Tilman Baumgaertel on Fri, 9 Jan 1998 06:19:41 +0100 (MET)

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<nettime> Some ado about nothing, really

        Must be this time of the year again.

        As some of you might already know, this list has been
"hacked". Someone sent two fake messages over nettime and
a number of other net art-related lists, that were supposedly
by Timothy Druckrey and Peter Weibel, two well-known
writers in the media arts field. You all had them in your mail
box, so you might remember.

        I learned about them, because I got email from
Druckrey who thanked me for pointing out this fake to him.
Since I did send him anything about it and I didn't even know
about it, I got paranoid, because I thought that my mail
account had been hacked too, to send email to Druckrey. I
overreacted because this summer I kept getting mysterious
emails from myself - or rather some digital doppelgaenger,
who faked my email adress.

        Anyway, it turned out that Druckrey learned about
this, because a piece I had written month ago was finally
published at the Rewired website http://www.rewired.com
that David Hudson runs.

        David added an paragraph to my piece, that ticked
Druckrey off:

"Maybe it was that Matthew Mirapaul article

in the New York Times, "With the Desktop as a Canvas," on
Alexei Shulgin's  desktop project


(look carefully and you can find mine; hey, if I'd known it'd
make the Times, I'd have spent more than three minutes on it,
ok?). Whatever it was, something ticked someone off who in
turn wrote up two bilious bashings of the net.art scene and
sent them out to a zillion mailing lists Sunday. The twist of
the knife: the pieces weren't your run-of-the-mill flames, but
instead, zeroed in on net.artists' self-conscious self-promotion
in terms not all that dumb, and further, credited the essays to
two well-known critics, Timothy Druckery and Peter Weibel.
The perpetrator is rumored to be cornered in
London's Backspace Cafe from where he or she will undoubtably
be banished only to return with next week's new movement.
Art stumbles on."

        As far as I know nobody knows who wrote the
articles in question , and I personally couldn't care less. A
couple of people suggested Heath Bunting himself as the
writer (who was heavily attacked in the two pieces, because
he was featured in Wired magazine in some tiny article), but
he claims he wasn`t involved.

        We will never know (and, I guess, nobody really
cares). My own humble text is below. It has been written in
late summer, so it isn't quite that fresh anymore. It must be in
the nature of net.art that the piece seems out-dated to me
already after a couple of months, but in the ever-changing
world of net.art, it might serve as a reminder of what
happened in this field in 1997. Let's see what this year has in store.

        By the way: A successful 1998 to everybody on this list.



PS: David translated the title of the article as "The materiality
test". I guess, I would have translated the original title
"Materialpruefungsamt" as "Test Department", because one of
the ideas in the piece was that net art serves as a test
department of the technical dispositives of the net by
creatively abusing the available net technologies. Maybe there
will be a chance in 1998 to elaborate on this idea with more
time to consider this concept...

For the time being, check


if you are interested in new examples of net.art....

>>Tilman Baumgaertel, Hornstr. 3, 10963 Berlin, Germany
Tel./Fax. 030-2170962, email: tilman@icf.de<<


net.art: A complete break with tradition?
Tilman Baumgaertel connects the dots.

The Materiality Test

"The most important object of art on the Net is the Net itself,"
says  Benjamin Weill, co-founder and curator of  ada web,


the New York-based online gallery. As opposed to the
scanned in photos or paintings found at the Web sites of The
Louvre or The Museum of Modern Art, a new form of art
exists exclusively on the Internet. Similar to video art which is
only "materialized" with a video recorder and a television monitor,
Net art can only be viewed with a computer and a modem. If
"site specific" sculpture was the talk of the seventies, Net art
is "Net specific."

"We are Duchamp's ideal children," says Vuk Cosic,


a Slovenian artist who sees himself as a "net artist". "The
conceptual means that Duchamp or Joseph Beuys or other
early conceptual artists developed have become completely
routine on the Internet, means repeated each time one
randomly clicks an address on the Web. During
Duchamp's day, this was a most modern artistic act that no
one besides him and his two best friends understood." Cosic
is convinced: "All art up to now has been merely a substitute
for the Internet."

Perhaps one needn't reach right away for the modernist
pantheon -- nevertheless, it's impossible to overlook that the
art work which has recently appeared on the Net perpetuates
some of the most important themes of the art of the twentieth
century: the artistic medium as a theme in and
of itself, the playful use of coincidence and irony, and the
suspension of time and space have been motifs of the modern
program since Dada and Futurism.

