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A brief history of The Thing - '91 to '07(Edit)

by Jérôme Joy

http://thing.nujus.net/ (not available)


http://bbs.thing.net/ (online again)


Started in 1991 by Wolfgang Staehle as a bbs, THE THING is an international community of net artists and projects.

In 1991, THE THING began as a Bulletin Board System focusing on contemporary art and cultural theory.

In 1995, THE THING was renovated and moved its wares onto the web. (co-founded with Benjamin Weil, Julia Scher, Gisela Ehrenfried, etc. Credits on 1995 website: Nicky Chaikin, John Simon, Wolfgang Staehle, Rob Keenan, Darryl Erentzen, Gisela Ehrenfried, John Rabasa!) [visit the archive]

In 1998, Max Kossatz designed "The Thing Communicator" which gave THE THING its present form and shape. (see below the chapter "The Thing Interface")

One of the pioneering net-community projects, THE THING is initiated in 1991 in New-York by the German-American artist Wolfgang Staehle, as a computernetwork of art- and art-related addicts formerly based on a BBS-Mailboxsystem with knots at New York, Amsterdam, Basel, Stockholm, Berlin, Kön, Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, London and Vienna. Since 1995 stations have moved to the WWW.

Along with numerous discussion forums on art theory, news and gossip, as well as a few on-line versions of art periodicals, THE THING has also begun offering works of art in the form of graphics which can be downloaded from the Web to a user's personal computer.



In 1990, the writer & critic Blackhawk (having recently produced the film, "Cyberpunk") taught Wolfgang Staehle many of the abilities he needed to start the original The Thing BBS; basic pc skills and how to use what then passed as a communication suite (they initially used ProCom, cutting and pasting as needed). He was the first person Staehle turned to after conceiving of the idea for an electronic culture resource on the model of Beuys' "social sculpture". He and Wolfgang jointly set up the editorial structure of the original BBS and planned for many of the then-experimental activities which took place. Other people who helped shape the content of the early BBS included Josefina Ayerza, Dike Blair, Jordan Crandall, Josh Decter, Rainer Ganahl, Julia Scher, Barry Schwabsky, Franz von Staufenberg and Benjamin Weil.

In 1991 Wolfgang Staehle founded THE THING, an innovative online forum for artists and cultural workers. THE THING began as a Bulletin Board System (BBS), a form of online community dialogue used before the advent of the World Wide Web. By the late 90s, THE THING grew into a diverse online community made up of dozens of members' Web sites, mailing lists, a successful Web hosting service, a community studio in Chelsea, and the first Web site devoted to Net Art, bbs.thing.net.

Started as a BBS (bulletin board system), the oldest of New York's net.art collectives serves as a combination ISP, events calendar, and project space. Located on the fourth floor of 601 West 26th Street, THE THING holds regular shows of Web-based artwork. It also serves as a de facto residency program, offering technological resources and training to artists interested in taking their creative prowess online. [Thing Events Archives]

THE THING BBS (1995) & (1999)


Staehle explicitly situates his theoretical roots in the 1960's and cites Joseph Beuys:

What mattered to Beuys was the social sculpture, an artistic production made jointly by a group or a community. THE THING is just such a sculpture: it realizes the Beuysian idea of direct democracy, of political community as social structure. At the same time, it represents an expansion in the notion of what constitutes art. (Süddeutsche Zeitung, March 22, 1994)

The project is also somewhat archaic insofar as THE THING attempts to set up an independent art network which to date, with hardware of its own, has remained an autonomous unit beyond the existing, globe-encircling network structures of the Internet and to this extent has projected the social situation of contemporary art with all its limitations onto the electronic network.

He saw the emergence of pre-web electronic communities called bulletin board systems (BBS) as a continuation of social sculpture. The BBS (http://bbs.thing.net) offered arts communities ways to establish themselves, to send information to one another and also to conceive of new artistic practices deriving from conceptualism and from performance.

