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About net.flag


Net.flag is a flag for the Internet. Every nation on earth has a flag that identifies the territory of that nation, and the flag is a symbol of conquest of new territory. One of the most memorable images of the 20th century is a scene of the United States flag planted in the rocky terrain of the moon, the emblem of an earthbound territory apparently identifying the entire planet, or laying claim to the moon itself.

In the new millenium we see nations trying to lay claim to a new kind of territory, the Internet. This virtual territory is no longer a geographic location, a new land with resources to be claimed. It is a space created by man-made infrastructure that carries the potential of information, group identity, economic and political advantage. Nations and terrorists alike use the Internet to carry out their agendas. Those who control the structures, both hard and soft, that make this new space, control the nature of the space itself, providing or limiting access to the resources of the network.

In the midst of this new space are the users of the Internet, the early pioneers and later visitors that explore the potential of this worldwide public space. These early adopters have had an unprecendented freedom to explore new concepts of national and personal identity in the distributed geography of the net. The familiar "dot com" of the Internet domain replaces the nation-state in a world where most nations do not yet have official representation. Yet our experience tells us that political power structures will move to control this space. What relationship is possible between the existing national identities and the more fluid, distributed domain branding that flourishes on the net?

Net.flag explores the flag as an emblem of territorial identity by appropriating the visual language of international flags. An online software interface makes this language of shapes and colors available to anyone with web access. The visitor to net.flag not only views the flag but can change it in a moment to reflect their own nationalist, political, apolitical or territorial agenda. The resulting flag is both an emblem and a micro territory in it's own right; a place for confrontation, assertion, communication and play.

Mark Napier


About the 2019 Restoration

Many of the international tensions that existed in 2002 are even more pronounced in 2019. National borders are blurred and challenged by the growth of the internet. Like-minded people form spontaneous tribes through social media while Cold War adversaries square off in Facebook, undermining power through misinformation campaigns. The political struggles that net.flag alluded to in 2002 are now playing out on our computer screens and in our social networks.

Unfortunately over the years, net.flag had fallen into disrepair. I wrote the artwork in the Java programming language, which was the best choice for this type of work in 2002. But in recent years Java support in the browser became more complicated and by 2016 many browsers dropped Java altogether.

In 2019 the Guggenheim Museum undertook a restoration of net.flag by rewriting the artwork in Javascript, a language built-in to web browsers and more likely to remain stable for the foreseeable future.

This project involved re-thinking some aspects of net.flag. New countries have joined the United Nations and some countries have changed their flag designs. We had the challenge of remaining true to the original choices of the artwork, but also to include new flags to bring the full set of United Nations recognized countries into net.flag. We chose to keep the 2002 designs for those countries that were already included in the artwork, while newer flags, not in the original, have been added using their 2019 versions.

Over 22,000 flags have been created by visitors to net.flag since its inception. I hope you take a moment to fly your own flag over the internet.

Mark Napier, 2019