Sandra Fauconnier
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Verhalen van Dordrecht

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Verhalen van Dordrecht - finnisage

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Verhalen van Dordrecht

Sandra Fauconnier (ENG)
The essay is written on request of CBK Dordrecht and at the occasion of the last story (nr 300) in April 2011. NL Verhalen van Dordrecht; online stadscultuur.

Stories of Dordrecht: urban culture online 1999-2011
Stories of Dordrecht was a web-based art project that ran from 1999 to 2011. Created from an idea and initiative by Wapke Feenstra, Stories of Dordrecht was a website featuring a constantly expanding collection of stories about Dordrecht written by local residents and visitors. The stories could be true or imagined, historical or modern – but they all had to be personal and connected with a part of the city. Over the years some three hundred stories were assembled on the website.
From its inception Stories of Dordrecht was supported by the Centrum Beeldende Kunst (CBK) (visual arts centre) in Dordrecht. The project website, - from 2004 also accessible at (1).- was hosted by CBK, which made an iMac and internet connection available in its own building for editing purposes. With the support of CBK an editorial team from Dordrecht went in quest of new stories and then refined them together with the authors. (2)
The team also organised recurrent activities in the city. The project was linked to local initiatives: a creative writing course held in Sterrenburg, Dubbeldam and Stadspolders in 2008, 2009 and 2010 respectively and a Christmas story competition in 2000 each generated a new flow of stories. From 2003 a series of city walks was organised by artists Peter Westenberg (3) and Jetske de Boer (4). In 2007 artist Anne Pillen built a Story Organ that travelled through Dordrecht, from event to event, presenting and adding to the Stories until 2010 (5). These projects were not planned in advance: Stories of Dordrecht was an organic initiative which tapped into whatever was going on in the city at any given moment.
The life cycle of Stories of Dordrecht is closely intertwined with the period and places where the project evolved and grew – not just the city of Dordrecht itself, but also the virtual space in which the project was explicitly set: the world wide web, still very much in its infancy at that time.
This article discusses that last aspect of Stories of Dordrecht: the project within the context of the internet, where it occupied a unique place from the late 1990s.

Investigating space on the emerging web

How do we experience the spaces and places where we live and work? What memories and histories are linked to locations? These are the kind of questions that artist Wapke Feenstra explores. She doesn’t look only at the physical space (urban and rural), but at the virtual environment as well, the internet as cultural space. So, Stories of Dordrecht was much more than an art project in and for a city: it also explored the nature and potential of the world wide web. Could the web be more than a repository for information? Could it also be a place where people meet and share culture? By 2011 it was more than evident that the web was ideal for all of this and much more, but towards the end of the 1990s, when Stories of Dordrecht was only just beginning, these were still strange questions.
What exactly was so new about the world wide web, the most popular part of the internet, developed in 1991 (6)? One of the first `firsts` was worldwide accessibility of information via a PC: twenty years ago we gleaned most of our news from the radio, newspapers and television; the music that we listened to came from the radio, CDs and LPs, and concerts; and when we needed to look up an address or call someone there was that huge tome of a phone book.
It was via the world wide web that the phenomenon hypertext first became popular: users were able to establish connections between documents and to hop from one chunk of information to another by clicking on hyperlinks. In the years ahead the web would, of course, continue to evolve, but these two uses still lie at its heart – in fact, they are such an integral part of our daily life that we barely give them a second thought.
In the 1990s the web grew steadily in popularity as more and more people started using it. At first it was used primarily in academic circles, but in the mid-1990s `ordinary` people started exploring the possibilities. It would still take several years, however, for the web to become common property.
Wapke Feenstra developed the idea for Stories of Dordrecht in 1998. What did it mean to set up an art project for the internet at the end of the 1990s?
At that time the world wide web was very much smaller and still relatively unknown in society at large. In 1998 around 60% of Dutch households had a PC but only 14% had an internet connection (7). The internet, shrouded in fallacies and misconceptions, was still an unknown quantity in the eyes of many people.
The web was certainly much smaller then; information on many topics was meagre or even non-existent. You couldn’t just `google` unfamiliar terms and concepts: Google had only just appeared on the scene. (8). Regarded as very experimental and cutting-edge, it threw down the gauntlet to other big players in the market such as Altavista, Hotbot and local search engines such as Social networks – Hyves, Facebook and Twitter – were still unheard of. It would be another five years before they appeared. The term and concept of `weblog` gained currency from 1999 and became wildly popular in the early 2000s (9). E-commerce and webshops sprung up all over the place –, for example, was founded in 1995, and though it became very popular, it did not make a profit. Towards the end of the 1990s, however, the tide turned and people started believing in the profit-making perspectives of internet businesses: so the value of these businesses shot up, until March 2000, when the `internet bubble` burst and tens of thousands of small and large investors saw their assets go up in smoke.
Originally the web was developed as a non-commercial environment. The first web users and the makers of the first websites were academics and researchers. From the mid-1990s amateurs and laypeople started building their own sites: simple homepages published on free platforms such as the now defunct Geocities (10), most of them `handmade` thanks to the html code typed into text-editing-software. These amateur websites had their own aesthetic (11). Even today, some people still post and maintain their own homepage – but by far the majority of internet users share personal information, photos and videos through social media such as Hyves, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube.
And what was happening to cities on the emerging web? Local initiatives played an important role: informal groups and individuals were often much quicker to post websites than official organisations. The Amsterdam initiative De Digitale Stad (DDS/The Digital City), which developed in the 1990s, is a classic example of this trend (12). DDS offered users free internet access (they has to dial into DDS City via a modem connected to their phone line; you could also get this service from internet providers for a fee), an e-mail address and space for a homepage. The DDS homepage and general website displayed all the elements of a city – with a station, a metro, shops, squares and houses.
Outside Amsterdam and the big cities of the central conurbation, DDS had a more limited effect. But much of the local information on the world wide web was still being provided by amateurs. In 1996 photographer Jaap Bouman in Dordrecht launched the domain name and website to collect information and news about the city. He also offered web space to businesses and organisations: the website for Stories of Dordrecht was accommodated in a `subdomain` ( CBK was in the URL because it had commissioned Wapke Feenstra to do this art project.

