Beyond Obsolescence
Revisiting and restoring net art

Christina Goestl, Summer 2016

crash, 1996/2016 crash, 1996/2016

My approach to net art restoration is most straight-forward: I use an obsolete set-up to run the sites natively. The aim is to create a kind of ‘time machine’ - to provide a possibility for experiencing the web site and the technology used in the creation process pretty much in the same way as it was experienced back then. With this I do not mean to preserve a status quo, but rather to keep the art work alive and (re-)usable while at the same time locating it in its historical context.

In practice, I resort to the use of laptops from the late 1990s which prove to be extremely resistant and long-lasting, install an operating system like Win98 or earlier and software like Netscape Communicator 4.0x together with all the necessary plug-ins and drivers. The now outdated technological environment is crucial for ensuring the web sites functionality; at the same time it generates the (relative) low speed performance required for an authentic experience.

crash, 1996/2016
crash, 1996/2016

Laptop and peripherals are then housed in an equipment case. The unit thus created is considerably independent, can be easily stored and transported – it is quite literally an all-in-a-box-solution, ready for archiving as well as exhibiting.

The works I have restored this way are crash and most recently the highly complex web site SEX – a positive guide. Both art works make use of the possibilities inherent in the medium internet. In the course of time they became technically outdated while they are very cutting-edge and pleasurable to this day.

crash, frame art created in 1996 – the year frames were introduced to web design -, is a recursive frame structure that caused strange behaviours in the browser; pretty often it crashed not only the browser but the entire computer. The impressive thing about crash is that you can witness the structure building up progressively, occasionally in a rather jerky way. Unfortunately this particular visual effect got lost over time since later browser generations made use of much higher preloading capabilities. Viewing of work online therefore became quite underwhelming so that other solutions for presentation were needed. Today the restoration provides a fully functional version of the artwork.

SEX – a positive guide, installation view, Wien Museum 2016
SEX – a positive guide, installation view, Wien Museum 2016

SEX – a positive guide extensively utilizes DHTML - dynamic HTML - by way of client-side scripting such as JavaScript, cascading style sheets etc. implemented with sophisticated simplicity. The web site was state of the art at the time of its creation in 1997, it continuously evolved during its years online.

SEX provides a multi-layered, playful interface with a circulating - at times intentionally confusing – navigation as well as participatory and interactive possibilities. It is a substantial assemblage composed of different parts and projects, many of them created collaboratively, it has several guest contributions, is rich with annotated links and it is inter-relationally embedded in a network of avantgarde sex-positive movements with an emphasis on art, literature and performance from a cyberfeminist perspective.

SEX – a positive guide, installation view, Wien Museum 2016
SEX – a positive guide, installation view, Wien Museum 2016

Over the years further technological advances rendered SEX obsolete. Much as with crash the once advanced coding no longer worked. Migration would have been too much of a change in the appearance of the artwork. Likewise, the network environment had changed very much with many of the linked sites no longer in existence. SEX went offline in 2006.

In 2016 I restored the web site as a fully operational offline version as outlined above. It did not feel appropriate to emulate the artwork (an option to which I could have fallen back as a very last resort), or document it (which most probably would be an artwork of its own). I wanted the artwork to carry the previous hallmark look and feel and above all I wanted to make it visible and tangible as the historical document it has become.

SEX – a positive guide, installation view, Wien Museum 2016
SEX – a positive guide
, installation view, Wien Museum 2016

SEX – a positive guide is on view at the exhibition 'Sex in Vienna - Desire. Controll. Transgression' at Wien Museum Karlsplatz,, from September 15, 2016, until January 22, 2017, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the web-site formerly known as

Copy Editor: Dagmar Fink

related links:
*) SEX – a positive guide, documentation
*) crash, documentation
*) matrix.64, documentation, not restored yet
*) 1995–1998, overview

Christina Goestl
wizard [at]