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Magnificent Obsessions
fAf_15: Commemorative CDROM
Magnificent Obsessions

Once I built a railroad, made it run
Made it race against time
Once I built a railroad, made it run
Brother, can you spare a dime?

What is it in the human character that makes people put aside self-interest for the greater good of the community?

The question could lead to a long discussion ... late into the night. It would be a good one for a Paris café ... where tobacco-stained fingers could wave about ... or jab the night air to make a point - alternately raising a half-lit cigarette ... or a glass of table wine.

It could involve the classics - perhaps even Socrates' last discussions. Urged by his friends to flee and save his skin, Socrates decided to stay and drink the hemlock, for the good of others - for the good of the community. At least, that is what he said.

Or you might probe the controversial mysteries of sociobiology ... of the gene for altruism. Or perhaps you could explore the curiosity of warfare - where young men sometimes undertake projects in which they will almost certainly be killed. American pilots who struck the Japanese fleet at the battle of Midway, for example, went off knowing that they probably had insufficient fuel to get back.

But I will stick to my beat - fAf. Since my first days with fAf, there has never been a single dull moment or a time when I've ever felt any idea is unachievable. It must be connected to our dynamic culture and inner sense of adventure. But most of all, it is the selfless individuals who have contributed their time, energy and resources, united by their vision to inform, document and highlight new discoveries and happenings within our community.

Some of these individuals you will find in the contents of this cdrom. Over the years, about 500 volunteers - artists, academics, technologists and students - have contributed to the publication with little (or no) monetary reward. We've paid tribute to our long-running supporters and those vibrant individuals in our Roll Call 1987 - 2002 (see Credits section).

Roger Malina in Memories of 1988 said: "Maybe the (fAf's) masthead should say 'the longest continually published publication on the arts'. Except this is not the point. The point is for the 'rhizome' to survive and continue to provide the services needed by the community - we aren't building institutions, we are building a life support system."

I agree. Surely, its not about fancy technology nor infrastructure - it's definitely about building a community life support system. It's really about people, personal relationships and lots of goodwill. That's our most valuable resource, and its individuals who have been instrumental in ensuring fAf's survival.

While writing this, I dug into fAf's archives, and re-read Malina's account of fAf's alliance with Leonardo/ISAST: "according to the contract we wrote we would share in the profits of what was clearly a product responding to a need. Well ten years later (founder) Ray Lauzzana has still not seen a single dollar of revenue, and fineArt forum is still responding to a need within the professional community of artists involved with technology and with computers."

Judy Malloy, in her 1997 article, In this Electronic Medium illustrates this point vividly:

"On one side of me this afternoon as I write these words, I have some information about my financial situation that is destined for a finance company. On my other side is a substantial pile of printouts of old issues of fAf and LEN that contain WORDS ON WORKS and the records of correspondence with many fellow artists about their work. I don't think my long record of helping artists get out information about their work will impress the finance company. But I am happy to have been working both as an artist and with artists - for ten years in this continuously wonderful electronic medium."

Returning back to my railroad reference, one of the popular analogies of the digital age has been between the Internet and railroads. More specifically, the comparison has been made between the railway tracks that spread out all over different nations of the world and the wiring of the globe for the Internet.

Stock market watchers have pointed out that many railroads went bankrupt ... and the shares crashed several times ... before they settled down. It might also be noted that early railroad investors provided a huge service to the community so that the system could be built - ultimately with the intent of linking the planet.

In How fAf began founder Ray Lauzzana recalls fAf's humble beginnings on ARPANET largely energized by a group of students at University of Massachusetts, Amherst and describes: "the idea of connecting the planet has obsessed me most of my life."

Judging from the ethos from which fAf emerged and continues to thrive in - how impossible can it really be? :-).

Why fAf_15?
The initial idea for this cdrom was hatched in 1999, during a meeting with Paul Brown. Since its foundation fAf has been an international publication and in its earliest days, was available in the Soviet Union and many developing nations.

However, we realized that while more global professionals were using fAf as a resource, we were unable to reach a substantial community who did not have Internet access.

This commemorative cdrom is an ideal platform to reach them inexpensively and provide access to our resources for research, to inform, encourage them to track developments, and inspire their personal works.

This is our attempt to build east-west bridges, exposing upcoming communities to the established and enhancing opportunities for exposure through our networks and resources.

Thankfully things fell into place, and with support from Queensland University of Technology Services' grant scheme, we were able to finance this production.

Also exclusively on fAf_15: the travelling screening program 'fineArt in Motion' showcasing 14 works from young and emerging artists from around the world; specially collated features on fAf's fabulous 15 years; and indepth discussions about all things fAf with past and present editors, Ray Lauzzana, Roger Malina, Annick Buread, Judy Malloy, Paul Brown, Linda Carroli, and myself.

Find out how fAf really started and who was involved in a drunken brawl with whom in whose kitchen. Our special thanks go out to Linda Carroli who project-managed this to a timely production, to Daniel Heinonen who worked tirelessly to ensure our archives were kept intact and functional and support from our core team Gavin Thiesfield, Elizabeth Amon, Polly Chu, Clare Dunn, James Quinn-Hawtin, Andy Stockwell, Gavin Winter, Gavin Sade, Debra Polson, Robin Yee and Nazir Keshvani.

So here's to you and your spiritedness - to everyone around the world who has helped fAf keep going! Thank you.

Nisar Keshvani
Editor-in-Chief, fAf

Click here to read the fAf editors virtual roundtable.

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