Ebon Fisher is a pioneer of transmedia art, working at the intersection of art, biology and digital media. Informed by his exposure to cybernetics and feedback systems at the MIT Media Lab in the mid-1980s, Fisher has approached his work as an evolving collaboration with the world, culminating recently in a nervelike system of ethics conveyed through a transmedia world called The Nervepool.
Life and work
Cultivating what he terms "media organisms" in the plasma of mass communications, Ebon Fisher is one of the early, pre-web explorers of network culture and viral media. Wired Magazine dubbed him "Mr. Meme" in 1995 for his memetic approach to art and he has been lauded as one of the "Visionaries of the New Millennium." Drawn to both the formal and functional properties of nerves and networks, Fisher's work has followed a trajectory from neuron graffiti to his weblike media creation, The Nervepool.
- Neuron graffiti: Pittsburgh, PA (1980-82).
- Nerve Circle: Interactive rock theatre group, Boston, MA (1986-88).
- Network rituals: Information-sharing rituals in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (1989-98).
- Network ethics: Bionic ethics system, the Bionic Codes, which evolved into Zoacodes (1992-present).
- The Nervepool: Transmedia world with a "nervecenter" at Nervepool.net (1992-present).
In 1985, Fisher was one of the first instructors at the MIT Media Lab where he began his research into culture as "intercoding networks" of humans, machines and ecosystems. In 1986, sensing rock music's potential for popular intercoding, Fisher launched the multimedia rock band, Nerve Circle, in Boston, MA. In 1988 Nerve Circle's raucous, interactive production, "Evolution of the Grid," was shut down by the police leading to his eviction from his loft. This precipitated a move to Brooklyn in 1988. Fisher's experimental media rituals in the 1990s helped to build vital channels of communication in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Fisher was one of the co-founders of a neighborhood-oriented arts movement called The Immersionists which included groups like Lalalandia, Fakeshop, The Pedestrian Project and large, interactive warehouse events like The Cat's Head, The Flytrap and Organism. The emergence of such street and warehouse culture in the early 1990s helped Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to grow into a landmark arts district.
Fisher's Immersionist works included the media-sharing gatherings at Minor Injury Gallery, Media Compressions, a phone-in community bulletin board, (718) SUBWIRE, an open, Anglo-Latino creative space situated in a traditional street festival, The Weird Thing Zone and the collectively defined philosophy, Wigglism. According to Domus Magazine, Fisher’s bionic ritual, the Web Jam of 1993, and the large, collaborative warehouse event it catalyzed called Organism, became a "symbolic climax" to the emerging Williamsburg art scene. Newsweek dubbed the Web Jam a "sequel to the rave." Stemming from his media rituals Fisher developed a network-based system of ethics called Bionic Codes. These evolved into Zoacodes and have spawned an entire transmedia world with an evolving, web-like architecture, The Nervepool.
Fisher received an M.S in Visual Studies from MIT in 1986 following a BFA from Carnegie-Mellon University in 1982. In 1998 he was invited by the University of Iowa to create a new digital art program, “Digital Worlds,” which he directed for three years before being invited to teach at Hunter College in New York in 2001. He has lectured at numerous colleges and universities, including New York University, Sarah Lawrence College, Bennington College, the University of Washington and Columbia University. He has written on media and the arts for Art Byte, the Utne Reader, Digital Creativity, the Walker Arts Center and the New York Council for the Arts. His media works have been exhibited in museums and festivals around the world. His codes have been presented on the Guggenheim Museum's online CyberAtlas since 1997. His Zoacodes website has been presented by the Encyclopædia Britannica as one of the "Best of the Web" and his cybernetic terms have appeared in numerous dictionaries and glossaries.
Inspired by both the living community networks in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and an increasingly collaborative internet culture, Ebon Fisher posted the first draft of his Wigglism Manifesto on the internet in 1996. He formally invited the public to contribute to its evolution, establishing Wigglism as one of the first intentionally open source systems of philosophy. From its inception Wigglism has promoted the notion that the truth, or that which seems true, is interactively constructed with the world as a whole, not just with other humans or in the limited text space known as discourse. As dialogues surrounding the evolving manifesto have suggested, the most significant property of an interactively determined truth is not its veracity but the vitality in the collaboration in which it emerges. Wigglism also points to a post-art, post-science, post-human world in which both objective reality and subjective aesthetics give way to a living, subjective ecosystem. This supports an emerging green culture underscored by an ethic of nurturing vital systems.
The Wigglism Manifesto
Loop into strange coilings, this coiling. Well up in the fibrillations of this hysterical continuum, this bionic boiling. Rise up and nurture the wiggling – of sinew and circuit, riot and union, mud and imagination. Nurture with the loaded logic of the living, with ceaseless reflection and a moving center.
Ovulate your tender eggs, your shivering codes, into the blood of interconnection. Soak tendrils of thought and gesture in an ethical jelly of feedback. Infuse phantoms and facts with equal measures of visceral significance. Creep along the rivulets and curls of writhing truth, this feral fetus squinting in a boundless womb of cultivations.
Breed turbulent creatures in a mongrel jungle of plasma, machines and minds. Embrace these creatures, these hives, these worlds. Keep that which is lively, and that which sustains life, in succulent focus. May the lonely pools of science, art and heaven congeal into a sea of quivering being.
At this twist in the orgy of Mystery we are drunk with the sweat of the stars, with that which seems alive, with lunges, lickings and startled presences. We fuse with the creatures of our devotion, becoming everything we encounter, becoming devotion itself. We transmute mind and matter into a zoology of spirit.
Dare to suckle this wild vapor. Convulse and clutch in waves of milky wonder. Siphon every atom, and theory of atom, into the folds of our collective screen, our flesh. Melt into the monstrous, grooving spasm of the infinite wiggling.
