I have some homework for each of you. As you know, our topic of the
month is big media art in big institutions. We've had some interesting
comments from Beryl and from Julie Lazar about the scene this week in
San Francisco, and Beryl is off to Museums in the Web in Seattle this
weekend. In the meantime, here's your chance to get your thoughts about
the "museumification" of net based practices out into the world.
The assignment is this:
retired net.artist Vuk Cosic will be presenting in the Slovenian
pavillion at the Venice Biennial this year.
In his words, in order to shed some quality light on net.art and
contextualize his work, he is curating a parallel show of some low-tech
net.art people and there will be a book to accompany all that.
notes from Vuk:
### Technicalities to Foster Ambitious Behaviour ###
The book will contain
1) the catalogue of Vuk Cosic and Tadej Pogacar (P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E.)
2) the catalogue of the other show (alexei shulgin, rtmark, heath
bunting (irational), 01010101..., jodi, tom jennings, vinylvideo, vuk)
3) seed texts and possible debate re museology and net.art
4) a possible Nettime reader
The tech spec are as follows:
Publisher: Castelvecchi Editore (known for that fake Bey by Blisset,
also did the Etoy book)
No of pages of the "seed texts and debate": 30 pages in English, then
triplicated by translating
No of pages of the Nettime reader: 120 pages in English, then
triplicated by translating.
Languages: English, Italian and Slovenian
Timeline: rightaway! Designer and Translator should get English in a
week or two.
The sections will each be part of a larger volume but separated with a
front page of it's own.
Vuk has asked me, via crumb, to coordinate the creation of part 3, while
he works with the nettime list to generate part 4.
My proposition is this: I post some "seed texts" (or tell you where to
point your browser to read them) and your responses create the content
to be reprinted in this volume.
It derails us a little bit from the notion of "big media art" but
coincides with some of the practical discussion that's been posted about
streaming, and furthers our questioning of the role big institutions
play in the media art game. Given that Beryl has asked our respondents
this month -- Matthew Gansallo (Tate/Independent), Sandy Nairne (Tate),
Barbara London (NYMOMA), Julie Lazar (ex LA MOCA), and Jennifer Crowe
(Rhizome) -- to contemplate the big institutions, this could be a great
assigment to generate some thoughts about the museum-ification of net
So, your first seed text is one from 1996 by Lev Manovich called "The
Death of Computer Art." [Available from URL:
<http://www.thenetnet.com/schmeb/schmeb12.html> and pasted below].
In the 5 years since this has been written, what has changed? are his
prophecies still valid? How is Duchamp-land positioning itself? Is
Turing-land the same place it was then?
Our timeline is VERY short -- I eagerly await your replies.
(please note, nothing will be published in this book without my
contacting you to clarify edits, content, etc. first. But also note,
this is a great chance to have your voice heard in three languages at
the Venice Biennial, and in some excellent company, so please respond).
Subject: The Death of Computer Art
Average Reading Time: 4 min. 29 sec.
Signal to Noise Ratio: unknown
After reading with great interest recent discussions about this year's
ISEA and Ars Electronica I wanted to offer the following thoughts
(partly, as a way to compensate myself for not being able to go to
either event this year).
Lots of people talk about the coming convergence of computers,
communication and television. This convergence will probably happen. In
fact, judging from the new models of personal computers which are
clearly being positioned as consumer electronic devices (incorporating
answering machine and TV cards in them), it is indeed well underway.
Those of us who work with digital art often debate another convergence
-- the convergence between art world and computer art world. I recently
came to the conclusion that this particular convergence will NOT happen.
Below are the reasons why.
(In the following, I will refer to art world -- galleries, major
museums, prestigious art journals -- as Duchamp-land, in analogy with
Disneyland. I will also refer to the world of computer arts, as
exemplified by ISEA, Ars Electronica, SIGGRAPH art shows, etc. as
The typical object which is admitted in Duchamp-land (i.e., counted as
contemporary art) meets the following characteristics:
1) Oriented towards the "content." Or, as they say in Hollywood, "itís
the content, stupid." The content may mean beauty (although towards the
end of the century the arts have, by and large, delegated the function
of providing beauty for society to MTV and fashion); "metaphors about
human condition"; transgressing accepted cultural norms, etc.
