Net Aesthetics 2.0, The Long of It
Image via: Rhizome.org David Zucconi, Repeater, 2008
There was surprisingly little conversation about how quickly technology and the Internet changes at last Friday’s Net Aesthetics 2.0 panel discussion at the New Museum, a topic that permeated its first incarnation in 2006, and presumably created a need to revisit the subject only two years later. Held in conjunction with EAI, the original panel was moderated by Rhizome’s executive director Lauren Cornell, and included curators Michael Connor and Caitlin Jones, as well as artists Wolfgang Staehle, Michael Bell-Smith, Marisa Olson, and Cory Arcangel. Notably, with the exception of Lauren Cornell, none of these panelists were in attendance for the second round of this discussion, most of them at different parts of the globe for other professional engagements.
To be honest, I can’t say I was overly impressed with the new incarnation of this panel, and certainly, if one is to judge by the number of people who stayed through the whole event, I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Moderated by curator, author, and Rhizome staff writer Ed Halter with artists Petra Cortright, Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, Tom Moody, Tim Whidden representing the collective MTAA, and Damon Zucconi, the presentations and subsequent conversation were often littered with the use of net specific terms only those in the community were likely to understand, and therefore failed to engage many in the audience. I suspect part of the underlying issue here is that so much has changed over the last two years the discussion would really benefit from being narrowed; a three part series discussing surf clubs, hacking versus defaults, and protocol, as separate issues certainly would have solved a few problems.
I’m not going to bother discussing the failures of the conversation at any length because it won’t be of use to anyone and will give me a headache. To briefly summarize the less successful aspects of the evening however, both Damon Zucconi and Petra Cortright spoke poorly about their work, Kevin and Jennifer McCoy’s only connection to net art with regards to their practice is that they pulled a document off the Smoking Gun to make their piece Vice Presidential Downtime Requirements – at one point Jennifer McCoy bizarrely suggested the net wasn’t the right medium to make political art, and Tim Whidden asked the younger artists why they didn’t get that the Internet was a dead end, only to later admit that he wasn’t familiar enough with their work to make that claim. That said, even if some of the panelists didn’t do enough homework, more than a few worth while points of departure from Net Aesthetic 2.0’s first incarnation came up. As a result, I’ve provided a summation of these points after the jump, with the disclaimer that this is not meant to be seen as a comprehensive document on the issues raised, but a distillation of issues artists felt were important in 2006, and 2008. Notably there was a lot more agreement amongst the 2006 panel than there was last week.
Photo by: Aron Namenwirth
Artistic Rationale for working on the web
- Artists who began working on the web because they had no chance of exhibiting due to their field of interest (Cory Arcangel)
- Artists using the web as a tool (Wolfgang Staehle)
- Artists who’s offline work is influenced by the internet but also make online (MBS and Marisa Olson)
- Everyone is interdisciplinary. (Damon Zucconi, Petra Cortright and Tom Moody)
- Artists using the web as a tool (MTAA – they’ve transitioned to this)
- Artists who’s offline work is influenced by the internet but also make online (Jennifer and Kevin McCoy)
Internet Outsider Art (found or appropriated material)
- Described as interest in nostalgia. A strategy employed by artists as a means of dealing the rate of technological change (ie a movie looks pretty much the same 15 years later, the internet does not.) Working with older material gives the artist a means of understanding it .
- Originality and production. Oliver Laric is quoted by Petra Cortright, who represents the younger generation, “I’ve kind of come to the point right now where I don’t see any necessity in producing images myself — everything that I would need exists, it’s just about finding it” Everyone is talking about surf clubs.
The web is about communication
- Discussion about friendster and myspace (Marisa Olson)
- Individual blogs are discussed (Marisa Olson and Cory Arcangel)
- Internet as a glimpse of ourselves. Monikers as representation of individuality (MBS)
- Social networking sites like Facebook don’t come up once, though two of the panelists twittered throughout the talk
- In between states of communication, and the way essentially meaningless sites are assigned meaning naturally on the web (Sometimesredsometimesblue.com) were of interest to Damon Zucconi.
