Author: Joseph Nechvatal --- Date: 09/18/96 --- Copyright: ThingReviews NYC

"I have far too long dragged a body around with me."
Joseph Beuys

Welcome to Bodies© INCorporated ( The building elements at your disposal are ASCII text, simple geometric forms, TEXTures, and low resolution sound. Bodies built become your personal property, operating in and circulating through public space, free to be downloaded into your private hard drive/communication system at any time. The MOO/WOO functions as an institution through which your body gets shaped in the process of identity construction that occurs in, and mutually implicates, both the symbolic and material realms.

Legal aspects : The aesthetic code is strictly enforced at Bodies© INCorporated, although the Board will take into consideration proposals for stylistic divergence at all times. By joining the Bodies© INCorporated community you have agreed to abide by a principle of radical dissent. This means that you retain the right to dissent, and to remain dissenting, in any activities in which you must choose to participate.

The figure, that semblance of the human body is a mode of representation that endures throughout the history of art. After all, personal existence has its locus in one's own body, even as one's disembodied consciousness is voluntarily aimed at that which is not your body. In Bodies© INCorporated the body as focus remains evident even in the digital realm, where the repression of the meat-body takes a freer turn, an apparent valorization of Plato's intellect and accompanying devaluation of the palpable.

As the locus of one's being, embodiedness is central to art as an object of representation. In the Bodies© INCorporated project, embodiedness of the digit-body is the locus which mediates between the sensible apprehension of particulars and the intellectualization of universal conditions. The digit-body is a motif--a trope--of the entirety of the self, and in its numericalization of the body is the site of and metaphor for the disintegration of the modern notion of the self. Which self? As Robert C. Solomon notes, "The self in question is no ordinary self, no individual personality, nor even one of the many heroic or mock-heroic personalities of the early nineteenth century. The self that became the star performer in modern European philosophy is the transcendental self, or transcendental ego, whose nature and ambitions were unprecedentedly arrogant, presumptuously cosmic, and consequently mysterious. The transcendental self was the self--timeless, universal, and in each one of us around the globe and throughout history." (Robert C. Solomon, "Continental Philosophy Since 1750: The Rise and Fall of the Self" Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988, p. 4)

The body in Bodies© INCorporated then is a negative space denoting the bodies former presence. In this respect it reminds me of the epistemology of Baroque emblem book images from the seventeenth century where the representations personify aspects of the era in which they are rendered. Also evoked is the absence which appears in the negative hand prints in the grottos of the European Paleolithic. Given this reference to the absent body near the beginning of art, its digital appearance now is unexceptional. It would be unexceptional if the flesh in art is regarded simply as figurative in dialectic with nonfigurative concepts. But in Bodies© INCorporated the anthropomorphic figure serves, as in Postmodernism, a troubadour of decadence relative to modernist formalist nonfiguration, where figurative art is eclipsed by reductivist purism. In Bodies© INCorporated the figure endures, to be sure, but not as an avant-garde motif. This is not possible after art's turn to abstraction in Suprematism and Constructivism, through Abstract Expressionism and post-painterly abstraction and Conceptualism. No, the body is no longer the locus of the trope of progress. Just the opposite.

Bodies© INCorporated's disenfranchisement of the figure correlates certainly with the decentering of the subject which culminates in Postmodernism and Poststructuralism. Decentering of the subject is tantamount to the pomo view of the self as an unstable construct, and consequently the product of society, in which the Modernist notion of the self is deconstructed as a metanarrative, a myth. Yet it is worth remembering, as Thomas McEviley suggests, that "a myth is a device to mediate between culture and nature, either by culturizing nature or by naturalizing culture". (Thomas McEviley, "Heads its Form, Tails its Not Content," Artforum 17:5 (Jan. 1979), p. 50) Thus the self sustains.

Bodies INCorporated, a collaborative project conceptualized and produced by Victoria Vesna, is a public space on the web that occasionally emerges in the physical realm. It was exhibited from July 8 to August 11 at two network-linked sites -- The Contemporary Art Center (for a show entitled "The Bridge"), and The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center (for SIGGRAPH 96), both in New Orleans. Currently, this work is on exhibit at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (until November 3rd). From there it is scheduled to materialize at the ISEA (International Symposium of Electronic Arts)- Rotterdam, Holland; Diverse Works- Houston, Texas; Centre for Interactive Arts- Wales, UK and the San Francisco Art Institute.

Brief description of Bodies INCorporated: Initially, the participant is invited to construct a virtual body out of predefined body-parts, textures, and sounds, and gain membership to the larger body-owner community. The main elements of the online site are three constructed environments (subsidiaries of Bodies INCorporated), within which different sets of activities occur: "LIMBO INCorporated," a gray, rather non-descript zone, where information about inert bodies that have been put on hold -- bodies whose owners have abandoned or neglected them -- is accessed; "NECROPOLIS INCorporated," a richly textured, baroque atmosphere, where owners can either look at or choose how they wish their bodies to die; and "SHOWPLACE!!! INCorporated," where members can participate in discussion forums, view star/featured bodies of the week, bet in the deadpools, and enter "dead" or "alive" chat sessions. Events occurring within each of the zones ignite a range of emotional responses, and raise a variety of issues related to online community dynamics. For example, how does the graphic representation of the body amplify our relationship to it? What sort of psychological commitment and attachment do owners exhibit toward their "virtual" bodies? What happens when people find out that, with neither their knowledge nor participation, their body has been publicly altered in some way? How does the body become a source of pleasure and anxiety as it moves through changes and permutations out of the hands of the owner? What sort of emotional dynamics result from bodies being displayed as public spectacle? These are the types of questions Bodies INCorporated actively explores.


Victoria Vesna: artist/producer/director

Robert Nideffer: artist/writer

Kenny Fields: composer

Jason Schleifer: modeler/CGI programmer

Nathan Freitas: VRML/Java programmer

Travis Boyle: artist/modeler

Bjorn Hildahl: modeler/programmer

Joseph Nechvatal

Data only becomes information if it changes something.

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formless --

uh... Wow.

dana self --

dana self --

I heard about this site through the paper presented at CAA in Toronto.