Date of Degree

5-2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Art History

Advisor

David Joselit

Committee Members

Marta Gutman

Lev Manovich

Marga van Mechelen

Subject Categories

Contemporary Art | Interdisciplinary Arts and Media | Modern Art and Architecture

Keywords

tactical media, media art, Netherlands, squatting, Amsterdam

Abstract

In the early 1980s, Amsterdam was a battleground. During this time, conflicts between squatters, property owners, and the police frequently escalated into full-scale riots. Although the practice of squatting was legally protected in the Netherlands, the formation of a social movement around squatting in the mid- to late ’70s brought about a turbulent period exacerbated by economic hardship and widespread youth unemployment. Those active in the squatters’ movement sought to carve out new spaces in the fabric of the city, guided by anarchist politics and a desire for autonomy. These cracks, or temporary autonomous zones, in the established order created a model of resistance that artists carried over into other fields of practice, particularly media art. In this dissertation, I construct a history of media art in the Netherlands that is rooted in squatting (kraken in Dutch). The verb kraken literally means “to crack open,” and artists used this technique, over the course of the decade, to carve out autonomous platforms in urban and media space, including illegal pirate radio and TV broadcasters and alternative art institutions. As network computing technology—early forms of the internet—spread in the late ’80s, squatters and media artists saw its potential as a means by which their autonomous communities could be extended. These activities led to the development of the first internet service providers (ISPs) available to the Dutch public—XS4ALL and De Digitale Stad (The Digital City)—in 1993. They were created, not by business entrepreneurs or corporate entities but by a coalition of idealistic artists, activists, and anarchists who wanted to create a space—a platform—that would be open, democratic, autonomous, and centered around art, politics, and culture rather than monetary exchange.

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