Letter From the Editor

Welcome to the second issue of TalkBack! You'll notice lots of changes from the first. In addition to tasty modifications in design from David Gillison and Florian Penev, the emphasis of TalkBack! has broadened to include Centerpiece-section coverage of matters crucial to on-line culture, as well as to on-line art. This means that the current issue brings both an examination of the body-artist Stelarc (by Mark Dery) and a meditation on on-line anonymity (from Curtis Lang.) The two issues' themes also reflect this subtle shift in emphasis: Issue #1 was devoted, in part, to the archive-as-artwork, while the theme of the current issue is identity.

Why identity? Peruse any daily newspaper's headlines. Whether it's Bosnians and Serbs in the former Yugoslavia, Palestinians and Jews in Israel, lesbians and gay men in the American military (or on the National Endowment for the Arts' preliminary list of grantees, for that matter), contemporary societies everywhere are rent by splits of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, even attitudes toward the past and future. On-line culture--as TalkBack! interview-subject Sherry Turkle (author of Live on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet) observed--underlines and concretizes transformations taking place in RL or non-virtual culture. Profound social transformations may be playfully expressed, as in the famous New Yorker cartoon showing one dog telling another that "on the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog," or in a story I heard poet Ann Lauterbach recently tell about a five-year-old who spells his name D-A-V-I-D-ENTER. But we all know that humor can also be a wake-up call alerting us to serious, often divisive, social issues.

For this issue of TalkBack!, I've defined identity broadly to include not just sexuality and gender (see Christine Tamblyn's "Confessions of a (Female) Techno-Junkie"), but institutional identity--including that of the commercial artworld (see Barbara Pollack's appraisal of on-line art commerce) and the Internet itself. Tim Druckery's Beef-section essay begins what I hope will be an ongoing examination of the media construction of the Net as anarchic frontier, rather than the highly-regulated, corporatized gulag it actually is.

The subject of identity is also taken up outside the Centerpiece section in the Buzz, which previews a web-site develped by School's Out--an organization of talented and civic-minded lesbian and gay youth--and in two reports from Europe in the Scene & Heard section. TalkBack! #2 also includes the catalog for the Fashion Moda exhibition seen this past winter at the Lehman College Art Gallery, a TalkBack! sponsor. (It comprises essays by Lucy Lippard and Sally Webster.) The show examined the historic Bronx alternative space that pioneered graffiti and hip-hop, in the process raising complex issues about urban identity and artworld appropriation of street content--and content producers.

The inclusion of this exhibition catalog also embodies TalkBack!'s commitment to reconsider its own identity, to expand and alter the conventional format of the critical journal or what's historically been dubbed the "little magazine." (Notice that our name is TalkBack!: A Forum for Critical Discourse.) This is, of course, an ongoing project. As Marshall McLuhan noted, no new medium replaces an old one; the former, in fact, tends to initially define itself as an extension of the latter.

A second special project debuting in this issue is the Appropriated Corpse, a play on the Surrealist parlor game called the Exquisite Corpse, which was suggested to me by artist Rudy Lemcke. This experiment in interactivity offers site-visitors the opportunity to download images by two dozen well known artists, modify those images and e-mail them back to TalkBack! for (possible) inclusion in an on-line exhibition. The Appropriated Corpse addresses the question of what might constitute meaningful interactivity within both a medium predicated on interactivity and a culture-of-couch-potatoes that simultaneously resists active and thoughtful participation. Interactivity will also be promoted by the inauguration of several new bulletin boards, including one in the Out There section--a guide to on-line art and zines--which provides a place for visitors and/or art producers to tip us off to cooler-than-cool sites.

TalkBack! #2 is also packed with art, ambitious and interactive projects more complex than previously showcased works. These include Lowell Darling's "Tomb of the Unborn Soldier" and Craig Pleasants' "The Three Little Pigs (as it was originally passed into English folklore in 1620.)" (Thanks to Jim Newman and Katherine Gates, respectively, for making their exhibition possible.) Additional contributions by artists come from Les Levine (see Barbara Pollack's Centerpiece), Robbie Conal (see the Online Timeline), and Ken Aptekar,Kermit Berg, Nancy Burson, Chema Cobo, Jane Hammond, Carter Hodgkin, Rudy Lemcke, Minnette Lehmann, Arnold Mesches, Marilyn Minter, Frank Moore, Ernesto Pujol, Julia Scher and Jane Sherry, among many others, for the Appropriated Corpse.

Finally, several people have inquired about the origins of the name TalkBack!. I originally had two sources in mind: My grandmother's perennial response to my childhood lip and the brilliantly interactive corporate art program established by Lynne Sowder at First Bank in Minneapolis during the 1980s. (Since TalkBack!'s launch I've also come across a few other uses of the name--a book by bell hooks and, according to friends, a late-night talk show.) When my grandmother would reprimand me--"I can see you're just waiting to talk back," she'd sigh--I mistook "talk back" for a single word, a verb. Frankly, I still tend to think of it that way.

Issue #3, by the way, will be devoted to Virtual Community. It's due out in the fall and advance input is welcome! In the meantime, keep talkingback.

Robert Atkins