For a few (of these) artists, working with the Net was a way to operate around the institutions of the art distribution system. For German-American artist Wolfgang Staehle, founding the art-mailbox The Thing in New York in the early nineties was an act of practical "institutional critique," as he now recalls. "I thought it was absurd to criticize the art distribution institutions within those same institutions. That's like simply rearranging the furniture. I didn't think anything would come of it. That's why I tried to really do something outside these institutions. I think one of the reasons The Thing worked was that the traditional art distribution network truly didn't notice it at all. There was the thrill of feeling like a small conspiratorial band." (Timan Baumgaertel, on Nettime, Jan 1998)



websites' list (01/2000)

websites' list (06/2000)

wwwboard (02/2000)


THE THING Artivism(Edit)

THE THING - which since 1991 has fostered network artists, critics, curators, and activists and in the shifting Internet climate of the last decade, has sought ways to interconnect their diverse interests and activities - now seeks to locate on a system which will be hospitable to art and activist content. In response to a question from CURRENT about what kind of systems thing.net would implement if it were to set up its own autonomous network, Wolfgang Staehle commented that

Our intention is to build redundancies into the system by setting up backup servers with cooperative ISPs in Europe and elsewhere. Another solution we've been discussing is to purchase a block of 4096 Ips from ARIN (American Registry for Internet Numbers) and have two upstream providers. This won't solve all the problems but it could give us a bit more room to maneuver in similar future situations, should they arise.

'£(In response of the Verio's decision to shut down Thing.net on December 2003)£'

On Dec 1999, a similar affair had occured :

Apparently Verio Security in Dallas received a complaint by eToys around midnight claiming that a "malicious attack" on etoys.com was originating on one of the thing.net servers. (Wolfgang Staehle, 20 Dec 1999)


On May 1999, War - Artists Bulletin Board :

Open call for participation. We urge every artist: express yourself. We offer the walls of Postmasters to be an open forum for artists to state their position, express opinions, feelings on the war in the Balkans.

On Oct 2000, The Thing Roma has been censored (again), after the publication of the book "Let the little children". http://dollyoko.thing.net//censored/dollyoko.html

After the removal of the interview with dollyoko (now on www.thing.net/~dollyoko/censored/dollyoko.html) due to the publication of two gif animations based on prints by a dutch artist of the late 1700s - which the Australian artist made for DollSpace (http://www.thing.net/~dollyoko) - the City of Rome yesterday also removed the online version of the book Lasciate che i Bimbi (Luther Blissett, Castelvecchi). A book that The Thing Rome had published, in the early morning, firstly as a sign of solidarity with the closure of the Avana web pages (another social group hosted by the same server), and secondly to contest the emergency and hysterical climate which has been created in Italy recently around the question of pedophilia. In the early afternoon The Thing Roma received a formal letter from the City Administration about the blocking of the page containing the interview with da Rimini and the pages of the book Lasciate che i Bimbi. (on Nettime, http://www.nettime.org/Lists-Archives/nettime-l-0010/msg00111.html)

And the response, No Protest No Profit (30 Oct 2000) :


And on Dec 2002 :

Advocate of online art and culture since 1991, The Thing, may have it's pipeline terminated by provider Verio. This termination, scheduled for February, could affect hundreds of sites and users, many of them artists, activists or art-related businesses. Verio lawyers told Thing founder Wolfgang Staehle that their contract for service was unilaterally null and void because of "violations" — likely the parody site http://dow-chemical.com by the Yes Men, and perhaps the persistently provocative campaigns of Rtmark or the Electronic Disturbance Theater (both hosted by The Thing). How to stand up for services geared towards artists and activists? Write to Verio and express your outrage, and make a contribution to The Thing: https://secure.thing.net/backbone/ Staehle is looking for new pipelines as you read this. (Rachel Greene, on Rhizome, 24 Dec 2002)

LETTER FROM VERIO (01/2003) http://joy.nujus.net/files/articles/TheThing/verio.jpg

On Nettime, 23th of Dec, 2002 : NYT Cyberspace Artists Paint Themselves Into a Corner ny Matthew Mirapaul :


In July/August 2007, due to financial problems to finance the data center in NYC, THE THING is migrating to a new place by moving 6 servers onto one... [temporary website]

We need to raise money, but nobody cares about what we do so i guess an era is coming to its end. We have a new server in Germany, but we need to talk how we can continue. (Wolfgang Staehle)

THE THING Auctions(Edit)

On Nettime, the Old homepage of The Thing was for sale at the internet auction house eBay.

read the announce, on Nettime 12th of May 1999

''Who the hell wants to live in such a stupid commercialized culture? A culture only geared towards making sales to consumer clones with predictable habits and opinions. A culture without fun, without a sense of irony and wit, without real human characters, without art.

