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2:00 a.m. May 25, 2002 PDT

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 The Beauty and Grace of a Worm
By Michelle Delio

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2:00 a.m. May 22, 2002 PDT
Computer viruses are both the medium and the message in a museum exhibit documenting the history and future of unwelcome and uninvited virtual visitors.

Code and culture are the focus of "I Love You Computer_Viren_Hacker_Kultur," a three-week special exhibition opening at the Museum for Applied Art in Germany on Thursday.

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The exhibit's name refers to the Love Bug virus that circulated widely in May 2000 and was one of the "computer virus family's first media stars," according to exhibit curator Franziska Nori.

"And 'I love you' also refers to our intention to seduce the public to make a journey with us into the reality of Internet culture," Nori added.

The Frankfurt museum, renowned for its collections of fine ceramics, textiles, jewelry, illustrated books and manuscripts, is now assembling a collection of virus code. Curators firmly believe that carefully crafted virus code is a valid modern art form, worthy of display, study and careful preservation for the benefit of future generations.

Nori said it is a challenge to develop a collection and present an exhibit focused on art that isn't normally visible to an observer. Most of what code does takes place in the depths of computer systems, so visitors who come to see the "I Love You" exhibit should not expect to see pretty pictures hanging on a wall, Nori said.

Eight PCs, four iMacs and seven Sun Ray Unix workstations will house much of the work on display in the exhibit. Visitors will be able to observe animations depicting the effects of various viruses on computer systems. The history of virtual viruses will also be visually documented.

Displays, discussions and special presentations will explore virus-writer culture and ethics, as well as the thoughts of the security experts who try to stop the spread of malicious code. Antiviral application-vendor Symantec is one of the sponsors of the show.

But according to Nori, the heart of the show will be an exploration of the aesthetics of virus code -- the computer virus as an art form.

"For some -- maybe we can call them 'digital artisans' -- programming is not seen as a means for producing art but is an art form in its own right," Nori said. "And computer code is evaluated using the standard aesthetic criteria of beauty, elegance, proportion and effectiveness. It is a sort of digital poetry."

Showing the beauty of virus code in a formal museum setting isn't intended as homage to those who choose to code and then release viruses.

The exhibit also explores the damage that can be done when malicious code is foisted on an unwitting public, as well as highlighting programmers who create self-replicating code without any malicious intent.

"I don't think the exhibition glorifies the creation of destructive viruses; on the contrary, most hackers abhor the development of malicious viruses that cause trouble and damage," said James Bradburne, director of the museum. "However, the exhibition does recognize the intellectual work involved in the mastery of code and celebrates those artists who can create a new form of literature."

The exhibit is a part of "digitalcraft," a three-year research project into contemporary computer culture at the Museum of Applied Arts.

The project's objective is to establish a collection of digital artifacts.

"I Love You" runs through June 13. A catalog documenting the exhibition is available on the website.

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Related Wired Links:

Museum's Hack Art Piece Pulled
May 15, 2002

A Collection of Discards.com
April 2, 2002

Art: In the Ear of the Beholder
Feb. 15, 2002

The Art of the Meal
Jan. 26, 2002

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