First of all, thanks to Sarah Cook for offering a way to extend the
discussions we had on January 25th in another context. On that friday
afternoon and evening we concentrated almost entirely on art criticism:
wouldn't it be appropriate to create an art criticism that is aware of,
which encompasses media theory and media criticism in a culture whose
language and feel is infested by electronic media. In other words: look
at all art through the latest of its siblings. Now, on Crumb, I feel
challenged to take this idea further into the practice of presenting
(net) art. Not an easy task.
One reason why this is not an easy task: there are many interpretations
of the term net art, and it makes any discussion confusing if that is
not cleared. As Max Bruinsma, dutch art critic, said during our non
public discussion "we are building the new criticism as we speak" and
that means also the new definitions. I am now going to take the risk of
boring you to death with me thinking out loud. Just to show you the
broadness of the term net art. The following comes from some questions
someone sent me to answer. It is not perfect, but it gives some kind of
idea of what I am talking about when I say 'net art'.
> question 4: do you distinguish the terms web art from netart?
Web art and net art are two different things. Web art is an art
that is made to be presented and viewed within a web browser. Net art is
art that is made for and within a network (the combination of the social
technical (mostly computer) networks). Web art is therefore only a part
of net art. It is impossible to understand net art when all you know is
web art. It is however possible to know web art when you look at net art
as a whole. Because of the significance of networking and networks for
our politics, our society and our culture (so also for art) looking at
net art through web art alone is very unwise. It is like looking through
a peephole when you could open the door instead. Another more
interesting subdivision (if one can call it that) of net art has been in
focus lately though. The Transmediale festival in Berlin has been
important in its acceptance. This is code art. Inke Arns (german critic
and curator) has written a very interesting text about this recently.
Code is, as you know, the foundation of all computer communications, all
interfaces and all digital representations. Code is like the genetic
make up of the digital world and it is created by humans. I myself see
code art as a specialized area in net art most of all. In it artists
examine and experiment with the language people use to make computers do
things. The term 'code' can however be perceived in a very broad sense,
just like the term 'network'. There are dress codes, codes of behavior,
political codes, just to name a few.
The term net art has always been problematic. One can ask oneself
whether an art that is so diverse in its appearances and in its
practices needs to be called by a term that seems to lock it within a
certain technical context. Because of the specific changes to art within
a networked society it seems necessary however to have some kind of
reference to technology in the terminology used in order to not discard
or neglect certain crucial issues at hand (for as long as it is
necessary to create awareness of these issues). This is why I have
persisted in using the term net art. Code art so far is the only term
that has the same kind of double meaning and broadness that net art has
(and let's not forget the same snappy short name). It is the only term
that could compete with it. I think that the difference between the two,
and a choice for one over the other, would lay solely in from which
perspective one chooses to look at this new situation for art. Looking
at the code, the 'genetic' make up, would mean looking at the material
and the context of this art through a magnifying glass. Focussing on the
network means taking communication, sharing and exchange as central to a
debate around art today. Both are equally important to me even though
code is at the basis of, amongst other things, this communication,
sharing and exchange. Code art and net art are highly related if not the
same for me.
Coming from a tactical media background I am very interested in (amongst
other things) how perception and understanding are created. Because of
this I still choose to use net art over code art. The reason for this is
that to focus on code would mean a diversion from free speech and media
access for me, even if code has everything to do with these issues. The
diversion I am referring to is entirely in people's minds. I simply
think people know what networking means, but code is something much more
obscure (still). So I choose for the term net art for pr reasons. <
In the end of course (and I repeat this over and over, maybe
superfluously) it is all simply about art.
After this long description of how broadly I see net art maybe you can
imagine a bit how an approach to curating and exhibiting this art should
be broad or varied as well, depending on individual works. Of course the
issues we have seen here on crumb (concerning technology and security)
are important as well. They are not all there is to exhibiting this art
though (I believe people have sometimes commented on this here before).
I think we can distinguish between curators who look at the technology
as the interesting factor in media art and curators who look at the
cultural impact of art works. Even if technology cannot be but important
in art today, it is not the center of it imo. I forgot who it was, but
someone recently made a remark about the big media art exhibitions in
for instance the US (bitstreams etc.). It was something like this: when
will we see more curators who know how to present media art without
gettho-izing it inside the art world (or without emphasizing the art
gettho it is already in maybe)?
I think we should not forget that with net art we see an art that for
the first time has its own media, its own environment, its own ways of
representing itself. This can be used and incorporated in
representations of this work. It would be easy to say this own
environment is a reason to keep this art separate from 'the art world'
at large. Some net artists tend to think they need to be seperate from
the art world too. But why create two dinosaurs if we can have one
living art culture?
I will try to write something about responsibility and material use
(when working in a media environment, and that counts for curators too)
here too. Writing this down now makes it impossible for me to escape or
forget that one! ;) Remind me if I do.