Josephine Berry on 5 Feb 2001 11:50:21 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] re-dematerialisation of the Object & the Artist in Biopower

For anyone who's been following this painful process, here's another chapter from my thesis. If you want the word version with footnotes fully integrated, please mail me.

The re-dematerialisation of the Object and the Artist in Biopower


One of the first extensive analyses of net art outside the dedicated techno-cultural press was an article, entitled "Man sieht, was man sieht: Anmerkungen zur Netzkunst" ("What you see is what you see: remarks on net art"), by Isabelle Graw in Texte zur Kunst in December 1998 . Graw, who is also the editor of this art journal, announced her determination to cut through the mutual suspicion of the on- and offline art worlds and expose this emergent art form to the scrutiny of an expert. Despite reporting how the majority of the art establishment doubted the existence of anything 'artistically valuable' on the Net, she confusingly justifies her move to investigate the net art phenomenon through reference to a series of high profile shows and appointments at respected institutions . Graw then combats her begrudging admission of net art's developing avant garde status (widely rejected and hence totally irresistible to agenda setting art institutions) with the observation that net !
artists are reviving key concepts from the 1970s and 1980s. In her account, "the 'Fake', the 'appropriation', but also 'institutional critique' and 'dematerialisation'" . Graw rounds off her introduction by accusing artists of disguising their redeployment of canonical art strategies through their relocation in the radical unfamiliarity of the Net itself. Despite the historical inaccuracy of dating some of these strategies back to the 1970s rather than the 1960s, her remarks uncover something crucial - the fact that, despite the declarations by certain net artists that in entering this new communications medium they were also entering a historically unencumbered, extra-institutional phase of art in which, amongst other things, commodification is defeated by dematerialisation and historicism by communication, many of net art's premises do indeed condemn it to a series of historical repetitions. In her conclusion, however, Graw undermines the persuasiveness of her charge of hist!
orical repetitiousness by betraying her own interest in preserving
 Accusing net art of becoming indistinguishable from its context through the classic avant-garde quest for the elision of art and 'life praxis' (as against what she deems to be the successful preservation of art's particularity in the extra-gallery excursions of the magazine works of Dan Graham), it provides the ultimate object lesson in art's impoverishment under such a strategy. In return for only the most meagre advances, what gets lost is art's most precious quality; its autonomy and the freedoms this affords.

In this chapter, I will attempt to demonstrate how, if anything, the opposite is true. No matter how hard net artists strove to free art from its commodity value and the supporting structures of its legitimisation, mediation, exhibition, interpretation and historicisation, precisely by preserving  the notion of art, net artists condemned themselves to the same fate suffered by all of the 20th century avant-gardes - the ultimate assimilation of its gestures by the art market mechanism. This is the by now all too familiar story of how the very attempt to flee such relations, the bold leap towards an autonomous field of practice. ends up providing the market with its new space of expansion. This is a conclusion borne out irrefutably by the sale of Valéry Grancher's net artwork Longitude 38 to the Cartier Foundation for $5,000 in 1999. Although by no means an impressive amount of money for a work of art, this payment (no doubt exceeded by now) silences any claims that net art may !
have successfully escaped its own commodification through dematerialisation, digital reproducibility and its existence within a many-to-many communications medium. As we will see, many of the early net artists - those most closely associated with the epithet '' and attributed with the work of the 'heroic period'  - who directly challenged and flaunted the mores of contemporary art practice in the latter half of the 1990s, not to mention the strategies of the burgeoning new economy itself, are also the most celebrated by art institutions the world over . 

However, the familiarity of this outcome does not imply that the net artists under consideration here should be accused of merely relocating existing canonical art moves to a new terrain, only to be run to ground by an ever hungry art market. What interpretations such as Graw's miss is that the exportation of conceptual and postmodern strategies such as dematerialisation, appropriation and fakery into the Net doesn't simply entail a change of medium and production/viewing context. Instead, this new configuration unleashes very different outcomes which expose the contradictions of art's supposed autonomy and inescapable commodity status even further, as well as partaking in a new order of techno-social production and relations which challenge and threaten to upset the very basis of such a contradiction. Here I refer to the Net's impact in all areas of social, cultural, economic and political life which is altering the ground on which 'art' stands. In as much as the Internet cou!
ld be said to perfect the conditions of 'mercantile interconnection', even the most cautious of commentators have noted its profound impact on politics. If the Internet has ignited Western neo-liberal dreams of "forging a new Athenian age of democracy" , it has also contributed to some of the greatest challenges to global capitalism in decades, from consumer revolutions like the one surrounding Napster to the organisation of anti-WTO and IMF protests the world over. This chapter will not only consider the ways in which net art tried and failed to elude the art market, but also whether the associated strategies of plagiarism, multiple identities, piracy and hypertext produce an unrecuperable excess. 

Re-dematerialisation - a simple 'revival'?

In the 'Postface' to her book Six Years: the dematerialisation of the art object from 1966 to 1972, Lucy Lippard concedes, in the face of its greater failures, a small victory for the dematerialisation of art. In words that, when excised from their context seem reminiscent of Isabelle Graw's phlegmatic position, Lippard admits that "the mere survival of something still called Art in a world so intolerant of the useless and uningratiating indicates that there is some hope for the kind of awareness of that world which is uniquely imposed by esthetic criteriaŠ" . Interestingly though, this small freedom salvaged from the all-pervasive efficiency of post-war capitalist expansion, seems almost negligable for Lippard in light of dematerialised art's failures. In the mid-60s 'conceptual or idea or information art' had seemed to promise art's necessary liberation from "the tyranny of a commodity status and market-orientation"  because any material expression could be understood as a '!
by-product'  of the idea rather than as a formal aesthetic expression, thereby separating the art-as-idea from its 'perfunctory' and hence valueless materialisation. This release from the dictates of aesthetics also heralded an end to the cloistering of art away from the other disciplines which so clearly informed it. But, in Lippard's early estimation made in her 'Postface' in 1973, this project had failed as collectors and institutions began to find value in the 'ephemera' in which the art idea or event was recorded. In essence, neither the production of a non-aesthetic or as Daniel Buren would have it ' neutralised' art, in which the work's materiality would either provide a mere second-order record of a preceding event or idea or an assault on the very possibility of artistic expression, intention or judgement, could evade or destroy the art market mechanism. It was perhaps with the '60s and '70s experiments into dematerialisation that the (art) market revealed the full ex!
tent of its capacity to convert the valueless into the valuable ba
 the artist to transfigure the prosaic even against their own will (the inexplicable value of, say, the artist's scribbled set of instructions) into that which the market capitalises and the layman reveres came directly under attack during this time. Referring to an older order of artist Buren's 1968 invective can, with hindsight, also be applied perfectly well to conceptual art:

 "When you believe in art, certain things are seen in relation to it - if not, they don't exist, which seems absurd to me. Art is, as they say, a truth that, by symbolisation, development and organisation, shows that the exterior world exists and is beautiful and wouldn't be so if art were not. This is actually what art is and what we must revolt against. Thinking and saying that "there was no London fog before Turner" is very pretty and poetic, but it is outrageous. It's an attack on the mind of the individual. It forces him to have the same dream as you. After seeing Cézanne, that is how I became one of these mental prisoners who believed they saw Sainte-Victoire Mountain as he represented it. I believed "in" art. When I lost the faith, I noticed that the mountain had disappeared. At last I saw Sainte-Victoire Mountain." 

Though perhaps obvious, it is important to emphasise that the intention of conceptual artists was to attack and dismantle art's ownership of these transformative powers and the inequities implied in such ownership, and not to outlaw them as such. At times when witnessing the attacks on artistic expression mounted by conceptual artists it is possible to mistake the artworks' aesthetic refusals as a statement about the bankruptcy of 'creativity' per se. While attacking the regressive ciphers of the privileged artistic subject, the intention is also to stimulate a more active kind of looking on the part of the viewer and hence a devolution of that activity of perception, synthesis, articulation, imagination and so on that traditionally belongs to the artist. As Lippard and John Chandler understood it in 1968, the artwork's 'apparent hostility' is better understood as 'aloofness and self-containment' which demand a greater effort of interpretation by the viewer:

"More time must be spent in experience of a detail-less work, for the viewer is used to focusing on details and absorbing an impression of the piece with the help of these details." 

