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<nettime> excerpt net.art article
Josephine Bosma on Thu, 30 Jul 1998 16:26:40 +0200 (MET DST)


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<nettime> excerpt net.art article


This is an excerpt of an article of mine which appeared in Intelligent
Agent. Eat yr heart out. It is not for the bible, btw.


>

net.artists and net.art

The mystification of net.art and the discussions surrounding it have
the unfortunate effect that allegations of misplaced exclusiveness
and net.artists' elitism are from time to time seeping into the words
and texts of other artists on the net. As I mentioned earlier, art on
the net is almost as old as the net itself. From the beginning, there
have been many artists on the net who are not part of any alleged
net.art circle, but nevertheless produce net.specific art. In the
confusion caused by a new criticism arising in the unstable
surroundings of the (new) media, misunderstandings easily happen.
In the fight for the acknowledgment of net art within a "high art"
world, other levels of discourse are neglected or they get entangled
in discussions that are not helpful in clarifying the issues. Net.art
(the loosely formed European group including Alexei Shulgin, Olia
Lialina, Rachel Baker, Vuk Cosic, Heath Bunting, jodi-who have always
been a category by themselves- and others) was overexposed compared
to other net art. The group, which certainly includes very interesting
artists, has been very active, and net art criticism, even if it still
is a small field, has developed mostly around them. A reason for this
could be the group's origin in the environment of the mostly European
mailinglist nettime, whose members appear to have a desire for regular
offline meetings where online and offline life get developed in a
pleasantly human and progressive way.

There have been a few attempts from within the so-called net.art
circle to deal with the necessity and construction of a criticism
that would appropriately cover all art on the net. On the mailinglist
7-11-an initiative started by Vuk Cosic, Alexei Shulgin, Heath Bunting
and jodi-three projects were born, two of which were attempts to break
with the assumed elitism in net.art while the third one tried to hack
criticism literally. The first project was homework for net.artists:
the artists were asked to hand in work to Natalie Bookchin, an art
professor of the University of California at San Diego. Artists were
judged exclusively on the basis of the work they created for this
project and received grades. The rationale behind it was that the
"fame" or image of certain net.artists would be deemed unimportant.
The project offered an interesting perspective on the work of less
known artists, as did project number two, the Mister Net.Art contest.
Both projects created a sense of community while simultaneously opening
up this very community. Unfortunately, the third project -pranks-
disturbed relationships both within and outside of the net.art
"community."

Behind "Mister Net.Art" was a group of 11 women who addressed
mechanisms of power or the making of fame and importance. The
criticism took the form of a tongue-in-cheek competition in the Miss
Universe style, which was a reaction to "artist machismo" (as has been
witnessed in avant-garde art groups active earlier this century) that
occasionally dominated the mailinglist. Sexism however was not the
project's main target. The contest tried to reshuffle the deck of
famous net.artists' "cards" by developing a new way of looking at
net.art. The problem with this project was the diversity of issues
it was trying to tackle simultaneously; combined with its embeddedness
in the 7-11 atmosphere, the project's meaning remained unclear to
outsiders when it was presented on other mailinglists. The jury tried
to create a website that presented all aspects of net art and a
fictional identity as the site's supposed creator. This site, the work
of a "self-created" artist, was to win the contest. When time became
an enemy, part of the jury members decided to pronounce the
deconstructive web browser Webstalker (instead of one of the actual
contestants) as the winner. One might say that deconstruction and
self-creation were in fact the winners of the Mr. Net.Art contest.

The third project has been mostly ignored, and its creators prefer
to remain unknown. In December 1997, two fake texts were sent out
under the names of two critics who are well-known in the electronic
arts world. Later on, two more fake mails were sent out in which
two other critics denied the genuineness of texts they had written
for online magazines. These so-called pranks received a lot of
disapproval, but in the end they did not spur much discussion because
critics and theorists did not want to give the incident too much
attention. The project suffered from the fact that its basis seemed
to be a kind of simple self-promotion rather than a well-founded
attack on the development of net art criticism. One could say that
the pranks were based on some serious miscalculations: they targeted
critics who are deeply involved in the electronic arts and online
world rather than those outside of it who are holding obstructing
positions; they thought of their prank as a nice joke but used an
inappropriately "heavy" method aimed at promoting some "inner
net.art circle" works, instead of using the opening they created for
promoting the growth of net art in general. Altogether, this caused
the project to mostly miss its target, and worse than that: it created
the ghetto the artists in question probably tried to escape. Some
net art players (such as Jordan Crandall) greatly disliked the
insensitivity and misguidedness of these actions.

At least, the prank project put net.art in touch with other net art
since it helped focusing away from net.art. It also helped to avoid
a choking and incestuous development of net art/net.art. Ironically,
the pranksters created new space by doing something unpopular.


<



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