Josephine Berry on 10 Feb 2001 16:31:34 -0000

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<nettime> #3_Re-dematerialisation/Object/Artist/Biopower [of 3]

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 about 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 the site was dependent on the various catalogue sites and
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 seen 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 not the art will be freely accessible to all, are decided with a
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, Lialina'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 dependent on the medium of the Internet and is
arguably always already occurring no matter how hard copyright laws try to
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

"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

"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 operations, 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 activists between November 1999 and February 2000 to get
involved in the Toywar. Campaigners became 'Toysoldiers' and were issued
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 over eToys into anything other than a chapter in their
private group history and reproached them for their unwillingness to share
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
chapters. 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 that Zizek poses of
cyberspace. Once, as he argues is the case with the 'frictionless'
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 confronted 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 comparison 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
2  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.
3  Ibid, p.18
4  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.
5  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: <>
6  Al Gore, cited in "Does the Net serve only the global Market?", Serge
Halimi, Le Monde Diplomatique, October 2000.
7  Lucy Lippard, "Six Years: The dematerialization of the art object from
1966 to 1972", University of California Press, 1997, p.264
8  Lippard, Ibid, p.263
9  '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
10  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
11  Lucy R. Lippard and John Chandler, "The Dematerialization of Art", Ibid, p.48
12  "Art, Power, and Communication", Alexei Shulgin, nettime, Mon, 07/10/96,
13  Ibid
14  Howard Slater, "The Spoiled Ideals of Lost Situations: Some notes on
political conceptual art", Infopool No.2, July 2000, p.5
15  Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, Empire, Harvard University Press, 2000,p.27
16  Ibid, p.29
17  Ibid, pp.29-30
18  Howard Slater, Ibid, p28
19  Alexei Shulgin, "I don't believe in self-expression: An interview with
Alexei Shulgin", Tilman Baumgaertel,, 1997
21  WWWart award, bid
22  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
23  Alexei Shulgin, in Baumgaertel, Ibid
24  cited in Monika Wunderer, Whose Art is it Anyway?, p.1,
25  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.
26  cf. RHIZOME's "Readership Statistics",
27  Mark Tribe, "Art Site Takes the Reins",, 1998
28  Ibid, "Subscribers Submissions"
29  Negri and Hardt, Ibid, p.293
30  Ibid, p.251
31  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.
32  We can understand the production of stars as a mobilisation of
'exceptional' individualism which undermines the potential of the
'multitude's' own exceptional experience.
33  Rachel Baker, "TM Clubcard. Remember: Language is not Free",, 1997
34  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'."
35  Ibid.
36 Ibid
37  In fact the letter is addressed to a "Dear Sir". See
38  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.
39  Baker, Ibid.
40  Cited in "Embracing the Enterprise Culture: Art Institutions Since the
1980s", Chin-tao Wu, New Left Review, 1998/230, p. 30
42 In "Demolish Serious Culture", Neoism, Plagiarism and Praxis, Stewart
Home, AK Press, 1995, p.12
43 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" by Tilman Baumgaertel, Telepolis, 06.10.97,

44 Vuk Cosic, "Art is Useless", by Josephine Berry, Mute, issue 13, 1999, p.56
45 Alexei Shulgin, "Interview with Alexeij E. Shulgin" Armin Medosch,
Telepolis, 22.07.97,
46 See, "Destination déjà vu - net radicals change address", Josephine
Berry, Crash Media,, 1998
47 See "What is Art.Teleportacia",
48 Olia Lialina, Cheap Art, in Readme!: ASCII Culture and the Revenge of
Knowledge, filtered by Nettime, Autonomedia, 1999, p.267
49 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,
51 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,
52  "art.hacktivism", nettime mailing list, 9/7/99
53 Ibid
54 Olia Lialina, "", nettime mailing list, 9/7/99
55 Stewart Home, Ibid, p.51
56 Cited in The Assault on Culture: Utopian Currents from Lettrisme to
Class War, Stewart Home, AK Press, 1991, p.77
57 See
58 More than 300 reports of the dispute appeared including The New York
Times, Wall Street Journal, Le Monde and CNN. See, Ibid.
59 Ibid
60 See "Do as they Do, Not as they Do: Etoy and the art of simulacral
warfare", Josephine Berry, Mute, issue 16, 2000
61 Dr. Reinhold Grether, Ibid
62 Home, Ibid II, pp.72-3
63 See for details of this event.
64 I was present at this talk and must cite my own presence as witness of
this comment.
65 Slavoy Zizek, "Cyberspace, or, the Unbearable Closure of Being", The
Plague of Fantasies, Verso, 1997, p.153

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