Dear crumb list
There has been a very interesting and spirited debate on the Thing list
in the last day concerning the awarding of the Ars Electronica Golden
Nica prize in the net art category. Apologies to those on this list who
are also on the Thing list, but I think it is worth reprinting excerpts
of the debate here (and for those on the Thing list, please feel free to
disagree with my abridged version of the discussion!) for the questions
raised about curating and the framing of new media (in this case
web-based) work within both the festival and the art world generally.
The thread began with the posting of Matt Mirapaul's article about the
Ars prize for the New York Times:
and continued with posts from Josephine Bosma, Joy Garnett, Frederic
Madre, Peter von Brandenburg, Eryk Salvaggio and Patrick Lichty.
With all due respect to the authors involved, here are some excerpts /
the Ars people seem to be devoted to breaking down the barriers that the
net.art community seems intent on holding onto. get this: the net
version of hi/lo culture! how preposterous! holding on to old school
cultural values...perhaps the net.art community can't see past it's
The valuable fringe of net art is ultimately an "underground" movement
and, by repeated announcements like the prix of ars, will remain
underground while commercial ventures will inherit the name and some
(very little) lustre that it conveys...
Somehow it seems very difficult for some to get beyond certain utopic
distortions of popular images of the internet. (Anything goes, everybody
is entitled to say anything etc.) I am not saying let's have censorship
or jail sentences for the likes of [certain net artists], the ars net
art jury or whatever, but let us at least form some kind of thoughts and
evaluations around them. Not all cultural endeavors are of the same
kind, and not all are of the same value.
the hi/lo argument is what is old-hat. some of the net.art vanguard
hasn't done their art homework is all. the desire to keep art in a box
labeled 'art' or 'underground' thus disconnecting it from everything
else is what i find amusing and finally retro in the 'underground'
net.art scene. it's just like the old
days in the art world (or, uh, now even). remember the land artists and
Smithson? remember the labels and forms they were trying to burst open?
well it's boomeranged again because not only did the artworld knee-jerk
themselves back into the white box after Smithson et al., but now the
net.art scene seems to want into that box as well....if you were all
really underground and avant garde you wouldn't give a crap about the
Ars prize, or whether you got the nod from the art museums.... you guys
talk endlessly about definitions but in the end your definition of what
art is comes from a historically conservative place.
Peter von Brandenburg:
There is a great deal of ignorance on both sides of this debate. On the
e-side which [Ars Electronica] wishes to honor there is profound
non-comprehension of the trads of the descent of contemporary art (any
form) & they are far the worse for it -- on the other side there is the
continuation of a moribund tradition which cannot separate the
discipline of the reading from the text so read...
So [one one hand] we have those doing important work who "don't know
what they're doing" & [on the other hand] we have those who would know
good work if they saw it but are pointed in completely the wrong
direction & so see nothing.
...I see art on the street every day, & yes, I classify it & rank it
according to my own structures of "hi - med - lo" &c. I had no issue w/
the award itself yet rather w/ what it is called. In [Mirapaul's]
article he compares it to an Academy Award being given to MTV for
transforming film-making... I think that would only be honest -- my
issue is merely that I wouldn't call it "best picture" yet rather make
it one of those fungible sort of "special achievement"
...I too think the Jury was in error, both for mis-naming the prize
itself & not looking in the right places to find work which *does*
reflect the (young) tradition they wish reify (since I've seen such
I think by limiting the idea of 'art' to it's most conservative
historic 'high-culture' categories one nullifies everything net.art
could potentially do/mean/change. The conferring of a prize and
categories makes it hard enough; the fact that the Ars people have
chosen categories that fall outside our conventional definitions of
'art' actually make the prize far more interesting: they are making a
statement about our culture, about the potential involved in
the blurring of our as yet entrenched cultural categories. Everything
net.artists supposedly believe in.
Uhhhmmmmm......Why is Ars Electronica important to anyone? Is that how
we assign value to art- with who gets the winged statue? I say,
who cares. Let them have their pretentious "idea openings" and the
people who make stuff will make stuff, be it art or otherwise, for the
most part I think the "Arse Electronica" will be ignored by anyone
interesting and outside of the box, since they have already decided that
they do not want to be of interest to anyone except the elite in crowd
of art theorists, who can go have an orgasm over these radical new ideas
that the ars is putting out while everyone else blinks twice and goes
back to coding.
...I also wonder- why _should_ the net.art community care about the rest
of the art world? Leave the net.art alone and see what happens. The
ideas within net.art should never reflect "net.art," but should reflect
ideas of the artist, all art does, naturally, or it wouldn't exist, it
is not the role of the museum or the critic to force that work into
asking irrelevant questions.
Peter von Brandenburg:
That's another issue, the incredible lack of meaningful critical support
structures. VERY few people have both what might be considered
"classical training" & a facility w/ modern & evolving forms. There
ought to be JUDGMENT. When the utterance of a child is given the
same formal weight as the utterance of a sage then the responsibility
merely shifts to *you*, the reader. Alternately power shifts to those
who can structure & author meaningful hierarchies... people whose task
is to filter, human search-engines if you will. One could argue that in
the art world, critics & curators should be doing this. Are they? I
...there is such a thing as *practical* criticism. That it existed
outside of the Academy previously & it exists outside still. & "working
does not "put things in boxes", instead they give artists *maps* which
can help to show them where they are in re to historical practice, the
labors of their peers, larger trends in socioculture, &c, &c. To
"position" is not to "define" & should never be to "restrict". If a
critic finds art which doesn't fit their labels then it's time to change
those labels... & yes I know that all too often the response is instead
to ignore that annoying art which "doesn't fit".
...distance & immediacy are both required for successful critical
Ars is half industry trade show, half haute elektrocoutoure which is
based more around fetishization of technological aesthetics than the
expression through electronic arts. Festishization and technological
determinism as technocapialist aesthetic for the promotion of new
...I think that the two largest problems here have been the perception
of the event as an organ of 'high art', and its problems with identity.
is closely related to the complex overlays of industrial, institutional,
independent, and commercial interests, and to merely categorize Ars'
as 'high' or 'low' or any other classification is problematic. However,
I will say that Ars' agendas tend to be quite oligarchic in nature, and
creates many of the issues that 'artists' take as so dear.
It's been said that the power of the future will not come from who
controls best but who organizes best, the web in particular. But to
bring it on point- is Ars organizing anything? They are coming at it as
if they have earned the webs respect- which they haven't yet. There
should at least be a courtship at first, considering the "outsider"
nature of the majority of net.artists we see, who don't want to deal
with museums or institutions anyway. It's arrogance at work here, and
clearly they are trying to "lead" instead of "organize."
...Critic as waiter, telling you the menu and recommending the specials
I think artists are all very well aware of the things they are
responding to in the world, though. Aren't artists critical enough of
their own work, have enough background, etc? They took all the same
courses as critics, read all the same books and go to the same museums.
Why do they need someone who doesn't
"do" to tell them how to "do?"
I think there is a lot here we can debate around the role of the