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Artistic statement


One of the most famous and infamous EccentricCharacters in turn–of–the–21st Century Western artistic NetworkCulture, Netochka Nezvanova (aka N.N., antiorp, integer, Irena Sabine Czubera) remains an enigma to many. Widely believed to be an IdentityCollective?, Netochka Nezvanova is a PenName named after the title character in [an early unfinished Fyodor Dostoevsky novel] whose name means "nameless nobody" in Russian. The identity always presents itself as female, though it may not be in reality. Despite the meaning of her moniker, N.N. has coveted attention and recognition like few others on the Internet.


"Even if she was a 53-year-old man who was pretending to be a 24-year-old girl, she still is a female entity that has had a huge impact on the Web and Net art.", Beatrice Beaubien, who nominated N.N. for the Top 25 Women of the Web [1]

N.N. became famous for writing a [Max] (not 3DS Max) plugin called [NATO.0+55+3d] that allows video artists to mix and edit a live video stream much like music DJs can mix a live audio stream. Although N.N.'s website has disappeared from the 'Net, there is [a better third party description of it].

Other notable products include the cross-media composition system, [nebula.m81].

NATO became so popular that N.N. was [named] as one of the Top 25 Women on the Web by San Francisco Women on the Web — this despite the fact that no one knows whether or not N.N. is an actual woman. Indeed, some people argue that it doesn't matter whether or not she is a woman, she is still an important female persona (Sollfrank, 20002). This can be a rather dangerous conclusion: How do women benefit from such a cartoonish RoleModel?


"As a community destroyer, she's fantastic. She's perhaps one of the Internet's first professional demolition experts. She's a real talent." -- Berstein [1]

N.N. became infamous for her psychopathic shake downs of several net.art OnlineCommunities including NetTime and the European net.art list, [Syndicate]. She would often attack not only those she thought opposed her, but also their friends and supporters — behaviour that could qualify as stalking (cf. WhatIsaStalker). For instance, she has MailBomb?ed critics, frequently revokes the software licenses of critical customers, and in one famous case brutally attacked the Max list administrator, Christopher Murtagh. In the words of the creators of Max [2],

After "she" was thrown off the McGill? list, "she" initiated what could best be described as a terror campaign that included spam to anyone who posted to the Max list, denial of service attacks, and [threatening and slanderous e-mail] sent to random individuals at McGill?. I didn't see any point to subjecting myself and my co-workers to this type of harassment. However, it turns out that many of these acts are felonies. If this behavior recommences, the victims of the behavior can pursue legal remedies, and I would strongly suggest they do so.

She also put up several websites insinuating he was a Nazi (including Nazi swastikas), as well as [publishing his more embarrassing emails] on her website (cf. RecordKeeper) for posterity. For the record, she also posted [her own response to being kicked off]. All of this because her software, NATO, was a Max plugin, and the makers of Max did not do what she wanted. (She also made LegalThreats, as yet unrealized.)

Her capacity for community destruction was so great that she inspired the Salon article about her entitled [The most feared woman on the Internet], not to mention an entire mailing list for list administrators trying to deal with her frequent abusive postings [ed: off the 'Net; launched by Max creator's Cycling'74 after their famous fight with N.N., the support group may not have been successful]. (In fairness, N.N.'s [rebuttal to the Salon article].)

Even though N.N.'s antics and the consequences of letting her remain in a community are well-known, she has enough fans supporting her to disrupt typical SoftSecurity defenses, which rely on some degree of solidarity. Communities implode around her as her supporters argue for her right to FreeSpeech and detractors argue for community rights. For instance, in Murtagh's case, although the list eventually [voted] [ed: broken link] N.N. off, her supporters continued to forward her messages onto the list. This vulnerability in the community may have a lot to do with the fact that her constituency are artists, who are understandably deeply committed to FreeSpeech. The fact that N.N. writes in her own cryptic pseudo-language, a European railing against capitalism and America, and is a ConstructedIdentity? doesn't hurt, as TheAudience of net.artists enjoy N.N. as PerformanceArt exploring their CyberSpace mythology. People like to watch her because she is exciting and entertaining. N.N. is a PublicSpectacle?.

