As part of the just-started NODE.London's Season of Media Arts, March 06, there is a meeting taking place where Backspace used to be.
Backspace officially opened to the public in spring 1996 and ended its evolutionary, dynamic and explorative short life in 1999. The space was located in London in a building on Clink Street, kissing up against the River Thames, near London Bridge. Ironically it stood only a few steps away from the historically known Clink Prison Museum, built on the foundations of one of the original prisons owned by the Bishop of Winchester. "It is thought to have got its name from the clinking of the manacles, fetters, chains and bolts that were used there. It was also the origin of the phrase "In the Clink", to mean in prison."
In contrast to the monotheistic culture of patriarchally imposed violence suffered over the centuries, highly 'celebrated' in our morbid London-based histories, Backspace provided a breath of cultural fresh air to Londoners. Perhaps it was the proximity of the water and the tides. Not only could you hop out of the back window onto the shore, and take a day at the beach but the homepage of the Backspace website visualised the Thames's tidal level in real time. Next door, there was an early flotation chamber. I remember James sneaking off out of the space and floating around for an hour or two in there.
It was originally founded by a loose group of individuals who met in London between 94 and 95. During that time Heath Bunting and James Stevens were also meeting each other, feeling inspired they discussed how to get it up and running. It soon arrived, and after a quiet period of setting everything up and connecting to its first users in the space. It soon became a hive of lively activity for anyone who wished to be part of it. Along with James, about six or seven individuals during the period 96-99 shared a flexi-role of looking after the space, as well as supporting those who were just learning the technology. Some of these people were Giovanni D'Angelo. John Hayward, Ruth Catlow, Peter Gomes, Lotta Aspenberg.
"Backspace like much of the energy and enthusiasm of the time swept downstream, cleansed by the bucks and bust of regeneratown. The spirit of freenetworking and collaboration spawned by its passing lives on in the flow of activity and passion for indy media and peer oriented exchange still driving internet utility and development." J.Stevens.
It was a meeting place for small and large events to take place such as the mini-conference (with plenty of people involved though) ANTI WITH E - Backspace.org Lecture Series (http://www.irational.org/cybercafe/backspace/). It offered an informal production space for anyone at any level of technological experience or expertise to sit down and get their hands dirty. Many of the subscribers/users who used the space, created an abundant amount of work and used the server to host their own projects and works. There is a healthy selection of projects and works still there to be viewed, even these days. Some of it has not been updated though for contemporary browsers, some of it is a litle glitchy.
The contemporary incarnation of Backspace is still around and open for anyone to join and is based in Greenwich S.E. London. Now operating under the umberella name of 'Deckspace', with subsidiary groups offering web hosting and project support to groups and individuals by subscription, it offers facilities and a wide range of access media and an arsenal of shared networking resources and information. The list goes on, and one would be advised to visit the dek.spc.org website to see the abundance of facilities there. The main members are Alexei Blinov, James Stevens, Michael Weinkove, Pete Gomes and Simon Pope.
So what now sits in the physical space of where the old Backspace was?
You guessed it - It's a Starbucks!
Perhaps you can imagine how the irony of this plays on the memories of early members and those connected through the network.
This Sunday's meet promises to be a fun opportunity to "re-animate London's Ancient Internet History!" Some of the Furtherfield crew will be there - remember to say hello.
The Clink Prison Museum, Clink Street, London.