of these different manifestations of kraken in Amsterdam resulted in a unique situation where artists were not only pioneering Internet art, but actually developing the first Internet service providers (ISPs) for the Dutch public, motivated by politics rather than profit. Dutch activists saw computers as a tool that could democratize culture and promote open and free exchange of information. I will argue that a decade of DIY art came together earlier in Amsterdam, where internet art and experimentation with video and computer technology was a natural extension of the squatter movement. This kraakkunst (cracking art) is not specific to one medium but, rather, cuts across video and television, mail art, video game hacking, squatting, and the Internet, operating in networks, including the postal system, broadcast communication, and the physical infrastructure of the city.