If we take the concept of dematerialisation to be as much about the decentering of the site of art's production and reception away from the singularities of its subject and object as it is about an (intimately related) attack on art's commodity status, we can find strong echoes of conceptual art practice in early net art. Despite the net.artists' interest in the 'immaterial' medium of the Net and the apparent difficulty it raises for commodifying art as a result of the absence of any unique object, it is hard to be convinced that they considered dematerialisation quite as 'optimistically' as their predecessors given the rhetoric of failure that surrounds this particular aspect of conceptual art. Before looking more closely at how issues of ownership and copyright have been handled by these artists and how this, in turn, redounds on the bigger question of art's function, it is worth making some more observations on the devolution of creative action in net art. In a key manifest!
o-style text by Alexei Shulgin called "Art, Power and Communication" , posted on the nettime mailing list on October 7th 1996, he shifts the site of resistance to the forces of historicism and its attendant power interests to 'communication' as against the conceptualists' Platonic 'idea'. Shulgin claims that both past and future only exist in the form of self-serving representations used to obtain power over the present, which is accordingly eclipsed along with the volatility of its immanent potential. He views this situation as a consequence of a lack of communication which renders people susceptible to an imposed picture of the past and future. Art, which in essence is the "will for communication", is similarly stunted and manipulated by an institutionally imposed picture of its history. The art produced under such circumstances can only be an "art based on the idea of representation", presumably because in order to have a reality it must make itself compatible with the proc!
esses of its own historicisation. Dismissing what he terms 'media 
 - for converting its communicative potential into a form of manipulation ameliorated by 'nice words' such as 'interaction', Shulgin posits '' as holding the radical potential to dissolve art into communication. Intriguingly, given net art's own subsequent institutional assimilation and the celebration of its individual producers, Shulgin cautions that's greatest problems are "deeply rooted in a social determination of the notions 'art' and 'artist'". In the concept of communication he therefore locates the potential to combat the tyranny of historical representation and, to borrow a term from Ian Burn, its  'pre-alienation' of creativity and the present as well as the power to resist the imposed framework of 'art' - "a suppressive system [sic] [artists were] obliged to refer [their] creative activity to" .

Through his emphasis on communication as against dematerialisation, Shulgin appears to display an understanding not only of the ease with which commodification can continue in the absence of the object, but also of the very different world in which net art is operating. As Howard Slater has pointed out, in the worst instances conceptual art functioned "as the vanguard of a capitalism that was slowly getting to grips with monetizing ideas" . No matter how clearly we can see the origins of today's informatisation of economics in conceptual art, identifying the striking differences between these two historical moments is more useful than the continuities. As Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt have recently and persuasively argued, with the completion of the project of modernity and the subsequent 'postmodernisation' of global economic relations and the social relations that are produced along with them, we are entering the age of 'biopower'. What Negri and Hardt mean by this term is!
 that where once, in the 'disciplinary society' (to which the conceptual artists still belonged), the bulk of economic labour was occupied with the mass production of commodities in discrete and specialised spaces such as factories, and in which the accumulation and realisation of capital required an outside, now the capitalist economy has lost its outside, turned inward and began a 'real subsumption' of the social bios itself. The proletariat - no longer understood as a hegemonic category of workers, but as anyone who is exploited by the labour relations of capitalism - is now occupied with "the production of life itself" . Although there is not space here to outline the enormous scope of Negri and Hardt's discussion of the new postmodern, centreless and globalised constellation of power which they term 'Empire', the concept of biopower will be very useful to our present discussion. For them, biopower or 'biopolitical production' is more than a recognition of the collapse of !
the gap between base and superstructure or the social nature of ca
 describe Foucault's discussion of it, but also the intensification of 'general intellect' (a term they borrow from Marx) or 'mass intellectuality'. By this they mean that the increasingly immaterial, communicative, co-operative and/or affective nature of labour has produced a newly integrated and reactive social body or 'multitude'. So the flipside of capitalism's penetration into the very 'ganglia' of social life under biopolitical production is the huge potential unleashed by a newly communicative multitude:

"The immediately social dimension of the exploitation of living immaterial labour immerses labour in all the relational elements that define the social but also at the same time activates the critical elements that develop the potential of insubordination and revolt through the entire set of labouring practices. After a new theory of value, then, a new theory of subjectivity must be formulated that operates primarily through knowledge, communication, and language."  

It is also important to note that although Negri and Hardt see ICT as central to this process, that they do not understand biopower operating exclusively within the horizon of language and communication. They counter that one of the most serious shortcomings of recent 'Italian Marxist' authors' contributions to this discussion is the tendency "to treat the new labouring practices in biopolitical society only in their intellectual and incorporeal aspects. The productivity of bodies and the value of affect, however, are absolutely central in this context."  

So inflecting the net artists' 'revival' of conceptualist and post-modern art moves in the new context of the Net are both the coming to consciousness of a new biopolitical mode of production in which this 'transferral' occurs (e.g. the crystallisation of theories of the 'network society' occasioned by the advent of the World Wide Web) as well as the associated implications it has for the immaterial sphere of information and ideas. I would like to propose that net art, and particularly its early manifestations, entails the kind of nuanced and bitter-sweet understanding to its immaterial and communicative context that Negri and Hardt also share in their analysis of biopower. In contrast to conceptual artists, and as we shall see from the works discussed below, net artists understood immateriality as part of a broader reorganisation of social and economic relations in which mass communication provides the redemptive possibility of devolving creativity and with it the artist's ow!
n dissolution. Crucial here is the idea that art's existence within the Net and outside the gallery's confines - a site inextricably linked to art's separate and special status - newly embeds 'art' within the social field. As Howard Slater argues in relation to the political conceptual art practice of the 1960s and 1970s, the artist's work in the social field in the best instances can effect a catalysis which 'cathects' the desire already circulating in the social field. He contrasts this albeit occasional achievement to the 'young British artists' attempts to cathect social desire through a "flirtation with popular culture" which foundered on their inability to step outside of the isolated confines of the art world and risk an unpredictable encounter in the wider social field . Here we will consider to what extent the extension of artistic practice to the Net reproduces or breaks with the limitations of such a confinement.

"Own, Be Owned or Remain Invisible"

"Yeah, but imagine everybody being online and creating webpages, it would become overwhelming. Who would search for the grains of gold in all this shit?" 
Alexei Shulgin

In 1995, Alexei Shulgin, Rachel Baker and Tania Detkina initiated the WWWart Award ; a project that treads a fine line between a celebration of art's potential dissolution in the Web and an anxiety over the loss of a framework of recognition and appreciation. In this project, Shulgin, Baker and Detkina -all self-professed artists - searched the Web for, "web-pages that were created not as artworks but gave us [a] definite 'art' feeling."  In effect the award is an extension of the Duchampian practice of nomination, one that converts everyday (digital) objects into art not by relocating them in a gallery, but simply by the artist's act of selection. In a limited respect, art's transformative power is set loose in the social field of the Web in the form of a series of judgements. The project combines instances of 'found art' with 'found criticism' also collected on the artists' travels through the Web and organised, as a list of URLs, in no particular order. Rather than agreeing!
 a list of criteria at the outset  against which websites should be judged, the awards (which had no money prize attached) were created contingently as a subjective response to a certain quality possessed by a website. Accordingly, the list of 'awards' reads more like a series of incidental and appreciative observations: 

"For leaving us a nice message; for revealing structures; for practice in defining beauty; for creating a better philosophy; for sincerity; for expression of true love; for respect to history; for moderation; for flashing; for helping us understand what net art is and what it is not; for research into touristic semiotics; for correct usage of pink colours; for usage of the homepage concept that transcends traditional notions of subjectivity and authorship; for honest confronting [sic] [of] an identity crisis;Š for valiant psychedelics"

