Infofile by Cthulu, Dionyzos
Infofile by Cthulu, Dionyzos
You sure waited for it, so here it is: the infofile.
What we have here is the artpack that broke Mistigris. Where to begin? Well,
Ill confess -- there is an obvious place to start: why on earth did this
artpack wait 16 years, 10 months and change to be released?
Before I answer that question, I need to ask you: are you viewing this
artpack locally using a web browser? I dont mean are you cherry-picking the
artworks through 16colors or you need to download M-9808.ZIP,
unzip it -d on your hard drive, and drag the index.htm into your web browser.
This artpack was conceived, envisioned, implemented, executed and
eventually released in the form of a website complex. If you dont
experience it that way, youre removing yourself from the context needed to
understand what we tried and failed to do here.
OK, browsing us locally, now? Confidential to ANSI infofile readers: LIAR!
Well, maybe understanding is too much to ask for or expect. Maybe you can
just appreciate us?
There is an easy answer, glib but dense, to explain why this artpack was
never released: we couldnt get a FILEID.DIZ together. Though still
nominally affiliated with a handful of textmode artists in late 98, we only
had enough social capital remaining to squeeze a few submissions out of them
but not enough to charge any of them to produce a single small, bespoke
custom piece for us. If you will, we had enough ingredients in the pantry to
bake a cake, but nothing left with which to ice it.
Was it really necessary to have a FILEID.DIZ file? Think way back, if you
will, and recall that the existence of the file was a standardized convention
for dial-up BBSes to automatically identify and describe uploads. Were there
actually any BBSes left in 98 to upload the artpack to? Looking at the
proportions of promotional vs. art for arts sake works in this pack, one
must conclude: precious few, and dropping fast. Ah, but having a FILEID.DIZ
wasnt just a convenience, it was also a tradition -- a tradition which, 3
years following the launch of Windows 95, was growing increasingly
sentimental and nostalgic by which I mean: done for no useful or important
reason, as with BBSes, as with textmode art in general. Maybe, just maybe,
the inability to rustle up a FILEID.DIZ was a stark, clear and undeniable
sign that this particular party was over.
But of course one little DIZ isnt the whole of it a .DIZ, a .DIZ, my
kingdom for a .DIZ its just symptomatic of the rapid change that was
permeating all things technological at that uneasy crossroads moment. After
all, I could have dug into our back catalogue to repurpose an unused .DIZ I
could have re-used a .DIZ. Hell, I could have made one myself. Now there
would have been the nail in our coffin! If theyre putting their best foot
forward and this is all they were able to come up with... I took it,
basically, as cosmic confirmation that God Almighty, font of all 0-day wareZ
and infinite credit card numbers, did not want this pack to get released. He
had shown me several signs, so really this was just the icing on the straw
breaking the horses back. No less an artscene institution than ACiD
officially discontinued ANSI support in April of 1997, spinning the concern
off into the group Avenge. And yet here we were in never-ANSI-strong
Mistigris, drowning in hirez and music, but feeling like it was time for us
to pack it in for lack of substantial textmode art submissions over a year
later. Just what standards were we holding ourselves to?
Please bear with me -- one of my most reviled phrases from years at poetry
open mics -- as this infofile has been patched together from various accounts
of blank spots from the past 20 years since the whole Mistigris revival idea
got wings. Initially I figured all Id be doing was releasing this lost
pack, but the happy surprise of new art submitted for a new artpack, what
ended up as MIST1014.ZIP, delayed the already supremely-delayed aspiration of
getting M-9808.ZIP out the door. So relevant parts of the infofile fulfilling
the purpose of explaining precisely what distracting things I was up to for
the past 16 years were excised and used in the numerous -- 5? -- pack release
infofiles Ive sent out into the world in the last year. This left islands of
virtuous exposition floating in a hostile sea of contextlessness. Now I
strive to deftly weave them back together again somehow with new connective
prose tissue.
