In the context of the contemporary arts, can Net.art be considered an authentic form of art?
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“ Art in general is the transmission of every kind of feeling, but in the limited sense of the world we call nothing art unless it transmits feelings acknowledged to be important, so also science in general is the transmission of all possible knowledge, but in the limited sense of the word we accord the name of science to that which transmits knowledge admitted by us to be important”. (TOLSTOY, 1898:277). Rosemberg in simillar fashion mentions that the artist “is described as a person of trained sensibility, a developed imagination, a capacity for expression and deep insight into the realities of contemporary life” (ROSEMBERG, 1972:11)…but, are these statements still true in the florishing 21th century art?. It is impossible to answer this question with out taking in to account the late evolution of mass media and as Julian Stallabras indicates, with out considering the instrumental dominance exercised by the manipulative forms of mass culture, (STALLABRASS,1999) and the manner in which social context and history have fostered and given meaning to the idea of art.
The concept of art and the avant-garde towards the definition of net.art
But the ordinary man either does not know or does not wish to know all this, and it is firmly convinced that all questions of art may be simply and clearly solved by acknowledging beauty to be the content of art.
- Tolstoy –
“We never choose to be net artists or not. It happened that we started to make things on the computer, about things inside the computer”
- Joan Heemskerk -
Some have pronounced that the digital revolution and the technologies of information are effectively allowing the emergence of new forms of art. That the terms electronic art, media art, cyberart or net art are merely ambiguous labels to describe the diversity of forms in which the artist deal within the information society and its technological developments (STOCKER,1999:14) I believe it would be ideal to define the term Net.art in order to facilitate the understanding of its social implications, and its value as a concept that refers to specific activities in the field of communications with the aid of technological devises (computers) within the electronic field. Nevertheless we have to acknowledge that the speed and the constant flux and transformation of the net as a space of negotiation of meaning makes it difficult to create stiff categories, stereotypes or accurate definitions; for now the generalization is unavoidable until the moment for its maturity comes in the near future when the novelty becomes history. On the other hand we have to bear in mind as well that the word Art refers to those activities that some how are concomitant to the possibilities of human perception and are intimately linked to the development of technologies that enhance human sensory. In this fashion we have to assume that in any case net.art exist fundamentally as a visual representation whose medium of operation is the computer, and that it lives in the systems of communication that allow its distribution… But then, what is art? How does this relative recent neologism of net.art relates to the concept of art?
According to Rudolph Arnhaim, art, from a general perspective represents all the results obtained from a mental process in which the conception of a reality is transformed into a representation, be it graphic, audible or physical. (ARNENHAIM:1993) Art continues, is a form of communication but it is a social discourse that can be appropriated, legitimated and reconceptualized. The value that is given to art depends of a variety of factors, beliefs , traditions and interests. Some consider it elitist and exclusive therefore the postures in which is evaluated acquire in most cases traces of high culture, which are defined by economic, social and political aspects; as John Berger mentions; any work of art is affected by the interests of a ruling class that strives to invent a history that justifies the way in which its institutions operate. (BERGER: 1972) This bourgeois vision of fine art tends to mystification and in such fashion art as a creation is given categories whose parameters leave aside products that are considered to belong to the inferior levels: crafts or artifacts.
From a historical perspective, Walter Benjamin pointed out that the notion of art is closely connected to the cultural tradition, specifically to the celebration of rituals and the cult to religious images and objects. (BENJAMIN,1955). The concept of art that has more or less prevailed till our days took its shape during the Renaissance, when the secularization of art gave it a new value attached to the celebration of individual consciousness and the notion of authorship. It is worth mentioning as well that the object of art itself became a commodity that could be possessed and collected. The raise of the gallery system paved what the Arthur C. Danto called the ‘Artworld’, the legitimization of a social institution.
Other important factor that shaped the conception of a work of art according to Benjamin was the advance of technique that allowed the mechanical reproduction; specifically the appearance of lithography enabled graphic art to put its products on the market in large numbers and daily changing forms( ibid ). But it was not until the advent of photography at the end of the 19th century that the act of mechanical reproduction developed in a more intense and authentic way; and would lead to what Benjamin called the decay of the Aura and the consequent loss of authenticity. The arrival of the moving image would take reproduction to unexpected limits.
