“C.R.E.A.M.” at Art Micro-Patronage, Now in Excessive Detail!

by Will Brand on April 27, 2012 · 17 comments Reviews

Changing one digit in Kim Asendorf and Ole Fach's "THE $20 FILE" (2012).

Kim Asendorf & Ole Fach – The $20 File (2012)

The $20 File (2012) is my favorite work in this show. It’s “an artistic file format” that both delivers art—if you open a .$20 file, it contains an abstract ASCII artwork—and acts as art itself. When you press the download button on AMP’s site, the server generates a new, unique .$20 file and delivers it directly to you, without storing it. You can then verify the authenticity of the file with an online validator. “It is highly recommended,” we are told by the artists, “that the purchaser raise the price of a work, and that you make a verification before submitting payment.”

Word found a few spelling and grammar errors in my .$20 file. Thanks a lot, Word.

Word found a few spelling and grammar errors in my .$20 file. Thanks a lot, Word.

That’s dope as hell. The idea of an artwork generated only for the viewer, for one thing, is rich theoretical ground: can we discuss a work we each perceive differently, for instance, without recourse to its conceptual basis? Can artworks be generated by fingerprint, or retinal scan, to be seen in different forms by different viewers? What are the implications of that?

The actual ASCII artwork in the file—at least, in mine—was fairly boring, and a bit hard to view. The problem is that while a size of 256 x 256 characters makes sense in a certain nerdy sense, it doesn't actually suit how the file is going to be seen. 256 is the number of symbols in most ASCII character sets, and .$20 is an ASCII artwork, fine, but nobody has a text editor that can display 256 x 256 characters at the same time. You end up either decreasing the text size to the point of the ASCII being completely inconsequential, or looking at a tapestry-like scrollfest that doesn’t form much of anything.

It’s unclear, too, how one is supposed to “raise the price of the work”, as the artists suggest. If you change the file extension, for instance—say, to .$30—the validator rejects the file immediately; it even says, outright, that it has the wrong file extension. That’s a deliberate test and an error message, that needed to be programmed in specifically by Asendorf and Fach. It seems, though, to work against the whole idea of the piece, locking in the nominal price of the work forever (to be fair, the opposing example might be coin collecting). Surely a more fitting system would check the contents of the file, but disregard its price-extension.

Also, I’m not sure I understand why The $20 File is being put in a situation where one doesn’t actually exchange $20 for it. Is this a particular discount? Should we be excited to get something for free that should cost $20? Have these files ever cost $20? Again, some clarification would have been nice.

In any case, I’m keen to see if this works. Click the Paypal button above to receive my $20 File, number #47 of the unlimited edition, for the low price of $30. It has been featured in publications including Art Fag City.

David Horvitz's "Fifty-Eight Cents" (2011), as seen on Art Micro-Patronage.

David Horvitz – Fifty-Eight Cents (2011)

David Horvitz, a photographer/professional gimmick developer, got an MFA, and now he wants us to pay for it.

Horvitz has $58,420.10 in student loans, but not for long! Fifty-Eight Cents exhorts the viewer to send a check for the titular amount to Sallie Mae's P.O. Box, along with Horvitz's name and account number; the hope is that Horvitz's student loans will be paid off after a mere 100,000 donations. Art Micro Patronage even added a $0.58 level of donation, specifically for the project, that they’ll send to Sallie Mae on your behalf.

Okay, no. The idea of crowdsourcing tuition isn’t radical or interesting at all; it’s been a widely accepted public policy goal for decades. The government, after all, already directly or indirectly pays the majority of American tuition costs, principally by taking a small amount of money from a large number of people.

And, as Kyle Chayka asked at ArtINFO, “Why are we paying for his MFA, again?”

It’s not really clear. Horvitz presents himself as neither a particularly meaningful person to choose, nor a particularly arbitrary person to choose. That latter point is a huge loss;  if he’d placed more stress on the growing popularity of giving tiny amounts for no particular reason—the Kickstarter curse of “why not”, as it were—there might be a discussion to be had here. As it is, it’s hard to see what this adds to, say, the Million Dollar Homepage.

Some art I'm stealing.

Some art I'm stealing.

0-Day Art – Art Micro Patronage Season 01 Complete, torrent (2012)

Lastly, Howard includes a torrent of every Art Micro-Patronage show to date released by 0-Day Art, the net art warez project begun by Jeremiah Johnson (Nullsleep) and Don Miller (No Carrier). The concept is the same as any of the other releases by 0-Day Art: art exists online; art is in danger of being taken offline; therefore Johnson and Miller pre-emptively “put Net Art back on the Net” by releasing the work as a torrent. The Verge published a lengthy writeup on the background and reasoning involved.

In a way, it’s trolling; 0-Day Art is robbing artists of their ability to control the distribution of a work, and that’s a little bit of a dick move. Johnson and Miller’s argument, though, is that by doing the inevitable—for someone would surely pirate these works eventually—0-Day Art acts to dispel artists’ delusions about their control over an artwork’s distribution. 0-Day Art, in short, is the trolling net art needs.

That makes sense. After all, however net art funds itself, it will need a value system that’s able to deal with piracy. If film, music, and computer games can find ways to make money despite the widespread availability of their products for free, why should net art be allowed to cut the Gordian knot?

One criticism of 0-Day’s activities as a whole might be its choice of soft targets. 0-Day Art has mostly focused on low-hanging fruit, like AMP, Michael Manning’s “Street Show” (shown on a USB outside Eyebeam), and the videos Robert Lorayn uploads to Facebook and then takes down. It has not, yet, released anything particularly thorny or contentious. Even in this release, it’s telling that The $20 File isn’t included; that would’ve required either access to Asendorf and Fach’s server or a lengthy process of reverse-engineering. It will be interesting to see how far 0-Day Art is willing to go, particularly with regard to artists who already have (potentially litigious) gallery representation.

Still, the torrent is a fantastic inclusion in “C.R.E.A.M.” if only because it provides a necessary counterpoint to the rest of the show—an example of the omnipresent internet id that any of these schemes would have to contend with. It’s not at all coincidence that the only work it can’t duplicate is also probably the best in the show.

  • Anonymous

    Just as a note, 0-Day art has release stuff that is possibly contentious and thorny, IMHO, including Rhizome “Downloads” Which are meant to be only accessible to paying Rhizome members or donors that supported the fundraiser to download onto personal computers and enjoy privately (or so it seems). I know that this hasn’t exactly sat well with some people over at Rhizome, and other accounts of ambivalence toward what this project does (and the pirating associations that it embodies and employs) doesn’t exactly sit well with those that are wanting to translate primarily digital works into salable/collectable objects. 

    I guess I’ve more to say/respond on this topic, and the exhibition as a whole, but it might have to wait until a later time. That being said, I appreciate the thruoughness of this review in that it actually puts forth an evaluative/judgement claim against/for works existing under the “netart” paradigm – something that is sorely missing from the whole conversation (and instead usually gets substituted for “cultural critique,” “gossip talk,” or “lofty rhetoric/praise,” all of which I’ve contributed to and am not immune).

    • Will Brand

      Hey! Thanks for chiming in. I thought about that, particularly because Ben Fino-Radin & 0-Day were fighting on Twitter the other day after the Verge article.

      I still think Rhizome, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t the scariest opponent to take on, and that 0-Day v. Rhizome has been more concerned with rhetoric (like the references to the Armory show fuss last year) than with actual piracy. This isn’t yet, say, releasing The Clock.

      Also, more directly to the point, the Rhizome download torrent isn’t on 0-Day’s website (anymore?), which would’ve made it difficult to talk about and unpossible to link to. Was that taken down? I know I downloaded it at some point.

      • Anonymous

        IDK, but that is a good question about what happened to those torrents. Of course, you could always rehost those torrents yourself if you still have them, Will :)

         I’m not sure that they could take on “bigger fish” though, since their ideology is so dependent on addressing online works and communities. To take on something that isn’t typically within the realm of net-based practice (like say Paula Cooper in NYC) might divert the attention that this project’s initial intention. That being said, I know a convo on the NewNetArt listserv has discussed taking on projects like art.sy and that 0-Day art have plans to take on galleries that normally are physical spaces, but this process hasn’t really happened much yet…

        So, I’m not sure if expanding into non-netart camps is really part of the projects goals, or if they actually intend to be a compliment to something like Karagarga.

      • Eleanor Hanson Wise

        I’d have to agree that their targets have been a little soft. And, it seems it will stay that way. Since they have allowed their identities to be public, it would be hard for me to be convinced that they will go after anything too crazy. But, perhaps there aren’t any really big targets in net art. The commercial system for it – as evidenced in this show and article – doesn’t yet fully function (thanks for the google doc btw,) so proving a loss of income could be quite challenging. I also doubt that Rhizome would risk their station in the community to sue an artist hacker duo.