3) "Complicated." This characteristic requires a further sociological
and semiotic analysis, but here we can just say that it refers to the
evocation of a multitude of cultural codes requiring to read the object
as well as a particular, "post-modern" ironic attitude.
2) Ironic, self-referential, and often literally destructive attitude
towards its material, i.e., its technology, be it canvas, glass, motors,
electronics, etc. The examples are the awareness -- which has largely
shaped artistic modernism -- of the tension between the illusion and the
flatness of the canvas; ironic machines by Duchamp; self-destructive
machines by Tinguely. Perhaps the best and most relevant example is the
first exhibition of Paik where he screwed technology -- ripping open
television sets or changing TV signals by affixing magnets to the
Let us now look at Turing-land. As we will see, Turing-land is
characterized by directly opposing characteristics:
1) Orientation towards new, state-of-the-art computer technology, rather
than "content." In the 1960s and 1970s it was exploration of algorithms
and cybernetics, later it was computer graphics, few years ago it was
CD-ROM and "interactivity" (which is a highly problematic concept
because all modern human-computer interfaces are interactive, i.e. a
modern computer is an interactive device by definition, so the word does
not say anything more than simply that an artwork is using a computer);
now it is WWW and "memes"; next year it maybe DVD (digital video disk)
or super-high bandwidth networks or something else. In short,
Turing-land functions as a place in society where the people from the
worlds of culture and art play with latest computer technologies.
Sociologically, this is exemplified by the historically changing
categories of exhibitions such as Ars Electronica and ISEA: the category
of "computer graphics" has been dropped in favor of a new category of
"WWW art," etc.
2) "Simple" and usually lacking irony. See below.
3) Most important, objects in Turing-land take technology which they use
always seriously. (This is one important difference between current
computer art and art and technology movement of the 1960s.) In that,
computer art functions exactly like computer industry. How often do you
see computer artists seriously confronting and foregrounding the basic
nature of computer technology -- that computers always crash; that
computer programs run out of memory; that half of the links on the WWW
lead nowhere, since nobody cleans up this gigantic dumping site of
information site known as "World Wide Web"; that a typical VR user
spends her or his time being lirerally lost rather than being engaged in
"meaningful" interaction with a virtual world; etc. In short, our
civilization is rushing to ground itself in a technology which can only
be described as highly unreliable, transient, and incomplete. When
computers don't work at a computer art show, the artists and the
audience always treat this fact with horror, although they are present
at an industry demo -- as opposed to taking this to be a wonderful
Perhaps only the artists from post-communist societies are ready to
recognize that in an information society the noise is as meaningful as
the signal, and that the nature of technology is that it does not work
as it supposed to. As an example, consider the project (which I already
mentioned in my previous post) presented by Russian conceptual poet
Dmitry Prigov during ISEA '94. He used a business translation program to
translate a Famous 19th century Russian poem from Russian into Finish,
then from Finish into English, and then from English back into Russian
(I may have gotten the details wrong but that should not matter). He
then declared the mistakes made by computer program (which, designed to
deal with business prose, was not very kind to Russian poetry) as his
new work of art. Thus, the noise became the signal. (Significantly, this
is something which Shannon's mathematical theory of communication, which
forms the intellectual backbone of the information society, has
recognized half a century ago).
But let us return to the battle between Duchamp-land and Turing-land.
Shall I conclude from my analysis that now, as Duchamp-land has finally
discovered computers and begun to use them with its usual irony and
sophistication, gatherings such as ISEA and Ars Electronica should
simply be abolished? Probably not. These gatherings do play an important
function of being a buffer zone, an interface where the world of culture
at large and the world of computer culture meet each other. Sometimes we
even see artists genuinely pushing the boundaries of new media
aesthetics, i.e. going beyond what is already accomplished by flight
simulators, new computer games with their AI engines, MIT Media Lab
projects, etc. In short, on occasion artists are able to compete with
computer researchers, rather than simply creating new demos for
commercial software, thus functioning as "memes" for computer industry.
What we should not expect from Turing-land is art which will be accepted
in Duchamp-land. Duchamp-land wants art, not research into new aesthetic
possibilities of new media. The convergence will not happen.