Interview with Paul Garrin

Art and the Tactics of the Cyber-Economy The improvements of An interview with Paul Garrin By Geert Lovink Date: Tue, 19 May 1998 04:41:08 -0400 The domain name issue and Paul Garrin’s ‘’ has been a controversial topic for a while now. The flame war in september 1997 on nettime about this was one of the reasons to close the open list and switch to moderation. Name.Space has from the very beginning been part of the nettime agenda (if it exists, anyway). Paul Garrin was one of the 20 participants of the founding meeting in Venice (june 1995). Name.Space can been seen as a results from Garrin’s efforts during the Next Five Minutes 2 (Amsterdam, january 1996) to establish a ‘Permanent Autonomous Network’. The attempt to question one of the fundamentals of the Internet, the control over the domain names by governments and monopolistic corporations, can be interpreted as a radical form of ‘Netzkritik’, beyond the initial critique of the Wired ideology (rip). But soon Name.Space became more than just a concept. Paul appealed to all of us to support the project and reconfigure our servers. Not all of us were convinced that the software would work. Some became suspect about the way Garrin turned this common effort into a private business. Name.Space became identical with legal documents, complicated technical terms and horrendous (macho) fights. Recently I visited Paul Garrin and Andreas Troeger in their Manhattan office, filled with computers. If we put aside all the complicated legal aspects (which I cannot oversee), I was impressed by the improvements of the Name.Space infrastructure and the new interfaces. We decided to do an interview. Because of legal reasons, Paul cannot always speak in an open way and I have, more or less, accepted this. I asked him about artists running a business, the international aspect and how we can (again) get involved. GL: Recently made a lot of progress. At least that is my impression. Could you tell us something about the new registration machine you installed and the improved interfaces that you are using to register the domain names? PG: The Name.Space Secure Registry Engine 2.01 is running on a 300Mhz intel based UNIX host with redundant power, disk array on fast scsi 3.It can process 100 registrations per minute (60,000/hour) and resolve at least 1200 dns queries per second without breaking a sweat. At the front end of the SRE is the “smart” WHOIS (sWhois) which queries to most toplevel namespaces and ip number-block assignments.If your namespace is available, it returns the appropriate registration forms. The new interface steps the user through account creation and name registration, with the resulting namespace working in 1 minute. For users who want portable addresses, servers are online to run the address record associated with their namespace. The user has full access to their address record through PAM (Portable Address Management) which enables the user to update their name to ip number mapping in near realtime, or to add additional 3rd or 4th level namespaces and map them to any ip address. For those who wish a direct address to their content on the web, a relay form is available to instantly set up a virtual host relay that calls their content from anywhere on the net. GL: How do you see the improvements yourself? At what point is now, if we leave out the whole legal battle? Is there much more besides the legal work? Do you have to do a lot of reading and searching to keep updated? How do you inform yourself about all these technical and legal aspects? In the end, you are, or were at least an artist, not an engineer or lawyer. PG: Being an artist does not condemn one to being an idiot savant. Making art takes vision. Limiting your definition of art to the confines of the art institutions limits vision. Look to the world, not to the art world and you will understand where I am coming from. My work is not about crafting things but about creating situations. Where to look and what to look at is determined by the situation and its contextualizaton. I have approached all of my projects like this with a very high level of success in each instance, each with its own challenges and learning curves and a minimum of repeated effort, building on each experience. The approach to Name.Space is no different than the approach to any of my other past successful projects. I make it my business to know and to act appropriately on that knowledge. Name.Space is ready to roll and has been for 18 months. The desire to use it is there as evidenced by the social and geographic diversity of our clients. (look at That the system and infrastructure is in place and functional sets Name.Space apart from others who aspire to enter the NSP (NameService Provider) market. While others have spent their time arguing and writing proposals, we focused on writing code and developing and implementing new services–in between visits by the US Depart of Justice AntiTrust agents, attending the US Government’s hearings in DC, and meetings with the Department of Commerce. There are many aspects to the Name.Space project–business, autonomous policy, networking strategies, long term thinking, extra institutional ways of working, technical details, standards, american laws, global considerations–all of these are in dynamic interplay and we deal with them on a day to day basis. If we have a “routine” that pretty well describes it.All of those aspects are of equal importance and it is critical to keep them all in perspective while dealing with them each individually in a practical, hands-on nuts and bolts way. The need for specialists in each field goes without saying and we have an excellent team to deal with each of these aspects. The Name.Space project was initiated by me, but it is by no means a solo effort. GL: One of the aspects for outsiders (like me) to understand is the way you are using the concept of the business that (potentially) will make a lot of money and your political commitment to share the future resources you will get with others to build up autonomous communication structures. People are sceptical about this. Perhaps you may donate a part of your revenues later as a sort of charity, that is what they might think. But you have other ideas about this. The ‘format’ of running networks like businesses, not being subsidized or sponsored is a rather new idea, there are not many examples in the fields of the arts, culture or politics. Do you have inspiring models? Please convince us all. PG: It doesn’t take an economist to realize that Network Solutions (InterNIC)–unlike most of the wannabe vaporware silicon-alley-valley-gulch-mulch hypesters whose overvalued stock prices are magnitudes higher than cash flow and are LOSING money like crazy–is PROFITABLE NOW. Just look up their SEC filings and look at their financials. 