        The question of when something or someone becomes a target is pretty interesting though.

    • http://twitter.com/0DayArt 0-Day Art

      Just to head off any confusion, 0-Day Art has never released any of “The Download(s)” from Rhizome.

      • Anonymous

        Whoops, my mistake, sorry about that. I thought I had seen something of that on your twitter a while back, but I’m mistaken. Thanks for clearing that up. Do you have any plans to host those works?

        • Will Brand

          I totally thought I’d seen that too. Mass hallucination?

      • Will Brand

        Sticking to my mass hallucination theory, but I suppose it should be asked: would you? 

        Is The Download okay because it’s not “taken offline”, even if it’s still limited-access?

        Does it make a difference that anything included in The Download is probably going to stick around? Rhizome has institutional longevity, an archive-y mentality, and a financial incentive to keep everything that’s ever been in The Download available forever. It seems like a pretty safe bet that in, say, five years I’ll still be able to buy a membership and download Ryder’s Facebook history. Does that change things?

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=28124954 Jennifer Chan

          Seems like you have to be a Rhizome member to download The Download on Rhizome. This access measure seems to assume either only media artists would be interested in obtaining The Download, or it just looks like extra hassle for the common person to get an account just to download it…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=28124954 Jennifer Chan

    I’m enjoying the expanded multi-chapter review. 

    In hindsight I also thought JODI’s Goodtimes could have been at the end. To end the exhibition with the heavyweights instead of starting with it or to foreground the emerging artists because JODI is a big pull anyway. 
     
    I am a sucker for heavy meta and I proposed that commodity critique was the best way to sell work (why bother to make a physical analogue?) without contradicting oneself in The Commodification of Net Art http://pooool.info/from-browser-to-gallery-and-back-the-commodification-of-net-art-1990-2011/ which Tom Moody thought was really tired. According to him, money is a “back room” thing and I like how AMP makes this process (how much we will pay for net art) of valuation transparent.
    I appreciate how Lindsay has framed these as individually politicized works without moralistic tone on whether the will of the work is disruptive or enhancing to the browsing experience.Another thing I mentioned as a political issue that is hard to tell with AMP yet is what this platform alone means for artists and curators. It seems to reposition the curator as conceptual gatekeeper. The only way you can get in on the monetization system that AMP offers if is someone curates a show. 

  • Kyle McDonald

    great review. just one comment on this excerpt from the first page:

    “it’s awfully hard to make decent art as a second job”

    there’s a hidden assumption here: that all art should be equally easy to make. but i think some art hurts, some art takes time, some takes thought, some takes money. it’s all difficult, but each kind is difficult in its own way. maybe there is no answer here, and net.art is difficult because it’s simply not self-sustaining in a monetary sense.

    that said, i think the “donation” model is the closest to being right, and it’s great to see the alternatives being explored.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=34601449 Ryder Ripps

    cool premise good job

  • Will Brand

    Thanks for the comment!

    As for the matter of money, it’s a simplification, for sure, but I think it’s one that works. Money solves a lot of problems; it buys materials, buys time, attracts talent. All the uncertainty of art-making exists within certain parameters, and I think we can talk about changing those certain conditions without worrying *too* much about the more complex system within them. 

    Not to say, of course, that we shouldn’t stay awake to assumptions.

    I think donations make the most sense, too, in one form or another, but also that the likelihood of me donating money to a project is directly related to how much trouble it is to donate. That’s a Clay Shirky idea, referenced in Lindsay’s curatorial statement, that’s still true.

    Art Micro-Patronage did a great job, I think, in offering “wallet” functionality, so that additional donations require diminishing mental effort. Look at the Xbox: you can only put money on in slightly awkward increments, so you’re always left with a couple bucks in your Xbox Live account that you’re willing to spend on extra outfits or whatever. If AMP were to keep going (I really hope it does), I’d love to see them expand the wallet concept.

    The problem, I think, is that Microsoft was big enough to force that system on everyone pretty easily. So who’s that big in net art? How about partnering with Rhizome, for instance, to give all their members five bucks in AMP wallet money to spend as they like? I think it’d be possible (though not at all easy) to find a collector or foundation willing to bankroll that for the opportunity to be net art jesus. This is totally a solvable issue.