Stories of Dordrecht through the years
In 1999 the internet project Stories of Dordrecht went live. At that time it was launched as part of a bigger project in the city called -b-l-i-k-o-p-e-n-e-r-(can-opener) (13), but Stories of Dordrecht would continue independently and remain active for over ten years – an eternity in internet terms.
The first version of the website, in 1999, was designed and built by a small team on the basis of a concept by Wapke Feenstra. The visual design was by Roger Teeuwen, who had co-designed the b-l-i-k-o-p-e-n-e-r- house-style with Danny Kreeft. Daniel Rodenburg saw to the technical construction and the interaction design was developed in close association with Wapke Feenstra. In art projects on the internet it is less customary for the artist not to take care of the technical aspects and the layout him/herself. But in other fields of media art – or art that uses technology – interdisciplinary teamwork is more common (14). This set-up was also better suited to the working methods of Wapke Feenstra, who usually develops her projects in a team.
That also applied to Stories of Dordrecht: the stories paint a subjective picture of the city, an invisible `layer` of experience and meaning.
The project started out with only nine stories, collected in all sorts of ways – sent in on sheets of paper, stuffed into envelopes, passed on by a seaman’s son from the boarding house... This initially tiny collection gradually grew by between five and nine stories a quarter, arriving through different informal channels (15). The year 2000 saw the start of computer courses for and by senior citizens in Dordrecht, which in turn generated more stories. But others arrived in more conventional ways, on paper and sometimes by fax, because the CBK had no email address at that time.
In the CBK building an iMac was installed outside the municipal network with an internet connection based on an analogue modem. This was the only internet connection in the art centre in the first two years. The computer was used for editing texts and offered opportunities to show Stories from Dordrecht to the general public.
At the end of the 1990s there were some concerns as to whether the content of work by non-professional authors would be interesting enough. Was there an audience for this kind of writing? Now, in 2011, lots of amateurs publish good, readable texts on the internet – via blogs, social media and suchlike – but things were different ten years ago. To ease the doubts, some `real` Dordrecht writers were invited to contribute stories in the early phases. After a while, it turned out that the stories by local residents were certainly not being overshadowed – in fact, the diversity of perspectives and subject matter became one of the main attractions of the site.
Stories of Dordrecht worked with different editorial teams, who actively went in search of new stories together with Wapke Feenstra. Projects by artists Peter Westenberg, Jetske de Boer and Anne Pillen provided new content and new writers. Incoming material was read and sometimes heavily edited (16). This was necessary to ensure that the stories met certain criteria: it was particularly important for the stories to be personal, written from the standpoint of the writer and not explicitly political – any opinions were always rewritten from a personal perspective.
Stories were seldom – if ever – rejected, but sometimes a writer would withdraw a story because, once it had been edited, they could no longer recognise themselves in it.
The stories were presented on the site in a simple format: no images, but with hyperlinks to all sorts of related and explanatory websites. A story might, for example, contain a hyperlink to the website of the Dordrecht police force or to De Singel, the boarding house for seamen’s children. Up to 2004, whenever a hyperlink was set up, the editorial team often requested a return link from the owners of the other website (17). This fanned out into a whole network of related websites around the story site and drew visitors from external sites into the project.
The first stories featured places in the historical city centre. In 2003, when the total had reached one hundred, the project was expanded geographically to include seven city districts: Reeland (2004), de Staart (2005), Krispijn (2006), Wielwijk/Crabbehof/Zuidhoven (2007), Sterrenburg (2008), Dubbeldam (2009) and Stadspolders (2010).
Every story had something to do with a specific place in the city, but how do you show that on a website? At the end of the 1990s there were no standard solutions like Google Maps, so the team had to find its own answers. Wapke Feenstra felt that it was important for people to experience a sense of space: they mustn`t feel as if they were just clicking around in a web or computer environment, being sent from one window to another. So how do you show a map detail on a website and retain an idea of the surrounding city without aligning it against an enlarged frame? Wapke Feenstra and Daniel Rodenburg tackled this problem together and produced a solution that was actually ahead of its time: an interactive map of the city, that you could zoom into with a sort of magnifying glass (18). Brightly coloured circles (dots were already part of the house style of -b-l-i-k-o-p-e-n-e-r- and Stories of Dordrecht) marked the locations in the stories.
At first all the stories were typed in manually by the website builders; the site was still static at that time. But as more and more stories arrived, it became very difficult to maintain the site manually. In 2005 the team switched to a slightly more modern design, with a database and content management system into which the editorial team could enter the stories (19). The design itself was purposely kept simple: no complicated interaction, no visual effects, no Flash, which was so popular at the time. That way, the attention stayed focused on the actual stories.
The team also distanced itself from internet hypes in other areas: from around 2005 social media on the internet, such as Flickr, Youtube and Facebook, were becoming increasingly popular – but Stories of Dordrecht deliberately connected with `offline` activities, such as walks with the Story Organ. As a result, after a start-up period in which the emphasis was on the digital city, the project strengthened the ties with the physical environment.
Hyperlinks have not been actively maintained in older stories since 2006. The website thus became progressively affected by `link rot`: links to websites that no longer exist. This is inherent in the medium: the web is organic, dynamic and fragile; information changes all the time.
Eventually, this happened to Stories of Dordrecht: the project continued for over eleven years with impressive flexibility, responding to events and developments in its urban and virtual environment. Eventually a line was drawn under the active collection of material. Hopefully the stories will stay on the site for a long time to come, as a recollection of this period, the pioneering years of internet art, a document about an exceptional project in Dordrecht and online, in the physical and virtual world.
Sandra Fauconnier 2011
fokky [at]

