Groovy Boat

Posted by William Waites December 7, 2019
Tags: history

So what does want with a boat anyways? started life as the Internet domain for the Groovy Variety Store in Toronto in 1996. This was a space where the arts collective called Idiosyntactix met and worked on experimental projects to make the nascent Internet accessible to people who would not normally have access to it, mainly artists and musicians, and explored the intersection of art and technology. We put on events, published zines, pioneered live streaming (audio, of course, at the time, as live video streaming was a long way off), installed interactive art pieces (such as a public access terminal outside a psychiatric hospital to enable outpatients to access USENET), performed cyborg art (such as at meetings of NATO - uninvited, of course), and were generally fixtures of the vibrant art and technology community in Toronto in the late 1990s.

We realised early on that to support these activities, we needed an Internet Service Provider, and that the usual commercial suspects wouldn’t do. So we created Groovy Network Services. We made websites for ourselves and others, and hosted email until well after Web 2.0 concentrated that sort of thing in the hands of a few large providers (actually, we still do, a case in point being this very web site). We also participated in pushing the boundaries of the technical underpinnings of the Internet itself, and any geeks reading this will recognise shibboleths such as the 6bone, SDSL and VoIP. We are still pushing the boundaries of art and technology now scattered across North America and Europe, but no longer as a cohesive arts collective with a definite spatial locus.

One branch of the historical group ended up in Scotland. For a time, focus turned to organising communities in remote places to create Internet infrastructure. This built on the Berlin branch’s observation about the importance of the economics of land and infrastructure and the legal object Groovy Network Services Ltd was created to facilitate this project. It worked well. Particularly well in those places where the community had organised to buy the land on which they lived, generate their own electricity, and establish their own communications networks. Still, the object was to enable connecting to the Internet rather than creating the Internet. Attempts to build a meaningful, local, on-line community, independent of the behemoths of Silicon Valley, fell flat.

The Internet has changed. The Web is dominated by gigantic social media services, and no longer has the decentralised anarchistic flavour that fuelled hopes that it would upset the global order and empower the marginalised. There has been change and upset, and powerful organisations, large companies and governments, slowly and ponderously figured out how they could use the amplificatory character of the Internet to solidify their position. Capital got there in the end, and in retrospect there was little that we could have done about it for all our cleverness and agility. The front line of societal change is no longer the Internet as it was in the 1990s.

There is good reason to believe that the current front line is in the effort to survive the incipient climate catastrophy. To a great extent, this is playing out in the world’s oceans. The challenge for us, the local “us” who come from that small arts collective in Toronto in the 1990s, is to figure out how to apply everything that we have learned about economics and telecommunications, everything that we know about using art and the media to shape discourse, and to apply it to this problem. Just as our tools two decades ago were a Sparc 1+ and an SGI Indy an essential requirement to get out on the ocean, to understand, measure, communicate and encourage others to do likewise, is a boat.

And now we have one, the Cutter Hale Kai, to be developed into a platform for the next phase of our art.