On clicking a website link, a new window is thrown open and each found website is displayed inside a 'clip art'  drawing of a frame. On closer inspection we notice that the framed representation of the original artwork does not also entail a duplication of the doctored webpage file on Shulgin's own '' server (the location of the project's homepage) as one might expect, but rather the award givers have convinced each webpage author to store the framed version of their original file on their own server. This decision to alter the original found site, not merely through its nomination as art but also through the imposition of a jokey frame around it contrasts - and one might say contradicts - the statement made by the artists on the project homepage. Here the artists state that the 'open space' of the Internet is blurring the difference between 'art' and 'not art' "as never before", and add in neutral tones:

 "there is [the] possibility of misinterpretation and loss of 'artistic' identity here. This might be welcome. There are no familiar art institutions and infrastructures here. Internet art is not well paid so farŠ"

At the time WWWart Award was begun in 1995, net art was barely known beyond a small group of initiates and there was no 'context'  for its reception. We should certainly recognise the deliberate irony in these unknown artists assuming the inflated and judgmental role of the conventional art world in an area of which it was either ignorant or dismissive. It is partly the perceived absence of art and its aficionados on the Net that affords the space for these conventions to be parodied. The work is also parodic in the degree to which the awards' potential specialness is undercut by the banality of the some of the chosen websites and the seemingly flippant attribution of merit, such as for the "correct usage of pink colours". But, taken as a whole, we can also see the serious side of the Awards' celebration of diffuse and heterogeneous creativity in this pioneering phase of the WWW and its democratic potential. This is revealed in part merely through the gesture itself, but also !
through the way the artists draw attention to both technical and semiotic finesse, unpretentious pathos, and accidental beauty. Without wishing to lose sight of either the parodic aspects of the Awards or the extent to which the work raises the spectre of art's dissolution in its recognition of the diffuse creativity of the Web's community, it is, however, difficult to see this work as truly disruptive of the system from which it seeks to depart. Despite their insistence on art's potential disappearance in the Net, and notwithstanding their continuation of art through the parody of its forms, this work militates against the potential parity of art and non-art with which the artists flirt. Ultimately, we have to see the Awards as perpetuating the special power of art that Daniel Buren condemns as 'outrageous'. 

Until their inclusion into high status, international art events which began with the Documenta X in 1997, the relative anonymity of net artists and what seemed like the real possibility of their disappearance seemed to express itself in conflicting directions: the attempt to maintain visibility, recognition and group coherence on the one hand and, on the other, the investigation of the conditions of art's disappearance in a technological communications environment characterised by decentralisation and the subsumption of communicative action into capitalism. Setting up virtual meeting points such as Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) and mailing lists was central to the former tendency. The first of these permanent forums was The Thing's BBS, established  by Wolfgang Staehle in New York in 1991, and was followed some years later by the rhizome mailing list which was founded in 1996 by Mark Tribe and also run from New York, and the 7-11 mailing list established quite late by Vuk Cosi!
c and Luka Frelih in 1998 and based at the Ljudmila media centre in Ljubliana. These spaces, although giving visibility to net artists and other Net-based cultural workers, were also initially envisaged as private, somewhat reclusive spaces. In Staehle's words, it was "a forum making a direct exchange of ideas and positions between a closed community possible. Promotional material was not approved. The main focus was to exchange opinions and ideas."   The motto underpinning the prolific textual exchanges occurring in these spaces was: "you own your own words". In the first few years at least these lists, although preserving the separate status of art as a specialist practice, did indeed present challenges to the commodification of intellectual labour through a system of free and moneyless exchange sometimes termed the 'gift economy'. In subsequent years, however, the idea that this exchange of intellectual 'gifts' could exist outside of commodity-exchange relations has been pe!
rsuasively rejected by writers such as Rishab Aiyer Ghosh and Rich
 it's also known, posits a system of asymmetrical exchanges in which participants freely contribute gifts to a forum (e.g. a piece of perl script, an argument, a list of recommendations) and, due to the number of participants, receive a disproportionately greater amount in return. Despite their attempts to cast the Internet as the site of a radical alternative to the commodity-exchange relations which structure capitalism, Ghosh and Barbrook both agree that the gift economy is buoyed up by the conversion of reputations earned online into job contracts or, in our case, exhibition opportunities  etc. offline. Acknowledging that it is beyond the scope of this chapter to sufficiently analyse the relationship of the so-called gift economy to the capitalist economy per se, it is at least possible to identify a historical shift in the kind of information exchanged on these mailing lists and its treatment thereafter. This shift certainly suggests that the promise of a gift economy cou!
ld well have been a brief moment of pioneering camaraderie that receded as soon as the culture itself became stable enough to tolerate 'competition'.

In the days before online culture had developed its present caché, the agreement that words, although owned by their authors, could also be circulated and re-used on a non-commerical basis, seemed to produce little controversy. However, increasingly art mailing lists such as Rhizome (run by Rhizome Communications Inc., a not-for-profit private company) in step with non-art mailing lists such as nettime, with their largely university educated participants , have come to view such specialist debates as a valuable commodity. In the absence of any other such in-depth documentation of Net culture, the texts generated by these mailing lists act as crucial historical sources. Rhizome's founder Mike Tribe commented: "I agree that nettime and Rhizome are, in effect, writing histories of this moment, and that our editorial practices thus have long-range consequences."   In 1999 nettime brought out it's first publication Read Me: ASCII Culture and the Revenge of Knowledge and The Thing a!
ttempted to auction off its old interface and content through the online auction house E-bay. Subscribers to Rhizome are now required to comply with terms and conditions which grant Rhizome Communications Inc. "the non-exclusive, worldwide, perpetual, royalty-free right to reproduce, modify, edit, publish....[etc.etc.]"  Although the re-publishing of most of this material is done by small and committed publishers for whom profits are at best negligable, it is the recognition of the value of these textual exchanges - which in many instances resemble the ephemeral nature of conversation - that we are concerned with here. This is a clear example of biopower in action, where the communicative fabric of a community assumes an economic value previously unimaginable.

It is through the question of the ownership of words themselves that we can approach the seemingly antithetical tendency, noted above, of net artists' to court their own dissolution in the Net. If we accept that "the instrumental action of economic production has been united with the communicative action of human relations " under biopower, then we should also recognise art, literature and music as early models of this communicative production of value. Notwithstanding the deconstruction of the author's singularity and autonomy in poststructuralist theory, the copyrighting of a book is still a very different matter to Microsoft's patenting of the phrase "where do you want to go today?" The point here being that there has been a far more radical opening up of "the communicative action of human relations" to economic penetration - from after school clubs, to the aggregation of people's cash-point use or phone activity into marketing databases, to commonly used phrases and expres!
sions - than at any previous time. Accompanying the various 20th century avant-garde attempts to unleash the immanent creativity of the social field is the economic attempt to commodify social (re)productive behaviour and hence specify and channel it in self-serving ways. It is interesting then, that there are numerous examples of net art which court the former through a parodying of the latter. Heath Bunting's 1998 work Own, Be Owned, Or Remain Invisible entails this double movement exactly. 

In this work, Bunting uses an article written about him for The Daily Telegraph by the journalist Jim Flint as the basis of a set of links that continuously throw the viewer out into the Web-at-large almost at random; here the media construction of the artist provides the basis for the artwork's dissolution in the Net. In Flint's exemplary piece of 'style journalism', the author converts Bunting's somewhat subversive and 'edgy' credentials as a computer hacker, flyposterer, graffiti artist, activist, and net artist into the sensationalised personification of "90s sub-culture". The article also includes Bunting's commentary on net art's imminent 'absorption' into the electronic art sector, his hectic travel schedule created by the popular demand for him on the electronic arts conference circuit, his 'artivism' against multinational corporations, the mono-culture produced by capitalism, the increasing censorship of the Net, and his plans to sabotage marketing databases and creat!
e systemic disruptions through the production of 'disbelief'. In Own, Be Owned, Bunting links all the words in the text - itself a contradictory collision of his own radical intentions and simultaneous compliance with the media-fame mechanism - to a '.com' website. Accordingly, the sentence: "The potential for different possibilities is being diminished by money", becomes a sequence of URLs thus: ';;,;' etc.