At The Thing we realized that we can't do business as usual anymore. In the past, our funding request to foundations, federal and state agencies were rejected with a monotonous predictability. The Jerome Foundation issued a statement saying their board decided that it is not prepared to support "the artistry, present and future, as evidenced by The Thing's website." Well, we have news for the little ol' ladies from Minnesota: We just don't give a damn anymore!

We decided to take matters into our own hands. We organized an ad hoc online art auction and informed our friends and associates. The result? Over 50 artists spontaneously agreed to donate work to keep TT on track. (...) The proceeds from this auction will be used to fuel THE THING's various cultural activities, like thing.review, the streaming video and audio programs and several new innovative net projects. Now it is all up to you!

Vote for TT with your credit card and get an artwork from one of these outstanding artists.'' (Wolfgang Staehle, on Nettime, 16 Dec 1999)

On Nettime, 06th of December 2001, The Thing Auction


All proceeds from this auction will directly benefit THE THING, Inc., a new media lab and contemporary art think tank which proudly celebrates its 10-year anniversary this month. Over the last decade, THE THING has played a seminal role not just in fostering a generation of network-oriented artists, critics, curators, and activists, but also—and equally important— searching out ways to interconnect their diverse interests and activities. It is no exaggeration to say that the list of people and projects THE THING has been supporting comprises a who's who of contemporary electronic culture. (original message)

''The Thing New York, is now in a critical phase. For a few years already this famous, even legendary server and host to numerous cultural endevours is having trouble staying afloat. Funders that were approached for help have neglected it in favor of new kids on the block. Art institutions have failed to see the cultural necessity of giving support to an institution that has an openness they don't understand. Something needs to be done to open the eyes of both funders

and the general audience, in order to support and save this important digital monument. The Thing definitely is such a monument even if it, like most physical monumental buildings, is still part of a lively culture.'' (Josephine Bosma, Apr 2001, http://www.nettime.org/Lists-Archives/nettime-l-0104/msg00094.html)

On Nettime, 3rd of May 2004, The Thing Auction (4th edition)



On Nettime, 19th of July, 2007:


On iDC list, 1st of August, 2007:



THE THING / Net Communities(Edit)

The legendary THE THING has been a Internet Presence Provider for activist and arts organizations primarily in the New York area for ten years. It hosts arts and activist groups and publications including P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center; ARTFORUM; Mabou Mines; Willoughby Sharp Gallery; ZINGMAGAZINE; JOURNAL OF CONTEMPORARY ART; NETTIME; and Tenant.net. Among many others, artists and projects associated with thing.net have included Sawad Brooks, Heath Bunting, Cercle Ramo Nash, Vuk Cosic, etoy, GH Hovagimyan (who did his first computer piece with thing.net before the web in 1993: BKPC), John Klima, Jenny Marketou, Mariko Mori, Prema Murty, Mark Napier, Joseph Nechvatal, Phil Niblock, Daniel Pflumm, Francesca da Rimini, Beat Streuli, and Beth Stryker. It also offers dial-up access; authoring and design services; arts-oriented newsletters, and online conversation spaces.

THING STAFF (01/2000) http://joy.nujus.net/files/articles/TheThing/thingstaff012000.jpg

THING COMMUNICATOR (2001) http://joy.nujus.net/files/articles/TheThing/thingcommunicator2001.jpg

THE THING LLC (2005) http://joy.nujus.net/files/articles/TheThing/thingnet2005.jpg

In the beginning of the 1990s, three initiatives were developed concomitantly that aimed at exploring the possibilities of the then nascent online world for the development of a conversation about art as well as an investigation of new forms of art-making (Echo, The Thing, and Artswire). THE THING was a electronic bulletin board system that all sought to foster the building of a strong cultural community. THE THING elected to fully focus on the arts, quickly developing nodes in Germany, where its founder, Wolfgang Staehle, had strong ties. As technology evolved, THE THING was in fact the first attempt at creating an international art community online. That was before the Internet -and the Web - became accessible beyond the scientific and military communities.