We were having a hard time keeping the group together, generally. It was a
time of upheavals and disruptions! After the Mistigris World Tour wrapped up
and we got caught up with the 3rd anniversary, our Blender-entry packs, and
other odds sods, Mistigris was living the dream in 1998: unprecedentedly,
we were releasing an artpack every month -- a level of rigor which was my
repayment to the artists for hanging in there during my baffling whimsy death
march what was the World Tour in 1997, a curious and bold mistake or what
Ive since come to characterise as an interesting failure, as opposed to
the status-quo-maintaining boring success. Breaking the packs into
genre-specific disks to avoid forcing ANSI artists to download giant pieces
of tracked music, by the end of June we had released 12 archives of computer
artwork in 1998 -- so far!
It necessitated a new file-naming scheme for the artpacks, a scheme which we
improved upon in almost every way as you can see here: an alphabetical
sorting would at long last also display a chronological listing of releases.
Why did we ever do it the other way? Oh yeah -- thats the way ACiD did it.
Because OF COURSE people in the future would totally be poring over multiple
Mistigris artpack releases on a regular basis, and we had to accommodate
posterity, even at the cost of throwing off our regular fans in the
present-day who had come to expect a new MISTmmyy.ZIP on the monthly.
Interestingly, this pack was originally envisioned not as M-9808.ZIP but
actually M-9808-A, -B, -C and a new -D disk for the extras, with each
button on the websites menubar representing a different archive --
distributing parts of a pack in a modular fashion, that they might fit
together, like Voltron, to form some gestalt greater than the sum of its
parts for the enjoyment of completists. But more on that later.
As the World Tour wrapped, I took a year off between graduating high school
and entering college to do what Id always hoped to do: focus on running
Mistigris without the distraction of school, and really REALIZE the huge
potential represented by the massive talent of our young Turks before someone
else did. For various reasons, that didnt happen.
Throughout time immemorial or at least 1992-1999, vast segments of my
unstable of artists and artscene participants generally lost interest in
the artscene when they graduated from high school -- I begrudge them nothing
people had, after all, to make their way in the world, emerge from their
parents basements and devise some way of putting their artistic vision,
skill and craft or mostly, I fear, not toward earning their daily bread --
and many of them got the notion that theyd like to end their artscene tenure
in a slightly higher-profile posting than in our perennially struggling cadre
of misfits, weekly receiving more letters of resignation than applications...
or just finding out through the grapevine that Mist-affiliated artists were
moonlighting and diverting their most exciting new works to other scene
outlets. The senior staff tore the group in half, with one camp insisting on
tighter quality control and the other pointing to a hypothetical future where
we were, instead, more accepting of more different kinds of submissions.
Voting with my fear rather than my hope hey, high standards looks like a
good policy on paper until you realize you have no one remaining to satisfy
them, I sided with the former faction while the latter split off and pursued
the dream of releasing artpacks containing real-world art, which you also
see here released for the first time in a sad game of catch-up. Hallucigenia
ultimately enjoyed a nice little run, a bright point of growth against a
backdrop of overall scene decline -- while we languished and grew irrelevant.
What do you mean, grew?
Then the BBSes packed it in. I appreciate that in some area codes, ones in
which reliable, affordable dial-up InterNet access had been introduced
earlier than here, their BBS well had long since run dry for years, and the
artscene kept on chugging away on fumes, memory and nostalgia, even in the
90s celebrating drawing ads for BBSes that didnt exist and werent coming
back -- in an ironically BBS-friendly visual art medium. The longevity of
the 604s BBS scene is a curiosity to be sure: thanks to Jason Scotts work preserving digital artefacts of that era, the
annals of his master BBS list show that of all area codes, ours had the most
BBSes - and some of the latest-lasting. Pontificating as to why would be idle
speculation. That was no longer the case here: without a strong web
presence, the IRC proved insufficient to coordinate Mistigris -- without
synchronizing our movements to the beats of a phenomenon like Blender
unreleased selections from which also recently emerged from the vault as
part of my artscene-prisoner amnesty deal -- do check out BLNDR048-060.ZIP
and the one-off Blender revival pack BLNDR2015.ZIP that followed it! the
channel was just a tragical sequence of people knocking on doors and AFK
people eventually opening them to reply to now-departed persons out of any
useful sequence. It demonstrated a wisdom the TABNet echomail network had
long known to be true, that a chatboard was no substitute for a message
forum. In conversation with Haquisaq at one of my retro game parties, we
worked out a few artscene-stunning factors here: without BBSes, artists find
they have nothing to advertise and nowhere to disseminate the work. Further,
theres nowhere to foster a new generation of up-and-coming underground
computer artists to replace the current crop whatll be mown when they
graduate from high school. In a local BBS scene context, an art group that
dominated an area code could rely on convenience to funnel fresh meat through
their seine: the middling fish would eat the small fry, then be eaten in turn
by the big fish. Now the small fry could swim directly to the warez and porn
without ever graduating through the echelons of the elite fraternity of the
BBS underground, and without learning along the way, as I accidentally did,
how it turns out the creation of art is more enriching and compelling than
any game or porn could ever be.