On the actual content of the above cited quote a great deal could be said, here, however I would like to confine my remarks to the observation made by Negri and Hardt on the combination of a heterogeneity of method but singularity of tendency in the world market, by way of a preface to the artwork in hand. In their discussion of the shift to the new global paradigm of 'Empire' from de-colonisation onwards, they discuss how the model of modern sovereignty failed to become the expected unanimous rejoinder to imperialism's demise. Instead, the world's 'massified subjects' began to transform and 'go beyond' modernisation at the very moment they entered it. Pertinent to Bunting's comment is Negri and Hardt's explanation of what this movement beyond modernisation entails. Although the global market becomes the central structuring device of all territories, the different speeds and styles of integration create a deeply heterogeneous production landscape. 

"What might have seemed like a coherent central axis of restructuring of global production was shattered into a thousand particular fragments and the unifying process was experienced everywhere singularly. Far from being unidimensional, the process of restructuring and unifying command over production was actually an explosion of innumerable different productive systems. The processes of the unification of the world market operated paradoxically through diversity and diversification, but its tendency was nonetheless real." 

Relatedly, one can argue, although the tendency of the Net's own commercialisation - which entails or at least affects the communicative activities occurring within it - represents a unified tendency, the means by which this occurs appears to be densely rich and complex. Own, be owned 's combination of a post-structuralist methodology of textual analysis  -- by which a singular methodology reveals a multiplicity of authorship - with the common denominator of the 'dot com' strongly evokes this logic. 

This process entails three stages: a singular methodology creates an image of the multiple ownership of the text which is then finally collapsed again into the single dimension of commerce signified by the suffix '.com'. Bunting seems to be commenting on the near total subsumption of the apparent heterogeneity of social life, as evidenced here by the cipher of the English language, into the singular tendency of the market mechanism.

 Although it is not clear (to me at least) whether Bunting's title implies that invisibility remains an option, the work certainly creates a sequence by which representation becomes necessarily linked to ownership; a coupling which seems to leave little hope of a space beyond market relations. Bunting's apparent refusal of an external position is also confirmed by his own contradictory participation in the media's manufacture of stars  and simultaneous denunciation of the capitalism's flattening of possibilities. Returning to the earlier discussion of the dissolution of art and artist, Own, be owned, can be said to pursue this conclusion, both through its critique of representation and ownership - one which, although not new, certainly scotches any notion of art's constitutive autonomy - with a continual ejection of the viewer out of the artwork into the wider Web. Each time we follow one of the work's many links we leave the material-symbolic perimeter of the artwork; an effe!
ct which designates the radical co-extensivity of art with the wider social field. Although this is also the case with WWWart award, here there is no jokey frame or exportation of an artistic sensibility to accompany our departure. What we are confronted with is, more often than not, the irredeemable banality of a corporate website. This might at first glance seem like anything but Slater's catalysis or cathexis of desire in the social field, however I would argue that this work suggests the potential reversibility of social conditions from the starting point of its articulation of the claustrophobic invasion of the market into all fissures of experience. As noted above, Negri and Hardt have argued that with the immediately social dimension of biopower's exploitation, also comes the activation of, "the critical elements that develop the potential of insubordination and revolt through the entire set of labouring practices". Bunting's work, albeit an infinitely small act of insu!
bordination, suggests both the representational equivalence of the
 great extent, has the same representational force as theirs), as well as the ease with which ownership structures can be reversed or levelled in the Web: the fact that these myriad website are entered through the artwork and therefore temporarily subordinated to its logic demonstrates the immense vulnerability of representational (intellectual) property in the Net. 

Art for Free and the Price of Art's 'Freedom'

"Property in relation to abstract signs as opposed to physical objects and borders throws up a whole new contest, particularly in the digital realms of the Net. Shoplifiting products from Tescos is much less of a threat than shoplifting their signs and symbols."
Rachel Baker, 1997 

Net artists' experiments in combating the corporate take-over of everyday have often led to corporate retaliation. Ironically, these acts of retaliation - by no means the last word on any dispute - relieve the artist of the lone task of affirming art's co-extensivity with everyday life. In this respect Graw is perhaps right to observe that in levelling the distinctions between art and life, art loses its autonomous status and with it its greatest freedom. However in a world that has become 'branded to the bone' where, as Naomi Klein has recently pointed out, "if you want to be successful you have to produce a brand not a product [and]Šonce you decide that you're about an idea and not a product, then your product is incidental" , and artists risk being sued for copyright or trademark infringement, the idea that art's lost autonomy is solely in the hands of artists misses half the story. The many skirmishes between net artists and corporations, for example, says a great deal abo!
ut the more generalised conditions of art practice, especially when compared to the relative ease with which pop artists were able to appropriate brand identities in the 1960s. Not only do net artists operate on a threateningly level representational field to corporations, but also in the context of biopower where symbolic and informational property have attained a previously unimaginable value. 

Rachel Baker's 1997 project TM Clubcard is both an exemplary piece of detournement and early case of corporate backlash against net artists. In this project, Baker selected as her target the then recent phenomenon of supermarket loyalty cards which were first introduced to Britain by Tescos in 1995. Clubcards reveal the immense value of personal data to companies as well as their 'something for nothing' sales tactics by which people are convinced to undervalue their own data and co-operate with such schemes. In an article written by Baker on this project she singles out another insidious aspect of the scheme which her own 'disloyalty cards' address, namely the corporate simulation of the social club:

 "..the Clubcard encourages the idea that customers are joining a 'club'ŠHowever, the members of this club exist in separate datafields and remain, to all intents and purposes, alienated from each other. The 'club' only defines a relationship between the individual Clubcard holder and Tescos superstore, with little contact encouraged between other members. Some club!"   

With Baker's initial Clubcard project, we see another instance of biopower's potential for insubordination being fulfilled. If Tescos fabricates a more intimate relationship to its customers along its own individuating lines, it also provides the opportunity to repurpose the social aggregates it produces in monogamous relation to its brand, into the heterogeneous relations of a newly formulated social field. 

Clubcard applies the 'earn points as you shop' system to surfing. Encouraging a number of 'partisan' sites to display the pirated Tescos clubcard logo, Baker then assigned anyone who clicked on the logo and filled out a questionnaire with an immediate PIN number derived from real Clubcards acquired from Tescos stores. These cards were later sent on to the subscriber in the post. Subscribers were then rewarded with loyalty points every time they visited one of the sites in the TM Clubcard catalogue, but the points no longer related to a money reward. Instead, using the database of email addresses collected through the questionnaire, Baker would send "erroneous junk mail" to the card holders. This included sending communications addressed to other people or a print out of the database's own faulty programme. Baker explains: "This strategy ensures that recipients know that they are on a database, that it is dysfunctional, and, more importantly, that there are other members of the!
 club with whom potential contact is possible." Out of  "the machinery of a monstrous incorporated presence" , Baker seeks to build a truly sociable club. The project was quickly spotted by Tescos, however, and its author tracked down via a search made with the INTERNIC domain name registrars which provided Tescos with the address of Irational Gallery Limited (the organisation name used by Rachel Baker and Heath Bunting to register the domain). On 21st April 1997, received a letter from Tescos' solicitors Willoughby & Partners accusing them  of copyright and trademark infringement as well as the more serious crime of passing off which referred to Baker's use of the Tescos brand identity to extract personal data from Web users . As a result of Tescos's threat of civil action Baker decided, rather than simply taking down the site as the Tescos lawyers had demanded or transferring the site to another domain hosted by a foreign server, to simply switch !
the branding to Sainsburys. This was largely due to the fact that 
 was consequently not a discrete, easily transferable data object. At this point Baker foresaw what the project would indeed become: "The project's trajectory could be a series of solicitors letters each telling a story of a different loyalty card hijack and trademark transference."  Today, the site no longer functions as it was originally intended but is instead a collection of disassembled components serving as a record of the project, its participants, some of the data collected, and the legal correspondence generated by it. 

