His Thingness
Interview with Wolfgang Staehle
by Dike Blair

In 1991 Wolfgang Staehle founded THE THING in NYC. In 1992 branches of THE THING sprouted in Europe--there are now 9 nodes of THE THING (see list at end of article)--with more on the way, particularly in Eastern Europe. THE THING is a computer network of BBSs (Bulletin Board Services which one accesses via modem), an electronic salon that exists only in cyberspace. Basically, THE THING is a forum for people who share a common interest--the production of objects/images/ideas/language in what we call the "contemporary art world." It is a place where artists display digital works, discuss the issues of the day, fight and gossip. Later this year THE THING will offer full connection to the Internet (it is only partially connected at this time). This will allow for all THE THING nodes to communicate with each other in real time, and offer options like user connection to the World-Wide Web. I spoke to Wolfgang in his very "real" Tribeca basement-studio where the hardware that runs all of this resides.

Dike Blair: How tedious is the process of keeping The Thing even remotely state-of-the-art?

Wolfgang Staehle: It's a process (laughter).

Dike Blair: Do you still identify with The Thing as a personal creation?

Wolfgang Staehle: That's a really tricky one. I founded it--I did originally conceive of it as an art project; but, the addition of the other nodes certainly changed all that. They were basically autonomous from the beginning, although we do all adhere to a very loose set of guidelines that are mostly technical in nature.

Dike Blair: Your children have grown and left you?

Wolfgang Staehle: In the beginning everyone wanted a free-for-all, but after 3 years, people are beginning to crave more structure--especially for the international coordination of finances and organization.

Dike Blair: Do have a node in Paris?

Wolfgang Staehle: There have been talks but, at this point, nothing has materialized. We're very interested in setting one up.

Dike Blair: Maybe one of our computer-savvy readers will contact you. Everybody's questioning the quality of the art in the digital world. . .

Wolfgang Staehle: It's still a very young medium. In terms of visual projects, a lot of technical knowledge and skill are necessary. If you think about it, it took about 300 years for the first novel to appear after the invention of the printing press. People are still waiting for an artistic breakthrough. When you started with movies you had the Nickelodeon, and that's about where we're at now--10 second videos because that's about all we can do. We're still waiting for the D. W. Griffith.

Dike Blair: Will he spring from the art world?

Wolfgang Staehle: That is one of the key questions. My history is in the art world so I'm fairly confident we won't see him coming from there (laughter). On the other hand, there are certain values that exist in that world that I'm attached to, and would like to see carried into the next century--if possible. I see the task as one of combining the information coming from different cultures.

Dike Blair: Will it come down to the visionary working with the engineer?

Wolfgang Staehle: I'd love to see that dichotomy overcome. I have problems with that structure because the parties involved don't really seem to communicate with each other, and I've yet to be convinced by the product of that kind of collaboration. I don't feel comfortable, as an artist, to just become a brain-in-a-jar for others to tap into.

How to access THE THING by phone:

New York 1-212-4316988
Duesseldorf 49-211-9913642
Cologne 49-221-7392450
Berlin 49-30-6158733
Hamburg 49-40-29843297
Frankfurt 49-69-231105
Vienna 43-1-2121695
Basel 41-61-2620832
Stockholm 46-8-6632297