"On the Internet, you're required to have a false identity to a certain extent and with her she takes the constructed and contrived identity to another level. You start with a nickname and you can go anywhere." -- Miya Masaoka, musician [3]


To give an example of the effect of N.N., here are some choice quotes in the case of the Syndicate mailing list, as [told] by the list administrator in a post-mortem to NetTime:

[CommunityHijack?.] The net entity nn (Netochka Nezvanova, integer, antiorp, etc.), a pseudonym used by an international group of artists and programmers in their extensive and aggressive mailing list–based online-performances and for other art projects, had been subscribed to the Syndicate list in 1997. It was, as the first of less than a handful of people ever, unsubscribed against its will because it was spamming the list so heavily that all meaningful communication was blocked. [... After being resubscribed ...] Naively, as we had to realise. nn went from one or two messages every day in February to an average of three to five message in April and up to eight and ten messages per day in May and June — and that on a list which had a regular daily traffic of three to five messages a day. The distributed nature of the nn collective makes it possible for them to keep posting 24 hours a day — great for promoting your online presence, irritating for people who have a less frantic life rhythm. nn's messages are always cryptic, sometimes amusing, often tediously repetitive in their quirky rhetorics and style, and generally irritating for the majority of people. Its activity on the Syndicate — like on many other lists it has used and terrorised — soon came to look like a hijack.

[RadicalInclusiveness ...] Actually, given the extreme openness and vulnerability of a structure like the Syndicate it remains quite astonishing that this structure survived for such a long time. What happened in the course of 2000/2001 (not only to Syndicate, but also to several other mailing lists) was that the openness of these lists, i.e. the fact that they were unmoderated, was massively abused, and, finally, destroyed, by relentless ‘creative’ spamming.

[FreeSpeech absolutism...] nn got unsubscribed from the Syndicate without warning on a day when there had been nothing but ten messages from her. After some days of silence and sighs of relief, angry protests by nn came through. On the list, accusations of censorship and/or dictatorship were made. A small but noisy faction denounced unsubscribing nn as an act against the freedom of speech. They called the administrators fascists, murderers, and ‘threatened’ to report the case to ‘Index on Censorship’. While some other list members welcomed the departure of nn on and off the list and the admin team again and again explained their move, the ludicrous allegations and vociferous insults continued.


Clearly, first, her PenName (meaning nameless nobody in Russian) is a dead give away that the identity is a ConstructedIdentity?. However, N.N. plays with this idea even further. For one, when she is invited to appear in person, she either does not, or a random woman appears as her. Different women at different times have appears as N.N.. At least at this level, the singular identity is constructed by a group.

N.N. also has the habit of replying publicly on MailingLists to private email, such as replying to the questions for this [Salon article] on the [55 list], which some believe would allow everyone involved in TheCollective behind the identity to keep up to date on the communication. This speculation may be self-fulfilling; after all, TheCollective could easily forward correspondence to a private mailing list, but posting to public lists merely keeps speculation alive. Plus, it has the more primary purpose of making the identity more of a PublicSpectacle?.

For those interested, Mieszkowski (2002) identified the leading theories as to who N.N. was [4].

Sollfrank (2002) claims to have [interviewed the German member] of TheCollective in remarkably lucid prose (note the contradiction elsewhere [5]). Essentially, N.N. is an attack on the cult of TheAuthor in the arts world. Considering the need to collaborate in the 21st century, the demand for a single genius to deify at the nucleus of an art project is absurd. Consequently, the group of people behind N.N. decided to break all the taboos, and who better than the anti-stereotype of a rude female hacker? Indeed, for them, the main goal was the character; the software merely bolstered the character.


First, it is really unclear what exactly happened. The most clear accounts were second hand reporting, just like this article (mostly third hand). The methods employed by N.N. obfuscate and frustrate any superficial analysis.

In a way, the fact that so many people are in on the ConstructedIdentity? makes the phenomenon more rational. The public personality of N.N. is both a marketing technique for the software NATO as well as cynical PerformanceArt against dominant art culture. It is quite likely the programmers (likely male Danes) of NATO are not the same people as the group primarily creating the N.N. personality (likely centering around one New Zealander woman living in Holland). But, of course, why (aside from the criminal behaviour) should we care who they are?

On the other hand, that so many people are involved in psychopathic activity is also a serious concern. This phenomenon is a harbinger of future attacks on OnlineCommunities, particularly those that have elements of FreeSpeech absolutism. Further, unlike normal SockPuppets, having several people involved in an IdentityCollective? succeeded in deflecting traceback, making the identity more anonymizing. AnonymityIsPower, and the more untraceable one can make oneself, the more powerful one becomes.

Finally, this is the art world, full of boundary pushing EccentricCharacters. The Dadaists and the Futurists were equally strange. The Futurists were actually more dangerous, as they helped usher in Italian fascism.


Mieszkowski, K. (2002). The most feared woman on the Internet. Salon, March, 2002. Available from http://dir.salon.com/story/tech/feature/2002/03/01/netochka/index.html

Sollfrank, C. (2002). Not every hacker is a woman. In C. Reiche, A. Sick, Technics of Cyberfeminism. http://www.dvara.net/HK/hackwoman.asp interviewed

A classic troll isn't it? [ed: Rest of excellent text folded into WhatIsaTroll --ss] -- ZbigniewLukasiak

CategoryIdentity CategoryCase CategoryArt


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