If the forced closure of the project meant that its original intention to create a sort of counter-club failed, it also produced some interesting exposures and conclusions. Firstly, perhaps, that art is no guarantee of legal immunity especially under the intensification of symbolic/intellectual property value within biopower. As a result, both artwork and artist are thrown into more immediate and sometimes conflictual relations with extra-art systems such as corporate interest which, in turn, help reveal the extent to which art's so-called autonomy was also its invisible prison. In other words, so long as art knew its place and remained there, or rather artists did, its putative autonomy would remain uncontested as it would harm no one and no one would harm it. Indeed, so powerful is the conviction of art's autonomous status in certain circles that it is transformed into an icon of freedom as such. Ironically, the art qua freedom icon is valued very highly by businesses and se!
en as an excellent way of enhancing the value of their own brands. In an article on business sponsorship of the arts since the 1980s, Chin-tao Wu takes the analysis of how the spectre of artistic freedom relates to business a step further. Wu illustrates the observation that the art/freedom icon becomes an important weapon in the fight for the deregulation of the market itself with a quote by Winton Blount, CEO of Blount Inc. and former chairman of the Business Committee for the Arts in the US, made at a Blount Inc. annual meeting in 1984:

"That environment [of freedom] is being persistently eroded everywhere by ill-advised and ill-conceived regulation, taxation, and other forms of government control. So we are engaged in an important work in furthering the arts. We are not merely meeting a civic obligation which we can accept or reject as we wish. We are helping keep open those avenues of freedom along which art and commerce both travel." 

In other words, a society in which art is free is one in which business is also free and vice versa, hence, according to Blount's uncanny logic, art is an activity that inherently and unavoidably syncs with and promotes free market capitalism. Although many socialist critics of art would certainly agree that art as we know it today is a fundamentally bourgeois construction, I believe in many cases they would stop short of painting it as so straightforwardly and congenitally wedded to this latter stage in capitalist development. Nonetheless, Blount's remark reveals a deep truth about art's usefulness to business when conceived of as autonomous, which Stewart Home in his "Demolish Serious Culture" manifesto defines in the following stark terms: 

"The ruling class uses art as a 'transcendental' activity in the same way it once used religion to justify the arbitrariness of its enormous privilege. Art creates the illusion that, through activities which are actually waste, this civilisation is in touch with 'higher sensibilities' that redeem it from accusations of exploitation and mass murder." 

As TM Clubcard demonstrates, this usefulness is impaired when art's autonomy is relinquished and when symbolic or intellectual property interests are at stake. 

But net art's short history is anything but a single arc towards the supercession of art. Even amongst the small group of artists associated with the epithet, there is a wide range of positions on this question as well as solutions to the establishment of net art as an art market commodity and artefact. After the inclusion of net art in the 1997 Documenta, the strategies for coping with net art's inevitable institutionalisation began to proliferate as did artworks displaying a high degree of self-reflexivity over this process. Indeed, the Documenta itself provided Vuk Cosic with the occasion for an important piece of institutional critique when, after the exhibition closed, the event's organisers decided to take the whole website offline. Cosic considered this decision indicative of the curators' fundamental misconception of the Internet ; after all, keeping a site up on the Net hardly costs anything and one cannot speak of a space shortage on the Net. The night before!
 the site was going to be taken down, Cosic downloaded it in its entirety and then relocated the files to - the domain on which he stored all of his work at the time. The ease of transportation, the disregard for copyright issues and the perhaps unsettling effect of collapsing an entire institutional site stored on its own domain into a sub-directory of another domain work to destabilise traditional institutional authority in the Net, casting it as a stranger in a strange land. But despite the ridicule poked specifically at the Documenta and, by extension, at art institutions in general hinging on their inability to maintain control of original artefacts in the digital age, Cosic is also sanguine about net art's incorporation. Believing that net art was already 'pre-corporated', he states: "Before me or Alexei [Shulgin] moved a single tag in HTML we were already part of that movement, or group or era."  But far from construing net artists as victims, he sees them !
as actively working with museumification in mind: 

"I think that it's not the massive desire of museums to maintain prestige that's going to draw net art into the collections successfully. It's more the conformism on the side of the artists, who are going to create technically commodifiable pieces or a model for the accommodation of net art within the museum situation." 

Cosic, like Shulgin, consider the necessity for net art's recognition to override any worries over its 'loss of virginity', with Cosic asking: "But how do you think you got your first Six Pistols record? Because they didn't want to sell it to you?" and Shulgin commenting with some degree of amnesia:

""..some people say that we should get rid of the very notion of art and that we have to do something that is not related to the art system, etc. I think it's not possible at all, especially on the net because of the hyperlink system. Whatever you do it can be put into an art context and can be linked to art institutions, sites related to art. And if we get rid of that word 'art', what shall we have then? How shall we identify ourselves and how shall we find contacts and how shall we create a context?" 

If Cosic and Shulgin's acceptance of net art's 'inevitable' incorporation could be said to form one polarity, while at the other Bunting publicly announced his retirement from net practice at London's Cybersalon in April 1998  (a pledge he, in fact, failed to fulfil) and Baker has increasingly shifted her practice towards net radio production, Olia Lialina provides a sort of 'third way' approach to this vexed issue. In 1998 she set up Art.Teleportacia, "The First Real Net.Art Gallery"  , in order to avoid what she considers a dichotomous deadlock between, on the one hand, the belief that 'net art should not be sold' and, on the other, the institutional will to simply annex net art to established systems of archivisation and ownership - "a heritage to forget" as Lialina puts it . Instead, she formulated a model of buying and owning net art designed specifically for the Web environment (where control of a unique object is impossible) which employs the logic of copyright .Through!
 its provision of a "unique proprietary system" , Art.Teleportacia provides the buyer with a set of possible ownership models. These hinge on two factors: location and accessibility. Arguing that a file can be copied but a URL or location cannot, Lialiana posits this as a guarantor of digital originality, while the absence of an original object is compensated for by the purchaser's ability to chose what degree of accessibility should be granted to the artwork. This results in the net art buyer's ability to behave like the collector of actual objects who has the freedom to decide, Lialina remarks casually,  whether the artwork is "hidden in the cellar" or on view to all. Despite, or rather in spite of this often cavalier tone, Art.Teleportacia undoubtedly pastiches the efficient and bloodless nature of online sales environments. A strategy most clearly revealed by the 'Office' section of the site which provides the potential buyer with a series of drop-menus and multiple-choice!
 clickable options in which serious decisions such as whether or n
 mouse click. This playful approach to the refinement of net art's commodification is also evident in Lialiana's work Will-n-Testament  in which she specifies the beneficiaries of her online oeuvre after her death. As the will is updated and her affections alter, certain names are callously struck through and new ones added. Although gestures such as these, which flaunt the high-handed  and manipulative powers inherent in ownership, muddy the straightforwardness of any defence of the commodification of net art, the decisiveness of Lialiana's position should not be mistaken. Her polemic entails a synthesis of her work's content (aside from Will-n-Testament, we should also consider the gallery an artwork) and the practicality of her solution to the ownership of net art. Lialina's willingness to defend this position in interviews and articles is further confirmation of her conviction . Although by no means the only net artist to reject the 'net art should not be sold' maxim, Lial!
ina's online gallery was one of the first works to convert the debate into the subject of a work thus positioning her as one of its chief defendants of commodification as well as targets of attack. So, in three short years net art's history has travelled a long way from its romantic origins expressed in Shulgin's concept of communication which imagined the dissolution of art and the artist into a historyless, multiply-authored and non-consensual present. By 1998, the hairline fractures in this field had grown into trenches dividing artists over the terms of net art's survival.