97% growth over the previous year, and growing. Very impressive.The key to success is to get into a new market early, get in at a low investment cost, innovate technology and services, and do it before the window of opportunity closes. On the internet, windows of opportunity are small and close rapidly. Name.Space meets all of the above criteria but is unable to enter the market because of NSI’s refusal to deal with pgMedia and NSI’s refusal to add the new TLD’s carried by Name.Space to the “.” file (a simple text edit). The window of opportunity is quickly closing because NSI, who has the greatest market penetration, is unfairly using the monopoly it has as a result of a contract with the US Government to exclude competiton by refusing to add new TLD’s to the “” or “.” file even though no agency of the U.S. has been authorized by Congress to restrict the number of Internet TLDs, and even though the addition of virtually unlimited TLDs is technically feasible and would not harm the functioning of the Internet. My history of supporting independent media needs no defense. On my own initiative, time, money and labor, I have established a strong net presence for excellent independent media and content. MediaFilter, which first went online on March 1, 1995 has grown to over 240,000 unique hosts visiting per month, pumping out 2 gigabytes per week of content that has become a well for research, education and journalism. Covert Action Quarterly magazine’s excellence speaks for itself. It’s strong and consistent presence on the internet is the result of my commitment to put it online pro-bono, even when the publishers were not net-literate and never even saw the web and had no incentive to invest in a web presence. Articles from CAQ online have resulted in mainstream coverage–Gulf War Syndrome (CNN picked up the story 18 months after we put Dennis Bernstein’s article online)–and the NSA project ECHELON, among many others. The Balkan Monitor, also carried since 1995 (since you connected me with its publisher) is now cited by the Encyclopaedia Brittanica as a primary source of information on the Balkans conflict. The many other projects that run on that server, and the fact that they are still online after 3 years paid for by my own income are a testament to my commitment. From the time that I first bought a fulltime dialup connection, upgraded the server hardware, network connection, spent hours of scanning and html coding by myself and my friends who volunteered their time and talents, I paid all the costs from my earned income. At that time I was making a comfortable living from my work for Nam June Paik and from other outside projects including income from exhibiting my artworks. Not one cent ever came from grants, subsidies, or corporate sponsorship. I am not a “trust-fund” boy and am not independently wealthy. I took money that I earned through my work and invested it in creating my company, pgMedia, Inc. and in developing and deploying Name.Space–all at great personal risk. For me it was no question that it was the right thing to do and that it was the right time to do it–and that the concept has a high likeliness to succeed in the marketplace and generate a stable enough income to run a network and fund the growth of resources and future development. A _serious_ career choice and A GOOD risk to take, not to mention an interesting and challenging way to spend my time… I could have taken that investment and created another installation which would have easily consumed all my available cash. And it would have been another dead end. There is no relevant market for my artworks in the existing structure of the art world. When will Siemens and Deutsche Telekom deem my work property worth acquiring? The answer is, it doesn’t matter and it souldn’t. Art should not be created in accordance with market demand or acceptance by the corporate elites. The critics and skeptics who doubt that an economic basis for autonomous existance through self-sustaing business structures such as Name.Space is a workable solution have nothing to lose by speculating from their armchairs in areas where they are not experts. It’s very safe to do that and it proves nothing. Anyone who doubts my abilities or intentions obviously doesn’t know me and are reacting on ignorance and not on insight. Some believe that failure is the ultimate success, and that loss of their victim status would rob them of their purpose. I couldn’t disagree more. That said, it is important to move forward and not bicker over such naysaying. In the end, it is irrelevant. I will do what I can to continue my dedication to works that I believe in, and my past performance and successes in this area speaks for itself. GL: Why do you look down on artists and activists that still work in old ways, like getting grants, living on the dole, temporary jobs in schools etc.? Your enterprise is very strategic, I can see that. But should we all start running businesses now? How do we get into a situation where we can start to work with many kinds of money, from here and there, without accusing each other as being bought, being a state parasite or plain capitalist? PG: I don’t know where that perception came from. I don’t look down on anyone. It’s more about looking at the impending future of theirs and our disappearance, or at least the disapearance of any hopes of creative freedom and autonomy. In a very real sense subsidies, especially for unpopular, non-mainstream ideas in art and media are gone in the US and are on the road to extinction in Europe. Japan’s post WWII funding structure has always been tied to corporate PR and in light of their present economic crisis, is even tighter and more closely bound to the corporate mainstream. We see how institutions like ZKM (in alliance with Guggenheim) set their agenda according to the pulse of Siemens and Deutsche Telekom.Forget any social criticism or political content or forget their DM. Their agenda is to accumulate wealth and property and take credit for defining