j bosma on Sun, 16 Mar 97 19:48 MET

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nettime: net.art and art on the net

This is a piece of writing that gives you my personal reflections
on net.art. You could very well have different ideas about it, 
and I try by writing this here right now to avoid the thought in 
your head that I claim to be an expert on the subject. What I like
so much about art and new media and net.art is the fact that it
is not defined yet. I have been a bit annoyed therefore by some 
writings recently on Nettime. I will try to let my definitions
be as open as possible, but in my opinion, more touching as to what 
the term net.art does to me then that academic lingo, that by no 
means has the ability to cover the subject, simply because of the
slippery nature of net.art. 

Where to start when talking about net.art or art on the net or 
whatever it is these people make on the net? I will just try to
write some thoughts down I had the last couple of days, and who
knows it might become a coherent piece. Hard though, with this 
subject. Undesirable maybe even.

I read a statement in the newspaper the other day, that was part of 
an article about Wim T. Schippers, Hollands most famous Fluxus artist. 
It said that a good art work is prepared like murder: one has to be
very precise and perfectionist and work in utter secrecy. This 
reminded me of net.art very much. It is almost betrayal to write about 
some aspects of it, because it is probably at this moment one of the 
few art forms that still have a potential of subverting and surprising
in the way art has been seen to do in the past. 

The first thing that came to my mind after reading both Davids and 
Carey's mails was: What are they talking about? Which art on the 
net? What net-art? As most of the Nettimers might know there seems
to be this group called net.art that operates and organises around
the Nettime perifery a lot. I have tried to find proof of this group
claiming the name net.art this morning, but didn't find any. Maybe 
tiredness of surfing, I don't know. I thought it would be easy, but
forget it. Somehow the term net.art is connected to this group however
and it is confusing, especially in discussions like the one on Nettime
recently about art and the Internet. 
The reaction of Olia Lialina for instance to this discussion is a 
very personal one. She is one of the people of this net.art group.
She does not understand a discussion about net.art when this 
discussion leaves her friends out completely. I have the same feeling, 
for several reasons. The net.art group has been very active and has 
produced many works that I cannot place in the discriptions given by 
both David and Carey about types and possibilities of net.art. Not 
really anyway. Carey's discriptions get a bit close, but are too 
academic and in this way they look too much from a perspective of 
the old art, that was never comfortable with things like performance 
art or mail art, and has developed a manner of discourse about these 
that is choking and unsuitable mostly.
The connection with video art, well, I don't really care.
Video has never had the potential the net has. It had the illusion 
of that, and still has. With the coming of the camcorder it looked 
to some people as if the world of big media, of tv, could be invaded 
just like that. This turned out to be a Fata Morgana. The kind of 
technology required to transmit video in any way has always been and 
will stay for a while, even with the coming of RealVideo, a matter
of big money, big machines and bureaucracy because of this. RealVideo
might finally put an end to this in the future, but we don't know how 
the Internet will develop from the top down (restructuring I refer to).
Video however has never had a real chance to become a medium like the 
It would be much wiser to compare the development of the net to the 
early days of radio, which is done by some people outside(?) this list,
Siegfried Zielinski for instance. 

The problem when talking about net.art is always that the people that
do so come from two opposite groups, the Artworld and the net.artworld,
with exceptions like Robert Adrian, who could tell us much more then 
he does unfortunately. Last november for instance I was at a conference 
called Objects and Pixels, in the Balie, Amsterdam. This was organised 
by a good dutch art magazine called Metropolis M, to investigate and 
discuss the problem of the 'vanishing object' of art in new media. The conference was a total embarrasment. The reason for this was the 
incompetence of people in the 'normal' artworld to see certain types 
of art. Conclusions in this conference were for instance that art in 
new media had not reached beyond advertisement yet really and therefore 
could not be discussed properly in a high art discussion (can you 
imagine the reactions of for instance Alex Adriaanse of V2 in the 
audience, laughing all the time, perplexity) and that it might be time 
to see art as purely visual (the last remark made by the moderator, 
right before the last performance of the conference by sound artists 
David Toop and Scanner).

Now I don't think this was all due to a lack of information that these
people obviously also had. It is something much deeper and complex,
which is the lack of understanding, maybe even a lack of will to
understand, a way to deal with art in a non material but conceptually
still very 'real' way. Real being that it touches and plays with
media usage as we know it, with the world as it is around us. It makes 
new couplings, not just of machines, but also of meanings, using
communication tools in any shape as a medium, preferably in unusual
combinations or contexts. Its roots seem to lie more in things like 
mail art and performance art then telematic art, which is too easily 
connected to this artform because of its use of electronic media.
Somebody told me that Kathy Rae Huffman has tried to bring the term communication art up for this. I like to call it media art, because 
in my eyes it is media art in its purest form. But unfortunately this 
term has been in use for everything that moves and breaths 

Communication art (lets adapt this term for now) plays with social 
contexts. It invents escape routes for ideas and human needs that get
crushed in increasingly narrowing discourses of fashion, money and 
political correctness of any type. It is one of the types of net.art 
that is completely ignored in most discussions about new media art.
If anybody needs an example I'ld still say Heath Buntings work is a 
a good one. He combines the communicative aspects of grafiti and 
signs in public spaces with the Internet, or plays with the image of
corporate identities, leaving them naked and sensitive as the public
property they are but don't admit to be. This description is not
covering his work completely though, as it has many invisible layers
that make it so interesting. It makes you see the world differently
and gives ideas and inspiration to do similar things. One could be 
locked up for that in some countries. That is why that statement 
about the connection between murder and art made me think of net.art. 
Whenever I come across discussions about new media art or art in the 
net, I wonder why he or others like him are not mentioned there. 

This is enough about the 'normal' artworld and net.art I think. 
Leaves me with a question towards the net.art group that has been 
bothering me for a while. How can you call your group by this name?
Isn't it like some group would call itself the paint.art group, or the
video.art group? You seem to be claiming this name, as if it were a 
new brand to merchandise. There are many outside your group that work
in the net, in similar ways. This leads easily to confusions like we 
just had here on Nettime. I know some of you use this term tongue in 
cheeck, or play with the notion of being a group yes or no, but to the
outside world you appear to be a group. 
I like the term net.art, especially because of that little dot in it. 
Can't you rename your 'group' and stick to making net.art? 

be good


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