The fact that Staehle and his team offer Web-hosting and eventual technical assistance to their peers has made THE THING a place of choice for artists to host their pages. This means that anyone accessing the Web site has an opportunity to check a growing number of artists' projects at once. However, in that kind of economy, artists either have to know how to build their pages on their own or pay for technical support. Moreover, as the Web becomes increasingly organized with the advent of "portal" pages, it is increasingly clear that the model to follow is the one of aggregation and personalization, with some guide-like features.

It was a seminal experience. The first time I could really engage in a reflection about art, its social function, its capacity to possibly represent the world, not just as an image, but also as a set of parameters to understand the world. I think Wolfgang Staehle was definitely a visionary in that sense that he got immediately the incredible power of a community-building instrument that went beyond the notion of geographicallocale. He wanted a "Mudd Club" (1), or a Cedar Tavern (2) of the 1990's, a place where people from all over the place could meet, and have those long discussions that they did not necessarily have in bars or clubs, any more. THE THING was also a collective of people, a loose-ended group of people, artists, critics, curators, thinkers of all sorts, all of which saw the collapse of the art market in the late 1980's as an opportunity to reinvent the art world, or at least a moment when new ideas could be pushed forward, when there was so little money, and so much time! THE THING definitely helped me explore the idea of artivism, of a mean to empower the idea of art over the idea of commodity, the importance of gesture and process opposed to the one of product. In that sense it was a grounding moment.

(Interview of Benjamin Weil, April 2002)

( http://www.noemalab.org/sections/specials/net_art_bioart/weil.html )

Presentation of THE THING (on post.thing.net)

THE THING is a non-profit organization committed to the development of new media culture, information technology, and social activism.

At its core, THE THING is a social network, made up of individuals from diverse backgrounds with a wide range of expert knowledge. From this social hub, THE THING has built an exceptional array of programs and initiatives, in both technological and cultural networks. During its first five years, became widely recognized as one of the founding and leading online centers for new media culture. Its activities include hosting artists' projects and mailing lists as well as publishing cultural criticism. (...) THE THING has also organized many events and symposia on such topics as the state of new media arts, the preservation of online privacy, artistic innovations in robotics, and the possibilities of community empowerment through wireless technologies.

THE THING's multimedia lab has regularly hosted a variety of artists, including Vuk Cosic, Sebastian Luetgert, Nick Crowe, Prema Murty, Daniel Pflumm, Heath Bunnting, Beat Streuli and Mariko Mori. THE THING has also organized many events and symposia on such topics as the state of new media arts, intellectual property, the preservation of online privacy, artistic innovations in robotics, and the possibilities of community empowerment through wireless technologies.

THE THING has been generously supported by the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and thing.net communications.

THE THING Interface (Connector / Communicator)(Edit)


(Excerpt of an article by Alex Galloway "New Interfaces, New Softwares, New Networks", Jan 1998)

''The artistic focus on new kinds of interfaces and new softwares will strengthen net.art and redefine its relation to politics. But does that mean that the web itself is art, or that the web is political? Perhaps what really is happening is that the tactical media, in this case name.space and others, are, in certain contexts, being interpreted as giant art projects, i.e. there is an aestheticization of politics going on in netspace. (Woops! Didn't Benjamin in "Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" call that particular phenomena "fascism"?!)

Add the Thing's Connector 2.0 interface (www.thing.net) and take away the fascism. The new look at the Thing (New York) is an extensive interface that focuses on allowing communication between users. It requires a login, but Thing accounts are free and non-commercial (despite their claims of using users's statistical data for "world domination").

The Thing's Ricardo Dominguez thinks his interface [coded by Max Kossatz] is an aesthetic experience pure and simple. This experience combines both art and the idea of community—"in other words a PARTY that could overturn the frame of art and life—into a politics of everyday life," Ricardo (Dominguez) noted in a recent email.

With a focus on connectivity between users, The Thing allows you to *see* in real time all the other users who are online, identified through their handles or simply as numbered guests. This is my favorite section of the Thing interface. It reveals what normally is hidden.

And here's the RHIZOME scoop on what users have to look forward to in the Thing Connector 3.0, the new interface to be rolled out for '98: "3.0 will allow members access to areas that guest won't have such as private chat, thread access to a meta-nettime yak scene, a 'temporary network' discussion between Blast and nettime, an INFOWAR discussion group, a FIKAFUTURA round table, a WestCoast scene line, a propaganda scene..." Blah, blah. I'm still hooked on the Thing's paging function, available now, where you can send messages instantly to any of the other users online. Brilliant!''