The last straw hey, Cthu, why not just a complete month by month account
from August 1998 to the present? saw me moving out to a group house of nerdy
bachelors in 1999 by which point this artpack was really overdue, but I
hadnt yet given up the ghost and going from being the most connected
individual of the lot -- my beige desktop machine occupying the living room
table, everyone taking turns on it to attend to their textmode online
business through my dial-up account with the Infomatch ISP -- to being the
least, as the cat-9 cable was installed through the walls and the cablemodem
dream was brought to light for everyone except for the one hairy hippy that
is, yours truly in the basement whose MS-DOS machine would absolutely not
talk to the house network and its cadre of Windows 95 boxes for which no
oldschool computer art software yet existed -- and given the choice between
the past of TheDraw and the future of Yahoo!, that latter was by far more
compelling for most. I eked out a marginal presence haunting the houses
monochrome firewall around the clock, attending to such duties as I could
through Lynx, but it was just a starvation regimen of not enough net to
support my overextended aspirations of creative liberation through technology.
Nailing the lid to the coffin, we tried to get me back online by installing
Linux, which only achieved the wholesale destruction of much unreleased and
incomplete creative work on the back burner -- really its a miracle that
Ive been able to salvage as much as I have after lo these many decades.
Eventually I did get my Internet access situation normalized again, after
inheriting a more modern machine from an Ultima Online addict whose rig was
getting long in the tooth for his particular preoccupation. I emerged,
blinking, back into the light of beloved cyberspace, but the moment had
passed. When I disappeared offline, Mistigris had assumed I had slunk away
and severed all ties to the failing concern -- and thrown in the towel. Romeo
finds Juliet deep in torpor and gives up all hope, surrendering to despair
then Juliet awakens to find that during her absence, everything she had been
saving herself up for has fallen into a permanent downturn, impossible to
recover from, and kills herself same as The Night Daemon did. I didnt die,
but Cthulu did, diminished after a humiliating stint of cyber-panhandling
lurking in hirez, trax and poetry hoping to shake down random strangers
for submissions for an artpack, whatever that was supposed to be.
I was back in the water again, but it was a much bigger pond where, if you
lose touch with people whose real names you never knew, you find that it is
impossible to locate them again unless they look YOU up. Friendster was still
three years away in 99, and even at the currently advanced state of social
media that we enjoy here in 2015, some cornerstone members of Mistigris are
still MIA, despite decoding clues such as landline phone exchange locations
and interpreting 20-year-old e-mail addresses in hopes of gleaning perhaps a
So -- why couldnt I let Mist go? I felt I had a sacred duty -- people had
put time and energy into crafting creations, and charged me with the
seemingly simple task of releasing them. Furthermore, as the years ticked on
and the technology changed, my responsibility shifted from being one of the
curators duty to the artist to being one of the historians duty to the era,
the poorly-documented BBS era instantly obliterated from annals of online
history except for whatever Jason Scott was able to pull out of dumpsters.
More than that, the feeling of being at the centre of a creative milieu
haunted me, and I undertook various projects in the years since in attempts
mostly fleeting to recapture that feeling -- performer-coordinating at the
Living Closet, running the Butchershop Floor Gallery in a collective of 20 a
sure-fire recipe for failure, incidentally, presenting my 57 Varieties open
stage series for five years...
