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The Ghost of Vannevar Bush Hacked My Server

VBAs a starting point of this artwork, artist Michael Demer takes the famous engineer Vannevar Bush. Bush, born in 1890, is in this context specially known for his work on analog computing and the idea of the Memex. The Memex was a (proto)hypertext computer system that individuals could use to administer their self-contained library. It follows associative trails or links that are created by the individual. The Memex is ‘a sort of mechanized private file and library’ (1). Important to point out is that the Memex influenced the development of the hypertext, which had been defined as the ‘underlying concept defining the stucture of the World Wide Web’ (2).

The Ghost of Vannevar Bush Hacked My Server can be considered a work of net.art.  ‘Net.art is a self-defining term created by a malfunctioning piece of software, originally used to describe an art and communication activity on the internet. Net.artists sought to break down autonomous disciplines and outmoded classifications imposed upon various activists practices.’ (3) As a part of the New Media Exhibition ‘Zeros+Ones: The Digital Era’,  Demer made a website incorporating Vannevar Bush’s face, consisting of 0s and 1s, an homage to the engineer’s visionary influence on the computer and the Internet.  Bush’s face appears and then suddenly disappears, leaving the website not only looking hacked but also frozen and unable to use.

‘On October 28, 2009 an image appeared to flash on a web server. Comprised of 0s and 1s (binary code — the elemental language of computers), the image closely resembled that of Vannevar Bush. The code from that page was copied and pasted into a blank page, effectively “capturing” this ghost of Vannevar Bush. He appears at random, having hacked my server he now haunts it for all of eternity…’(4)

I would like to refer to the artworks of Jodi.org, who make Web-based artworks that uses the medium’s vernacular as the content of their works. When accessing their website wwwwwwwww.jodi.org, it appears at first to consist of meaningless text, until you have a look at the HTML source code which reveals detailed diagrams of hydrogen and uranium bombs. The website reflects the Borgesian non-lineair approach to writing HTML. The artists play with the famous texts of Vannevar Bush and Luis Borges, because both authors ‘have the idea of a massive branching structure as a better way to organize data and to represent human experience'(5).


1. Vannevar Bush, ‘As We May Think’, 1945.

2.  Natalie Bookchin, Alexei Shulgin, Art and Electronic Media, p. 240

3. www.wikipedia.com 

4. www.michaeldemers.com

5.  Lev Manovich, 2003.


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