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<nettime> Re: net art history
Amy Alexander on 21 Feb 2001 13:42:28 -0000

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<nettime> Re: net art history

A couple of thoughts on this popular net.art.thread:

As has been already been mentioned a couple times in the thread: focusing
on net.art seems to imply it's *the* history of net art, a seemingly
unbreakable modernist habit. Though I understand it wasn't Josephine's
intention to imply this, focus on net.art history over the years causes
humans reflexively to have such a reaction. Also, it doesn't help that the
name of the movement is one punctuation mark away from the name of the
generic form: "net.art and net art." If a movement sprang up called
"sculp.ture" people could probably keep it straight, because the term
"sculpture" has been in active use for quite some time - but "net.art"
sprang up when "net art" was fairly new, and so the two have become
confused to a large extent. (I'm not sure myself where one ends and the
other begins; blurring boundaries having been a goal of net.art, perhaps
thats a good thing.)

So there are clearly other net art histories than net.art: we have heard
from the mail art mothers of net art, Elisa Rose, and for example, a
number of us in the US were actively doing net art when I started in 1996:
Victoria Vesna, Shu Lea Chang, Ken Feingold, SITO, Brad Brace, Electronic
Cafe, as a few (but not the only) examples, some of whom go back much
farther than 96. Brad Brace, of course was working largely on Usenet,
Electronic Cafe was working with video/audio networked performance as an
extension of telecommunication art; most of the rest of us were working on
the web. I think, overall, we were more focused here on the idea of
exploring/exploiting the network and of communal, networked production (of
intangible objects) than the European net.art folks. (But that's a rough
generalization - for example, projects like "Refresh" would have fit right
in - and in fact I remember that project being very popular here.) On the
other hand, we found ourselves dealing with some of the same issues as the
folks in Europe: museums and galleries wanting to show the work, but
wanting the file on their system so they could somehow have an "object"
that the rest of the world on the Internet didn't have.... though somehow,
when I told them this was impossible and defeated the purpose of the
Recycler, they always seemed to show it anyway, sans file - evidence of
Olia's node theory. I made the Gallery section of the Multi-Cultural
Recycler as a joke on gallery net art objects, but this didn't seem to
dissuade them - they printed out the Recycler Gallery images to hang on
the walls for shows.  Go figure. Well, enough of the shameless personal

What I think we lacked in the US was a "movement" the way net.art was a
movement. (That doesn't speak for other net art histories, such as mail
art, only for the particular movement that I was not involved in at the
time. :-) Please feel free to correct me if you were, in fact, involved in
a net art movement - would be nice to get all these net art histories
better documented somewhow... ) But anyway, net.art had a movement, at the
very least it had coherence, and although it aimed to subvert the art
world, eventually its own sort of art world formed around it. It developed
a culture, hype and mystique through lists and texts; it had a center,
insiders, outsiders, even nodes.  This is of course not a failure; this is
unavoidable:  groups form; even anarchism is an institution. Then
histories of the anti-institutional institutions begin to be written, and
the fun begins. (Look how long this thread has been going... ) With all
that baggage, how can a postmodern modernist institution possibly survive
the critical eye of History?

So, did net.art fail? I don't think so - look at all this extra-galleric
history it's generating... It wanted to divert production/attention from
the Art World - here we all are arguing about it, people are writing their
theses about it, etc.  I'd say it succeeded in its aim pretty well. Did
the museums and galleries absorb some of it anyway? Sure, what's to stop
them. Is that a failure? No. I think Olia hits it right on the head with
the node theory. Whether a museum or gallery acknowledges it or not, it
can be no more than a node with regards to net art. But then, this is the
nature of net art, as well as of net.art. Moreover, the absorption and
commodification of both net.art and net art is limited, partial, and
optional to the artists. Neither has been consumed by galleries, and they
have not developed a dependence on them.

Is net.art dead? Where did the net.artists go? They are still making
net.art, or at least net art... they are also making political statements,
music, love, babies; this is life, not death. Net.art is not about the Art
Police forcing people to do the same thing constantly to prove commitment
to it; no art really is. The crux is still there. Whether the production
is the same as it was 5 years ago or not is not really the point: it is
what it is, it left what it left, and the frenzy of discussion about it
here is itself evidence of its success in what it set out to do. The
layers may peel on and off, but the center is still there - think of it as
toilet paper. BTW, don't try to flush the tube; it just keeps bobbing back

(Note to people who take things literally: toilet paper is a good thing;
just think of the mess you'd have trying to wipe up with the Art Journal.)

- {AT} 

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