Joachim Blank on Tue, 22 Apr 1997 15:19:46 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> What is netart ;-)?

The text below is a contribution to an exhibition and congress
called " (History of) Mailart in Eastern Europe" at the Staatliches Museum
Schwerin (Germany) 1996

by Joachim Blank, Internationale Stadt Berlin

-------  What is netart ;-)?

The "Internet myth" is the result of a massive self-referentiality of our 
media landscape. Unlimited communication in a yet unknown conglomerate made of
machines, cables and people. The exclusive networld of cyberpunks, scientists 
and artists has been superseded by the thirst for information of the 
industrialized mass consumption. Nevertheless, the cultural "stylistic 
howlers" of communication in data networks continue to exist not only in the 

Artistic projects, strategy projects, discussion forums and autonomous network
structures within the vast Internet, but remote from the glossy, dust-free 
surfaces, show interesting beginnings for an alternative use of this medium.

---  Netart vs. Art on the Net ---

The art market has discovered the net for the distribution of art. It uses
the net to promote art just like ordinary companies. Gallerists, museums 
and other art brokers provide information about their artists, exhibitions and
events. For them, the net is nothing more than a big telephone book in 
which they too want to (have to) be represented.

However, netart differs from art on the net. Art on the net is 
mostly nothing more than the documentation of art which is not created on the 
net, but rather outside it and, in terms of content, does not establish 
any relationship to the net. Netart functions only on the net
and picks out the net or the "netmyth" as a theme. It often deals 
with structural concepts: A group or an individual designs a system that can 
be expanded by other people. Along with that is the idea that the 
collaboration of a number of people will become the condition for the 
development of an overall system. netart projects without the 
participation of external persons are perhaps interesting concepts, but they 
do not manifest themselves as a collective creativity in the net (Dieter
Daniels, The 
idea is fundamental, but dubious without media-specific translation and 
without participation of other people. For all netart projects there is a
retraceable starting point, an author, so to speak. Nevertheless, what 
develops from one idea of one single artist with the collaboration of many 
others, is incalculable. Like the incentive of gambling, here too the 
openness, the curiosity about an imaginary end, the exciting challenge of 
taking part in such projects. And that with a medium like Internet, which 
makes a direct form of intervention possible at the same time on different 
levels of communication (text, sound, picture, motion picture, real time).

--- Approaches to a Typology of netart ---

There are different manifestations of netart on the Internet. Common to 
them all is the extension of communications networks, that is to say, logical 
networks within the physically existing telecommunications systems. In the 
process two different approaches come to light:

1. Context Systems

Context systems like "The Thing", "t0", "Internationale Stadt " a.o. go
back to the idea of developing perceptible claims for artistic-cultural
activities on the 
net, and to do this not as an individual, but as a collective group projects.

Independent structural projects form a context, an art platform for 
non-commercial netactivities of the most diverse kind. Infrastructures of
these kinds are mostly in the hands of the operators themselves, with their 
own projects and subject matter; they are users of their own structure. That 
is ultimately also the motivation, to invest a lot of energy in building up of
such structures.

The motivation to build up Internet infrastructures goes back to the 
interdependent relationship of providers and sponsors who enable artists 
access to the net. Parking oneself at a commercial Internet provider has a
high price:

Commercial Internet providers use artists projects to attain higher viewing 
figures and use them for advertising. Moreover, the space for technically 
creative experiments is most often limited. For the system administrators make
the final judgement for all netprojects. They decide what is technically 
realizable and what is desirable in the interests of netoperators. For 
that reason artists opt to work with their own capital so that they do not 
have to fall back on borrowed funds.

The intention of these context systems is the development of communities. Real
as well as virtual communities are developed only by way of identification 
with the system visible in the net and its operator groups, well-knowing 
that at the same time every active user can become a perceptible component. In
this sense, viewed hierarchically, the structure-giver and active users are on
the same level. Of course, comparisons with the relation between curator and 
artist, or gallery and artist, or museum and artist come to mind. In this case
the art institutions have little model function as art brokers, but the 
net as a free medium of distribution does. Unlike the mass media, the 
Internet has developed its popularity through the awareness of a constant give
and take of its users. The expression of networks, namely to form a processual
platform of communication and information, can with respect to context systems
be summed up in two short formulas: structure=content and net=art.

Exemplary Projects:

The Thing New York (
The Thing Vienna (
International City Federation ( (
Obsolete (
Public Netbase (
Ludmilla (

2. Researchers, Troublemakers, Individual Perpetrators

Unlike context systems, individual netartists or groups in the net
operate without having to take into account the visitors on the Web sites or 
the limits of the medium."Service" is the last thing on their minds. The 
Internet as a new medium is the tool of artistic projects. Often it has less 
to do with the Internet itself and more with the desires, hopes and aversions 
which a networked world arouses among so many people. Here the permanent 
online existence of a future communications society is now being put to the 
test. Catchwords like dislocation, identity, truth, belief, reality,
territory which have become popular by way of the net are being taken up by
Artists and often radically processed. Here it is not so much a matter of the 
clarification of such terms as it is a matter of artistic interventions 
leading to confusions among virtual visitors.

Netart does not have a tight visual language. It behaves rather like a 
chameleon. It is caught up in a constant process, reacting quickly and 
sensitively to changes. Netart itself may be short-lived too. For the 
Internet is a medium which is continuously in movement. Never before in 
history has the way of a medium from the time of implementation to the massive
dissemination been so short as in the case of the Internet.

If one observes the visual appearance of a lot of conventional Web sites 
somewhat more exactly over a longer period of time one may ascertain a "state 
of the art" in the design. What is conspicuous, for example, are the smoothed,
shadowy icons and images. The underlain shadows suggest that the user is being
produced on the monitor by way of the shadows and that it is the user who is 
beaming instead of the monitor. There is a series of other such creative 
features that recur on a number of Web sites. One seldom sees deliberate 
deviations, for most of the Web sites are trying to sell products, and exotic 
interface ideas should not keep from "clicking." Netartists as 
researchers of perception are free enough to look after such phenomena. 
Everything that allows an escape from the young, but tediously styled WWW is 
experimented with, from the Web sites in black and white to the complete 
abandonment of design. Netartists are investigating the conventions of 
the net and its virtual visitors by exceeding them.

Even the hypertext inherent in the WWW is contextualized. Many dispense with 
hyperlinks right from the start, others use them in such an exaggerated way 
that any orientation is lost.

So-called "fake" projects are also very popular. Netartists try to park 
themselves with them in other art territories without being exposed. For that 
they copy creative elements of a particular communications context and 
transfer them to their own projects. Products are offered that can never 
possibly exist, services are promised which no one can possibly keep. Lying is
therefore explicitly allowed. In this way believers, unsuspecting surfers can 
become a component of a netart project. Through such projects, 
fundamental questions are raised about truth, the credibility of the exchange 
of information in a media-dominated society. Netartists are experimenting
with the belief in the progress of techno culture and are working with its 
material - information and communication. They are using metaphors from the 
real world, pseudo-individualizing software and playing with the vanity of 
their virtual visitors.

The Internet as a mirror of a neo-liberal capitalism is an extremely 
interesting experimental layout, full of inspiration for artists, hackers and 
other field reseachers.

Exemplary Projects:

 Joachim Blank  -   Internationale Stadt Berlin -- ____ -----
 ___ _ ---          D-10969 Berlin, Prinzessinenstr. 19-20  -     
          ----      Tel: +49 30 61697344 Fax: +49 30 61609342 - -------------   --_         -- __  - --- --- ____ ----- -__
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