However the direct influence of technique on art and the consequent evolution of electronic arts can be traced in the moment when the effects of the industrial revolution occupied daily life trough some progressive design movements known as Art Noveau, Jugendstil and Arts and Crafts. Over this time the emergence of other intellectual and artistic movements like Futurism, Dadaism and Constructivism had a determining impact on the perception of the fusion of art and science. These kind collectivities were actively involved in art production but above all in the search of a definitive social philosophy backed up by manifestos and public events. When we are talking about of the mechanisms of art production we are in implying the meaning of the work of art produced in a historical and social moment (with all the systems of regulation, organization and control that characterize it ) besides the individual and the specific meaning it has for its producers (the process of realization and subjective need of expression). Certainly the importance of any piece of art owes its essence to the factors that allow its development; nevertheless a piece of art should allways be considered in accordance to the conscious will inferred by its creator.
One moment that stands out in the history of contemporary art is that of the position of the object of art of -any determined object- in the 'determined' place for the arts (the gallery). This situation was addressed critically by Marcel Duchamp with the introduction of the idea of the readymades, ordinary objects freed from its natural functionality and given the quality of objects of art. The Dadaist movement represented one of the most radical movements in the European Avant-garde, it turned against both the distribution apparatus on which the work of art depends and the status of art in the bourgeois society. “The avant-garde expresses itself through metaphors and understands itself as invading unknown territory, exposing itself to the dangers of sudden, shocking encounters conquering an as yet unoccupied future” (HABERMAS,1983:5). Other examples of contemporary avant-garde movements that followed the tradition of the dadaists with peculiar features and some times radically opposite principles were the Situacionist (a derivative of the Lettriste group) Fluxus and Pop Art. The Situacionists as well as the Surrealists based its manifestations on acts of provocation, this group tried to create a new urbanism connected to the freedom of ideology and the idea of pushing the process of art production to the point of parody, plagiarism and collage with the objective of bringing new meaning via the collision of multiple elements of visual language. It results interesting to notice that Guy Debord (one of the representative members of the group) in the Society of the Spectacle wrote: Dadaism and Surrealism are the two currents that marked the end of the modern art, and both failed to accomplish its objectives: realization and suppression of art.(DEBORD,1967) On the other side the Fluxus group was associated with performances ‘a la’ Tzara, but whose main aim was the search of the absurd and the playful. Its manifesto reads:
To justify art’s professional, parasitic and elite status in society
He must demonstrate artist’s indispensability and exclusiveness
He must demonstrate the dependability of audience upon him
He must demonstrate that no one but the artist can do art
Therefore, art must appear to be complex, pretentious, profound,
serious, intellectual, inspired, skillful, significant, theatrical, it must
appear to be valuable as commodity so as to provide the artist
with an income. To raise its value (artist’s income and patrons profit),
art is made to appear rare, limited in quantity and therefore obtainable
and accessible only to the social elite and institutions.
FLUXUS ART AMUSEMENT
To establish artist nonprofessional status in society
He must demonstrate artist’s dispensability and inclusiveness
He must demonstrate the self sufficiency of audience upon him
He must demonstrate that no one but the artist can do art
Therefore, art amusement must be simple, amusing unpretentious,
Concerned with insignificances, require no skills, or countless rehearsals.
Have no commodity or institutional value.
The value of art-amusement must be lowered by making it
unlimited mass produced obtainable by all and produced by all
On other side of the spectrum the Pop Art practices celebrated as well the redistribution of objects. Its main spokesman Andy Warhol, not only presented readymade objects but promoted its use in large numbers and in limitless reproductions. He even detached himself of the creation act employing assistants in his studio, which he called 'The Factory' in an act of exacerbated cynicism. Warhol besides drawing attention over ordinary and mass produced objects became some sort of product himself. “He sold his personality in order to market his art”(BUCK,1991:26).