- The simple net art diagram – a strict definition of net art that illustrates the position of Internet mediated communication and interaction between two people as a lightening bolt between two computers. Tim Whidden says Net Art, as he defines it, is dead. People seemed more bothered by his definition of net.art than trying to determine if he was right.
Is it art? How can we tell?
- Marisa Olson doesn’t make a distinction between pop culture and the art.
- Cory Arcangel sees the net as a real benefit because there are so many people doing interesting things, and his job is just to stay on top of it. Context is what determines whether it’s art.
- Group surf clubs are discussed at length – communication about what’s art and what’s not on these sites isn’t deemed to be an issue for the artists though Tom Moody admits the issue is confusing. Surf clubs demonstrate that artists use their “art head” when surfing. Moody asks, How do you stand out? Do I care? Do I stop people from putting it into contexts I didn’t intend?
- Hacking vrs Defaults is vaguely referenced.
The Sublime, Beauty and Emotions on the Net
- Reflection that net art used to be about technology. Technology isn’t about utopia, we don’t have to talk about failure, in the third wave, the Internet has feelings. Michael Conner cites the idea of heaven/sublime in MBS’s Continue 2000, and Cory Arcangel’s fluffy Super Mario clouds.
- Cory Arcangel says sublime is something he wanted for his gallery work – a communication strategy necessary for an audience that would not have an awareness of computers, or necessarily want to engage in them.
- MBS talks about safety of the web. It’s a sketch pad
- Marisa Olson says beauty is safe on the Internet, in contrast to the mainstream art world which tends to be distrustful of it.
- Caitlin Jones says beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
- Speed of change on the Internet mentioned briefly by Moody. Sublime not discussed
- Emotion in web art described as “Internet Aware Art” (originally coined Guthrie Lonergan here), which from Tom Moody’s subsequent post on the subject I understand to have originally been meant to described as largely anonymous found material with intended emotional substance, and/or the act of embuing those objects with further emotional meaning. Amongst the examples, Moody cites the melancholy in found book covers for self-published books Guthrie Lonergan bookmarks on delicious under “self publishing”
- Feeling of safety on the web reveals itself when Petra Cortright refuses to play a video she’s made to an audience that is available online.
- Interest in the browser as a frame and as a surface (I don’t understand what the surface quality of a browser should look like past what your monitor looks like). Also some mention of the mastery of a medium and meaning built up over time. I didn’t understand where that was going either.
Net Art in the Gallery
- “The Internet is not a two way street” – it doesn’t work well in the gallery (Cory Arcangel). Everyone seems to agree there are problems in making it work.
- No agreement on whether the Internet has been tamed. Tim Whidden thinks the situation “is worse” for artists (I assume he was talking about opportunities, though he wasn’t specific). Tom Moody thinks artists are getting better at showing net art in galleries and cites some of his own work. Petra says she is going to make holographs, (which is the best physical approximation of a gif I can think of) Ed Halter notes the Biennial no longer has a net art section, Tom Moody counters with the artist favorite youtube’s event recently at the Kitchen and his exhibition at artMovingProjects Blog.
- Damon Zucconi says the onus is on the artist not the curator to make it work. Everyone seems to agree with this.
- Ed Halter notes professionals move in both directions in the art world so we have people like Murakami who blend fine art and commerce in Museum contexts, and others such as Jonah Peretti, who was well known for his work as an artist, and moved on to become better known for the Huffington Post and Buzzfeed.
The Wisdom of Crowds.
- Not discussed.
