carey young on Thu, 13 Mar 97 05:04 MET

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Re: nettime: Art on Net

Net Art is Not Art???

by Carey Young

(A response to 'Art on the Net not Net-Art,' by David Garcia)

David Garcia raises some useful and interesting  issues in his essay, but
may be a little too hasty in damning Net art with an 'ideology.' Of course,
the Net offers a "tool" for artists, but there is precious little art on
the Net which has any sense of the rich context in which it is situated. It
is too early to see any sort of artistic 'ideology' appearing, let alone
congealing around  Net artworks. It seems to me that there is at present a
distict lack of art activity which  actually  exposes and explores the
Net's possibilities, rather than employing it as a glorified catalogue, a
function which may of course be categorised as useful, but hardly

Here and there (as I said, they are a rare species) can be found the
occasional project which makes an active use of its location on the Net,
without losing any engagement with contemporary critical debates which this
'formalist' position might suggest. I am thinking of work which
specifically involves and incorporates hypertext, hyperlinks, Web-cams and
other Web-specific devices. Not that this is overtly formal work, just work
which makes an intelligent commentary on its Web-sitedness, as well as
having its own artistic meanings. After all, each Net artwork is
constituted from an electronic and analogue fabric, a spatialised
hypertextual 'environment,' which will always contextualise the
viewer's/users experience of it.  To ignore this, when making a Net art
piece, could never be defined as 'wrong', of course. It would just mean a
lack of possible depth.

This is not, however, a call for a move back to the formal values of
modernism! I agree with Garcia's point that Net art could, at this early
stage in its development, be dragged down with " the theoretical
somersaults and tedious technological formalism that accompanied debates
about what might or might not be *real* "video art". "  But what I feel  is
missing from this argument is the fact that Net art has  a very particular
location which, we might say, offers a new location for art experience.
Artists working with the Net have a vital role to play, in the sense of
offering interventions into the usual experiences, expectations or
possibilities afforded by the Net. These are still new experiences for most
people, and thus some definition of what 'happens' on or in the Net can be
an engaging and meaningful aspect of contemporary Net art (and perhaps its
future incarnations: in a medium which develops so fast, who is to say that
this condition will diminish?) In this sense, Net artworks which make
particular, and perhaps I should say 'conceptual' use of their Net location
are not merely bogged down in formalist dogma, but may perhaps be
commenting on and engaging with their environment in a way we already
understand, primed by  more traditional artforms.

The most resonant  Net artworks thus have a sensitivity to space and to
location, albeit its own electronic variety,  which is traceable through
that grand linear sweep of 'Art History.' While it is not vital to compare
Net art with other artforms, since it has its own powerful voice (even if
Garcia is perhaps suggesting we do not concentrate on this) it is
interesting to do so in order to speculate upon what its possibilities
might be.  I personally feel that with many of the most interesting sites
there are strong links to  sculpture (1), to telematic art of the last
twenty years, and to land art. The most useful comparison I have found is,
however,  with installation.  Michael Archer, in an recent edition of the
British art magazine Art Monthly, states that "there are grounds for saying
that installation is the current condition of art... (the term's)
widespread use demonstrates... the widespread assumption of a certain
spatial sensibility. It is an index of how we might inhabit a space which
is always multiple -always spaces - and of how we interact with the bodies
and objects, both near and far, around us." (2)  Give or take a few word
changes, this could be seen to describe Net art works which inhabit the Net
in a provocative way. Perhaps Net art as a 'genre' could operate on one
level as an index of how we might inhabit and interact with electronic
space. And for this to work, I believe Net artworks must first have a
strong sense of their own electronic identity.

Although some sites do work well as homes for an artist's non-digital work,
we are perhaps talking more of a Net art which explores the potential of
the medium in terms of of defining and then utilising a language in a
sophisticated way.  Georgina Starr, for example, as Garcia states, is
making compelling video work. But if her work appears "natural,"  it is
surely because she is employing the  specific 'language' of the camcorder.
It implies a rejection of aesthetics which may be seen as 'traditional' to
both video art and to television production, to name but two. A
sophisticated strategy, which works so well precisely because it seems so
natural. It is like this, too, with the most resonant Net artworks. They
often make use of strategies inherent to the Net's fabric, hyperlinks,
web-cams etc, and do so effectively because they understand that particular
language. Understanding (and perhaps defining) does not necessarily mean a
crass and closed statement of technological and technical possibilities. I
doubt many people would be interested in sites which do no more than
announce their own web-location. Rigor Mortis would soon set in to both
brain and modem.

Art which 'happens to appear on the net,' as Garcia wants it, is not the
only way art should appear on the Net. We can keep the freshness and
apparent accessibility of Georgina Starr's work, to continue with this
example. It just takes sensitive, and dare I say it, intelligent use of Net
'language' to make work which has the depth to operate illuminatingly in
its own space.  A  sense of the Net's own fabric may perhaps not, in this
light, be Garcia's "wrong direction." It may in fact be an essential tool
for the artist  to deploy: we are talking about effective commnunication,
and for that, one must learn the lingo.


(1) An interesting and related essay, for example, is 'Sculpture in the
Expanded Field,' Rosalind Krauss (in Hal Foster, ed., 'The Anti-Aesthetic,'
Bay Press, Seattle 1983.) Krauss' writes on the changes which sculpture, as
a genre, has undergone in the transition from pre-modernity through to
postmodernity.  Her comments on the spatial placement of an artwork
(sculpture in this case) in relation to its immediate surroundings can
easily be related to Net artworks if they are seen as art 'objects' with a
hypertxtual or spatial placement.

(2) M. Archer, 'Accomodating Art,' in Art Monthly, Sept 96

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