    • http://artmicropatronage.org Oliver

      First off, thanks for the great review and kind words about our project.

      I think you’re totally right about the importance of a “frictionless” donation process.  That was one of our central goals from the start. (Originally we were using paypal’s “one click” solution that promised to be more slick, but in reality it was super buggy and slow, so we had to ditch it for the normal paypal way. I’m sure we lose people there.)  Now that everyone is comfortable with dollar apps and dollar songs, the thought was that by setting the donation amounts super low, and making the process quick people might actually go one step further than clicking “Like”.  

      It’s funny that you brought up the wallet feature because we were actually considering removing that for the next round.  Granted, we didn’t have a huge sample, but few people used it as intended.  Instead most people used it to donate to all the participating artists as all unspent funds get divided evenly at the end of the six shows.   I really love the idea of finding a sponsor to pre-fill wallets for new users.  It might be worth keeping around just for that.  

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    Rhizome’s notion of “taking a GIF offline so the collector can have it locally” isn’t a viable business model or a particularly good way of educating people about this ill-defined term “net art.”
    That’s what Ben Fino-Radin (who works for Rhizome) and 0-Day were “fighting” about on Twitter–none of which is not explained here. Fino-Radin said he couldn’t support 0-Day because their program is rooted in a “diss” — that is, criticism of his employer.
    The entire controversy is glossed over here as “the Armory fuss last year.”
     

    • Will Brand

      I talked about the work in the show, and linked to a lengthy Verge article that does a better job than I would have done in discussing the antagonism between Rhizome and 0-Day. As far as I’m concerned, the fact that 0-Day have continued beyond Rhizome in particular—and the fact that they haven’t specifically targeted Rhizome for some time now—is ample grounds to consider their new work on its own merits.

      I didn’t examine the controversy more closely out of a combination of weariness and focus; I was getting sick of this show after 4,000 words, and I didn’t want to reignite a debate about 0-Day and Rhizome that is, in my view, exhausted. Even as it is, half of the comments here concern 0-Day. I didn’t want a piece I wrote with the intention of sparking new conversations to turn into a rehashing of old ones.

      Frankly, you’ve won, Tom. So far as I know, Rhizome hasn’t attempted to sell a GIF in such an exclusive manner since you called them out on Lauren’s comments to Hyperallergic; that, I think, is a victory, whether or not anyone flew a white flag. I think your comments surrounding the issue will continue to be a well-known, well-articulated viewpoint, and will be referenced in future if (when!) galleries attempt the same methods of exclusion.

      On the other hand, Rhizome also hasn’t attempted to sell net art in so public a venue as the Armory, whatever the terms of sale, since that fight. I think that’s a loss. Your own blog posts on the topic only mention in passing that Rhizome’s Armory booth also included a website by Rafael Rozendaal—an artist who stringently controls his own terms of sale to ensure his works remain available to the public online. It is good and necessary that Rafael Rozendaal’s work be sold at art fairs, and I think the scale and venom of your arguments against Rhizome selling Sara Ludy’s GIFs discouraged that.

      I am not eager to further belabor the point. I believe its potential for good has been exhausted, because Rhizome has learned that net artists will not condone unnecessary exclusivity, and because other organizations attempting to sell net art have since then used more fitting models. I believe its potential for bad persists, to wit: the further polarization of the net art community; the discouragement to potential future dealers in net art; and the building of general hostility toward an organization which will very soon have a new face and which, for good or ill, is one of the few American net art-related organizations able to acquire public and private funding.

      This beef needs to be quashed. Its usefulness is at an end, and if in future some new tyrant must be reminded that this is the internet, I’m certain your arguments will be the very first salvos. As I hope this review shows, though, we’ve got other things to talk about.

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    Your ennui is noted, however, Rhizome staffers were sending emails to artists and writers who mentioned the Armory incident, as recently as the C.R.E.A.M. show. The emails didn’t say “We were wrong” but rather, blamed Sara Ludy for the business model and from what I’ve heard, spooked the email recipients rather badly. The Verge article you mentioned also had a correction added at Cornell’s insistence that disavowed her involvement with “taking the work offline so the collector can have it locally.” That isn’t ancient history. Great if you want to assign blame for “building of general hostility” but it helps to know all the facts.

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