Multiplication as Tactic: property, plagiarism and multiple names

The history of the anonymous group 0100101110101101.ORG's illegal copies of 'famous' net art sites presents us with a dual history of the advancement and resistance of the movement's 'commercialisation'. As we saw in chapter 3,  the private Web space's time-limited private view 'Surface' provided 0100101110101101.ORG with the subject of their first act of intellectual property theft. clashed with the radical copyleft 'art.hacktivists' over their creation of a private space in the Net and plans to launch a pay-per-view art site. Although accused by's spokesman Kenneth Aronson of "simple theft" and attempting to "steal and package [] as their own" ,'s intention was to attack intellectual (artistic) property protection through a multiplication of the original and the multiple occupancy of an identity . As they state in their nettime post "art.hacktivism":

"We wish to see hundreds of 0100101110101101.ORG repeating sites of net.artists endlessly, so that nobody realises which was the 'original' one, we would like to see hundreds of jodi and, all different, all original, and nobody filing lawsuits for copyright infringement, there would be no more originals to preserve." 
This contradictory call for the end of the 'original' via duplication and the creation of many different originals can perhaps best be cleared up through an examination of's so-called clones of site. When, in June 1999 they decided to hijack the obvious victim, Art.Teleportacia, (thus placing it in the pantheon of net art villains alongside they did not stop at a simple duplication. Instead, they scrambled many of the phrases and images incorporated in the site, and inserted java scripts to produce a spasmodic movement of the interface which repels ordinary interaction. Where Lialiana had created an exhibition of "Miniatures of the heroic period" on her site, converted it into "Hybrids of the heroic period" and replaced many of the original works with 'hybrids' which polluted canonical net artworks with "some trash of the Web" . Where these acts of defacement differ from the gesture of, for instance, drawing a moustache on a !
face in an advertising image is the fact that the surface of the 'original' and the markers of derision become continuous and cannot be distinguished. Due to digital reproducibility and manipulability, the purloined website becomes materially continuos with the alterations made to it. Perhaps this gives us a clue to understanding what mean by the production of originals without origin. If, we were to imagine, as is in fact not the case here, a scenario in which this same website passed through a long sequence of different hands and authors, what would remain of it would be a developmental chain in which the hermeneutic work of a 'general intellect' comes to efface both the original and the individual identity of its authors. In other words, plagiarism in's terms, does not stifle difference but rather encourages it through a freeing of ideas from the stagnant realm of individual ownership. Although this idea is by no means necessarily d!
ependent on the medium of the Internet and is arguably always alre
 prevent it, the Net is a fertile ground for the accelerated proliferation of such developments. Despite Lialiana's protestations that location acts as a guarantor of originality, our experience of any digital object is inherently non-original because of the role played by binary code. What we see on our computer screens can only ever be a representation of a set of 0s and 1s which comprise a universal and non-fixable blueprint. For these reasons, see the Web as "the paradise of no-copyright, plagiarism, confusion and exchange" and understand all attempts to impose traditional ownership mechanisms onto it as a fundamental misreading of its most crucial characteristics as well as the failure to realise its most radical potential. 

In her reply to on nettime, Lialina revealingly argues that any attempt to copy a site such as Art.Teleportacia is doomed to inaccuracy:

"You can make hundreds of Art.Teleportacia galleries, but next day they will be only hundreds of outdated pages with not [sic] actual information and broken links, because I will update only ŠWhat is done on the net is not a book or cd or tape kind of product. It is not complete, not frozen, but can be changed every [sic] moment. And this moment is the difference between copies and originals." 

Here it seems that Lialina has entirely missed an important dimension of's work which seeks not to exactly copy the 'original' but rather loosen it from the ties of individual control and open it up to the unknowable horizon of multiple authorship. Where Lialina appears to locate the permutative well-spring of development in the individual artist, locate it in the potential of the many hands of the multitude. Lialina's emphasis on the impossibility of an exact reproduction of the original, a fetishisation of aura, locates her analysis in the conceptual territory of appropriation art rather than plagiarism; a distinction which Stewart Home makes succinctly and forcefully:

"Plagiarism enriches human language. It is a collective undertaking far removed from the post-modern 'theories' of appropriation. Plagiarism implies a sense of history and leads to progressive social transformation. In contrast, the 'appropriations' of post-modern ideologist are individualistic and alienated. Plagiarism is for life, post-modernism is fixated on death". 

Where defenders of art's originality and the more prosaic defenders of its intellectual property rights can be associated with the stasis of creativity and even 'death', those plagiarists agitating for the end to intellectual property rights and the dissolution of the individual producer posit the fundamental deceit of the former position; namely that the original sign/gesture fails to signify beyond the 'singular' locale of its material and authorial creation. Extrapolating from Home, we can surmise that post-modernism's preoccupation with demonstrating the inertia of the signifying chain in a hyperreal world should not be mistaken as an attack on the possibility of art. Post-modern art moves such as appropriation, whilst concerned to point out the waning affect of images within a spectacular society, usually do not convert into a call for the radical transformation of those conditions. This observation is confirmed by the paradoxical fact that individuals are able to convert!
 this neutering of images into an token of the genius and insight of the artist. In short, the possibility of creativity per se perishes so that the artist might survive. Given the indebtedness of anonymous, plagiarist, and multiple name using groups such as to the post-Fluxus antics of Mail Art, it is no coincidence to find that mail artist Tony Lowes has passionately articulated this predicament in his manifesto "Give Up Art/ Save the Starving:

"Fictions occupy our minds and art has become a product because we believe ourselves and our world to be impervious to fundamental change. So we escape into art. It is our ability to transform this world, to control our consciousness, that withers on the vine." 

Although we see in's 'clones' the fully articulated desire to supersede art through an attack on its originality and the equation of copyleft with the explosive potential of the multitude's creative power, it is disappointing to observe that their activities have not (yet ?) extended beyond art world-centric guerrilla attacks. Ironically, the most successful instance of a collective art.hacktivist or 'artivist' act, in which numerous individuals from outside the core group became involved, was the defence of a piece of art property;: Etoy's URL which is arguably its most valuable piece of digital property and the guarantor of its identity and presence online. Etoy's 'Toywar' began when in November 1999 a suit was brought against it by the US online retailer blocking the "surreal [art] corporation" from using their site. The powerful retailers used accusations of unfair competition, trademark infringement, security fraud, illegal stockmarket opera!
tions, pornographic content, offensive behaviour and terrorist activities  to try and force Etoy to hand over their domain name whose name is uncomfortably close to their own. Having rejected the retailer's offer of $516,000 for the domain and consequentially barred from using their website, Etoy mounted a media war against the predatory company. Initially they used mailing lists to bring the dispute to the attention of an interested community of 'netizens' who were already alarmed by the Domain Name System's (DNS) new management under the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) which had replaced the former 'first come first served' basis of domain allocation with the prioritisation of 'famous names'; a policy officially aimed at undermining cyber squatters but effectively endangering the rights of all private individuals and financially weak parties on the Net. Etoy used a combination of argument and ludic enticement to persuade, by their figures, 1798 ac!
tivists between November 1999 and February 2000 to get involved in
 with loyalty points corresponding to 'etoy.SHARES' in the art 'corporation' for their media tactical interventions. The combination of prescribed and improvised tactics took the following forms: spreading disinformation about eToys in consumer group and investor chatrooms and news groups, 'flooding' the eToys website, filing counter suits, setting up resistance sites and writing condemnatory articles about the affair in the US national and international press . Etoy claim responsibility for the undeniable drop in eToys's share price from $67 to $15 during the dispute, making the Toywar, "the most expensive performance in art history: $4.5 billion in damage!" . This dramatic drop in share prices has also been more conservatively attributed to "the cost of [eToys] tripling its customer base over the Christmas holidays" by the Financial Times . No matter what financial damage can or cannot be attributed to the Toywar the corporation was certainly embarrassed enough to drop their!
 suit and pay Etoy's court costs of $40,000.

