Josephine Bosma on 15 Feb 2001 12:54:58 -0000

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<nettime> organising net art:

The last two years sites that promote, sell or investigate net art in
general have erupted from the digital magma. These sites vary in
quality, background and style, but most of them do provide some kind of
new approach, some piece of the puzzle that builds a necesary haven for
experiment in a future art environment. Andrew Forbes is the initiator
of, a site which invites everybody to nominate and vote for
net art projects outside the usual festival or other art awards. Forbes
is a webdesigner first of all. He does engage in artistic practice
himself too though, and his work was part of for instance the Amsterdam
exhibition 'Net Affects' (hosted on the net by pavu). He was also one of
the main designers behind a rather obscure but interesting
re/deconstruction of a collection of works called 'chaos' (a
site that unfortunetaly recently closed its doors). Andrew Forbes lives
and works in London. 
It so happens that the so-called first generation of net.artists never
were interested in claiming the domain or something similar.
One can wonder why this was so. Maybe the very idea to present all
different types of net art under one name was thought to somehow obscure
an existing variety of works and collaborations, or maybe the name was
simply too obvious to be interesting? The appearance of a site by the
name did create a certain feeling of caution in net art
circles. This caution was based on the fact that everybody knew one day
a site with this name would be created, but the question was: would it
be done by someone who just wanted a free ride on the back of the net
art hype or would it be a 'genuine net art initiative'?
proofs to be the latter. is interesting enough to
investigate. It's strength lies in a pure and uncorrupted network
approach to the valuation of net art. 


JB: When did you set up and what were your plans with it at

Andrew Forbes: In '98 we had the first 'net-art' edition. Just a series
of coincidences, sort of surfing on web and for real brought it
together. I thought a friend said: "check a site called 'e13'". As a
green commercial web designer I was kind of overwhelmed by that,
followed links to other sites such as 'superbad'. The friend denied the
next day he had ever heard of 'e13'. 
Soon I had a bookmark list, and it is kind of in my nature to want to
share. I had another friend, Tim Deighton, who is a database guru, and I
had server space at my work. Another friend, Prof John Hyatt, who was
main organizer of ISEA98 in Manchester UK gave us a platform to present
I felt like I was in privileged position to create a public web space
where this work would get extra exposure.

JB: Did you change the initial concept or did it develop in any
unexpected way at all? 

AF: It has been more a process of refining. Obviously I have my hand on
tiller (when it isn't on auto) but there have always been a panel of
people to help me steer, and to discuss which projects that are
nominated fit. We use the Bookchin/Shulgin 'definition' of web specific
The biggest upset the first year ('98) was when creator of nominated himself and me and Alan accepted it as a joke,
and then the guy put a link on his site and we were totally swamped in
the stuff. After a few days he had more votes than anybody else put
together, and me an Alan started soul-searching as to how we could dump
him. Fortunately for us, Mr Doodie realised himself no one else was
'campaigning' and he suggested he withdraw.
The main problem (other than making interface as usable and as
sympathetic as possible) remains defining where we stand on the question
of 'competition'. This year the result of net-art99 forced us to clearly
state that creators of listed sites should not 'campaign' in any way to
This last year, in 2000 the panel was Alex Galloway, Richard Barbeau,
Meiko and Ryu, Alan Jennifer Sondheim, Phil Wood and myself.

JB: is clearly not a gallery because it does not make a
selection for the audience, instead it involves both artists and
audience in a competition: the artists as competitors, the audience as
judges. Do you think selecting artworks for an exhibition is somehow
wrong to do, or do you feel unable to make a selection yourself?

AF: I think it is clear our is a reaction and an alternative
to the traditional jury awarded competition, I think it is clear now
that a limited number of individuals, with art institution careers etc,
are staffing one jury after another. And a body of literature is
building up
sanctifying a limited group of artists and their work. Therefore
particularly things like the lecture/event circuit and museum
commissions are becoming the domain of a privileged circle. Clearly some
of that circle deserve their rewards, others I would say don't. There is
a battle for the 'soul' of net-art, whether it belongs in marble halls
or whether it is a popular medium. Generally net-art practitioners can't
really gauge there public appreciation in the same way as a music
recording artist, a movie director or a comic artist, so our
is partly an attempt to provide that reaction, in a simple form. It is
noticeable that the previous results at for '98 and '99 have
shown at the top a mixture of 'recognized' artists and something new,
and other 'recognized' artists haven't registered 'appreciation'.

In our on-going refining of what we mean by 'competition' at
the phrase I have used most recently is 'open web specific art arena',
like an annual parade around an arena, with a more or less mass audience
to applaud the 'entries' or otherwise, so basically I see the voting as
a kind of 'clapometer'. In 2001 I hope we are going to launch net-art01
with local workshops and 'net-art displays' from Barcelona's two week
street festival, Festival Gracia. At that Festival different streets in
one quarter of Barcelona are decorated by their inhabitants along a
theme they choose and they have street party every night for two weeks.
And a committee awards prizes for best dressed street. So this is very
similar for instance to Notting Hill Carnival where prizes are awarded
to the best Carnival 'camp'. At Notting Hill there is a jury, but they
are surrounded by huge crowd at their judging point on the Carnival
route, and they are like the mouthpiece of the Carnival crowd. I would
say totally unlike the closed discussions of a traditional 'Fine Art'
competition jury.
So I would hope that is like this street display and
competition for acclaim, and will become more so. 
I think we realise at that not all net-art projects will
appeal or work in the context of, but there are other ways
and forums to 'disseminate' and experience 'net-art'. We are just one,
but I like to think we add a perspective that doesn't really happen

JB: How do artists find your site, and how does the audience? Do you
send personal invitations, do you promote the site? 