The arts as ground of meaning negotiation have raised philosophical questions mainly concerning the nature of the present of the individual and its condition within a community and in confrontation with the other, against the structure of traditions and distinctions based on the system of production. At the end of the 60’s, a decade of high politic awareness, full of discontent and disaffection towards institutions and traditional forms, the art critic Clement Greenberg claimed that modernism should be a self critical activity, in which the artist should concentrate on critiquing its medium of expression in order to reach a state of purity and self definition (GODFREY, 1998). Some artist had already taken simillar philosophy as stand point and took advantage of the emergence of some technologies, like the self referential video art movement of the 60s-70s; which disapeared against the the structure of spectacular imaging and television show bussines.
Contemporary art fundamentally attached to the modernist tradition and then to the postmodernist movements (or rather theories of interpretation) has been characterized for a multiplicity of expressions whose range of action is limitless in the styles and in the fields explored. It has benefited from the rich and contradictory philosophy of all its producers, but over all of the development of the technologies and the emergence of the mass media; in which, as Fisher mentions, cultural productions and concepts rapidly become commodified and are reduced to their most trivial meaning, or are simply taken over by which ever agency has control over the means of dissemination (FISHER,1994).
During the last 50 years art has been relentlessly appropriated by the advertisement and propaganda industry. Its uses within the production of meaning have been multiple and have been multiplied in proportion to the growth of society and the development of the means of transmission, specifically television; and nowadays the internet, although this still remains the domain of a sector significantly inferior to that of television; nevertheless the need of expression as a independent act has always been a territory of the artist, the need to supercede the requirements of the system is a natural characteristic of the creator, “because artists are active producers of culture, not passive consumers” (WALKER,1983:91) The avant-garde reinvents itself constantly and feeds from the practice of skepticism in regard of the values and parameters fostered by the media and the dominant ideology. Fundamentally left-wing artist have fed and enriched the conscious practice of art introducing political content into their work and internal critique in their procedures of creation and contexts of presentation. As Benjamin prophesized, the emancipation of the work of art from its dependence on ritual has been completed. What remains is the discussion and negotiation of political meaning.
It is believed by some that the convergence of computers with media and creative procedures will strength democratic processes and political participation considering the global extension of the channel of transmission and the limitless possibilities of content interchange. As Dovey puts it; all new media forms offer ways of excitement that represent the utopian aspirations of the liberal oppositional movements of the west. (DOVEY, 1996). Equally the mechanisms, the mediums and the procedures are still part of and are produced by the market system. In this fashion, the uses of certain or specific technologies represent a new form of domination in which the management of codes of communication backs up a perception of the wold and a system of organization. What is important to stress is that the system not only has extended its forms of structural domination but has renovated the ways in which the uses of a language impose a vision of the a reality the uses that characterize daily life and consequently the forms of representation and consumption of meaning. (taking specifically about the Microsoft phenomena), Yet the resistance it is always present specially in an irregular environment were the language apparently has not limits but those imposed by the lack of elements of reference and identification.
‘What is art?’ ‘Art is the sum or totality of works of art’ ‘What is a work of art?’ ‘A work of art is a poem, a painting, a piece of music, a sculpture, a novel….’ What is a poem?…a piece of music?…a sculpture?….a novel?
What is net.art? is net.art net.art?
Net.art as a term that implies the uses of the net in regard to the concept of art may seem as obscure as the possible interpretations given by those that claim to be its producers. The realm of art is itself a vast field of confusion in which the legitimacy of the products resulted of a creative effort acquire validity according to the historical moment, the social implications these bring into discussion, and its flexibility to be consumed and appropriated by a social sector. The scholar Jean Duvignaud pointed out that artistic creations in all its variations and possibilities can not be minimized to our present day understanding of it, “nor to certain of its elements which are arbitrarily chosen from periods in the past…we cannot separate the imagination from the general influences active at the time when the work of art was created, because it is impossible to detach the imagination from social reality”(DUVINGNAUD, 1977,65) and much more now than ever before when the digital era feeds up the vertigo of a uncertain future and the over abundance and saturation of forms expression and repetition. What is next? Seems to be the question.