Etoy's homepage now carries a quote which articulates a sort of third position to Home's opposition between plagiarism and appropriation:

"Following joseph beuys, who, it should be noted, used all the media available in his day for the creation of social sculptures, etoy, with its shares concept and the TOYWAR platform, develops new formats for participation in art which, making full use of the networking potential of the Internet, enliven a virtual space for information, communication and transaction, an ensemble of tools for action for 'interventions in the symbolic reproduction process of society' and an institutionalising self-articulation organ for virtuality. so etoy's efforts seem aimed at carrying the concept of the social sculpture over to a digital format. " 

In place of the plagiarist concept of a radical transformation of society's 'symbolic reproduction process' based on the redistribution, circulation, mutation and proliferation of signs, Etoy harness the creative powers of the social field to promote and augment the artistic practice of a singular group/conceptual identity. It is also no accident that Etoy promote their comparison with Joseph Beuys whose social sculptures nearly always effected a similar collapse of multiple agencies into the singular gesture or identity of the artist himself. As Home has pointed out in his discussions of multiple names, plagiarism and mail art, 'open situations' which eschew the coherence of authorial and conceptual identities are both unattractive and impractical to art world incorporation:

"The democratic nature of the mail art network clearly situates it in opposition to the elitism of art (if art is defined as the culture of the ruling class). The sheer numbers of people involved in mail art preclude the movement from being 'officially' recognised as a manifestation of high culture for at least as long as it continues to be practised on such a wide scale. Most art movements (Pre-Raphaelites, Impressionists, Cubists, &c.) would seem to number between five and fifty members; mail art by comparison numbers thousands." 

Where the Toywar does, by contrast, open up onto the horizon of a more radical and direct encounter between art and the social field is in its adoption of financial markets and corporate identity as its conceptual and literal material. Although, as previously noted, the precise role that Etoy played in the eToys share dip is uncertain, what they powerfully mooted was the connection between market volatility and the rumour mill effects of the Net. Returning to my earlier discussion of the increasingly bruising nature of the encounter between art and non-art, and in particular business, one can see how the capitalist encroachment into symbolic territories (e.g. the name space) also makes it more vulnerable to the actions of artists; those professional manipulators of semiotics whose talents, when not directly subsumable into brand identity and free market propaganda, pose a potentially quite serious threat. Having recognised this most radical aspect of Etoy's practice it at once!
 makes more legible and more opaque their relationship to art. Although we can see how the Toywar is easily recuperable as Etoy's private art capital, it also begs as many questions of their persistence in identifying their practice as art. While the 'surreal' friction they produce between art's notional 'autonomy' and an instrumentalised corporate identity forces open the symbolic conflict zone in question, that zone and the important new formations it reveals is virtually obscured again by the hasty re-division of its agents and symbolic properties as soon as the 'job' is done. Simply put, the Toywar became a legal victory for Etoy and a canonical moment in net art history for which the group claims credit and authorship. In a talk at London's LUX gallery during the Tech_nicks  programme in June 2000, the pranksterish activist group RTMark, who had awarded the Toywar 'sabotage project funding', expressed their disappointment at Etoy's inability to translate their victory ove!
r eToys into anything other than a chapter in their private group 
 their experience with other groups engaged in similar struggles  . It is also important to add that no matter how impeccably executed, the Toywar campaign is far from the first or most important campaign of this kind fought over the Net. The gravity of its cause and the dedication of its participants, although of some magnitude, pale into insignificance when one compares them to the use of similar tactics by the many dedicated Zapatista activists. But notwithstanding the Zapatistas, the Toywar does demonstrate the immense proximity between art and commerce on the Net as well as the dangerous connotations of that proximity for both art's notional  autonomy and the representational hegemony of commerce. This danger, for corporations, should be located in the vulnerability of  immaterial production to the symbolic pranks and tactics of its adversaries, and especially the speed with which a campaign can gain support and the virtual ease and anonymity with which people can act to !
destabilise semiotic property. The danger for art might be seen as the increasing difficulties artists face when attempting to manipulate signs and codes of practice (e.g. assuming the identity of a corporation or simulating supermarket loyalty cards) borrowed, but nonetheless distinct from their original function. But, as the examples given here have hopefully shown, this increasingly 'dangerous' proximity is also the potentially explosive site of art's dissolution into the wider and anonymous creative practices of the wired multitude and beyond - the intensification through articulation of the 'general intellect'.


One of the trajectories we have followed in this chapter begins with net artists' utopian speculations over art's potential disappearance in the communicative environment of the Net, through the anxiety which this potential begins to unleash in step with its increasing recognition and legitimation and expressed in the bid to re-conceptualise the commodity value of the digital object, finally to an instance in which the self-constituting creative power of the wired multitude is recontained under the pacifying aegis of art itself (the Toywar). It should be emphasised here, that this crudely ascribed arc does not attempt to do justice to the many dissenting tendencies in which the struggle to realise a supercession of art in the Net continues. But In direct relation to the anxious history produced by the net.artists' exploration of art's dissolution it is interesting to reintroduce Zizek's formulation of the demise of the master signifier in cyberspace touched on in previous chap!
ters. As we know by now, Zizek locates the danger inherent in cyberspace not as being the loss of flesh and blood existence through virtualisation, but rather the loss of the always already virtual dimension of reality on which symbolic efficiency is based. Zizek gives the example of canonical texts which, in postmodernity, are increasingly opened up to revision such that the unspoken implications are explicitly spelled out and explored. Kafka's The Castle is converted into a computer game in which the painful and traumatic experience of its hero K.'s attempts to enter the impenetrable bureacratic fortress become the source of pleasure for the game's player as s/he attempts to crack the maze. For Zizek, when the gaps, holes or aporias of the Master signifier (symbolic order) are filled out, its efficiency wanes in direct relation to its comprehensive sensibility. It is tempting to see 'art' as an instantiation of the symbolic par excellence and to ask of it the same question t!
hat Zizek poses of cyberspace. Once, as he argues is the case with
 immediacy of information in cyberspace, the symbolic becomes subject to the narcissistic manipulations of the subject, the exact opposite from what one expects to happen happens: "it is when there is no one there to tell you what you really want, when all the burden of the choice is on you, that the big Other dominates you completely, and the choice effectively disappears - is replaced by mere semblance."  Returning to the spectre of art's supercession, one might ask whether certain net artists felt the same anxiety expressed by Zizek concerning cyberspace? Once the oppressive Master signifier of art disappears does the opposite of the conceptualist dream of an ignition of creativity throughout the social field then follow? It is tempting to answer that without a revolution in which the preconditions of art are swept away, the dissolution of the Master signifier of the artist/ artwork is bound to give rise to a Zizekian terrorisation by the big Other. Arguably, when confronte!
d by the choice between the entry of stupefying banality into the place once held open by art (the listlessness resulting from the responsibility to choose/ to be creative), some net artists decide to cling onto the symbolic authority of art. But this argument does not go far enough, because it fails to acknowledge that the authority of the Master signifier (of the artist/ artwork) has already declined partly as a result of the conceptual deconstructions of art's status in the 1960s and 1970s which provide a historical precedent to net art. The predicament of the net.artists is to be between two deaths so to speak, having been cut adrift from art's symbolic power after Modernity and yet to remain clinging to its carcass in order to avoid the banalised co-extensivity of art and everything else. Clearly artists do not have the freedom to simply accept or reject the symbolic power of art.

But perhaps Zizek's caution as well as the net.artists' reticence in relinquishing the last vestiges of art's symbolic power both miss the advent of a new power which emerges with the intensification of the general intellect under biopower. In other words, and without wishing to detract from the undeniable truth of Zizek's observations about the tyranny of the injunction to choose or express oneself in a postmodern culture obsessed with individual indentity - to discover the 'true you', the communicative intensity of biopower also affords the possibility to identify and articulate a collective desire. In other words, communicative power extends beyond the individuating control of commercial advertising and state propaganda to produce something other than the hypnotised inability to choose. The virtual dimension which constitutes both the unknowability and the efficiency of symbolic power might also be found in the only partially articulated desires of the multitude. In compari!
son to the specifics of identity, style, concept etc. of the artist/art object, the generalised articulations that occur, for example, across the Net within biopower accumulate into the potent yet irreducible power of a general intellect. The anonymity of groups such as and their belief in the cultural precipitativeness of plagiarism certainly points in this direction. When 'canonical texts' loose their inviolability and the 'gaps' start to be filled in, new 'gaps' start to appear between what is articulated using plagiarised forms and the desires which lie behind them; desires which cannot be contained within the confines of artistic individuality and originality.  