(ref: http://www.nettime.org/Lists-Archives/nettime-l-9801/msg00036.html)

Here is the announce of The Thing Connector 3.0 opening :

''Back to the Future, or The BBS Strikes Back! Parts of the universe disappear, empires fall, presidents get caught, web sites get de-funded, but The Thing goes on!

Yes, the new and improved ThingConnector 3.0 BBS is here! Our in-house developed "community server/messaging" software caters to all your dubious needs for realtime communication, as well as messaging in all the new ThingThreads, like Radar, Nettime, Rainer's Reading Seminar, Almost (A)Live from LA, InfoWar, and Thingist.'' (Lt. Crack, on Nettime, Apr 1998, http://www.nettime.org/Lists-Archives/nettime-l-9804/msg00048.html)

THE THING life(Edit)

The first project of major importance to emerge was THE THING, initiated by the artist Wolfgang Staehle. The Thing was originally a bulletin board, but other sections were added, like regional branches of The THING in several European cities creating a network of THING nodes. But THE THING most visibly changed when a Web interface was created for its presentation at the 1994 Ars Electronica.

WOLFGANG STAEHLE http://joy.nujus.net/files/articles/TheThing/wolfgang.jpg

WOLFGANG STAEHLE'S EMPIRE (18 sept 1999) http://joy.nujus.net/files/articles/TheThing/empire180999.jpg

W.S'S EMPIRE (2000) http://joy.nujus.net/files/articles/TheThing/empire2000.jpg

Staehle worked as a video artist in the 1980s. He says in an interview with Dike Blair about three years after founding THE THING:

I did originally conceive it as an art project; but, the addition of the other nodes certainly changed all that.

Note :
"HIS THINGNESS", Interview with Wolfgang Staehle by Dike Blair (undated), in The Thing.

Some years later he says:

To me it is irrelevant (whether THE THING is art, JB); that is for the historians to decide.

Note :
Tilman Baumgärtel, [net.art], Nuremberg, 1999, p. 63.

So THE THING was conceived as an art project, but the artist felt its definition changed as its functions changed and expanded. In a recent e-mail Staehle puts it like this:

When I started THE THING I conceived of it as kind of a conceptual art project, sort of an art by all, art for all kind of thing.

He thought it would only last about a few months. In the meantime, THE THING has gone through many transformations to become a multi-layered platform consisting of, for example, mailing lists, artistpresentation Web pages, a review section, and a commercial company to sustain all of it.

THING CAM (2002) http://joy.nujus.net/files/articles/TheThing/thingcam2002.jpg

THING CAM (2003) http://joy.nujus.net/files/articles/TheThing/thing02003.jpg http://joy.nujus.net/files/articles/TheThing/thing12003.jpg http://joy.nujus.net/files/articles/TheThing/thing22003.jpg http://joy.nujus.net/files/articles/TheThing/thing32003.jpg http://joy.nujus.net/files/articles/TheThing/thing42003.jpg

Although THE THING has trouble finding funding, (note) unlike its peers that did receive funding, in the last few years it has offered sanctuary to a few controversial and also influential art projects. The art activism of Ricardo Dominguez and RTMArk has brought THE THING considerable trouble. It is unlikely that projects like these would have been possible on other local, US platforms. THE THING is not only a collaborative, conceptual art project; it also provides all the means, from discourse and theory to technology and access, for other projects to evolve. It is one of those spiders in the Web.

Note :
(18) See Josephine Bosma, "One of The Oldest Art Servers On The Edge of Survival," in Telepolis, 19 Apr. 2001. (Josephine Bosma, Constructing Media Spaces - The novelty of net(worked) art was and is all about access and engagement, July 2004), http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/themes/public_sphere_s/media_spaces/print/

Wolfgang Staehle in an e-mail :

I like to think of it as a laboratory in which people are able to follow their inclinations and interests in a collaborative setting. Online and offline.