During the last decade the uses of digital technology have increased considerably specially in the production-reproduction of audio-visual content. These procedures have gained social implications that challenge the traditional values of communication, but specially the concepts attached to social phenomena and the way in which these acquire meaning; taking for granted the particular emphasis in the field of art. Not only because art has held a status of intellectual leading force, but because it is evident that “in the contemporary period, art and philosophy have drawn closer to everyday life, but only to discredit it, under the pretext of giving it a new resonance” (LEFEBVRE,1947:130).
The convergence of media with computers has raised 'new' possibilities of expression that range from the mere translation of a determined form of content (in any form of data) to text and image based interactive narratives and highly experimental moving digital imaging (yet forms of data). In this context the unfolding of the World Wide Web as channel has added substantially to the forms of telecommunication and has made possible the emergence of interactivity and computer mediated communication; feeding the idea of self representation and promotion of identity. As consequence some organizations or groups actively oriented in the production, development and critique of art have taken definite positions in the net work landscape. Broeckmann points out that what emerged was a “situationism” hybrid resulted from the need of witnessing and participating that made possible to distinguish between ‘art on the net” and ‘art in the net’. (BROECKMANN,1999). It is necesary to notice that Broeckman seems to refer as “situacionism” the act of pure and harmless participation rather than to the political activism that identified the anarchic group the “Situationist”. We have to acknowledge that the hierarchical and institutionalized social model of art with all its conventions, contradictions virtues and deficiencies moved from one environment to another. But that transferce and change of context applied equally to the outsiders, the avant-garde and the average individual eager to express himself. The protagonist of this change saw the emergence of a multiplicity of worlds of art, circles and arcadias of high art and low art; and along with these unstable discussions that lead to the mystification of net.art. The idea of net.art or the concept as Paesmans puts it, can not be reduced as a single entity, it has to be thought as different kinds of people working in different circumstances in different levels, with approaches that may differ radically one from another. We have to think of a parallel form of existence in which the ideals, the principles and the rules of socialization remain the same for the protagonists of the arts; or perhaps to put it bluntly we have to think of a networked environment of communication . Of course new dynamics and processes emerge but the on-line being is still attached to the real being, be it an isolated individual or a complex and organized communal entity of art producers.
A specific case of art on the net  is that of already definite existent entities that simply made their way to the global sphere i.e. the museums or galleries that just started using the features of the web as a public extension of the institution, among such some galleries like the TATE Modern have commissioned artist with tradition in the electronic arts to develop projects online to be displayed as part of the gallery site. Some kinds of organizations with a specific and historical orientation towards the development of electronic art found the world wide web an ideal medium for the development of its discourse. Others have sprung as the outcome of the disposition of the web as a system and an instrument of communication. And others have just followed its development as a arena of activity of the new forms of art. Some examples that embody the subjectivity of these categories are as follows:
The ARS ELECTRONICA Festival, which for more that 20 years has been involved in the development of electronic media, and whose main activities have been characterized for its critical approach on the evolution of computer technologies with the participation of scientist, philosophers and artist. The modus operandi of this festival as a forum of exhibition besides other activities, has embraced the uses of the Internet as a tool as much as a distribution medium. In certain form the tradition has made of this event a contemporary measure point (tabula rasa) where curators and critics debate over the value of the pieces on exhibition and try to articulate effective dynamics of presentation of works that are in -most cases- online projects free and open to public access. It is interesting to discover that the next Ars Electronica festival to be held in September 2001 (TAKE OVER) is based in the future of the arts , the symposiums are essentially based on factors that are determining the art of tomorrow, the ways and the places where it will happen, and the protagonist that will be doing it. One of the last conferences (Who will survive) is specifically based on the globalization of the art market, which goes to show its dependency and its purpose.
