“Don't use the internet as a fucking condiment”: Net Art at Art Dubai

by Alana Chloe Esposito on March 30, 2012 · 12 comments Events

Acquisitions of net art by the Tate Modern, the Guggenheim, and other institutions have given institutional validation to the genre, but complicated curatorial debates rage over what exactly it includes: Can it be shown on a computer in a gallery? Can it only be viewed online? Can art not based on code count as net art?

At (It’s Not) Net Art 2: Emancipate the Medium!, one panel at Art Dubai's Global Art Forum, heated debates began over nearly every aspect of the medium, from its formal qualities to its politicization and the notion that it is inherently radical. This argumentativeness is perhaps unsurprising given that the medium lacks a strict definition.

“We say that net art is art that uses the internet as its medium, but the internet is not really a medium,” claims speaker Josephine Bosma, by way of opening the discussion. (Panelists and audience members would later challenge her on this point). Ms. Bosma understands net art to be the product of artists working within a certain space that is at once technical and creative. She recalls Robert Adrian X's wonderment, articulated at the first online conference in 1979 at San Francisco MoMA, at “the space behind the computer” that allows one to “enter a new world.” To her, it serves as an “an ideal space for art to evolve in because art is also conceptual.”

“Why has it attracted so much counter-culture?” asks an audience member who professes an interest in the politics of net art. Another audience member replies that there is nothing inherently radical about the genre, but suggests it is often used subversively, or to inspire political activism.

The internet's widespread accessibility facilitates this today, according to writer and editor Victoria Camblin. Yet, Ms. Bosma, who must be approximately two decades older than Ms. Camblin, refutes her claim that the younger generations are so at ease with the internet that it becomes a natural extension of themselves. “They are only at ease with the simplest of interfaces,” she insists, adding that most people's daily internet activity only touches the tip of the iceberg.

Triple Canopy co-editor Alexander Provan steered the conversation back the art, dwelling on the discrepancy between art on the net and internet-inspired art shown in a gallery: “A lot of people don't make use of the specificity of the medium, which is diluting the performance potential.”

Artist Constant Dullaart put it more bluntly: “Don't use the internet as a fucking condiment.” He was not so much addressing anyone in the tent as venting about some artists' tendency to embellish their work with a redundant internet component simply because they think it makes their art cooler.

Mr. Dullaart edits online forms of representation, and user's access to it, to create on-and-offline installations and performances. As he warns about the colonization of the internet—corporations and states “divvying up the web and making decisions that influence us”—we watch the Google home page on his computer rotate 360 degrees. “I manipulate Google to show how they manipulate information they display,” he explains.

Ms. Camblin accepts Dullaart's assertion that politics and economic incentives have undermined internet freedom. However, she refutes the implication that this is necessarily problematic, so long as everyone recognizes the mechanisms of control. “People are aware of [corporate and government control],” she exclaims, adding, “We make these structures apparent; it is conspicuously clear.”

Another audience member interjects (customary forum protocol having been abandoned during the first five minutes of discussion) to raise questions about how to preserve net art and what happens once it is taken offline. In response, Mr. Dullaart equates net art to performance art, referring to his own Facebook performances: “You can't download Facebook in its entirety [in order preserve the performance he conducts by manipulating the code], just like you can't freeze Marina Abramovic in the middle of a performance and unfreeze her in 50 years so she can reenact it”.

According to Ms. Camblin, once a net artwork is taken offline it becomes something else. What that something else is, however, eludes her: A book? A sculpture? She isn't exactly sure. To account for this ambiguity, an audience member calls on museums and publishing platforms to open up their respective fields and embrace the genre, even as they struggle to understand it. “After all,” says Mr. Provan, “we have to assume that all new media will eventually become old media.”

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified the comments made by Josephine Bosma to Nat Muller.

  • http://twitter.com/Hypothete Duncan Alexander

    constantdullaart.com – most open, accessible netart site ever. The reloading url animation is okay (looks great in your browser history), but one has to wonder what it does for Analytics. :P Although maybe that’s the point. What examples did Dullaart give of netart as a condiment? From personal experience, I see a lot of artwork that claims it draws from the net, but it’s not apparent in the actual work. Is that what he means? On the other had, I think of Abramovic’s infamous show a couple of years ago, and how the documentation turned into a fantastic online edge for the piece. Sometimes a condiment can make a dish.

    What sort of challenges were made on Mr. Muller’s assumptions about medium? As a reader, I have no idea what the audience of this discussion was like; I’d like to hear more of the responses. It’s a fair refutation that many young net users don’t have the “expected” technical skills (digital natives myth grumble grumble), but that’s a generational misunderstanding, generally most people suck at (or don’t care about) technical things, regardless of age.