AF: Normally me and rest of the panel start the ball rolling by entering
a few favorites of our own (maybe 15 in total), after that it is from
creators or occasionally fans of particular projects.
Since everybody at so far does it for free we have to mix
with earning living and other commitments, so the simple answer is that
we don't promote enough as a result. I don't think it has reached it's
potential audience nearly as well as it might do. But audience and
number of participants is gradually going up. In '00 I did quite a bit
of mailing of previous participants and registered voters very late on,
it produced a lot of late nominations and visits etc. Much room for
improvement in '01.

JB: Your site seems to ask for a lot of input from its visitors. There
is very little info about all projects listed, one has to click through
all works to get a grip on the matter. In a way this is highly
sympathetic, as it, amongst other things, shows the horror many judges
of the endless list of other art competitions have to go through. Have
you ever considered making life more easy for your audience by adding
more info about the seperate projects listed? 

AF: Basically the mechanism of has remained unchanged for
three years (other than that we used to have a public forum, but hardly
anybody wrote). One or two artists have complained this year that the
presence of a frame when viewing their project is intrusive,
one or two voters have complained about being forced to vote when they
don't want to. Also the list of participants is getting longer and
therefore harder to approach. 
What we have tried to do is make the format technically as flexible as
possible, view only sites you haven't visited, those you have, with or
without comments of panel and creators, at the same time as collecting
I think we will have big review of format this year but I can't say what
the result will be, other than that I hope we can bring out the 'street
spirit' of what we try to do further.

JB: I get a lot of requests for directions on how to handle and where to
find good net art. How do you feel about this demand for easier access
to net art, and how do you feel about the appearant yearning of both the
audience and certain art professionals for clear quality definitions of
net art?

AF: To establish an official 'cannon' of net-art? I hope this doesn't
happen. I think that to a certain extent this has happened for first
generation of net-artists already. But actually the
possibilities and even nature of the medium is moving so fast that
institutional commentators and curators just are too scared to put their
foot in mouth, so they are being left behind again.
I actually think it is possible that what is termed 'net-art' now will
become the early very experimental stage of an 'art form' that
eventually rivals or merges with TV and film. I do hope will
also serve as some kind of archive and record of people's reaction to
different projects from this 'era' now as opposed to what any future
textbooks may delineate as the 'net-art' genealogy.

JB: Is it possible to survive as independent net art organisation, doing
all the technical, promotional and other work on your own, when you have
to compete with more and more big art institutions and festivals?

AF: We can't go head to head with the likes of Ars Electronica and
wouldn't want to I think. But I don't think we can rule out more
sponsorship or support but the question is who. We talked about
getting under the umbrella for a while last year, which
might have been good. If it happens I think the association with
Festival Gracia this year could be very good and interesting.

JB: You are a designer professionally. Do you feel the tension between
art and design on the net as a good or bad influence on art?

AF: Not sure about good or bad. But tension I think is very clear in
several respects. There are all the design zines (,, etc) that by starting with a well defined
audience (commercial web designers) and mutual support and linking
actually built and reached an audience bigger than any 'net-art' medium
so far. There is of course cross over, often net-art work and projects
are listed by them. Some people function very much in both arenas
(praystation for instance), other net-artists feel very strongly that
elements of their work has been appropriated by designers. I think the
big distinction is that at the end of the day what is show-cased on
these sites has more or less its ultimate criterion in whether that work
can be re-positioned to work for whoever is paying. So the work must in
the end be content 'neutral', any content can be poured in. And
generally who is paying is people who want to see a direct economic
return and link through to a purchase being made by the consumer. So
really this work usually (but not always) is determined by this need to
navigate or lead the consumer towards that purchase, not inter-react,
not surf, not dawdle and savor. Sometimes customers for work do have the
foresight to let go and take the path of commissioning something that
sufficiently gratifies the visitor with that experience that therefore
their product wins the support of the visitor. I would say is an example of this. Then the hired hand designer
is more free to express themselves and I guess crossover to be some kind
of 'artist'.
Personally as an essentially daytime e-commerce designer and night-time
net-art practitioner myself there is a big (sleep deprivation) tension.
I suppose I should mention that personally I also have a tension (I
think a healthy one) between being a member of (a clearly
elitist collective/club of net-artists (formerly, JB)) and what
I see as openness and public democratic nature of It is
kind of my own personal yin and yang.


Andrew Forbes:

Panel award 2000:

Alex Galloway:

Richard Barbeau:

Meiko and Ryu

Alan Sondheim:

Phil Wood:

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