This brings us to another aspect of artist platforms on the Net. Staehle's mention of the offline part of THE THING, an office and meeting place in New York, reminds us of something that is easily underestimated in the approach of any art in the digital sphere: its roots in an actual physical world of technology and offline cultures. Online networks are intrinsically connected to offline networks, even if they also move beyond them. Many online art platforms also have physical meeting places attached to them, and it depends on the situation at hand which is more importantÑthe online or the offline space. It seems that even the strongest online art environments could not have developed without the physical, social networks they sprouted from. Purely online spaces benefit from these same networks indirectly as the strong discourses and cultures developed from physical networks propagate through them.

THING CAM (dec 2003) http://joy.nujus.net/files/articles/TheThing/tt121203.jpg http://joy.nujus.net/files/articles/TheThing/tt121203a.jpg http://joy.nujus.net/files/articles/TheThing/tt121203b.jpg

THING CAM (jan 2004) http://joy.nujus.net/files/articles/TheThing/tt010704.jpg http://joy.nujus.net/files/articles/TheThing/tt010704a.jpg http://joy.nujus.net/files/articles/TheThing/tt010704b.jpg

THING CAM (apr 2004) http://joy.nujus.net/files/articles/TheThing/tt041804.jpg http://joy.nujus.net/files/articles/TheThing/tt042604.jpg http://joy.nujus.net/files/articles/TheThing/tt042604a.jpg

http://joy.nujus.net/files/articles/TheThing/tt042604b.jpg http://joy.nujus.net/files/articles/TheThing/tt042604c.jpg

THING CAM (may 2004) http://joy.nujus.net/files/articles/TheThing/tt050404.jpg http://joy.nujus.net/files/articles/TheThing/tt050404a.jpg

THE THING network(Edit)

THE THING was the next project with a conceptually oriented art background to appear in the new communication, distribution and production space offered by the data networks. Initiated by the German-American artist Wolfgang Staehle, THE THING was launched as a mailbox system accessible over the telephone network in New York in 1991. A second node, THE THING Cologne, was added in 1992, followed by THE THING Vienna in November of the next year.

Nodes in Berlin and elsewhere were soon to follow. The most (inter)active, and therefore most important, area of THE THING consisted of various message boards offering forums for art theory debate, news and gossip, ongoing dialogue and an open-access flow of information, as well as several online versions of art journals. Alongside discussion forums, THE THING offered artworks in the form of graphics downloadable to the home PC for example by Peter Halley. Staehle saw the theoretical roots of THE THING explicitly in the 1960s with Joseph Beuys.

Since taking to the World Wide Web with a new user interface in 1995, THE THING has continued to function as a production and presentation platform for art and art-related discourse.

THE THING Basel was founded by Barbara Strebel and Rik Gelles.

THE THING Berlin was founded Ulf Schleth. *

THE THING Cologne was founded by Michael Krome.

THE THING Dûsseldorf was founded by Jôrg Sasse.

THE THING Frankfurt was founded by Andreas Kallfelz. *

THE THING Hamburg was founded by Hans-Joachim Lenger.

THE THING London was founded by Andreas Ruethi.

THE THING New York was founded by Wolfgang Staehle. *

THE THING Stockholm was founded by Magnus Borg.

THE THING Vienna was founded by Helmut Mark and Max Kossatz.

THE THING Roma. (Marco Deseriis, Giuseppe Marano) *

THE THING Amsterdam. *

* these are still active

THE THING Amsterdam (1996) http://joy.nujus.net/files/articles/TheThing/bild6.jpg

THE THING Basel http://joy.nujus.net/files/articles/TheThing/bild7.jpg

THE THING Berlin http://joy.nujus.net/files/articles/TheThing/bild8.jpg

THE THING Frankfurt http://joy.nujus.net/files/articles/TheThing/bild9.jpg

THE THING Vienna http://joy.nujus.net/files/articles/TheThing/bild10.jpg


Benjamin Weil ("A brief history of äda'web", Walker Art Center, 2000)

Judith Malloy ("NTT/Verio to Terminate Thing.net", 2003)

Dieter Daniels ("The Art of Communication: From Mail Art to the e-mail", 1994)

For pictures: http://www.mediaartnet.org/works/the-thing/

Inke Arns (Context-based systems, communication platforms and digital cities, 2004)

GH Hovagimyan and Blackhawk, 2007.

And of course Wolfgang Staehle

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