Pit Schultz on Thu, 10 Apr 1997 09:52:58 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> re: art on net

>Date: Tue, 25 Mar 1997 14:16:47 -0500
>From: benjamin weil <beweil@adaweb.com>

re: "net.art"

a quick note:

the interesting thing is that the field of visual arts has always been
plagued by this whole notion of art categories informed by the medium.
think of it:  drawing, sculpture, painting, photography, video-art,
installation art, performance art.  i surely forget some, here.

the fact that art is being defined by its medium rather than by any other
more constructive criteria is basically because we still carry the weight
of history, which considers the artists as primarily being an artisan, who
is assumed, if not required, to fully master a technique.   in addition, it
is interesting to note  that, in a sense, it is still the base of rating
good versus bad art.  good artists are assumed to be "good painters" (and
so on...).

interestingly enough, as the more "traditional" field of visual arts opens
its boundaries to encompass work that is less and less defined by the
mastery of a technique, there is a trend that seems to evaluate art
presented on the net with those all canons: a good "net.artist", nowadays,
is one who fully masters her or his computer, and swiftly moves from one
upgrade to the next.  however, how could one keep the necessary distance
required to make art, if one is constantly keeping up with the latest
technical wonders?  there is a serious risk of having more and more
"gee-whizz-art" (sic) and less and less critically constructive work.

while understanding the "conceptual grounding"  of technology is a
necessity to the artist who intends to use digital media, it is not - and
should not be, i believe - hindering upon her/his credibility, and/or
capacity to make a really interesting contribution to the net when she/he
does not use computers or does not have a full mastery of the tool.
working on the net essentially calls for collaboration, which reflects the
essential dynamics of this medium.  hence the need for structures, which
seems to be blooming all over the place (backspace, artnode, cicv, wwwarts,
...):  collaborative modes, that lead to sharing areas of expertise,
whether being collectives or other, reflect better the current states of
the art in its more "traditional" circuits of distribution.
simultaneously,  "visual" artists have, for quite a while now, been
increasingly appealed by the idea of collaborating with people who have a
different knowledge, applying a viewpoint, and opening a trans-disciplinary

digital space is yet another locus for this type of experience, this time
being investigated by people who have decided to experiment with the net as
being both the means for making work, and space of distribution. the notion
of the exhibition space as artmaking space (the collapse of that boundary)
has generated a much tighter interface to experience art production. there
again, the fact many visual artists - for at least 30 years - have stopped
producing work in studios to consider the gallery or the museum both as a
space of production and as a distribution strategy puts them in a very good
position to decipher the intrinsic qualities of the net.

in talking about art "that happens to appear on the net", there is a danger
of reducing the idea of the net, to a mere mean of distribution, when in
fact it has the potential to be a full fledged medium - it's being more and
more evident, with the increasing quality of projects that can be found on
the web today, as compared to a year ago, or even six months, for that
matter.  it is in fact increasingly evident that one of the most compelling
contribution of art on the net lies in its thorough addressing of its

there are artists who have been working with technology for a long time.
the fact that others, who have not been specifically interested in
technology, or who have not devoted their time and career to it, somehow
constitutes a challenge, as it may be that some of the technical wonders
created by the former may all of a sudden be regarded with a more critical
eye.  it might also be that, in the light of all these years spent
researching technology, and being involved with industries that offered
access to high technology, those artists consider the art world with some
condescending attitude, thinking of it as being parrochial and bourgeois.

the net could instead be a place where those various backgrounds that
inform different though processes get to be confronted constructively,
rather than being put back to back.  but first, maybe the term net-art (or
net.art, or whatever...) should be questioned as to what kind of perverse
side effects such vocabulary might have on the further segragation which is
so often discussed both in the "traditional" art world, and in the


i was really happy to be approached by jodi, and i immediately accepted
their offer to host a new project on ada.  i believe, first and foremost
that their inserting their work all over the place is a wonderful take on
the network, aside from the "low tech" and playful quality of their work.
and offering that as a necessary counterpart to other projects we are
producing is very important to me.  same with groupz, who we have actually
been working with for the past 2 years.

as for your comment on the "european style", i guess that, being european
myself, i was always inclined to work with more european artists.  but for
evident budget reasons, it's not an easy thing to accomplish.  that's also
why we are now seeking to team up with others, who are investigating the
medium along the same path, and more or less with the same belief, and
start to exchange projects, co-produce, help each other out, to create what
i like to refer to as a networkship, a web of sites as opposed to a closed

to close this mail, i will also say that when my colleague john borthwick
and myself started ada 'web 2 1/2 years ago, we specifically wanted to make
sure that the word art was nowhere to be found on the site, nor - obviously
- in the name of the site.  interestingly enough, most of the artists we
firste worked with did not wnat their names to be mentionned, and the
example of jenny holzer's will to remain completely anonymous, in anchoring
her truisms in as many sites world wide as she could was for me a real
success.  now of course, we are deemed as an art site.  that's life, i
guess... however, that does not preclude us from proceeding with our
investigation, and open up onto other fields of cultural production (such
as music and literature, for instance)

as for the economic aspect of things, it is clear that no solution has
emerged yet.  as with the late 60's and early 70's experimentation with
video, there has been an extraordinary enthusiasm that has helped generate
a high value output.  however, as time passes, there will have to be
economically viable solutions.  it interesting to know, however, that it
took video productions a good 20 years to become commodified, and in most
cases this process entailed the creation of a specific context for this
type of production to gain "market" value.  it is not the video itself that
has value, but the way it is displayed, which usually involves objects...


benjamin weil
curator, ada 'web / http://www.adaweb.com
32 west 22, ny, ny 10010 t. 212 620-7288; f. 212 620-6224
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