Dear Crumb list
Last year, when I was writing content-type.org, I made two
The first was a number. The number was in fact the name of the art
collective 0100101110101101.org, which has made the most significant
art online of late, in my opinion. Namely, their
work: life_sharing. This mistake resulted in my writing being co-
authored without me even realising it. Florian Cramer performed an
interesting trick here..
The second was a word. I used the word net when I should have used
the word web. More precisely, when I emailed the Rhizome_Raw
mailing list in August to say that content-type.org was an anti-net
idea virus I should have said anti-web idea virus instead.
I am not anti-net or anti networks. I can see now though that I am,
in fact, very anti the current World Wide Web as a representation of
computer networks. This connects with several important issues which
affect artists, critics and curators involved online, and content
and content management are central to these issues.
Yesterday, I attended a lecture by Ted Nelson. This has made me
properly realise why I wrote content-type.org. At any rate, Ted
Nelson's lecture has significantly affected the following text:
The hierarchical structure of the web - using directories and URLs to
relate information - is quite simply too oppressive for most artists
to tolerate, and as a representation of networks ignores issues of
content management, creativity and most importantly social trust.
I realise now that I didn't like the web very much - it more and more
felt like an unacceptable representation of communication structures.
The fact that the media (broadcasting/publishing) industries have
increasingly imitated and appropriated these structures only adds
insult to injury in terms of exaggerating the impact of poor engineering
concepts. And these media organisations certainly aren't going to criticise
the engineering of the www.
This is also part of the media/art identity crisis, which is the
media's increasing management of art content, gatekeeping and the
over exploitation of cultural resources.
I also wrote about the fact that the creative skills of engineers in
the 1950ís/60ís/70ís were culturally ignored in the West, and are
still being ignored, as something which didn't happen and which is
thought to be irrelevant to the flourishing of creative communities.
Many see engineers as simply performing technical tasks - not
engaging with human issues of empathy and social trust at a very
creative level. Why do artists and engineers need to collaborate?
Because human understanding actually depends upon it. Scientists also
need to be more positively included in this dynamic.
Content is obviously affected fundamentally by networks. Computer
nets can be used in the processes of building social trust and making
art, as well as new forms of archiving. But only if the right
structures are being engineered. (This is what life_sharing was in
part about I think.)
The web is really not good enough at coping with this yet. Art cannot
be made, critiqued and curated within this hierarchical, directory;
URL based structure, unless it is to reveal the shortcomings in the
communication processes of that structure. Essentially this is what
net.art did. It's also what most web based 'browser' art does. But
there comes a point when this is not enough, and I think Josephine
Bosma might well agree here. Over-acceptance of the www by artists,
curators, critics and museums only oppresses all those cultural
producers and mechanisms and prevents them from dealing with the
complexities that they have been able to deal with in the past. An
unacceptable homogenisation begins to take place, and threatens to
destroy the very resources that ensure cultural understanding.
Related issues of content are very significant to this process. Being
able to relate deeply to ideas and imaginary constructs, as Ted
Nelson says, means being able to be free to interpret them, to relate
our own perceptions to them. In other words re-interpretation, as
Fred Madre says, by the viewer (user), artist, critic, curator,
whatever (!) has to be permissible. However, the current links based,
directory based system means that whenever this occurs within the
www, a hierarchy always appears even though that is not what was
intended or even desirable.
This engineered hierarchical system actually threatens social trust -
which is at best fragile within the largely text based environment of
the www - mostly because of the structures being used. The permission
to re-interpret content/material - to be able to map it into ones own
space, contravenes/exploits what many would see as the last remnants
of the space of the originator, artist/author/unique identity. This
is what many net artists have explored in their work,
but life_sharing reached a new level in terms of notions of space
and creative identity, which were literally shared and appropriated
by the collective.
What is being considered here is the ability to take material and
adapt it; have a conversation with it; relate to it; and importantly,
to change it. This has the effect of breaking down clear distinctions
between artist/critic/curator. In fact these distinctions can really
only properly occur within galleries, museums and media
publications/broadcasting, where the material factors define the
practice. Online these distinctions merely mimic their offline
counterparts, and not in a very convincing way. In other words,
within a networked electronic environment these distinctions should,
and do, become nominal, somewhat meaningless and unnecessarily hierarchical.