... all failures because what I was actually remembering so fondly the
soft-focus lens of memory glossing over a mind-numbing routine of
disappointments, betrayals, and the very worst -- busy signals was the
experience of being a teenager, learning, growing, and feeling that the
future was a vast crossroad, with every direction a potential viable avenue
for me to pursue or as I said in conversation with Zamfir Worshipper: I
miss being a gifted kid instead of a disappointing adult. Quickly the world
turned and I felt the doors of school and employment closing one by one even
digging in and refusing to move on was not a workable option, as if I didnt
quit the BBS computer art scene in 1998, it was perfectly happy to quit me
and everyone else by 2000. Its like I entrenched myself on the river banks
and built a fort, defying the world to remove me from my element, and the
world in turn flooded the banks and eroded the riverside until my hilltop
fort was a submerged ruin. I never gave up the flag that flew atop my
idealistic fort, but the thing I clung to emerged a pathetic, tattered, soggy
shred, bearing little resemblance to its onetime glories.
So that soggy shred: here it is. Like Leibowitz grocery list, a bit
underwhelming after so long you might be saying to yourself, I can see why
they never released this one but what it lacked in artistic appeal and in
case my joking doesnt make my position clear: there is much here that is
great it now more than makes up for as an historical artefact, a regular
coelacanth swimming in the pool with Blocktronics. Much is made by me above
about our inability to adapt to changing technological milieus, but this was
at least an attempt to engage the future: we could see the winds of change
a-blowin, and as a dynamic new development pioneered an artscene first: an
artpack that would be distributed as a website for local browsing. The
webpage structure tied into strange old aspirations to improve on the weird
art-delivery method of the monthly artpack and develop a modular artpack
format, allowing greater access to an artists overall portfolio over time
even across groups. This also dovetailed with efforts to get the group a real
website -- Dr. CPU got us on the information superhighway early in the brief
1995 window when the former Beverly Hills Internet had transitioned to
GeoPages but wasnt yet GeoCities but despite big efforts and, yknow,
piles of assets to throw around we were never able to make good on the
applet potential Crowkeeper demonstrated to us all night long at the web
cafe, realizing a that and... basically transcend our marginal
GeoCities toehold Mistigris history in a nutshell: never able to transcend
their marginal toehold, representing our members on the internet like
gallery curators represent painters which in retrospect seems conspicuously
like drawing a target on their head and challenging headhunters to poach
them. And listing their e-mail addresses? Its hard to imagine that our salad
days pre-dated worrying about spam, but there you have it. Maybe if we
started releasing artpacks as websites, outsiders to the scene would find
them accessible ... and once we worked out some workflow bugs in the insanely
labour-intensive process, we could get our back catalogue up and be appraised
based on the sum of our achievements, not just living or dying solely on the
reception of our most recent pack.
Of course, the outsiders to the scene we were targeting didnt even have to
be online: though it was clear that the good ship BBS was sinking, without an
obvious next step we headed off in all directions simultaneously while
trying to get on the web, I was desperately trying to push our visual artists
into the Dream Factory self-published comic book venture and I spammed
several bookstores with worrying armloads of tractor-feed dot matrix
printouts attempting on one occasion, successfully to secure booking for
our lit writers as spoken word performers. Id managed to singlehandedly take
over open mic night at The Super 8 Central two blocks from my house, packing
its stage and seats with Tabbers but tragically failing to bring in enough
or indeed any revenue to keep the doors open.
Best of all, the web was a place where all these new directions could
converge! I managed accounting such that I could tell you which poets had
recited which poems at what venues where, when and in what sequence. Hard
evidence to support the thesis that we were playing in a whole different
league than ScrollZ. Consider the following record, faithfully documented by
Zamfir Worshipper on October 30th, 1997:
Scene: La Quena, after the Jack Karaoke Poetry Reading.
Girl, somewhat attractive, comes over to talk to Rowan.
Girl: Hey, I really liked your poetry...