the art of the time in their own image (or at least one that syncs with their PR agenda) not to support living artists and the nurturing of their ideas. Control the Art and Control the People. What I am critical of is complacency and complicity as opposed to foresight and proactive intitatives. If we look at a rough historical parallel, Dadaists like Duchamp could be called complacent, choosing to cross-dress and make references to masturbation in his works, living safely in NY while Vichy France was occupied by the Nazis and Jews were being deported to their deaths. Futurists fetishized technology and war could be called complicit with the Fascists. Dadaist John Heartfield could be seen as having foresight, insight and taking proactive inititives through his photomontages, an early form of media art, by exposing the raw and attrocious happenings of his times with wit and black humor which not only served as a vehicle to inform others, but endangered his life–he was aggressively sought after by the SS who were on a mission to silence him. Fortunately, Heartfield escaped with his life and his work continued. Feel free to draw your own contemporary parallels. I leave that up to the intelligence of our audience. It’s clear that the Name.Space project is about forward thinking and positive action, not complicity or complacency. GL: What is the significance of your latest step to sue InterNIC? I had no idea about all the legal steps you had to make. Is there an end in sight? It now seems like as if this case of the domain names can go on forever. PG: The Judicial Process is not always a speedy one. The present action was delayed 3 months when our former legal counsel disappeared with little explaination and I was forced to seek new counsel. That’s a story for another time… Initially, this was a crisis, but it turned out for the best as our new legal team is among the best in their field. It took some time to get the new legal team and get them up to speed on the case and prepare the papers. Although I can’t discuss the particulars of the case and its proceedings, I can say that the motion filed (http://Name.Space-Slams.Com) is for preliminary injunction which seeks immediate relief–read: NSI must add the TLD’s carried by Name.Space to the “.” file upon a favorable reading of the motion by the court. If successful, the changes that we seek will happen soon (this summer). Other aspects of the case will then take as long as necessary while allowing pgMedia/Name.Space to register globally functional addresses, thereby remaining in business during the course of the ongoing litigation. GL: Tell us something about the international aspect. Sometimes it just looks like as if the structure of the Internet, which is now slowly becoming a truely global system, is being decided in some court room in NY. Can countries actually block this whole procedure, or do we non-US citizen just have to sit and wait what the outcome will be? PG: This is a misinterpretation of the facts, and an easy one to make. The net has been declared by international law expert Henry Perritt as a “global commons”, much like the oceans and waterways, electromagnetic spectrum, space, geosynchronous positions in space and other shared resources of the earth that are not exclusively controlled by any soverign. The case between pgMedia/Name.Space and NSI is a classic “essential facilities” case between two private companies. The “.” is controlled by NSI exclusively and they must according to law allow reasonable, nondiscriminatory access to it. The matter of access will be settled between the two companies and the US Government will stay out of it not to violate the First Amendment and to uphold the Clinton Administration’s stated policy NOT to regulate the internet. As a separate issue, the establishment of independent NSP’s internationally in accordance with all local jurisdictions will happen naturally as there is demand in the local markets. The “.” being the Global Commons that it is must be managed responsibly and treated for what it is: a new industry that has grown into a rapidly emerging global market. GL: Please tell us again how individuals and small servers, anywhere on the world can join Would it be a possibility to have a parallel ‘movement’ for the liberation of that would be loosely associated with the company? What forms of participation and solidarity could we start? PG: Recently I met with Alex Adriaansens of V2 and Miklos Peternak of C3 during their recent visit to nyc. We discussed translating the interface into Dutch and Hungarian and running it locally on consolodated server resources installed on backbone level telco facilities. The Name.Space system currently in place as described earlier is a complete turnkey ecommerce system with security, accounting, address record management and secure credit card processing capable of realtime processing. When set up on servers colocated strategically on major peering points in telco facilities in Europe, as well as in the artist-run labs with the best connectivity, an infrastructure and local ecommerce system is in place. Each system can be shared by some of the smaller local language markets who would jointly fund the operations and share in the income. The income from the NSP (NameService Provider) would be sufficient enough to pay for additional resources, content creation, research and development and hardware if managed appropriately. The present market enjoyed by NSI is 150,000$ annually and growing at an incredible rate. Even a small percentage of that market would total more than the amount spent on funding Media arts in Europe. Put together the budgets of ZKM, Ars, V2, even the meager amount that Guggenheim spends on media and it will not equal the potential returns from a percentage of that market….And without the need for funding from the traditional channels, a respectable level of autonomy is reached and the process of creating and distributing art and ideas is free from the consrtaints of market demand or corporate spin. The accumulation of all the best minds and talents among us to build a presence on the net based on creating resource zones that will fund further research, production, network facilities, presentations is a good thing to do and it takes work. —– How to reach Name.Space: http://Time-To.Move-Over.Com to the entry point of Name.Space http://Name.Space-Slams.Com Online posting of Motion to the Court