1 To view snapshots of the history of the project visit the Internet Archive:*/ en*/ .
2 The editors-in-chief over the years were Ien Deltrap, Wapke Feenstra and Ini Oostindie.
3 Peter Westenberg: His walks in Krispijn are documented at
4 The walks of Jetske de Boer in the district of Staart are described at
5 See and
6 An initial proposal for the design of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau is still available on the website of the World Wide Web Consortium.
7 Statistics Netherlands, StatLine – Media and ICT,,12,14,15,17-52,72-147&D2=0&D3=(l-11)-l&HD=110314-1228&HDR=T&STB=G1,G2
8 Google History:
9 A brief history of the weblog concept can be found at
10 was set up in 1994 and for a long time was the most popular choice of internet users who wanted to build their own website for free. In 2001 it was taken over by Yahoo and the services were closed down in 2009. Remnants from Geocities were archived at
11 Olia Lialina is an internet artist and theoretician who, in recent years, has researched the aesthetics and distinguishing features of amateur websites, `the vernacular web`. See en Lialina, Olia & Dragan Espenschied (eds.): Digital Folklore Reader. Stuttgart: Merz&Solitude, 2009.
12 For the early history of DDS, see Flint, Joost: DDS – 10 jaar anders. Amsterdam, 2004,
13 The project website was There is a brief description of B-l-i-k-o-p-e-n-e-r- on the website of Wapke Feenstra: The project consisted of a series of culinary shows, a living room built around Ary Scheffer (Dordrecht’s most famous painter) and an exhibition about life on the inland waterways.
14 Interdisciplinary teamwork in media art is discussed in Brouwer, Joke, Arjen Mulder and Anne Nigten (eds.): aRt&D: Research and Development in Art. Rotterdam, V2_ and NAi Publishers, 2005.
15 Interview with Wapke Feenstra, 13 December 2010.
16 Nico Carpentier describes and analyses the editorial process for Stories of Dordrecht from the perspective of anarchist theory. Carpentier, Nico: Digital Storytelling in Belgium, Power and Participation, in: Hartley, John & Kelly McWilliam (Eds.): Story Circle: Digital Storytelling Around the World. Malden, MA and Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009, pp. 188-204.
17 Backlinks:
18 Daniel Rodenburg derived his inspiration for this idea from the film Blowup (1966) by Michelangelo Antonioni, where zooming-in on photos formed an important part of the story.
19 Media theoretician Lev Manovich writes regularly about the database as a basic element in new media, as a genre or form that causes non-linear narrative. See Manovich, Lev: The Language of New Media. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001, pp. 218-243.