 1) "Man sieht, was man sieht. Anmerkungen zur Netzkunst", Isabelle Graw, Texte zur Kunst, December 1998, Vol. 32, pp.18-31
  Graw refers to the appointment of Benjamin Weil as media curator to the ICA, London, a recent net art event at Berlin's Künstlerhaus Bethanien, the Shock of the View exhibition at Minnesota's Walker Art Center and a never realised conference at New York's MOMA.
  2) Ibid, p.18
 3)  This term is taken from Olia Lialina's online net art gallery and is the title to a retrospective exhibition of the work of 'classic' net artists Jodi, Heath Bunting, Vuk Cosic and Alexei Shulgin.
  One has only to look at Heath Bunting's CV which he keeps on his website and assiduously updates to get an idea of quite how great the demand for net artists has become: <>
  4) Al Gore, cited in "Does the Net serve only the global Market?", Serge Halimi, Le Monde Diplomatique, October 2000.
 5)  Lucy Lippard, "Six Years: The dematerialization of the art object from 1966 to 1972", University of California Press, 1997, p.264
 6)  Lippard, Ibid, p.263
  7) 'By-product' is a term used by Terry Atkinson in his reply to Lucy Lippard and John Chandler's original formulation of the dematerialisation thesis in Art Forum. See "Concerning the article 'The Dematerialization of Art'", Conceptual Art: A critical anthology, eds. Alexander Alberro and Blake Stimson', MIT, 1999, p.55
 8)  Daniel Buren in, "Interview with Daniel Buren: Art is no longer justifiable or setting the record straight", by Georges Boudaille, in Conceptual Art, Ibid, pp.72-3
  9) Lucy R. Lippard and John Chandler, "The Dematerialization of Art", Ibid, p.48
 10)  "Art, Power, and Communication", Alexei Shulgin, nettime, Mon, 07/10/96,
  11) Ibid
  12) Howard Slater, "The Spoiled Ideals of Lost Situations: Some notes on political conceptual art", Infopool No.2, July 2000, p.5
  13) Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, Empire, Harvard University Press, 2000,p.27
 14) Ibid, p.29
  15) Ibid, pp.29-30
  16) Howard Slater, Ibid, p28
 17)  Alexei Shulgin, "I don't believe in self-expression: An interview with Alexei Shulgin", Tilman Baumgaertel,, 1997
  19) WWWart award, bid
  20) Clip art is the name given to a stock of generic images, usually designed with a particular design function in mind, supplied with various softwares such as Microsoft Word. There are also many online clip art catalogues online. 
 21)  Alexei Shulgin, in Baumgaertel, Ibid
 22)  cited in Monika Wunderer, Whose Art is it Anyway?, p.1, 
 23)  See Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, Cooking Pot Markets: An Economic Model for the Trade in Free Goods and services on the Internet, 1998,, and Richard Barbrook's The Holy Fools: A Critique of the Avant-Garde in the Age of the Net, Hypermedia Research Centre, University of Westminster, 1998.
  24) cf. RHIZOME's "Readership Statistics",
  25) Mark Tribe, "Art Site Takes the Reins",, 1998
  26) Ibid, "Subscribers Submissions"
  27) Negri and Hardt, Ibid, p.293
  28) Ibid, p.251
  29) Roland Barthes' use of the five starred text in S/Z provides a precursor, albeit incomparably more attentive to the specifics of literature, to Bunting's textual fragmentation. 
  30) We can understand the production of stars as a mobilisation of 'exceptional' individualism which undermines the potential of the 'multitude's' own exceptional experience.
  31) Rachel Baker, "TM Clubcard. Remember: Language is not Free",, 1997
  32) Naomi Klein, in "No Logo: a conversation with Naomi Klein", Sheri Herndon, 2000. The quote continues: "That in a sense, products, sneakers, coffee, computers are incidental to the true product of any successful international company, which is the production of ideas, the production of meaning within our culture. So for instance, Starbucks will say, 'we're not about coffee. Yes, we sell coffee, but we're about the idea of community. That's our brand meaning'. And you get all kinds of silly rhetoric like this. 'Were not about sneakers, we're about transcendence through sports'. And there's a lot of people getting paid tremendous amounts of money to go into these corporate sweat lodges and figure out 'what's our meaning'."
  33) Ibid.
  34) Ibid
  35) In fact the letter is addressed to a "Dear Sir". See
  36) In her own defence, Baker claims to have contacted the database's 45 members out of which all bar 3 claimed to know her site had nothing to do with not the real Tescos site. See Baker, Ibid.
  37) Baker, Ibid.
  38) Cited in "Embracing the Enterprise Culture: Art Institutions Since the 1980s", Chin-tao Wu, New Left Review, 1998/230, p. 30
40) In "Demolish Serious Culture", Neoism, Plagiarism and Praxis, Stewart Home, AK Press, 1995, p.12
41) Criticisms of the Documenta's treatment of net art were shared by many exhibiting artists. In an interview given during the show, the art duo Jodi described how net art's existence in computer space afforded it low status in the physical space of the gallery. Net artworks were stored on local hard-drives thus robbing them of their proper Internet-specific status, and set in a space insultingly reminiscent of an office: "All the different works disappear in the set-up by one guy who deals with the real space. The real space is of course much more powerful than all these networks. When you are viewing the work you are in the real space. If you only do your work on the Net, you become a fragment of the local situation and you can easily become manipulated in any direction." Jodi also spoke disparagingly of their artists' fee: "In total we got DM1200. It is a clear example of exploitation. Which artist would move his ass for this amount of money?" From, "Interview with Jodi" b!
y Tilman Baumgaertel, Telepolis, 06.10.97,

42) Vuk Cosic, "Art is Useless", by Josephine Berry, Mute, issue 13, 1999, p.56
43) Alexei Shulgin, "Interview with Alexeij E. Shulgin" Armin Medosch, Telepolis, 22.07.97,
44) See, "Destination déjà vu - net radicals change address", Josephine Berry, Crash Media,, 1998
45) See "What is Art.Teleportacia",
46) Olia Lialina, Cheap Art, in Readme!: ASCII Culture and the Revenge of Knowledge, filtered by Nettime, Autonomedia, 1999, p.267
47) see
  See for example Olia Lialiana's article "Cheap Art" in Readme! ASCII Culture and the Revenge of Knowledge, eds. Bosma et al, Autonomedia, 1999, p.266
49) Cited in "An Attack on the Commercialisation of Web Art", Matthew Mirapaul, New York Times, July 8th, 1999
  In public statements and interviews, 0100101110101101.ORG either use their URL or the multiple name Luther Blissett as an identity 'tag'. Luther Blissett is used by net activists and other individuals influenced by Workerist communists - an Italian movement based around anti-disciplinary insubordination in the workplace which acted outside the disciplinary structures of the unions and orthodox Communist Party in the late 1960s and early 1970s. See "Songs from the Woods: Net-Culture, Autonomous Mythology and the Luther Blissett Project", F.P. Belletati,
50)  "art.hacktivism", nettime mailing list, 9/7/99
51) Ibid
52) Olia Lialina, "", nettime mailing list, 9/7/99
53) Stewart Home, Ibid, p.51
54) Cited in The Assault on Culture: Utopian Currents from Lettrisme to Class War, Stewart Home, AK Press, 1991, p.77
55) See
56) More than 300 reports of the dispute appeared including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Le Monde and CNN. See, Ibid.
57) Ibid
58) See "Do as they Do, Not as they Do: Etoy and the art of simulacral warfare", Josephine Berry, Mute, issue 16, 2000
59) Dr. Reinhold Grether, Ibid
60 Home, Ibid II, pp.72-3
70) See for details of this event.
71) I was present at this talk and must cite my own presence as witness of this comment.
72) Slavoy Zizek, "Cyberspace, or, the Unbearable Closure of Being", The Plague of Fantasies, Verso, 1997, p.153

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