Timothy Druckrey on Sun, 21 Dec 1997 20:37:18 +0100 (MET)

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<nettime> Heath Bunting: Wired or Tired?

Heath Bunting: Wired or Tired?

In the December issue of Wired magazine we find amidst the
pre Christmas consumer spectacle of seductive scanners,
professional sports watches, expensive liquors and scantily
clad savvy female computer nerds, a seductive spectacle of
another shape. The current offering is a glossy close up of
the smirking bearded face of Heath Bunting, net.artist from
London, and one of the founders of the international net.art

Bunting is best known amongst the digiratti for his intended
subversive actions and attacks on corporate and consumer
culture. Attacking professionalism of all kinds, he was
quickly scooped up by the very professional Catherine David
for last summer's Documenta X, the prestigious international
art exhibition in Kassel, Germany. In a manner astonishingly
akin to Documenta X, with its redundant revisits to 70s
conceptual art, Bunting's naive stance revealed his
ignorance of hard lessons learned 20 years ago by less
inexcusably innocent precursors. Had he been paying
attention, he could have learned sooner that there is no
outside in corporate consumer culture or more importantly,
that "outside" is just another target market. Well this
December, dec97@irational.org has apparently learned with a
vengeance; He has recently accepted a paid position as
Senior Computer Artist at the Banff Centre, in Canada. The
logical next step, geographically and ideologically, will be
Senior computer consultant at Microsoft.

>From the pages of Wired Magazine, we gaze at Bunting's face,
a tastefully consumable icon floating against a white
background. As Artist of the Hour, he appears ironic, cool
and rebellious, gazing at the reader knowingly, eyes
narrowed, lips pursed - as if to suggest that his subversion
could somehow transcend the lifestyles magazine he is now
decorating. But what exactly is being subverted, or more
precisely, what are we being sold?

In Wired Magazine, the hot new item of consumption these
days is the subversive artist. Hot Wired and Wired have
taken on the badly needed position in the US as patrons of
the digital arts. They have been more friendly and inviting
to digital arts than the art world ever has been. In
ArtForum, for example, as the token digital critic I am
occasionally offered a column, always already scripted
within the margins, of the magazine and of the art world.
There has been much theorizing of the relationship of the
margins to the center particularly from the net as a
marginal, suburban strip mall, in relation to the art
world's urban center market place. Yet much of this
theorizing comes from a passive relationship to the digital
media upon which the theorists and artists are commenting.
This was not the case previously with Bunting, although with
this latest transgression, or rather absorption, we see how
quickly one can be seduced to the sell out. Demo or die!

Wired, unscrupulous entrepreneurs that they are, have taken
to heart their forefather lessons, Phillip Morris and
Saatchi and Saatchi, to name only two of the most
licentious. They fully understand just how useful a public
relations device the arts can be.

Bunting, "Sage of Subversion," we are instructed with no
apparent tongue in cheek, is "fucking with commodities."
Easier said than done, coming from a magazine that has
already taken home the prize for glorifying the wild wild
west of free market computer economics. Cool and radical in
its approach to consumption, why not invite Bunting to play
act two to patron saint Marshall McLuhan: another clever
Commonwealth citizen with a palpable sound bite?

No less ludicrous is the additional label Wired ascribes to
Bunting, "Michelangelo of the Digital age." In an age of
post-mechanical simulation, the notion of the hand in art is
no longer nostalgic, it is positively reactionary. To
proclaim the possibility of a masterly mark of the digital
age is a suggestion seeping with egotism and nostalgia for
masterpieces whose poverty have been unmasked ever since
that fateful day in 1917 when the patron saint of
contemporary art signed a mass produced urinal.

The cultural loop - from subversion to assimilation to
absorption - revisits net art quicker, smoother and more
quietly than ever before. The ride begins with net
production and distribution and ends as hard copy pages
spouting computer consumption and techno-utopianism. Bunting
becomes a complicit pawn in Wired magazine's naughty boy
game of -ever so gently -slapping the hand that feeds it.

And finally we must ask the sad but obvious question. What
is Bunting subverting? The answer is perhaps the greatest
irony of all. He is, we are informed by Wired, "wreaking
havoc on corporate Web sites"  and "overturning capitalistic
ideals." Anyone searching for Adidas and Nike is given a
pointer to the competitors site. So in essence, Buntings
"subversion" is to participate in free market economics, in
ending monopolies and  giving business to the competitors.
Capitalism 101 anyone? Cheques for tuition may be sent via

Timothy Druckrey <druckrey@interport.net>

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