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Activists turn to blogging as art

Artists and technologists protest during the Republican National Convention with text and images on the side of a Manhattan building.

NEW YORK--Official re-elect George Bush and Dick Cheney logos fill up the side of a building in Manhattan as big blue letters spelling "NO!" pop up over them.

A small group gathers around a truck that has a projector attached to a laptop mounted on the roof.

While this scene may look like nothing more than some fancy audio visual display, what's really going on is a trans-Atlantic, multimedia protest between users in New York and Amsterdam over the Internet.

Our reporters' take on what's
happening in broadband.

Words written in French pop up on the wall next as the images keep changing in a chaotic and random fashion.

"We're really jamming now," said Carol Stakenas, whose fingers are on the keyboard. Using special software, she can manipulate what images pop up and in what order. She can also type in text that appears over the images.

Stakenas is one of 12 artists and technologists who call themselves the Screensavers group, which is protesting the Bush administration during the Republican National Convention in New York City through an interactive Web-based art project. Using RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds of blog text, video clips, audio samples and photos from a mix of Web sites, the artists use software they've developed called Keyworx that allows multiple users to post images, sounds and text within a shared real-time environment.

During the performance, called RNC Redux NYC 04, audience members can add to the mix using SMS (Short Message Service), America Online's Instant Messenger, and Webcams.

In an era where ultrahigh security seems to trump many expressions of free speech, protesters and performance artists like the Screensavers are turning to the Web.

"Artists and activists in New York and around the world really need a channel to express themselves during the convention," said Tamas Bonavich, the owner of Postmasters Gallery, which is hosting Screensavers along with performances from nine other digital artists. "It's so hard to express yourself publicly in this city. If you try to post signs or anything you get arrested."

A perfect example of this is the Bikes Against Bush project. Bicyclist Joshua Kinberg was planning to use a bike with a wirelessly enabled printer attached in order to spray protest messages on the sidewalk sent via the Internet or text message during the Republican National Convention. He was arrested on Saturday while he was telling an MSNBC reporter how the bike worked. Even though the printer on the bike was only supposed to spray water-soluble chalk rather than paint, he was charged with vandalism.

Kinberg's rigged bicycle, which included a computer, cell phone and electronics, is being held until further notice. He is scheduled to appear in court on Friday and faces possible jail time.

The Web offers a perfect medium for artistic expression where audiences around the world can tune in from the comfort of their own homes. And RSS technology, which allows online publishers to automatically aggregate and send Web content to subscribers, is an important tool for these artists, because it allows them to easily and quickly aggregate content from a number of sources.

RSS was developed several years ago as a way to automatically receive new chunks of frequently updated content. The format has been widely used for keeping track of Web logs and news sites. But developers see applications for many other types of dynamic content, from e-mail to Internet calendars for business users. And now the technology is being used to fuel artistic expression.

RSS is gaining attention from venture capitalists who see potential in the technology. Earlier this month, Technorati, a leading blog and RSS tracking service said it closed a multimillion-dollar round of venture capital funding.

Screensavers is running RNC Redux NYC 04 every night between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. PDT during the Republican National Convention, from August 29 to Sept. 2. Viewers can tune in over the Web or catch a live performance on the streets of New York City. The group was in Chelsea at the Postmasters Gallery on Monday and plans to hit a different location throughout the city every night.