Nurture the wiggling, for that which wiggles is amazing.
– Ebon Fisher, with input from the public, 1996-2007
Ebon Fisher is continuing to cultivate The Nervepool and its system of network ethics, the Zoacodes. A retrospective of his works was presented at the University of Northern Iowa in 2005 and he was invited to be the 2005 Marjorie Rankin Scholar-in-Residence at Drexel University. He collaborated with NPR commentator, Andrei Codrescu, on the creation of a new Zoacode, "Signal Strangely," which reflected Codrescu's stormlike travel patterns as he sought support for the survivors of Hurricane Katrina (2006). Fisher was interviewed extensively in a documentary by Marcin Ramocki, Brooklyn DIY, which premiered at the Museum of Modern Art in 2009. In that same year, Fisher was a keynote speaker at the IT Revolutions conference in Venice, Italy, sponsored by the IEEE.
In 2006, he was invited by digital artists, Joseph Nechvatal and Julie Harrison, to teach the media arts as an Affiliate Professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey and to help in the development of a new interdisciplinary studio area called Art & Technology. Fisher designed a green screen video production studio for the program, taught 3D animation and transmedia courses and received, along with co-author, Prof. Quynh Dinh, a National Science Foundation grant for a "Transmedia Search Engine" (Award # IIS-0742440, $150,000, 2007-2009). This was the largest research grant the arts and humanities had received at Stevens. Despite rapid growth of student enrollment and outside accreditation, Harrison and Fisher's Art & Technology program, along with their positions, were dismantled in 2009-10 during a period of financial contraction at the Institute. An investigation by the Attorney General of NJ into the management practices of Stevens' president, and other leaders of the Institute, lead to Stevens' president stepping down and a front-page story in the New York Times. An editorial on the story appeared in the same paper a week later  and the story was picked up by The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News.
Fisher was immediately invited to courses in the media arts at De Paul University in Chicago where he began work in the University pool on a short pilot video related to his Nervepool project. The following year the Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia invited Fisher to teach classes in 3D animation and advanced digital media and to help Moore develop a new media arts program. In December, 2012, Fisher gave a talk at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vilnius, Lithuania, sponsored by TEDx Vilnius and later that spring was invited to be an adjunct professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
- Jonathan Fineberg, Art Since 1940: Strategies of Being, Abrams/Prentice Hall, 1995/2000
- Claudia Steinberg, “Vis-a-vis Manhattan,” Die Zeit, 1997
- Frank Popper, From Technological to Virtual Art, MIT Press
- Frank Popper, "Ebon Fisher," Contemporary Artists, ed. by Tom and Sarah Pendergast, St. James Press, 2002
- Ebon Fisher, Music, "Circulate All Sensation," in CD Anthology, State of the Union, compiled by Elliott Sharp, 1996
- Sylvie Myerson & Vidyut Jain, "Interview with Ebon Fisher," Sandbox Magazine, 1996
- David Alm, “Soft Machines: Ebon Fisher Coils into Gentle Linkage,” RES Magazine, vol. 4 no. 4, 2001
- Ebon Fisher Wigglism Leonardo Journal Vol. 40, Number I
- Flash Art, Interview with Annie Herron, director of Test-Site Gallery, Brooklyn, Feb. 1993
- Charles Runette, “The New York Cyber 60,” New York Magazine, Nov. 13, 1995
- Frank Popper, "From Technological to Virtual Art," MIT Press, 2007, p. 119
- Matt Haber, "Mr. Meme," Wired Magazine, December, 1995, p. 44
- David Pescovitz, “Visionaries of the New Millennium,” Java Magazine, January, 1997
- Peter Boerboom, “Absorb into Memory: Ebon Fisher's Media Organisms,” Mute Magazine, London, Winter 1997
- Melody Parker, “Nervepool,” The Courier, Waterloo & Cedar Falls, Iowa, January 15, 2006
- Jennifer Dalton, "Ebon Fisher's AlulA Dimension," Performing Arts Journal, Johns Hopkins University Press, January 1998, p. 62
- "The Sex Salon & the Web Jam: Rediscovering the Value of Social Ritual," by Ebon Fisher, Utne Reader, Jan-Feb, 1995
- Mark Rose, "Brooklyn Unbound," New York Press, March 6–12, 1991, p. 10
- Frank Popper, "Ebon Fisher," Contemporary Artists, Ed. by Sara and Tom Pendergast, St. James Press, 2002
- Suzan Wines, "Go with the Flow: Eight New York Based Artists and Architects in the Digital Era," Domus, February 1998, p. 84
- Melissa Rossi, "Where Do We Go After the Rave?" Newsweek, July 26, 1993, p. 58
- M. Parker, “Nervepool,” The Courier, Waterloo & Cedar Falls, Iowa, January 15, 2006
- Laura Trippi, "Intelligent Life," Guggenheim Magazine, Spring 1997, p. 53
- "The Web's Best Sites," Britannica.com, August, 2000
- "Web Jam," and "Bionic Code," Netlingo.com, 1997-2007
- Jim Crotty, "Web Jam," How to Talk American: A Guide to Our Native Tongues, Mariner Books, 1997
- Ebon Fisher, "Wigglism," Leonardo Journal, Vol. 40, Number I, 2007
- "New Jersey College Is Beset by Accusations", by Sam Dillon, December 21, 2009, New York Times
- "The Stevens Scandal", December 27, 2009, New York Times
- "New Jersey Sues Stevens Institute of Technology", by John Hechinger, September 17, 2009, The Wall Street Journal
- "Stevens Institute, Officers Sued by New Jersey for Mismanaging", by David Voreacos, September 18, 2009, Bloomberg News