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Themesicon: navigation pathOverview of Media Articon: navigation pathCommunication
Art Com Electronic Network (ACEN) (Loeffler, Carl; Truck, Fred), 1986The Thing (Staehle, Wolfgang), 1991

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Context-based systems, communication platforms and digital cities

The Art Com Electronic Network (ACEN), set up by Carl Loeffler and Fred Truck in 1986, was a mailbox within the framework of «Whole Earth Lectronic Link» (WELL),[39] the legendary bulletin-board system founded by Steward Brand in San Francisco in 1985. ACEN was an «electronic exhibition space» devoted to contemporary art based on new communications technologies. At the same time, ACEN offered its users access to electronic publications, a mail system and–ten (!) years before e-commerce arrived on the web–an «electronic (virtual) shopping mall with art-related ‹shops›.»[40]

The Thing was the next project with a conceptually oriented art background to appear in the new communication, distribution and production space offered by the data networks. Initiated by the German-American artist Wolfgang Staehle, The Thing was launched as a mailbox system accessible over the telephone network in New York in 1991. A second node, The Thing Cologne, was added in 1992, followed by The Thing Vienna in November of the next year.


Nodes in Berlin and elsewhere were soon to follow. The most (inter)active, and therefore most important, area of The Thing consisted of various message boards offering forums for art theory debate, news and gossip, ongoing dialogue and an open-access flow of information, as well as several online versions of art journals. Alongside discussion forums, The Thing offered artworks in the form of graphics downloadable to the home PC for example by Peter Halley. Staehle saw the theoretical roots of The Thing explicitly in the 1960s, and cited Joseph Beuys: «Beuys was concerned with the social sculpture, with the art product made together by a group or community. The Thing is a sculpture of that type: It implements the Beuysian idea of direct democracy, of the political community as a social structure. At the same time, it represents an extension of the notion of art.»[41] Since taking to the World Wide Web with a new user interface in 1995, The Thing has continued to function as a production and presentation platform for art and art-related discourse.

In 1994 and 1995, virtual ‹city-like› communities mushroomed on the young World Wide Web (WWW). In view of the high cost of using the Internet and its

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