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<nettime> sculptural form in net.art
jorn.ebner {AT} britishlibrary.net on Sat, 27 Jul 2002 02:57:26 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> sculptural form in net.art

// <-- The following text is the draft of a talk I am going to give at FILE
in Sao Paulo this August. I would like to circulate this beforehand and hope
it is of some interest. The objective of this talk is to extrapolate some
notion of sculptural elements in net.art, in order to introduce my two works
for the Internet, "Life Measure Constructions" and "Lee Marvin Toolbox", at
the festival.


<The internet, it has been claimed, ALTERS spatial experience of human
beings.> <Because it provides immediate communication access for users in
one area of the world with others in distant parts, offering mainly
written and pictorial exchange. Somehow the Distant has become a part of
the intimate surroundings, has infiltrated the Close-by in a way that
telephone, television, travel writing, novels in translation, or
photo-reporting have, it seems, not been able to. This condition seems to
be mainly driven by the temporal quality of the internet: the possibility
to access information, post it, and to exchange it in ways that create an
unprecedented social environment.(1)> <If the internet does provide a
changed notion of space, then what is its relationship to spatial art,
that is Sculpture.>

<Time and space are an inseparable unit.> <The notion of a changed
experience of SPACE relies mainly on its temporal experience which
contributes to an enhanced conceptualization of space. The immediate
networking of servers spanning the globe constitutes the tangible
materialization within the world. As these nodes operate in parallel real
times, they seem to be accessible ŒsitesŒ where people can ŒbeŒ without
actually physically being there.(2) Emotional and social space may be
broadenend by connecting isolated humans to a community, bring friends and
family together when physically apart. Still the senders and receivers of
messages are tied to their locations, moving about at rates far less rapid
than bytes. A changed physical experience of space therefore is a
different matter.> <Two main situations can be distinguished: accessing
the net at the humanŒs local base and away from that base. As the human
body doesnŒt move when accessing the net, the immobility of online
activity at home does not involve any new experiences of location, as all
the action takes place in front of a screen that is most likely fixed to a
particular area in a room. If in a foreign place, access helps to connect
back to home (such as regulating heat in your Internet-House; or checking
eMail accounts), and constitutes a means to not feel isolated.> <Away from
the known environment, prancing in new surroundings, provides an unknown
spatial experience in a physical sense. Away from the known environment,
immersed in online reality, provides an unknown spatial experience in a
conceptual sense.>

<Spatio-temporal experience and conceptualization have been the major
element of sculptural practice.> <SCULPTURE has evolved from an
object-based crafting to a form-related practice in time and space,
embracing a wide spectrum from social sculpture to installation works and
fetishized objects on plinths. For Joseph Beuys, for instance, creating
form in a social process was sculptural activity; for him, artistic
activity aimed at changing current understandings of art, society, and
science - here, social process is intrinsically an artistic configuration
without particular site but located in the interaction of human beings.
Allan KaprowŒs Happenings similarly brought together a socializing group
which, more recently Rirkrit Tiravanija extended to a more poignant
political moment. These artistic configurations relied on particular
sites: the site of the Happening, or the gallery space transformed into a
temporary home. Franz Erhard Walther understood his objects as works only
when being worked with: activity and object form a unified entity, which
in turn point towards insights from Physics.> <Time and space are an
inseperable unit; consequently, activity and object are ingredients of
space-time existence.>

<Sculptural activity has strong presence in Art-in-public-places as
physical manifestations, temporary or intended to last, restricted to
spatial settings (cities, roads, land, water) and PUBLIC reactions
(vandalism, endorsement, opposition). The internet is a public space whose
strongest restrictions are not spatial or political borders but probably
language (hegemony of English) and financial backing (hardware, software,
server). Here, art can exist without impact on the spatially known
enviroment of people (but nonetheless be part of Public Art programmes,
such as ³Hamburg Ersatz³ by Christiane Dellbrügge and Ralf de Moll)(3).>
<Any haptic spatial experience is therefore limited to sitting, or
standing, in front of a mobile, or fixed, computer and peripheral
machines. Online haptic experience is relegated to a conceptualization of
tactility; the eyes need to do the work of skin. Furthermore, the spatial
set-up of viewing art online is usually restricted to the distance it
needs for a viewer to reach a keyboard and be able to decypher the screen
(unless the work is being projected in a gallery situation). Interaction
is rather immobile, as viewers need some form of technological gadget to
make interaction possible, which in turn requires physical close proximity
to the gadget (at least for the time being). By contrast, a viewer of
sculptures in the offline world has several viewing angles; a Richard
Serra work such as the dismantled ³Tilted Arc³ provides a situation which
sets up several spatial relationships, that are physical, tactile and
conceptual at once. The situation is, relatively speaking, flexible and
fluid. By contrast on the internet, this situation is limited to fixed
viewing angles and little tactile interaction.The understanding of space
is therefore a different one and, obviously, net.artŒs intentions need to
be, and are, different(4).>