- Acknowledgment of artists releasing art on personal home pages and such before a cursory discussion of surf clubs. Ed Halter reads Marcin Ramocki’s definition “artists post together as a group on one blog, they surf the web for material which stimulates their imagination, and then re-post it with a varied amount of post-production treatment and manipulation. The whole group follows the postings and occasionally comments. Formally, this scenario isn’t much different from popular posting sites, where participants browse for weird, “cult” images and videos and collect them as a form of past time. Examples include, Nasty Nets, Loshadka, Spirit Surfers and Double Happiness (sorry guys no link, your blog crashes my browser)
Net effectfrom TIME OUT NEW YORK via ART FAG CITY LINKS
Rhizome is out to make new media seem less scary.
When I recently asked an older artist if I could send her a Web link to a review of her work, she replied “Internet? I don’t even have an e-mail address!” Many artists are averse to technology and wouldn’t know packet switching from a pack mule. Lauren Cornell, adjunct curator at the New Museum of Contemporary Art and director of Rhizome, a new-media organization affiliated with the museum, is working to demystify the Internet for tech-shy artists and audiences.
In response to artists’ changing practices, Rhizome has paved the way in recent years for an expansion of the definition of media art, foremost through the revision of the group’s mission statement in 2005, which now states that Rhizome is “dedicated to the creation, presentation, preservation, and critique of emerging artistic practices that engage technology.” Says Cornell, a former TONY contributor, “We realized that there is no exclusive monolithic community working with the Internet; it has permeated our lives in virtually every way. We also wanted to be more inclusive of artists working with the idea of the Internet, and not just the platform itself.”
And it is true that an increasing amount of work in galleries and museums engages the subject of the digital world if not the technology itself. For instance, Trevor Paglen, whose work has been featured at Bellwether Gallery as well as in events organized by Rhizome, collects symbols of military culture, including patches; much of his oeuvre is about the exchange of information in government special operations, and is based in part on records available over the Web. Another artist group highlighted in the New Museum’s programming is the collective Paper Rad, which produces digital animations as well as comics and performances related to digital themes.
Since its founding by Mark Tribe in 1996, Rhizome has grown into a full-fledged nonprofit with nine staff members, including curators, writers and interns. The organization offers an extensive website with an editorial section reviewing shows, along with relevant news stories, opportunities for artists to submit portfolios, an online community board and a rigorous program of exhibitions and events at the New Museum, which provides an actual physical space for new-media curatorial endeavors. Upcoming special events such as “Net Aesthetics 2.0,” a panel discussion with prominent artists and critics on the state of technology in contemporary art, as well as monthly happenings through the New Silent Series, organized by Cornell, are excellent examples of the new face of Rhizome.
Cornell, 30, assumed the directorship of Rhizome in 2005, after working as a curator and a writer for several years. At the time she was uncertain whether to stay in the art world. Law school beckoned, but a friend, artist Paul Chan, convinced her of the important role that the arts play in society.
Rhizome began as a listserv for the small community then working at the intersection of art and the Web. At that time, the relationship between the two was quite different from what it is now. Cornell says the initial feeling among creatives was of “totally exploring the possibilities and limits of a new medium. Today the attitude has shifted to enthusiasm mixed with a healthy amount of skepticism.” She says there is an increasing number of artists who not only utilize the latest in digital technology but also critically examine the effect of the realm of ones and zeroes on art, society and politics. “At Rhizome we try to position ourselves to reflect this new attitude and the constantly evolving relationship between the arts and new forms of media,” Cornell explains.
Artist Michael Bell-Smith, who has worked with Cornell and shows at Foxy Production, posits that this trend away from tech geekiness is a good thing for art. “Before, Internet art was much more compartmentalized and was more easily ignored because it was steeped in its own technology,” he explains. “Rhizome has been instrumental in contextualizing new-media work and pairing it with other things in a way that levels the playing field and makes media work much more accessible.” Bell-Smith lauds Cornell for her appreciation and understanding of the art-world establishment coupled with her receptivity to new work. He adds that her ability in her work at Rhizome to draw parallels between old and new trends helps people to see the connections.
And you won’t have to have majored in CompSci to appreciate any of it.
Marcin Ramocki's thoughts on surf clubs a must read! From recent conference in Nova Scotia