On the other side there are the net based organizations that find its existence within the context of the channel and the medium, a typical example of those is Rhizome which, -according to its parameters of operation- “is an online community space for people who are interested in new media art. By "new media art they mean any type of contemporary art that uses new media technology. Rhizome's activities focus on: presenting artworks by new media artists, critics and curators; fostering critical dialog; and preserving new media art for the future”(RHIZOME,2001). The majority of the works that they present are characterized for a playful sense with the protocols and technical peculiarities of the medium, in which a high sense of symbolism and conceptual consciousness seams to be the requisite to understand their attitude. It is useful to notice that this kind of organizations in most cases act as virtual melting point of those organizations that fluctuate in and share the net.art arena.
Other types of organizations that I believe is worth mentioning are those that represent a different but significant approach to the uses of the network as channel of public domain for art analysis; one example is “nettime”, an organization that claims to be an effort to formulate an international networked discourse, in which diverse issues concerning the evolution of electronic media are analysed with from critical point of view. Theirs a public list of debate fundamentally text based presented as a compilation or public archive of easy access based on subscription. It is necessary to mention the nettime was founded in Venice during the Biennale 95 in a meeting of media-activists, theoreticians and artists, it developed the main lines of action on Net-critique along with topics of virtual urbanism, globalization, tribalisation, and the life as a metaphor. The emergence of this organization resembles the avant garde movements during the early 20th century, when most important art movements were associated with politic and intellectual awareness; although their field of practical action in global terms is wider, their personality fades in the intellectual elite. But then again in nettime.org the seriousness disappears in the playful (Fluxus style) or the ludicrous side of the expression: whilst we witness the emergence of individuals and groups that cling for high values and political and social rights; we witness as well the advent of expressions that celebrate the state of its reality; traditions attached to the weakness and vices of the society that feeds it and the risks of that open channel permits. In the archive I found articles and messages that reassemble a shallow social circle of leisure and entertainment. Two examples:
1- 1st ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL MR NET ART AWARD:
“In every field of human endeavor there are those dedicated to expanding,
pioneering, penetrating and winning. Along the electronic frontier, this
is especially true. To recognize this, the Mr Net Art Foundation
established the Mr Net Art Awards for deserving individuals.
Mr Net Art 98 is international and application is open to all.
All valid applications will be reviewed by a panel of judges chosen for
their knowledge of Net Art and the technical, legal, and social issues
involved in network technology, electronic communications and
2- "In behalf of the Old Boys Network, an international autonomous cyberfeminist
networking organisation, we offer this acknowledgement to Vuk Cosic. We
congratulate Vuk on his success on bringing net.art to the venice biennale,
which definitely is one of the pinnacles in his career. additionally he has
curated the first temporary autonomous pavillion ever at a biennale. we honour
Vuk in using his powerful position not just to represent slovenia and bring his
personal net.art position to this prestigious international event, but also to
show the positions of his net.art colleagues. we wish him well in his future
responsibilities to the net art community."
Another organization of the kind is World-Information, which defines it self as a transnational cultural intelligence provider, a collaborative effort of artists, scientists and technicians. A practical example for a technical and contextual environment for cultural production and an independent platform of critical media intelligence. World information –as they put it – try to demonstrate that artistic practice in an increasingly immaterialized world in which reference-information on situations are more relevant than the situation itself, the use of digital networks for symbol-manipulation becomes more and more important.
And finally there is the figure of the isolated artist (producer- creator) endowed with a vast collection of technological tools. Again the classification renders ambiguous because in many cases the existence of an art work in the net is the outcome of collaborative efforts (in many cases) from distant locations. An example is the work of Dirk Paesmans video performer and Joan Heemskerk photographer, who work together on the net using the name of Jodi. Their compositions represent a high technical knowledge of the computer protocols and languages and their philosophy compresses some of the ideals and contradictions of the new artist. In an interview for rhizome one of the Jodi members mentions in a tone that appears like indifference: “We never choose to be net.artists or not. It happened that we started to make things on the computer, about things inside the computer” Apparently they were some of the first that managed to auction a screen for 10 pounds within the gallery system in London in 1997. A similar conglomerate of artist is the VNS Matrix, a cyberfeminist artist group composed by four Australians whose personality fluctuates around feminist statements and social issues that vary from sex and porno to the idea of the game in the Internet.
