The modernity in one of founding Net Art works

“My Boyfriend Came Back from the War” (1996) by the Russian artist Olia Lialina could be considered a classic of ‘90s NetArt. It is one of the first works based on the interaction between public and digital media through the use of hyperlinks, built in a specific order to create a non-linear type of narration. This artistic movement, in fact, is based on the use of the Net as a medium, in the period in which the Web was at its dawn. By combining black and white images, together with words and sentences, Lialina evokes the encounter of two lovers who were separated for a long time due to an undefined war. 

A computer screen shows the work “My Boyfriend Came Back from the War” by Olia Lialina.
Courtesy Electronic Literature

Starting with a simple black screen, the observer is led to click on a white writing on the upper-right side of the window. Following the narration built by the artist, the box divides into smaller frames showing new links and new sides of the story. What could seem a personal incident becomes more generalized and usable by everyone, reporting a condition common to all war periods. 

The playful aspect is fundamental in digital technologies in general, even more in these new first approaches to art on the Net. In fact, following the artist’s instructions, the user is guided through the narrative blocks, starting to feel part of the story and witness the facts. The observer is immersed in a familiar world, similar to one of the videogames, participating not only as an active character of the tale but also as a new director, amplifying the sense of involvement. The interaction with the work gives back a powerful and emotional impression, which until that moment was strictly bounded to other media, above all the cinematographic one. MBCBFTW, classified for this reason also as “net-film”, witnesses the starting transformation of New Media Art into a new film narrative movement adapted to young generations sensitivity. 

Olia Lialina, Self-Potrait, 2018.
Courtesy Olia Lialina

The work by Olia Lialina has been revised and reinterpreted numerous times during the past years, such that the artist decided to create an updated list of new piece interpretations, considered to be an original extension. The characteristics of MBCBFTW, both regarding the narrative style, media used, and the topics faced, make the artwork one of NetArt’s milestones.