rax@pop.thing.at (Robert Adrian) (by way of Pit Schultz ) on Sun, 11 May 1997 15:53:04 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> net.art on nettime by Robert Adrian

net.art on nettime

Everybody seems to agree that there is something happening in the networks
that is connected in some way with the art of the 20th Century. Everybody
also seems to be in agreement that, whatever it is and whatever its called,
its pretty exciting. Almost everybody seems to agree that its is not just
simulations of things made for virtual versions of white museum walls. The
disagreements seem to begin with the question of whether it has a name and
whether naming would somehow fix it, like a butterfly pinned on a board, as
just another "ism" in the art historian's catalogue.

The Nettime discussion about net.art was kicked off by Andreas Broeckmann's
strong statement about the precarious future of internet access that he
identified as the context:
"[...] in which a loose group of artists, almost a movement, is currently
realising projects under the name Net.Art. They are based in various
European countries, team up in real and virtual institutions [...], working
locally as well as translocally, sometimes remotely, sometimes together on
the same project" ('Net.Art, Machines, and Parasites', 8.March'97).
As Broeckmann uses the term, Net.Art (or net.art) refers exclusively to
projects taking place in the WWW:
"... an important feature of projects realised on the WWW is that they can
constantly be updated and changed, so that there is never a ready and fixed
creation or 'work'. Net.Art works are temporary [...] and as unstable as
the networks themselves. [...] The main tool of Net.Art is the hyperlink
through which one WWW document can be linked to another, no matter where on
the internet that second document is located. This means that [...]
millions of WWW documents are potentially linkable [...] on which artists
and designers can draw."
Andreas Broeckmann's text makes no mention of 'Net.Artists' and no formal
prescription for 'Net.Art' (or net.art) and, although the examples he uses
belong to a particular group of artists, he makes it clear that:
"At this moment, Net.Art is certainly in a transitory state, in permanent
flux, and it will change and develop as its agents and environment change."

In spite of Andreas' effort to avoid suggesting a formula for a possible
'Net.Art', the history of 20th century art is full of cases of new and open
media and forms being appropriated and closed by becoming named - and
marketed -  as 'movements' or '-isms'. For example, David Garcia suggests
that the identification of a specific 'Net-Art' (as opposed to the more
general 'Art-in-the-Net') could lead to the destructive effect of internal
struggles over dogma, "[...] theoretical somersaults and tedious
technological formalism that accompanied debates about what might or might
not be *real* 'video art'.", that contributed to the demise of 'video art'.
When David Garcia concluded his reply with the plea: "The term net-art (as
opposed to art that happens to appear on the net) should be quietly
ditched", the framework of the 'Net.Art' vs 'Art-in-the-Net' discussion was
established ...

The problem with the idea of 'art that happens to appear on the net' is the
implication that the electronic networks are merely another venue for
traditional art practice and that the differences are more a question of
style than of substance, which opens the door to "the danger of reducing
the idea of the net to a mere means of distribution" (Benjamin Weil).
But whether you call it Net.Art or Art-in-the-Net the operative word is
'Net' - that is: this art is a part of - and entirely dependent on - the
net and that is what makes it different from other art in any medium. In
Jordon Crandall's words: "Net.art is interesting if you regard its basis in
networking, but not necessarily the internet. [...] It's important to look
at the internet as imbedded in a net ...". Art in the communications media
only exists when it is shared, when it connects somewhere in the net. Which
networking medium is used is not the important issue since its all really
only the old-fashioned telephone anyway. At least for now.

In looking for reference points to somehow locate 'Net.Art' (as a
phenomenon of the WWW) within the recent history of art, various
contributors to the discussion have proposed most of the movements and
media of the 20th century. David Garcia started the list with video art,
while Carey Young found "strong links" to sculpture, telematic art, land
art and especially to  installation. John Hopkins mentions mail art, Walter
van der Cruijsen added experimental film, performance, conceptual art,
electronic art and media art. Pauline Bosma suggests radio and hints at
fluxus while Alexei Shulgin and Rachel Baker's references to on-line
readymades and 'found elements' points to a dada connection. I can add
minimal art, computer graphics and Zerography to the list without even
stopping to think.

The interesting thing about this list is that, as viable separate art
forms, most of these "movements" and/or media are as defunct as *real*
video art but we find them still alive in the way artists are recovering
and recombining them as part of the strategy for working in the networks -
which suggests that either 1) the separateness (the 'ism'ness) was an
art-historical illusion or 2) the new networks, created by the conjunction
of recording and communication technologies, form a kind of funnel through
which the disparate forms of industrial culture are being squeezed and
merged. It is a kind of collaging, not a collaging of images and sounds
only but of cultural material, of memories, histories and media.

Jeremy Welsh wrote:
"The kinds of things that are being done with resampled/recombined data on
the web are only a further extension of a process that begins
(provisionally) with the cubists and gets to be the dominant aesthetic as a
result of Scratch Video [...] and its subsequent incorporation in MTV,
advertising and mainstream cinema. Now that everything we look at is more
or less collage it would be ludicrous to contend that collage is in or of
itself a radical strategy. It's a tool that anyone can use, and precisely
this ubiquity makes it viable and interesting."

Or a game that anyone can play - as Alexei Shulgin says in an 'interview'
with Rachel Baker: "Internet in itself is a hobby, is a game, everybody can
play Internet. It's like chess. [...] The competitive side of it has no
importance, but the thing itself is very, very strategic, and that is
probably what attracted me to the Internet game."

One interesting (and largely neglected) aspect of the 'Net.Art' phenomenon
is that of the strong theoretical and practical input from the
post-socialist countries of East and Central Europe. For artists whose
traditions are more about communication in an environment hostile to new
forms than about the manufacture and marketing of cultural products,
adaptation to the low market profile of the networks is no special problem.
In fact the absence of a market tradition appears to be a positive
advantage in operating in the 'gift economy of the networks' (Pit Schultz).
On the other hand, there is an almost equally strong input from
post-Thatcherist Britain - which suggests that there is a lot more to
discuss on the 'Net.Art' channel

I don't really have an opinion about the name game and in the end probably
agree with Josephine Bosma who wrote: "I like the term net.art, especially
because of that little dot in it."

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