Rowan: incoherant ramblings Rowan begins to contort strangely, lying
on his side on a bench and chewing on paper whilst tilting his head at
odd angles
Girl: Questions about poetry/Rowan
Rowan: Snurf, doodledah.. snipperoo, gladys knight.. barry very hairy
im paraphrasing, of course... and theres more stuttering
Ill spare you further details there are many, rigorously kept: I understood
at the time that every little aspect would prove to be of vital importance in
the future. It was a good moment for literature in Vancouver, and I did my
best to help us transition into it, interning for the Terminal City
newspapers literary section alas for free weekly newspapers, they were not
long for this world and setting up the still-running, if damnably-dormant
VanLit e-mail listserv: if I couldnt save the ANSI artists, at least I could
throw the poets a lifeline. But this was a cadre of folks who, it turns out,
were only interested in venting their spleen through a keyboard for an
audience on the other side of a screen seeking a cyber middle ground we
infiltrated and took over a Teen Telepoetics reading at the end of June 1996
conducted in three cities simultaneously via videophone, an epic creative
mission that ended up a crazy party that went on for just about 24 hours. It
wasnt all thwarted ambition, but you cant .ZIP good times with friends --
the closest you could do is make very low-resolution scans of photographs
taken at the parties.
All right. Where was I? Did I digress? Will I need to edit this for
coherency? Pish tosh -- I wrote my way into this mess, and by gum, Ill write
my way out of it! I dont care how long it takes!
Truth be known, Ive now spent probably upwards of a month of odd coffee
break moments puttering around Scotch taping this collection together,
finally getting around to making the time to hammer out bugs and glitches
that have remained stubbornly unaddressed since late 1998, putting to rest
every last delusional excuse Id laboured beneath wah, they submitted art
for the pack, we incorporated it into the website, then they withdrew their
submissions and we have to re-edit the website to take it out! for not
releasing this pack. Is it possible Ive been deliberately holding back the
release a little longer so as to be able to enjoy the dubious opportunity
of spending a few more days intimately re-living the experience of my being
nineteen? That aint entirely wholesome. Best I vent this now and be done
with it once and for all. Shoo, monkey, get off my back!
The hilarious thing is that this isnt even all the unreleased art Im
sitting on there is one further collection of stockpiled history awaiting
daylight, to be entitled MIST2000.ZIP because, well, that was the zeitgeist
of the time, plus at least two e-mags worth of content. Why not lump it all
in here? The reasons are twofold: a what, and violate the historical
integrity of the lost pack? and b what, and make fiddly little webpages
for every new piece of art? That idea can f itself right off! The
artpack-as-website experiment was attempted and it was a failure, because in
1998 it was too goddamn much work. Were we just ahead of our time? It turns
out the avant-garde suffer penalties the same way early adopters do.
MIST2000 will stick to the time-honoured artpack tradition of throwing a pile
of crap in a directory and zipping it all up.
But we wont make it easy for you. In-browser art viewing and creating
software, multitasking computing environments, cheap storage media, fast
transfer speeds and an absence of line noise have made this generation soft
and lazy, having forgotten that it was through working around stupidly severe
technological constraints that we were inspired to become as gods and bring
about inspired works of genius into existence. Nothing was easy: getting
through a busy signal, obtaining a New User Password, maintaining a positive
upload ratio, marrying Violet, even getting ops on your own IRC channel: it
was struggle from start to end and the constant conflict forced us to forge
ourselves into finely-honed tools of greatness.
When MIST2000.ZIP is announced, accessing and obtaining it will be a highly
obfuscated process engineered to discourage and thwart you. In order to
overcome the challenges, you will need to demonstrate mastery and a command
over a full array of oldschool computer underground arts. For a month
following the packs release announcement, it will exclusively be available
as a probably somewhat underwhelming prize for those elite few able to
transcend the devious obstacle course Ill be laying in your path. Then, a
month later, it will go into general circulation so the lamers can also enjoy
an eyeful.
If you cant beat us, join us: were also currently entertaining original
submissions of all genres, styles and formats Im serious: this may be the
first time a textile has been released in an artpack despite being arguably
the earliest form of computer art for our 21st-anniversary artpack to be
released in October of 2016. And then, maybe at long last we can finally
ove beyond the limitations of the uninspired artpack format.
Cthulu, June 12, 2015.