Networked Projects:
in the Formative Years of the Internet

R obert Edgar

Robert Edgar is a pioneer in creating computer-mediated works of art that with aesthetic graphic interfaces explore philosophical contexts, and issues of memory, information, and avatar. His work includes Memory Theatre One (1985), Living Cinema (1988), Sand, or How Computers Imagine Truth in Cinema (1994), and Simultaneous Opposites (2008 - present).

detail from Presenting Memory Theatre One In the mid 1980's on Art Com Electronic Network (ACEN) on The WELL, Edgar's Memory Theatre One was a central work in online discussions exploring "Software as Art". Additionally, Memory Theatre One was included in ACEN exhibitions of artists software, such as Art Com Software: Digital Concepts and Expressions, which premiered at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at the Tisch School of the Arts, at New York University, on November 4-22, 1988, and featured works by Robert Edgar, Judy Malloy, Stephen Moore, Sonya Rapoport, Joe Rosen, Fred Truck, and Paul Zelevansky.

Memory Theatre One could also be considered a precursor to nonfiction computer-mediated works with underlying philosophical and/or historical frames of reference, for instance, HyperCard stacks, such as Brian Thomas' If Monks Had Macs (1988) and Storyspace works, such as David Kolb's Socrates in the Labyrinth: Hypertext, Argument, Philosophy (Eastgate, 1994).

Robert Edgar grew up in Cocoa Beach, Florida at the time of the birth of the NASA Space Program; he presently lives in Silicon Valley. While getting an MFA from Syracuse University's College of Visual and Performing Arts, he often hitchhiked to New York City, where his high school friend Robert Polidori worked at Anthology Film Archives. Films and videos by Harry Smith, Gregory Markopoulos, Michael Snow, and Stan Brakhage -- that he saw at Anthology Film Archives -- were influential in his work. Edgar has worked with German Historians Kirsten Wagner and Peter Matussek on an online history of memory theaters, that, due to complex circumstances, was left unfinshed in 2009.

detail from Presenting Memory Theatre One With reference to 16th century Giulio Camillo's Theatre of Memory, in Memory Theatre One, which Edgar discusses in his statement for Networked Projects in the Formative Years of the Internet, the user explores a series of 27 architectural spaces and metaphors. The work was created for Apple 48 and 64K systems and programmed in Paul Lutus' GraFORTH.

For more information about Robert Edgar's work, as well as for the images used on this page, visit his website at

R obert Edgar: Memory Theatre One

detail from Presenting Memory Theatre One Back in 1985, just after completing Memory Theatre One, and as The WELL was just getting started. I had moved from San Francisco to Atlanta to start a company producing video disc-based marketing systems, and found The WELL a perfect (although at the time, expensive due to the cost of long-distance connections) way to connect with the area I’d just left. As it turned out, it connected me with many people around the world.

Memory Theatre One (MT1) was a 20th-century cosmology on two floppy disks. With its limited graffiti-like graphics, I realized that it had to refer rather than contain. Its predecessor -- the small one-person theatre by the sixteenth-century Giulio Camillo -- contained heavily symbolic paintings paired with drawers containing explicative texts. The pairs were architecturally arranged both horizontally and vertically around the seated viewer, who was both the audience and the player of the theatre’s content. This was perfect: The Large Glass and The Green Box. And so I created a virtual ring of 12 pairs of rooms (high and low) that rotated around a central atrium, with a library of texts on one side, and a room with a two-dimensional depiction of the ring on the other.

I wanted to make an architecture that would refer to my life and outside my life, to texts and images, to ideas and marks, to past and present; to have content resonate in the form; and to have the concrete carry the cosmological.

I had made some stabs at Memory Theatre-like structures in film and sequenced slides. Certain works by Michael Snow, Robert Polidori, George Landow, and others seemed to approach them. (When I asked Michael Snow if his A Casing Shelved was related to memory theatres, he said no). But when I saw what my friend Warren Robinett had created when he created the first visual adventure game for Atari -- and then Rocky's Boots -- it clicked for me that with a computer I could realize in software what I couldn’t do in film or video alone. I just needed to learn how to program. So, I did.

To read the complete story behind the making of Memory Theatre One in my paper "A Context for First-Generation PC Art: Times and Aesthetics in the Early Days of the Personal Computer: 1970s – 1980s", click here.

detail from Presenting Memory Theatre One For texts written about MT1, click Fred Truck ("Musings on an Interactive Postmodern Metaphor"); Ben Davis ("Memory Theater One: Robert Edgar"); Renata La Rocca (Arte da Mémoria e Arquitetura); and there is a forthcoming article by Peter Matussek in M. Álvarez and C. Villaseñor Black, Renaissance Futurities: Art, Science, Invention. Berkeley, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2017.

In 2017, I ported Memory Theatre One to the web. It is not speeded up, nor its resolution improved; the images and animations are much as they were in 1985. To experience it, click here. It is located on my portfolio site: I can be contacted via my email:

The rich underlying environment of research and development in communications technologies from the late 1970's to the early 1990's not only produced ground breaking arts and humanities-focused virtual communities, such as the Electronic Cafe, ACEN, Arts Wire, and THE THING, but also was paralleled by a plethora of individual, pedagogical, and collaborative telematic projects.

With a focus on platforms and communities, in Social Media Archeology and Poetics (MIT Press, 2016), the words and work of creative computer scientists, writers, artists, musicians, historians, and digital humanists document how social media and related Internet platforms evolved.

Concentrating on vision and mission as expressed in individual and small collaborative projects, Networked Projects in the Formative Years of the Internet builds on and supplements Social Media Archeology and Poetics with a series of essays and papers that explore the theory and practice that was central to early telematic projects -- and in many cases also look to the future.

Judy Malloy