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nettime: The Work of Art in the Age of Cyber Technology - By Toshiya Ueno

----- Forwarded message from Geert Lovink -----
From: Geert Lovink <geert@xs4all.nl>

A Preliminary Thesis Toward "The Work of Art in the Age of Cyber Technology"
By Toshiya Ueno 

Discussions of network art, of artistic practice on the net, or "the work
of art in the age of cyber technology" best begin with a consideration
of the antecedents of network technology and cyberspace. Only by looking
back to its antecedents can we liberate our thought and our practice as we
face the "beyond" of network art and electronic technology. We might refer
to this stance, along with Geert Lovink and Pit Schulz, as a gesture
towards "net criticism," both in the sense of criticizing the net and
developing a critical net theory.  
In terms of art, practices such as "Mail Art" and "Fluxus" cannot be
overlooked as predecessors of network art. They emerged out of the
ceaseless metamorphoses of practice and method along the trajectory from
Futurism, to Dada, to Surrealism to Situationist mouvement. Beginning in the late seventies, "Mail Art" was a particularly ground-breaking experiment in
expanding the horizons of artistic production to include the processes of
communication and transportation. (It is interesting to note that an artist
like Genesis P. Orridge, who later became important in the fields of media
art and noise music, was once involved with Mail Art.) In Mail Art written
texts and other articles are not only mailed and forwarded, but the
elements that constitute the works are themselves "traveling" objects;
Xeroxed, made into collages, and cut and mixed together.  
In some sense, free radio and pirate television were also developmental
forms that arose out of this context. However, these kinds of
"broadcasting-style" free media, even "narrow casting" or "public access,"
tended to emphasize the sharing of a physical space with those on the
sending side, and they had little of the relationality and connections
characteristic of electronic space. The addition of a telephone connection
to the equation in the interest of interactivity does little to change this
fact. These may have been able to function as a certain mode of practice
for media art, but they were fundamentally different in character from
network art. In general, practices and art using electronic media can only
be said to exist "alongside" media art and mail art; "before," that is to
say, the advent of network art. (Of course this does not mean that they are
any less valuable. Their use by media activists in the former Yugoslavia is
surely proof enough of this. Of course these are not so-called "works of
art," but they are technologies/techniques of life; nothing less than
Is it possible to trace these "befores" any further back? If we think
of the concept of the network as having to do fundamentally with
"connections between people" or "connections between things" there is no
reason why this kind of relationality should be limited to that made
possible by electronic technology. Indeed, inasmuch as they functioned to
connect the "here and now" to another time and place, networks that existed
before the age of electronic technology must have incorporated
characteristics and desires similar to contemporary ones. Consider, for
example, the case of peoples or other groups (communities) which live in a
place other than their original location. Unlike simple distribution,
traffic, or travel, experiences such as immigration, refuge, exile,
expatriation, and Diaspora give rise to networks which may not be readily
perceptible but nonetheless have a definite existence. When people live
apart (both spatially and temporally) from their originary location and yet
collectively maintain a strong ideological, ethical, or spiritual
connection to that place, net-like or web-like relations begin to
proliferate. We cannot ignore the fact that not only is the number of
people in this situation rapidly increasing to include more than just the
Jews and overseas Chinese, but that our own cities and media are also
splitting off from their origins and transforming themselves into a complex
of traveling vernacular culture.  
Without even mentioning electronic technology, writers of cultural
studies like Paul Gilroy and James Clifford are already using the term
"Diaspora web" in reference to the kind of secondary indigenousness which
arises from cultural mobility and communication. Rock was born from blues
and gospel, and Reggae from the convergence of Calypso, Ska, and Rock. From
there system DJs wove together Hip-hop and House using (electronic)
sampling technology. Popular music of the twentieth century at least has
been an effect/result of a web of this kind of cultural traveling and
communication. Similarly, networks can evolve in a way that can only be
judged retroactively. Or perhaps one could say that networks already in
place have simply become visible thanks to electronic technology. 
