Thoughts about spam

On occasion I’ve thought about the potential of using “spam” as an art form… graffiti is un-authorized use of space for art, so why not use spam as e-mail graffiti? And of course, there are various political chainletters that periodically go round (usually right-wing, but a couple leftwing one’s as well).

I’ve not thought too hard about it, since there’s generally a huge opposition to unsolicited e-mail. But I’ve seen studies that say that the reason companies spam is because it works. And if it can work for penis enlargement, why can’t it work for art or activism?

But it may be too late to do anything with this since Bush signed an anti-spamming bill. If this works, it will be a boon to ISPs everywhere who are dealing with the terrible bandwidth burdon of spam. And no one will miss the onslaught of porn, scams, and other misc. crap that builds up in their “bulk” mail folders. But think of this: that’s one less tool for activists and artists and small businesses. Megacorporations can afford to advertise to millions of people. The rest of us cannot.

Update: See also this Salon article on artist Netochka Nezvanova and this Wikipedia.


  1. running out the door so I can’t properly dig out the details, but the people behind the Nato extension to Max did a lot of spam art a couple years ago. It pretty much made everyone angry as fuck.

  2. Well, sometimes good art is supposed to make people angy. Though it looks like Nato didn’t have much of a point.

    “One of the ways in which I’ve worked with NATO involves the construction of applications that process incoming email (ok, to be totally up-front, I’m using AppleScript, too — NATO won’t check my mail for me). Basically, they import text data from the email and convert it into NATO instructions, which are used to generate QuickDraw images. The resulting pictures are then mailed back to the sender. A variation on this idea uses a webcam, which is directed to take a picture when incoming email is detected. NATO then creates a collage using the image, combined with text data from the email.”

  3. Abe sent URL along with some more information:

    He says “here is the article on Netochka Nezvanova, having been on some lists that “she” spammed I can say its damn annoying, although there was occasionally something interesting in the mix. A lot of it came from the shear volume
    though, if it were one spam I don’t think anyone would have minded.”

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