Ryan Griffis on Thu, 26 Sep 2002 06:59:34 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> review of "Day Jobs"

“Day Jobs”
New Langton Arts

“… we live in a society that is increasingly shaped by
events in cyberspace, and yet cyberspace remains, for
all practical purposes, invisible… the most dynamic
and innovative region of the modern world reveals
itself to us only through the anonymous middlemen of
interface design.”
Steven Johnson (Interface Culture)

“... if network_art_activism begins to establish
stronger ties with the previous generations of artists
who have faced the dismantling of the political in art
– both in the North and the South – so that this very
immature form which is net.art can gain a sense of
history about institutional critique, in order to
develop both a deeper aesthetic and historical
knowledge about what other artists have done before
history was erased by the digital hype.”
Ricardo Dominguez (interview with Coco Fusco, Mute

“Day Jobs,” the new show of networked art at San
Fran’s New Langton Arts, represents the work of four
web-based artists in an attempt to contextualize
current net.art production. This is accomplished
(arguably) by contrasting and comparing these artists’
works performed as employment against that done with
artistic intentions. The stated goal is to define
net.art as a definitive genre, one closely related to
(dependent on?) the more overtly commercial
applications of the Web. In “Day Jobs,” the works are
to be represented in a novel manner (sans the usual
art historical lineage model)- in order “to shed light
on the influences and conditions in which digital
media art in created.” The connections established
between the two different aspects of new media
production (art and industry), however, seem dependent
on the same traditional personality-based readings
familiar to art history. So, what we end up with is a
strangely decontextualized reading of both the
“commercial” and “artistic” products in question.

The works of Maya Kalogera and Jody Zellen seem to fit
the curator’s model most aptly, as their work has some
of the traditional notions of separation between day
and night jobs. Here, we’re presented with the
familiar story of the artist-craftsperson dichotomy,
where the worker utilizes similar skills in the
pursuit of different objectives. In this instance, the
web designer adapts images, code, and style from one
endeavor to assist in the creativity of the other. The
artists’ roles as both artist and craftsperson is
narrated by “Day Jobs” with a biographical tone (
http://www.coyoteyip.com/bio.html ), speaking of the
positive influence each part of their professional
lives benefits from the other. I can’t help but see
the resemblance between this construction of new media
workers (paint monkeys and programmers) and the older
vision of the creative individual amongst the
otherwise anonymous workforce. Bringing capitalism’s
(and the art world’s) fetish for individualism and
creativity as productive byproducts of competition
into the digital age.

The other two artists in the show present a more
problematic instance of net.workers for the exhibit,
but still become consumed by the drive for
normalization, and in some ways assist it. Valery
Grancher is represented on the one hand by a project
completed for UC Berkeley’s Art Museum with student
participation, and on the other by a project to
archive lectures by Roland Barthes. Interestingly,
much emphasis is placed on a contract developed by
Grancher to sell the Berkeley project to the school.
The person archiving some of Barthes work, the author
of Death of the Author, is credited with developing a
means for net.artists to be recognized as authors.
Whatever the specifics are for Grancher’s contract and
its relationship to “community”, this brings net.art
closer to previous forms of art – that is, more like a
tradable commodity with all the trappings (

Mark Tribe, the originator of Rhizome.org, is
represented by that project as both instances in the
artist’s professional life. Referencing Joseph Beuys’
practice of “social sculpture,” Tribe makes the
separation between work, play, and politics the
subject of discussion. The “work” is both the concept
and execution of Rhizome as artwork and as a
functioning non-profit, with stakes being real for
both. Not unlike other versions of social sculpture,
Mierle Ukeles and the Christos comes to mind, the work
is as much in the social network as in the tangible
things produced. But there are some conceptual
problems here, not just with Tribe’s work, but with
the concept and practice of social sculpture in
general, at least the dominant versions of it. The
notion that an artist can perform the same work done
by many, while claiming notoriety and novelty seems a
bit patriarchal – the artist becomes self-conscious
CEO. In the least, it seems to overlook the status
required for such a transformation of labor into
something with both symbolic and exchange value. This
is not to say that the practice can’t be useful, only
that it raises new problems in its attempt to deal
with others, and is often cloaked in neo-utopian

The major question I have regarding “Day Jobs” is:
“Why make the distinction between artwork and
employment at all?” How new of an approach can it be
to separate the work done by artists based on whether
or not it’s employment. How do commissions fit in,
especially since more and more net.artists (at least
the big names) produce in such a manner. And what
about the growing shift in programming labor from the
North/West to the recolonized South/East and the art
reverberating in between that reality.

I must admit this line of questioning is highly
rhetorical. No one should expect arts institutions to
break from the ideological imperative to keep labor
alienated while presenting the illusion of a possible,
less alienated work ecology. But neither should we
expect it to go by without critical discussion. If
“Day Jobs” wanted to be a show about the current and
historical necessity of wage labor in the production
of leisure, there are plenty of examples to be found
that make the connections between net.art and industry
motives visible. It could even have been done with the
artists’ works chosen. But of course, “Day Jobs”
doesn’t want to be that, why would it, when that might
cause some unwelcome feedback within the network of
arts institutions and high-tech sponsors.

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: majordomo@bbs.thing.net and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime@bbs.thing.net