For this reason network art is not a genre in any sense, nor should it be.
 Just as it makes it possible freely to move and connect links and nodes, it
is trans-genre from the very beginning. It is local at the same time that
it is global, but is never merely "glocal." It is a "translocal web"
(Kogawa Tetsuo) to the extent that it transcends this dichotomy. To say
that something is "not a net but a web" is not a matter of terminology,
aesthetics, or methodological categories or distinctions. The emphasis on a
consciously and unconsciously expanding web in place of an all-engulfing
network is also to be found traversing Hakim Bay's thoughts on T.A.Z and
the uses made of the Internet by the Chiapas FZLN movement. 
Experiments like Ingo Gunther's "Refugee Republic" and David Blair's "Jews
in Space" are closer to "Diaspora web" art than network art. Okazaki
Kenjiro and Tsuda Yoshinori's "Atopic Site Generated" from their "Bulbous
Plants" also deserves special note as a valuable experiment in the
inter(con)textual pursuit of the potential critical force of the linking
function on the World Wide Web and the semantic shifts between the "net"
and the "web." 
*In short, if there is in fact something that we might call network art it
is primarily a form of thought and practice based on the concept of weaving
and not simply an interactive mode of art based on network technology.
Bridges connecting separate land masses or links between islands floating
in the sea are not webs. Rather, it is important to keep in mind that it is
precisely the "bridges" and the "betweens" which produce discrete land
masses and islands. Such an awareness makes it possible to conceive of and
weave together worlds which do not preexist movement and communication.  
At this juncture there are always certain uninspired minds who bring up the
aesthetics of "bridges," "karmic bonds" (en), or "betweenness" (ma) to
claim that Japanese culture has always been characterized by this kind of
net or web-like relationality. Projecting network-like elements onto
traditional cultural forms such as linked verse (renga) inevitably results
in the proposition of some preposterous illicit connection between the pre-
and the hyper-modern. Such thinking is as barren and void of content as
Japanese-style postmodernism. Network art based on this type of ahistorical
thinking is on the increase in Japan. 
It is, however, possible to reread Japanese cultural forms such as renga
and Noh theater through the concept of the web from a position that
critically evades the impoverishing effects of this kind of
"techno-orientalism." Such a rereading entails setting up links that
liberate "the place called Japan" into "a space which is not Japan."
In an essay titled "The Story of a Box," the gifted literary and media
critic Hanada Kiyoteru (1909-1974) wrote of a certain rakuchu rakugai zu
(1) as a platform-like screen expressing the "group mind" of Kano Eitoku,
Oda Nobunaga, and Uesugi Kenshin. As you know, there were several versions
of this screen, but here we are concerned with the one presented (sent) to
Uesugi Kenshin by Oda Nobunaga in 1574. Painted by Kano Eitoku, this
depiction of a tranquil Kyoto done in a combination of Japanese and Chinese
styles functioned in fact as a challenge to Kenshin by Nobunaga, who by
this time had already seized control of Kyoto. This rakuchu rakugai zu
screen given to Kenshin by Nobunaga was a landscape painting of the
capital, a diagram of marketplace communications, and a strategic map of
Kyoto as a battlefield.
Hanada provides a dynamic perspective of this painting as one which
necessitates a "group." The bustling activity of battles, festivals, and
marketplaces all depend on the existence of groups. Rakuchu rakugai zu are
media which, when presented and sent to individuals, repeatedly convey this
fact. Hanada refers to Eitoku, Nobunaga, and Kenshin as sharing a "group
mind," to each one of them as a sender and a receiver, an interpreter and a
mediator of "pictures." He actively affirms group action based on the
assumption that "there is no mutual understanding among individuals" and
gambles that communal information processing is possible even in
relationships where the participants are anonymous and lack mutual
There is no doubt that what we have here is another web. Using the
stratagems of network art and weaving, net criticism ought to be able to
reposition even history and tradition in the context of "translocal"

Note: "Pictures in and around the capital"--a genre of screen painting
originating in the Muromachi period which depict scenes in and around
Kyoto. Ueno's reference to "platform-like screen[s]" employs the term used
both for a surface for painting and for a computer/television screen, but
translation into English further complicates the matter by adding the sense
of a folding "screen" (Jpn.: byobu) like those on which the rakuchu rakugai
zu were originally painted.    

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