Mark Napier
net.flag, 2002.
Interactive networked code
Commission of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Above: Artist's sketch for the project.

Mark Napier's Net Flag is a Java applet—a computer program accessed from the World Wide Web via browser, that provides an interface for the creation of a hypothetical flag for the Internet. Visitors to the Web site can combine the geometric elements of a wide assortment of international flags to create a unique, hybrid flag to serve as an emblem for the Internet's dissolution of national boundaries. The actions of each visitor are stored on the Web server, so that subsequent visitors can view the modifications made by previous visitors and thus ascertain how the flag has evolved during the course of the project.

As a Java applet that relies on the Internet to record the traces of participants, Net Flag is interactive, encoded, and networked. If the artist agrees it can be exhibited in a physical setting such as a museum, then it is installed as well. All of these behaviors are vulnerable to technological obsolescence or cultural amnesia: interactions via keyboard and mouse may be superceded by another interface; the Java programming language may be unreadable by future browsers; Web projects written for the current version of HTML may not be accessible over future versions of the Internet; and future display technologies (such as smart walls) may not offer the look and feel of an original installation context (such as a monitor on a pedestal).

Preservation strategies to explore include:

Storage How should the original digital files be stored?


Should the original software be rendered in an algorithmic metalanguage for future emulation?

Migration Should the original software be regularly translated into updated versions to evade obsolescence?
Reinterpretation Can the original software be replaced by a different protocol that creates a comparable experience for the viewer—even if this results in altered appearance?
Storage When technological obsolescence or access restrictions prevent viewers from interacting with the work in its original version, could it still be displayed with the interactivity disabled?
Emulation Could viewers interact with a clone or facsimile that did not save their modifications?
Migration Should the work's medium be upgraded to enable interaction?
Reinterpretation Should the work be reinterpreted to enable interaction?
Simultaneous exhibitions  
Storage Should simultaneous exhibitions of work in different venues—concurrent display or access on the Guggenheim and ZKM Web sites—be forbidden?
Emulation In the case of simultaneous exhibitions, should traces of previous visitors be erased for each new venue?
Migration In the case of simultaneous exhibitions, should traces of previous visitors be inherited from previous venues but diverge for future venues?
Reinterpretation In the case of simultaneous exhibitions, should all the traces of previous and current visitors be maintained for all clones via data loop?
Storage [no options]
Emulation Should the original screen resolution be maintained even if the image becomes diminutive relative to contemporary standards?
Migration Should the resolution be increased to match contemporary standards even if the image becomes pixilated as a result?
Reinterpretation Should resolution be improved to match current standards by interpolating or re-creating the image?
Browser display  
Storage Should the work be displayed with browser navigation bars but no reference to exhibition context?
Emulation Should the work be displayed without browser navigation bars?
Migration Should the work be displayed with navigation bars provided by the institution exhibiting the work?
Reinterpretation Can the work's appearance be completely reconfigured to fit each new exhibition context?
Real-world references  
Storage [no options]
Emulation Should the flags of defunct countries be removed; the flags of newly formed nations be added; or modified flags be updated?
Migration Should re-creations account for geopolitical changes by deleting obsolete flags and modifying any flags that have changed?
Reinterpretation Should re-creations account for geopolitical changes by choosing a new selection of current flags based on the artist's criteria? What would those criteria be? Could Net Flag utilize contemoporary geopolitical emblems other than flags in future re-creations?