"net.art," as a few of its protagonists refer to it, is the first
artistic movement since the end of World War II that reaches
over the boundaries of what was once the Iron Curtain. The
artists who have begun in the last two or three years to
conduct the first experiments on the Net are not only
from the US and western Europe, but also from the countries
that once comprised the Warsaw Pact.

For a few of these artists, working with the Net was a way to
operate around the institutions of the art distribution system.
For German-American artist Wolfgang Staehle, founding the
art-mailbox The Thing in New York in the early nineties was
an act of practical "institutional critique," as he
now recalls. "I thought it was absurd to criticize the art
distribution institutions within those same institutions. That's
like simply rearranging the furniture. I didn't think anything
would come of it. That's why I tried to really do something
outside these institutions. I think one of the reasons The
Thing worked was that the traditional art distribution network
truly didn't notice it at all. There was the thrill of feeling like
a small conspiratorial band." 
For other artists as well, the Net is itself a distribution channel
through which one can present work without the long march
through the museums and galleries. The Russian
photographer Alexei Shulgin

discovered the Net when he was invited to an exhibition of
Russian photography in Germany. Because he felt that a few
of the most important Russian photographers were not
represented, he created a page on the Web entitled "Hotpics"
where he gathered those who had been left out.

The presentation of these works was for him also a chance to
avoid the usual ethnic classification. "When I was just an
artist who lived in Moscow, everything I did was seen as
'Russian' or 'Eastern'. Whereas I never thought that what I was
doing was specifically Russian." He uses his
work on the Net to do away with national cliches. "Physical
space is not important on the Net. Everything happens on the
computer monitor only, so it doesn't matter where the data
comes from."

Shulgin was also among the first artists to work with the Net's
unique elements. His project "Refresh," for example, put an at
the time rarely used HTML function to use. Whoever came
upon one of the pages involved in this international
collaboration would automatically be kicked onto the next
page. The "refreshed" data came from a server in Moscow,
then Amsterdam, New York or Berlin. Shulgin was not only
centering on the Net's ability to leap across national borders,
but rather, on a theme that has also played a central role since
the beginning of the twentieth century. The Suprematists, the
Cubists and the Futurists had already dreamed of a suspension
of time and space in a "fourth dimension." At the same time,
Shulgin put the technical protocols of the Net to the artistic

"I've written HTML documents that consciously cause a
computer to crash," says Vuk Cosic. "I realized that
somewhere or other, there was a mistake in my programming.
But it wasn't enough to avoid these mistakes; I really tried to
understand them." The Dutch-Belgian duo Jodi.
artists represented at this year's Documenta, have also worked
with the creative misuse of Net protocols. Their chaotically
organized pages swell with consciously implemented
programming mishaps, turning their homepage into a Web
designer's nightmare.

This creative deconstruction of technology also has its artistic
tradition. In the sixties, video artists such as Nam June Paik
were less interested in what one *could* do with the new
medium and more interested in what one *shouldn't* do with
it. He installed a powerful magnet on a monitor, twisting the
electronic picture into an elegant band. Later he constructed
his "Videosythesizer" which distorted images with colorful

A few of the artists working on the Net come from the video
scene. Julia Sher, who set up observation cameras in galleries
in the eighties, debuted on the Net with "Security Land,"
refered to herself as "Big Brother's little sister". Herwork calls
attention to the possibilities for observation that the Net
offers. At one point, the surfer is told what sort of computer
s/he's working on, the type of software s/he's working with,
and finally, the email address. That this is possible is hardly
news, but followed by the question, "How do you feel now?"
places the capability in context.

These works are not only realized in a medium that hasn't yet
found a place in the artistic canon; they often reach far
beyond the realm of what is usually understood to be art in
the first place. But such works are a practical experiment with
and a critique of the Net as a medium which hadn't previously
existed: art as a test of the new medium, the Net, as material.
Existing only as bits and bytes, they also radicalize a tendency
of conceptual art in the sixties and seventies which Lucy
Lippard has called the "dematerialization of the art object."

The art distribution system is just as unprepared for the new
medium as it was in the early seventies when video art came
along. Museums and exhibitions such as the Documenta have
difficulties with such work because it cannot be exhibited in
the classical sense. At the Documenta, the works were shown
on computers in the exhibition space, but the New York Dia
Art Foundation
only exhibits the work it has acquired on the Net itself.

The matter of how to make money off net.art is also still
unresolved. Artists often earn their living as programmers or
live off grants. Alexei Shulgin: "Artists who work on the Net
don't earn much. You do it purely out of enthusiasm, and
that's what I like about it." Further, he's convinced that won't
change for some time because net.art is too much of a
challenge to the traditional art institutions. "They're trying to
pull net.art in, but they fail again and again because the Net is
just too complicated and nothing really works."

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