The features of the World Wide Web empowered with a great variety of dynamic tools for visual presentation-representation (like flash, fireworks director, products among many others-) besides the combination of media that include: computer generated gif/jpeg images, CGI programs, Java scripts ASCII characters, and pure HTML, ect, have created a syncretic niche where the proliferation of approaches varies from the specialized to the hobby sort, in this circumstances limitless and usseless forms of classification are conceivable. Some companies like Macromedia have organized large scale festivals to promote creativity and simultaneously introduce new versions of their products. Such is the case of the Flash Film Festival, promoted as ‘a gala celebration to choose from nearly 2000 entries’.
; just to show the reach of the market place in the new environment.
It is important not to lose sight of the mechanics and social dynamics that lie behind all these plethora of expressions. The evolution of the visual arts has a long and historical tradition that has been directly determined –at least since the industrial revolution- by the forces of production and the global market agenda more recently. The evolution of the contemporary electronic arts was speeded up by the late 60’s when “the marketing of microelectronics catalyzed by the transistor lead to the creation of a new generation of consumers”(DRUCKREY,1999:16). This brings in to question the active social participation resulted of the proliferation of hobbyist or leisure practitioners promoted by the new raising industry of the new media. Which has targeted a very specific sector of the world young population. In these circumstances the character of the designer and the programmer (trained or self made) take a new configuration as creators capable of adapting to the easy contemporary aesethic of the web. Again in the Duchampian tradition many issues have been brought in to discussion and consideration as result of the technological practice of content production and communication procedures embedded on the network. Who are the legitimate producers of art if anyone with a bit of programming knowledge or cut and paste design techniques can imitate or even improve what others with a crafty background have done in a matter of several years? The scholar John Dilworth in order to clarify the difference between artworks and designs makes a distinction based fundamentally on the ‘intention’ of the producer-creator and on the final purposes and uses of the end product. (DILWORTH,2001) His account I think can be summarized on the distinction of a creative effort to produce something which can have practical uses or something that can serve (as he seems to suggest, because is not clearly stated) for idle contemplation. And then , where does the authenticity of a work of art lie? Does art on the net has cultural significance or it is merely an extension of consumerism and the methods of production? The German philosopher Walter Benjamin in its essay ‘The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction’ pointed out that “The greater the decrease in the social significance of an art form, the sharper the distinction between criticism and enjoyment by the public” (BENJAMIN: 1955:227). How does it apply in the age of digital reproduction, when enjoyment by the public is a metaphor of the DIY in the Internet context? Is the public-consumer in general becoming art creator?. The philosopher; Arthur C Danto, in 1964 “proposed simply that art becomes art by being seen as art, by being placed in an art context” (GODFREY, 1998:97) Historically the gallery system stands out in the condition of these affairs as a point of reference; its value as a social institution within the state asserts that “ art ‘reflects’ the socio-economic structure of the society within which it is produced, and then presents its (often persuasive) instances of this relationship” (WILLIAMS, 1981: 34) Art will remain a terrain of those that can legitimate, produce and teach it.
Therefore net.art can just be defined and defended by those that practice it, its authenticity will always be in debt with its producers. There may come the time when the classic or old net.art has to be replaced for the new alternative or experimental ner.art. At the end: a form of communication, an act of human interaction mediated by a system
Marco Casado, Jun 2001
...or perhaps as Dimitrou metaphorically states “ in art, the mediations of "person to person" interactions are now represented where: the "person to person" interaction is the poetic principle, and the use of the media represents the artistic principle, net art has little to do with what the art presents in our contemporary conditions after the use of the net, all the past-art events can be confronted as the interactive relation between at least 2 people [artist / viewer ]. Artist and viewer embody the new roles of their net exchanges, interaction is not simply expressed by a form button, but by the "open-source" dialogue, the forms that art presents manifest a whole range of open interactive actions ,any action of everyone towards everyone = the new poetic principle”
Module: Contemporary Debates in Hypermedia
Module Leader: Dr. Richard Barbrook
University of Westminster Jun. 2001
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