<The internet, however, has sculptural form despite or because of its lack
of a centre.> <The placement of servers around the globe is a sculptural
installation. Ready accessability to a network has created a translocal
condition and shifted the understanding of centralized being. The
immediate home, urban or rural environment is connected to the potentially
Everywhere, but it needs the contact, the communication aspect, to
actually establish the networked Everywhere - then, it can become a visual
extension of Here, reaching out to There, making my location visible
elsewhere; then, it helps form social and political groupings. In doing
so, the internet contributes to an enhanced acceptability of MOBILE
existences: mum and dad can see their distant offspring by viewing online
photoalbums, emailing messages and so forth. (Although, it rarely replaces
an emotional desire of physical proximity to a loved one, nor does it
replace the usual desire for settling down and staying put.) Social
activity can now be conducted in social isolation; it no longer requires
physical proximity to humans - a process which, in turn, centralizes the
self.> <Net.art has been largely successful in making this situation its
topic: by highlighting the network visually; by highlighting its
technology; by utilizing its network; by employing the viewer-userŒs
active participation in the work. Yet I think, it hasnŒt thrown the baton
back to the viewer-users to refigure and ask themselves, ³Look at
yourself³ (rather than ³Look at me³ and ³Look at this³ as it usually
asks). It hasnŒt produced a spatial situation that uses the satellite
existence of self as its premise to target oneŒs offline existence on a
base existential level.>

<Existence has sculptural form, because it is executed in a spatial
environment.> <The placement of urban or rural features; of objects in a
household; of furniture in a hotel room: they constitute sculptural
arrangements. LIFE, when lived with a minimum of self-reflection, is
formed in ways similar to an artefact. Art, on the other hand, can become
an operational tool for existence similar to a household object: by being
less of a representational device but more of a tool for self-reflection.
As soon as art assumes such a condition, it assumes material, sculptural
quality.> <Net.art, by assuming a conceptualizingly spatial role that
operates as a reflection tool for oneŒs existence, could then contribute
to a physical alteration in the experience of space.>


<The objectives for these TWO works were manifold. At first, I rather
innocently just wanted to create an online environment, more abstract than
imitating reality. Later, I wondered whether there is a means to create a
sculptural materiality online.> <Flash seemed to provide a visualization
tool that could replace the heavy text or photograph based work, that I
had seen online before.> <I wanted to avoid to produce another online
version of what I saw as a continuation of 70s Concept Art; but also
wanted to create something that did not look like website and design;
something that lived by its own rules.>

<³Life Measure Constructions³(5) evolved from sculptural practice.>
<Objects here are used as flexible configuration tools. Mostly abstract
shapes, they reflect on the relationship of objects for the construction
of reality, as a means to measure life, so to say. In this work, they can
be placed in an online ³allotment³ which becomes part of a stored
landscape. Once stored it can be changed by others, so that effectively,
over the years the landscape might change. Some of these stored
configurations are called up when the user accesses the work.> <As these
graphic representations of objects are movable, they have a sense of
tactility via the hand moving the mouse, or the fingers stroking the pad
on a notebook. It is sculptural in the sense that also these objects are
moved around in a vaguely proper perspectival view of imagined space, or
IMAGINARY space.> <On screen a situation is created that reflects
spatiality and an individualŒs response; it also reflects on an
individualŒs behaviour towards givens: it could potentially be
vandalized.><To avoid the browser interface, the work uses a full screen

<³Lee Marvin Toolbox³(6) was intentionally continuing from there: its
small window structure also deliberately avoids the browser interface.>
<On the other hand it develops a sculptural sense by opening as small
items that can be moved around on screen.> <It consists of several small
components not only in its visual structure, but also in the possibility
to download its fragments as standalone works of art, one pdf-eBook, one
mp3, and nine projector animation files.> <In subject matter, the work is
dealing with imaginary, EXISTENTIAL objects; the soundtrack, a
re-recording of Lee MarvinŒs ³Wanderin Star³, emphasizes an existence not
fixed to a particular location.> <Again space, and the construction of
space, are being visually conceptualized through specific forms available
only in this medium.>


(1) Bernd Guggenberger, Virtual City. Jetztzeitwesen in einer ³ortlosen³
Stadt, in: Ursula Keller (Ed.), Perspektiven metropolitaner Kultur,
Frankfurt/Main, 2000, pp.37-59, p.44.
(2) William J. Mitchell, Replacing Place, in: Peter Lunenfeld (Ed.), The
Digital Dialectic: New Essays on New Media, Cambridge/Mass., London, 2000,
(3) http://www.hamburg-ersatz.trmd.de
(4) Peter Weibel, Die virtuelle Stadt im telematischen Raum, in: Gotthard
Fuchs, Bernhard Moltmann, Walter Prigge, Mythos Metropole, Frankfurt/Main,
1995, pp.209-227, p.218
(5) http://www.lifemeasure.org
(6) http://www.leemarvintoolbox.net

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jorn.ebner {AT} britishlibrary.net

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