    It’s reductionist to describe all net art as performative. With a careful consideration of the qualities of a piece, it’s entirely possible IMO to restore a work that doesn’t keep pace with the web because it is the perception of the work, not the inner workings (in most cases) that counts. For instance, many AFC readers are familiar with Tom Moody’s pixel art GIFs that used to scale on his site with sharp edges. Nowadays, browsers assume most images are photos, so they smooth scaled images. Tom updated his GIFs so that  the files are now the same resolution as the old scaled images, so the edges stay sharp. The piece can effectively be experienced in the same way that is was 5 years ago. There was a debate about this on Rhizome a few months ago – same deal, but with someone’s videos – updating and maintaining a work is not the same as documenting it within a particular time. People restore paintings all the time and it’s not considered “performative.”

    • Will Brand

      I’ll let Alana respond since I wasn’t in Dubai, but just to fill in a gap—by the debate on Rhizome, you mean Ben Fino-Radin’s piece about anti-aliasing Cory Arcangel’s videos? 
      http://rhizome.org/staffblog/2011/oct/6/digitalarchivesday/

      • http://twitter.com/Hypothete Duncan Alexander

         Thanks Will, that’s what I was talking about. I disagree that the premise of Arcangel’s tiny video was to address the technical (scaling) since there was nothing interfering with the scaling in the first place. It was predictable that the pixels would look bigger. Arcangel was clearly trying to cut down on download time/ HD space, both of which are more plentiful nowadays to the point where a “restoration” is negligible.

        Bringing this back around to the discussion at hand, net art differs from physical art in terms of restoration because content support on the web is unpredictable. There aren’t any worldwide polls on antialiasing standards being held by browser developers as far as I can tell, so artists adapt to the whim of the developers. Physical reality doesn’t have that constraint, nobody’s going to pull the carpet out from under you.

        I haven’t seen any of Dullaart’s FB performances (would be open, though), but I suspect that Mr. Dullaart is quite familiar with the unpredictable nature of platforms as a user of that platform. It’s a different challenge, so different preservation methods are warranted. Yes, an online performative work would need documentation similar a physical performative work, but most other net art content is image/sound data that can be updated for current viewing as desired.

    • Alana

      To answer your question about who made up the audience, it was a pretty diverse group of academics, curators, collectors. Judging from the responses and from the fact topics of discussion varied greatly from session to session, I don’t think many (or any) had a lot of background on net art per se. 

      Other than Ms. Muller’s comment on the internet not being a medium (see quote in the article) there was not much discussion of Mr. Dullaart’s assumptions about medium. The discussion was heading in that direction, but we were cut off (it was only a 45 minute session). 

  • http://twitter.com/mariuswatz Marius Watz

    Net art – yet another art genre less definable than pornography. I’m always puzzled that the issue of code comes up again and again, as code has never really been a major concern of net art. Sure, some classic projects include code sophistry, but in general it has been an optional component.

    I’d be more curious to hear what (if anything) was said about net art’s place at an art fair.

    • Alana

      Discussion on net art’s place at an art fair was brief, but curator Nat Muller did comment on how most people forget that net art is indeed being bought and collected.

    • http://twitter.com/Hypothete Duncan Alexander

      Hi Marius, I agree with you on the code issue, but you can most certainly say what is and isn’t net art. I’m posting about this over at my blog (http://hypothete.blogspot.com/2012/04/in-which-i-am-grouch-about-panels-on.html), so if you feel inclined to respond here or there please do.

      Here’s my attempt at a definition based on this discussion:
      Net art is either artwork produced
      for web-based consumption with an implicit awareness of the culture and
      power structures that govern its dissemination, or physical artwork
      produced with a more explicit awareness of the same in mind, or a combination thereof.

      I think that this definition aligns well with the stances taken in this article, especially Alexander Provan’s remarks above.

      • Anonymous

        I was being ironic – I think net art is fairly easily definable along the lines you draw up, although I’d suggest that it might be useful to distinguish between pre-2003 net art and the current crop of artists since the concerns have shifted quite a bit. The counterculture aspect was stronger in the past, as was the use of code. Net art these days seems to be more like Internet Pop Art. Which is fine, it’s just different.

  • http://themanningcompany.com Michael Manning

    you can download your own personal history and entire facebook profile/messages/shared items etc. so technically you could probably archive Dullaart’s performances through that vehicle. See Ryder’s The Download for Rhizome. 

    • http://walterlatimer.com Walter Latimer

      Even still, it becomes something else.  Now it’s a static, offline copy of the performance that is different from its dynamic online counterpart, similar to how a video recording of performance art still isn’t quite the same thing as the performance.

  • Nat Muller

    it would help if the author would have distinguished between Ms Nat Muller (the moderator who only asked questions) and the speaker Ms Josephine Bosma. all statements are attributed to Josephine Bosma – not Ms Muller. 

  • Anonymous

    Then I think a great followup to this article would be a quick breakdown of what net artists do get collected. I’m not doubting it’s true, I just would be curious to see what the common denominators might be.

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