It was at the end of the winter months in 2002 that I was asked to participate in my first HTML wrestling match. It had to have been the longest and most memorable winters in my life given that the events of September 11th had dramatically changed the pace at which New Yorkers carried about their business. In the context of the current events, to war or not to war, a couple of artists in various parts of the world were getting ready for a different kind of battle, one without negative consequences and quite possibly some artistic rewards. This online free-for-all online wrestling match was called Infomera and I was asked to participate. Months later, I received more details regarding the upcoming matches. I learned that Infomera is basically a live 48hr wrestling matches were two net-artist fling mostly HTML code around on an open access server that acts as a virtual wrestling ring. Viewers at home would have to refresh their browsers to see the hour-by-hour progress. I also learned that there were going to be 14 participating net-artists, making it a total of 7 matches, with the first one starting on July 30th, 2002. There was to be one match per week from that day until Sept 11th. I was set to battle Arcangel Constantini, the chief organizer, on the anniversary of 9/11.
I was right, it really wasn’t until I watched the other artists
wrestle online that it all started to make sense. I could tell the artists
were changing, adding, and deleting codes ever so often, but what was
still hard to decipher was who was doing what? It might have just been
confusing to me in the first match since SuperBad and RedSmoke’s
aesthetic style sometimes over-lapped. In fact, I think they might even
have been studio-mates at some point. The similarity of their aesthetics
made some of the HTML pages blend nicely. Their moves looked as if they
were rehearsed and perhaps even collaborated on like the staged wrestling
that took place in Lucha
Libre, the Mexican version of WWF wrestling. Other
wrestlers maintained a jarring difference between the pages and the lines
of code. Slowly with each refresh of the browser the matches were coming
to an end, and as the weeks passed the date for us to wrestle was near.
I was starting to get over my initial nervousness being several months
into it all. All I knew was that in a couple of days Arcangel and I would
be the last wrestlers in the virtual arena. The arena that was very familiar
to all of us, and if any thing was reassuring, it was that we would be
performing in our zone.
Just as it came time for me to wrestle I was confronted with a new dilemma. I got called in to a temp job just few days before my match was to be held. It was a bit worrisome, but on top of wrestling with an opponent from several thousand miles away, why couldn't I wrestle from two physical locations? Coding in the office would come off as looking rather abstract and thus guaranteed to be ignored by my co-workers. I was confident that I could pull it off. The only 2 things I worried about was whether or not the internet ports would be blocked and that I wouldn’t have the administrator privileges that would allow me to install the programs on to my computer at work. But as I soon found out, neither of my fears materialized and I was able to install and upload all the necessary files to my server and as I predicted. It had all gone undetected to the employees around me. At one point I do remember hearing someone ask behind my back “What’s he doing?,” but I just pretended I didn't hear them.
Finally, after all the hacking, uploading, and testing, the time came for us to fling code. My opponent and fellow Mexican net-artist Arcangel Constantini would be on the same time zone but a lot closer to the equator. In this event longitude mattered more than latitude. For the first few hours we uploaded HTML and random components without paying much attention to what each of us were doing, all which seemed very contrary, but as time went by we began to play on each other’s moves as we tossed them into the ring. Creative boundaries became blurry as the lines of code began to coalesce and the jpegs and gifs are shared like the last can of beer in a high school party. I remember staying up very late on the first night 'till about 3 or 4 in the morning. Despite being alone in front of the computer I managed to keep the adrenaline pumping steadily throughout the night. Pausing here and there for lunch and dinner, a snack, a shower. Skip the shower, who really cared if I showered or not? My physical appearance was irrelevant compared to the way I presented myself on the screen and in the code. This was one of the reasons I latched onto net-art in the first place: the idea that you could remain physically anonymous. I don’t even have to use my real name. Family names can tell a lot about a person, or at least they used to. To the spectators of our match, given the name Muserna, I could have been anything: a dwarf or giant like Andre. Either way I tried to project a wrestler with a million masks like my favorite of all Mexican wrestlers, Mil Máscaras (the man with a million masks). Despite wearing a different mask every time he wrestled, he could still be singled out by this habit alone.
On the second day, a couple of hours before midnight, I remember getting
an instant message from Arcangel. He told me that he would be setting
up a webcam in his studio. In a few minutes I would have a real-time window
into his corner of the ring. Sure enough he set up a webcam and in a small
window I was able to see a small section of his studio. I could see him
there in front of his computer. I also noticed someone sitting in a chair
behind him. I hit him back on IM asking him who was there with him. He
told me it was Atty,
another net-artist from England who happened to be in Mexico City during
the match. "I’m here with Atty." he typed, "We are
drinking Mezcal, have you had Mezcal?"
I now had to deal with two wrestlers, one a decadent net-artist from imperial
England, the other from colonial Mexico, and both were getting wasted
on a gift from the Tepoztécal, the Aztec god of intoxication. It
was a wonderful cocktail to end the night for them, I would have liked
to join them virtually but I was exhausted. I thought about walking around
to unwind and get the blood flowing in my legs again. Before I knew it
his webcam was turned off, it was midnight and the match had ended as
silently as it had begun in the eyes of those watching. How many people
were there watching from the beginning to the end? Without a guest book
or a forum to leave their feedback I would never know. I was asking questions
that I couldn’t answer, questions that in the end are inherent to
most of the art online: who is our audience?
Part 1 | Part 2. Face 2 Face >
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