Sunday, December 9, 2007

What is netart ;-)? Joachim Blank

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cyberpunks, scientists and artists has been superseded by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 underground.

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

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 ( etc.

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 net
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

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

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:

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