John Hopkins on Thu, 20 Mar 1997 05:37:36 +0100 (MET)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

Re: nettime: Net art vs. video art ?

Dear Nettimers:

I apologize for:

1) not sticking precisely to the threads that hold Nettime together, and
2) not organizing my thoughts so brilliantly as Andreas does, I am writing
from the heart of belief which, for me, can't be organized or disciplined
so well...

Again, speaking on this thread of histories of this technological field of
work that many of us are in and responding to Jeremy's comments...

>I've been reading the posts about net art and the earlier model of video
>art the last few days and I find the dicussion perplexing, often
>misinformed, prejudicial and lacking depth or historical accuracy.

In order to be fair, a statement like this must read ...lacking depth or
COLLECTIVE historical accuracy.  You are presuming that at this moment of
history, here in the near-sight, that there is no personal experience is
true -- the "historical" moment we are peering into is still very much in
the personal histories of most of us.  And you are presuming that everyone
believes in (why?)/has heard of (from who?)/has read of (where?) this
collectively (accurate? monumental?) history.  The simple existence of
first-person stories like the one Alexei relayed illustrates that history
at this moment is subjective, changing, relative and above all, personal.
Anecdotal evidences are what fill the air.  The historical accuracy of a
recent moment is a mirage...  And perhaps what our personal access to
technology, hyper-media, and world networks allows us, as I am sure has
been observed by others -- that the monumental histories can be re-written
into a thousand personal histories -- they can be fragmented back to where
they were assembled from, from the personal, the individual...

If you waned to strip the existing contemporary history of art down to
consist of monographs, exhibition catalogs of major museums, critical
writings in major Art publications, you still wouldn't get anything
remotely coherent about the workings of technology-based arts...  to speak
of misinformation and prejudice is simply not applicable to a body of
experience that is primarily personal and not yet even remotely
collective...  Nettime is (or should be) a prime example not of collective
histories happening in the moment, but of the development of dynamic
dialogic personal histories that are happening now, while we are alive and

>take issue with John Hopkins, when you propose to trash the entire edifice
>of Art History, John !  Historians can and do get it wrong, same as artists
>do, but that's no reason to write off a vast body of knowledge.

Of course, as a artist and arts educator who works in any medium that
happens to be at hand, I understand the value of historical appraisals,
experiences, works, and evidences, that is undisputed, but when the past
(passive) is raised to a higher level of consideration than the present
(active), I stop and take issue...  Where the wordsmith (art
critic/historian) begins to assume that the artist follow their lead -- I
find that a negative and dangerous situation.  I saw this "attitude" (for
lack of a better word) being assimilated, taught, and become the standard
way of acting -- in the US art scene in the mid-1980's -- and in my
definition, I call this reactionary art -- where the artist does not have a
solid internal source (in-spiration, literally) from which to work, but is
relying on/reacting to external cultural-social-political conditions from
which to work (ex-piration)...  This was a standard feature of graduate
programs in the arts in the US (speaking in generalities, of course, not
specifics) where the writings of what came to be called Post-Modernism were
presented to *Lead* students (and faculty) rather than inspire them.  Many
politically-oriented artists from the Reagan Era simply died away along
with Reagan -- possibly another manifestation of the "loss" of the Other
(Enemy) as represented by the Soviet Union -- lacking opposition, people
fell flat, without something to push against, people had nothing to stand
by!  A few artists with strong aesthetic personalities like Tony Oursler,
have maintained an edge, chiefly because on their internal creative

I guess where ever I see wrestling with these collective histories -- who
did what first, who named this or that, I am immediately struck by the
futility of the efforts -- I suppose perhaps that positions are being taken
that confuse personal and collective histories...  You could say that
personal histories can be known by the individual, but collective histories
cannot be known in any definitive way until time has distilled (killed?)
the many voices, and even then, the relationship of the collective history
to 'what really happened' may not be "accurate"...

History is a well, it is full of lessons -- and the truism "you don't know
where you're going unless you know where you're from" holds some power.
But notice that it speaks of the individual rather than the mass; it speaks
of individual understanding of personal histories...

I need only read Tacitus' "The Annals of Imperial Rome" rather than The New
York Times to know not only the principles but the substances of the
corruption in the US government in Washington!  No doubt.  When historical
distillations reflect principled understanding, that is when they are of
the greatest value.

History is written ex post mortem.

Anyway, Jeremy, I guess you are ship-board by now!  Tapio said he would be
spending six days on the Symphony!  That's a challenge!  Have fun!


John Hopkins
private email: <>
WEB: <>
Webmaster for LANKaster On-Line:

*  distributed via nettime-l : no commercial use without permission
*  <nettime> is a closed moderated mailinglist for net criticism,
*  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
*  more info: and "info nettime" in the msg body
*  URL:  contact: