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THE AESTHETICS OF NET.ART Author(s): Julian Stallabrass Reviewed work(s): Source: Qui Parle, Vol. 14, No.

1 (Fall/Winter 2003), pp. 49-72 Published by: University of Nebraska Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20686165 . Accessed: 04/03/2013 13:59
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THE AESTHETICS OF NET.ART

Julian Stallabrass

on

The following textwas originally delivered as theplenary lecture at the American Society for Aesthetics, Annual Meeting, San Fran It is an attempt to place my current work cisco inOctober, 2003. Internet art in the context of more that often seem recent discussions of the artworld, and to tackle head-on the issue of its aesthet against aesthetic

globalised ics, in circumstances appreciation. On

to work

ing on, and when I told her replied with the single word: "yuk." Much of the aesthetic feeling traditionally derived from fine art

the face of it, the subject of net.art's aesthetic seems slightly was work perverse; indeed, a colleague of mine once asked what I

al being worked with. That seems absent inonline art. Furthermore, much net.art, as we shall see, strives to be manifestly anti-aesthet ic, and the usual procedures that the art world uses formarking objects for aesthetic attention are not available, or are not taken up, online. makes emerged
Qui Parle, vol.

representation, idea and its depends on the interplay between instantiation in some material form, and the feeling of thatmateri

I hope, though, that its very resistance ita useful because extreme test case. soon
14, No.

to the aesthetic

"'Net.art" is the term used to refer to a strain of Internet art that after the invention and wide take-up of web

1 Fall/Winter2003

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JULIANSTALLABRASS

browsers

in the mid

1990s:

explored the possibilities ambivalent relationship with the mainstream and was

a conceptually informed art that of this new arena for art, had an at best was it

art world, was often a lively and disputatious crit collaborative, supported by icism, much of itpenned by the artists themselves. Not all Internet artwas at all like this, and artists continue to some of it produce a very wide range of work online manifestly to elicit an aesthetic response. Much net.art played with designed but for an example of another, more we can look to the work of by online straightforward response commercial designer and artist JohnMaeda, who has produced the legacy of modernism; is both a technical update, and an idealist realization

what

of

Malevich's

painted cosmological passive relation to the work once initiate the animation of floating squares, are I thinkmeant itbeautiful.'

fantasies. Viewers, who have a they have clicked on the link to

to find

The act of aesthetic attention can be applied to just about any are circumstances that seem to favor it; phenomenon, though there and will come it isconcomitantly something that is hard to assure, though we to art-world tactics for its encouragement. In circum

stances of extreme material deprivation, works of art may be used formanifestly instrumental purposes, and Duchamp's provocation to use a Rembrandt as an ironing board is realized invarious forms. Equally, aesthetic attention is very difficult to abolish: at the Fountain was described by origins of conceptualism, Duchamp's some who sought to support itsdisplay at the American Society of Independent Artists in formal terms as a beautiful object, the com parison being with Buddhist sculpture, and this despite Duchamp's striving for "aesthetic indifference" in the readymades. In later conceptual art, resolutely anti-aesthetic and function al works, such as Art and Language's Index series, meant to pro voke reading, the linking of data fragments (in this case, on index cards) and contributions from gallery-goers, came to be taken as or at least as the remains of a performance (def sculptural objects, We now see Index initely over) that the viewer must take on trust. and valuable antique, displayed alongside promi

01, a venerable

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nent "Do not touch" signs, and defended against such violation by gallery guards. With Index: Wrongs Healed inOfficial Hope, (1998-9) Art & that fate, and by implication Language recently protested against as a whole, by a simula against that of conceptualism producing tion of Index as prettily polychrome non-functioning sculpture, jux taposed with a pornographic text-painting rendered nonsensical by

"young British artists"). The reasons for thatwide failure to foster a continually changing dialogue, to engage the viewer, to produce work in collaboration with others, are evidently to do with the which requires the sale and collec economy of the artworld itself tion of unique or rare objects. The data of Index was held in the form of a "sculpture" by artistswhose signature or brand conferred value upon it, so naturally the general public could hardly be allowed to interfere with it. If in the art world aesthetic value is closely linked to mone

(the lattermeant to indicate the vulgar and many malapropisms dumb misappropriation of Conceptualism by the self-consciously

tary value, it is because of the structural place of the artworld in relation to mass culture and instrumental life.The economy func tions strictlyand instrumentally according to conventions, imposed unequally itproduces on nations by the great transnational economic bodies; hierarchies of wealth and power; itenforces on the vast

given meaning through adventure and coherent narrative (inwhich heroes make their lives free precisely by breaking the rules), and with strident or plaintive songs of rebellion or love.

inhabitants a timetabled, and mechanical majority of the world's while consoling them with visions of cinematic lives working life,

Art appears to stand outside this realm of instrumentality, lifeand itscomplementary mass culture. That itcan bureaucratized do so is due to art's peculiar economy, founded on its resistance to mechanical reproduction. That resistance can be seen most clearly

inthetacticsused by artists dealers toartificially and constrain the with limited-edi ofworksmade inreproducible media, production
tion books, photographs, videos or CDs. Through that resistance, the cultural enclave of fine art is protected from vulgar commercial

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JULIANSTALLABRASS

pressures, permitting free play with materials and symbols, along with the standardized breaking of convention and taboo. assure by these Plainly, contemporary art does not only try to means an aesthetic view of itsproductions. Indeed, the "aesthetic"

as a category and art-world institutions have often been challenged in linked attacks, in that an assault on the coherence of the former the constitution of the latter appear more a matter of arbi social fiat. In contrast, there have been many works that strive trary to bring about a feeling of the uncanny, the abject, the traumatic "real" (or itseternal absence), and the sublime (including, itshould

makes

or of the viewing mind. The theories with which they are regularly are updates of the mystical Bergsonism that propped up supported In that all bear on aspects of early twentieth-century modernism. self-awareness and self-realization (ifonly to assure the viewer of the vanity of such ambitions, straightforwardly envisaged), they are not so distant from the development of the sovereign individual that at least some version of the aesthetic presupposes. The conti nuity between them is indicated by the resilience of the art institu

be noted, a strong engagement with the sublime of data). It is unclear, though, how far separated these other experi ences remain from the aesthetic. All are supposed to be extra-lin guistic, incorrigible sensations, undercutting cognitive approaches to the object, and yielding perhaps some essential quality of object

tions which, while they have efficiently adapted to new market conditions, retain their basic function as purveyors of celebration and mystification. What they offer is strictly separated from both the general We

run of instrumental life (including giving or listening to lectures like this) and the narrative comforts of mass culture. are familiar with

inwhich such experiences, the ways the aesthetic attitude towards works, are encouraged: including there is the mounting and framing of work, literally or metaphori cally, which mark it off as a discrete realm of experience. The their own discreteness, with gallery and museum also emphasize architectural drama and authority, so thatwe go to a unique place to commune with unique objects. These objects, aside from not being mass produced, are often very laboriously produced, or use

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large amounts of expensive material, experience of the aesthetic is bound

and

to the extent that the

works appear to have no immediate use, and are so associated with free self-realization.

up with an experience of in time and space (Benjamin's aura), that quality of rar uniqueness ity is important. They are further cocooned with promotional and befuddling literature, about which little need be said. Finally, the

In addition, it will hardly have escaped your attention that there has in the last few years been a revival inwriting and theo rising about beauty and the aesthetic in contemporary art, along with the production of many works that seem, in addition to hav ing a conceptual attempts to make dimension, to be really very pretty, and even shows that are more about spectacle than con

is Dave Hickey's 2001, Site Santa Fe's cept. A recent example Fourth International Biennial, entitled Beau Monde: Towards a was an attempt to refashion those It Redefined Cosmopolitanism. overtly political biennales which produce a show thatwould make and beauty of cultural exchange. Art production in the 1990s thesis between

tend to depress aesthetes, and itsviewers wonder at the variety

in 2003, fills a Ends of theWorld, shown at the Venice Biennale room with clusters of glass balloons that glow with different col ored lights in a beautiful, slowly changing display. The lights in the balloons around are renditions of local lightconditions invarious locations the world, relayed over the Internet, and the piece is both and appealing object and not

is sometimes thought of as a syn and spectacular 1980s artwith the tech grandiose art, the result niques and some of the concerns of Conceptual to splice linguistic and conceptual play with visually impres being sive objects: to give a single example, Tobias Rehberger's Seven

a technically accomplished, spectacular the manifestation of an idea. Now

some of itreally that itcannot (though did not.Art cannot),but it


work can be framed online, opposite. Again, inmuseum

the point about net.art is that littleof this applies -

oftendid the but net artists practices that suggestdiscreteness,


to take a single example, in Alexei Shulgin's

or art sites, or by linking

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WWWArt

Medal (1995-7), pre-existing sites are linked together on a page that awards them virtual medals for their artistic appeal.2 The artist "draws" links between these sites, presenting them with

manner, as

"glamour" photography ("for correct usage of pink colors"). This piece of online curation, or curation as art work, is a particularly pure form of Internet art that links pre-existing data in a singular were if it the result of a database

pretty if anodyne photographs (themedal being awarded "for inno cence"), and pages comprising song lyrics alongside examples of

in a new frame, both conceptually and literally (a gilt picture frame is thrown about them). The sites include what seems to be a phi losophy page actually advertising beauty products, a collection of

one

can be marked as distinguished by impressive as galleries and museums are by their architecture, but design, just again, net artists tended to foster online confusion about what it is Websites is seeing by placing their works on non-art sites, or making own sites but not their declaring the contents as art, and indeed

tradition is distinguished by striving to be free of the conceptual burden of aesthetic judgement, and Shulgin echoes Duchamp's remark about the readymades that they should reflect a total absence of good and bad taste.3

and dating of objects. It is also, of course, a critique of the art insti tutions' apparently assured marking ofworks as works. Much of the

query. It is an act of a appropriation, in the manner of Duchamp, though of particular minimal and filmy kind, since there is no movement or signing ly

making them seem very unlike art sites. Heath Bunting, and many others, have placed their "works" in non-art sites, just as a graffiti writer throws up a tag on some place where you would normally see an advertisement.4 A well-known example of a discrete site that confounds

Jodi'srapidly site, visuallyclunkyand low-tech which is changing, about a Brechtianeducation intothe func designed to bringing
tioning of the net and computer culture.5 Computer code is held up for ideological examination on pages where spectacle normally unfolds, while sometimes the code that produces those pages con tains pictures.

such expectations

and does

not declare

itselfas art, is

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THE AESTHETICS OF NET.ART

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philosophy'

aesthetics makeup

logic care skin

metaphysics & bath fragrance

eclucs & gifts chanty

epistemnolo books music &

..

..

e... *. .y C., A

:..P nt.n....WW -.Pe. .....N.tAt ., j.id.....W.

Figure 1.Alexei Shulgin,WWW ArtMedal

(1995-97)

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JULIANSTALLABRASS

Figure 2. Vuk Cosic, Duchamp Sign, 1997

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57

Linked to the shunning of these means of marking art as dis crete, is the suspicion of the very term "art." For Bunting, net.art tries not to carry too much baggage, and a lot of it is about hoax an artwork, you've ing, faking and rewriting. "So ifyou say: this is blown your cover immediately."6 Again, this is the opposite of typ ical art-world practices.

Cheaply reproducible artistic media have long existed, of course, but attempts at their wide dissemination have foundered on the cost of distribution. Generally, when the code of online work is left open to examination, the work is subject not only to copying but alteration. So artists borrow or "steal" from each other; Vuk Cosic talks of how he, Heath Bunting, Alexei Shulgin, Olia Lialina, and

The "objects" of Internet art are far from being conventional art objects. They are not only reproducible without degradation but are almost free to transmit (or rather, once the initial outlay has been made, themarginal cost of each transmission isclose to zero).

online work exclusive, to sell itor to tie it to a particular site and charge for access, but equally they have failed, not least because of politically motivated hacking. Net.art poses a challenge to the protected art economy. In his short book, Behind the Times, Eric Hobsbawm convincingly argues that fine art has condemned itself to cultural marginality by refus

Jodi, ineffect, had neighboring studios, "like Picasso and Braque in Paris in 1907," so that each could see what the other was doing, respond to it,or collaborate.7 There have been attempts to make

literature,music and ing fully to embrace reproducibility.8 While film are industrially reproduced and widely owned, fine art has stuck to craft production and archaic systems of patronage. The art world is in an analogous situation to an economy, long sunk in sta

low through stages that led the first the countriesto industrialized over themintothepresent.9 insuch but As modernity, to leap right
an economy, archaic and modern elements abut each other in the sharpest contrast, and those contrasts may foster radical totalizing thought about the system as a whole.'0 Art world and net.art discourse are very different. Cosic

tic agrarian activity, which

finds ithas the opportunity, not to fol

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Figure 3. Vuk Cosic, MoMA Tank, fromLife, 1997

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that in each the default position for conversing is in the online world you talk to everyone unless they give you a good reason not to; in the gallery world, you only talk to someone if you know who they are and want something." (It is,of remarked switched: course, not hard towork out why this should be so.) Email forums such as nettime have provided sites for the discussion of art, cul fractious ture, new media, politics and their intersections. While controversies may sometimes rage there, they also form a collec tive program to which individuals make contributions with works

or words,

analogous to the donation of time, creativity and labor in the free software movement. Such forums for discussion and exhi

bition are open, disputatious, democratic and egalitarian, and per mit a glimpse of a culture that is founded, less on broadcast by celebrities than dialogue among equals. So, given these differences, let's look at some contrasting examples of net.art to get a feeling for the role the aesthetic plays in them, ifany.

In "form art," Alexei Shulgin makes formal, modernist pat terns out of the standard components of the interface, in a highly self-conscious play on the linkbetween modernism and the look of the new online realm. This between Greenberg ingelements of the interface are taken as the fundamental elements of the medium. (deliberately) gruesome cross and appropriation art, inwhich the pre-exist is a

beauty site (and in this it is not atypical) is actively horrible. The paradox here ismuch the same as thatwith photographic formalism: that the standard the focus on the inherent qualities of the medium (or in this case, interface of the communications system) leads not as

I referred briefly to the renewed engagement with in contemporary art: in contrast, some of the work on this

with painting to formal qualities of flatness, color and texture but to a sharper focus on theworld itself in photography's case, the physical world, in net.art's the virtual; and inboth cases, the social.

art The most fundamental characteristic this is thatit of deals

with data, and can be thought of as a variety of database forms. Installation artist Many works use the familiar look of databases. Antonio Muntadas' The File Room was one of the first works made

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-L

JUL

UL

Cl

co]

C...

F.

gure

4. ..

exei

Shulgin,

Form.Art19

Figure 4. Alexei Shulgin, FormArt, 1997

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wide

old and new, from Diego Rivera's dispute with the Rockefeller Center over his depiction of Lenin, through to the religious Right's assaults on the National Endowment for the Arts. It is a collabora tive site to which users can contribute information within

for theWeb, going online inMay 1994. It is an extensive world archive of cultural censorship, at firstcompiled by a team of researchers but lateradded to by the public, and covering incidents

the

Room was

framework established by the artist.12Naturally, censorship on the was soon highlighted with subscribers toAOL writing Internet itself about the company's deletion of postings that itconsiders vulgar or sexually explicit. Aside from itscontinuing online display, The File also established as an in 1994. installation at the Chicago

Cultural Center

In itsphysical

many Conceptual as Art and Language's Index series). ing card-index systems (such to gallery display and, whatever the Yet while the object lends itself intention of itsauthors, tends to come across as fully formed, and

The File Room was close to form,Muntadas' art projects that built physical databases, includ

to be venerated rather than used, this is not so of the same infor Web. The break from mation offered in dematerialized form on the the aesthetics of the isolated art object and themove towards an art art could be of discursive process thatwas begun by Conceptual completed online where the provisional, ever-changing character of material is taken forgranted. As Lev Manovich puts it in his med itation on the database form, historically, artists made unique in particular media inwhich interface and content were

objects

be understood as the construction of an interface to a database.13 RTMark.com demonstrate a model

we may say inseparable (and in the assimilation of Conceptual art, In the new media, the content of that over time they congealed). thework and the interface are separated; a work in new media can of radical politics and cul

turalactivismcoming intosynthesis. They pursue political ends of fusion is cultural means, and thisform political-cultural through matched by theactionsof anti-capital foundnotonlyonline but is
istprotesters who have found ways of uniting actions comparable to performance, environmental and installation artwith practical acts

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inent porrM PeietaExpoaoyCmtee-Microsoft fle Edityiew FFvories lools ielp Home Search Favorites Stop Refresh History Mad _ Address http:/tmairk.com/gwbush/ organizer! Print Edit Discuss Realcom ' c> Go Links

G.W.Bush's derive his from own life politics he experience. Although made serious as mistakes a youth, Bible the says, "Do untoothers..." G.W.Bushhas indeed And been forgiven biteCompa,hesio and againbyothers. e otwtmlin unsCcesflpas again was his rambunctious First there both( p is youth,in c was which doesn'tdenythere use of he as an cocaineand other Then, drugs. unsuccessful Texas businessman, was bailed with out he millions ofdollars from friends hisVice-President of father. President, As wants tocreatean America which G.W.Bush in everyone gets as muchforgiveness, as manychances togrow as he and up, had. In thecoming months G.W.Bush announce will several boldand G.W. of creative policyinitiatives. Bushhopes to set an example that compassion, justiceand forgiveness he feelsisentirely both(significant) among today,in parties. lacking politicians A Campaign With Interaction web fact (jO K. :Mostcampaign sites--in mostweb Start = +1 Perso... Net M C... I ntern...List..Adob Art My 5. RTMark.com

"

Intresrnet .RT M IP. Q 11 AM 47

Figure

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of subversion.4

ware

is a hacked copyright law, RTMark is a hacked corporation. While much of their activity is merely organised over the Net, RTMark also make online interventions, particularly with spoof sites that stylistically mirror those of official organizations but load the pages with radical content. RTMark's WTO pages (using the old

RTMark was founded as a corporation, a clearing with house to aid subversive acts, online of off, and itarmours itself as the copyleft agreement that protects free soft corporate law. Just

name of the organization, GATT, for the site) imparted frank infor mation about the management of global trade to maintain the sys tem of exploitation.15 They did the same in a very funny site devot ed to George W. Bush which was uploaded during the last presi dential election (there is a new one now).16 Both sites have faced

WTO pressured threats of legal action, and inNovember 2001 the the sever organization hosting the GATT site to remove itfrom the Web. Going to gatt.org now redirects the user to a copy of the offi cial WTO mass media Certeau's site. of the character of corporations and the underlies much of this activism. Based on Michel de A theoretical model

book, The Practice of Everyday Life,which explored pop radical misuses of mass culture, and developed by a number ular, of Net theorists, particularly David Garcia and Geert Lovink, the practice of 'tactical media' stresses mobility in the face of fast-mov ing technological and social change.17 The issue is put clearly by RTMark: the flexibility of corporate power, its lack of a center, comes at a price: ithas no brain. It may be as tenacious as a virus, but it also has the intelligence of one: mechanical, Since soulless, minuscule.18

it reacts to attack by mutation, the argument goes, a sus tained series of minor assaults, each tailored to the new situation

brought about by their predecessors, can drive real change. It is ironic that this view of corporate power buys into the conservative view of the market and itscreatures as natural forces. In fact, cor

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remain highly structured and hierarchical entities with bases (generally in global cities), and are far from geographical being indifferentto vertical organization. Corporate and state pow porations ers are perfectly capable of acting in concert, of long-term forward Indeed, planning, and of systematic destruction of their opponents. the entire neoliberal and postmodern turn is proof of that.19

invest in these shares markets, do fluctuate in value. People who get dividends, not inmoney but in seeing the realisation of etoy's

itselfas a cor Etoy is another collective that has established and makes art by playing with corporate components just poration as others played visually with the elements of the interface. Etoy even took to issuing shares, which, while not recognized by stock

test for Berry is function, for art risks its autonomy when it into market manipulation and legal disputes, especially when they are effective (as Etoy's legal dispute with online toy view, but the company, etoys, famously was).20 This isa widespread cial moves insistence on art' uselessness can appear arbitrary: failed interven tions can always be interpreted as conceptual art experiments, but successful ones must leave the realm of art for politics.

of "shares" for their supporters to buy and their awarding of loyal ty points, have come so close to the corporate activities that they set out to undermine as to be indistinguishable from them. The cru

cultural output. Where does this practice lead? Josephine Berry has a argued that etoy, in their pursuit of brand image, in their issuing

It is this issue of use that bears on aesthetics, at least as con ventionally conceived, most directly. Some net.art has sought to be directly useful, and this should not be a cause for surprise. While computing is often lazily considered to be a matter of simulation alone, digital technology synthesizes reproduction and production. If modernism was most strongly associated with new technologies (such as electric lighting, cars, planes and ocean liners) and post

ofmass-productionthathad a profound impacton everyday life with new technologies reproduction transformed modern ism of that domestic life(aboveall, television), thenthenew era isbroughtinto To actiononline is to gain being by theirsynthesis.1 takeeffective
power that can have immediate consequences in the offline world.

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OF NET.ART

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FIt

en notb c le es. u m is to with tframb t o enav n n mght,e ce9 sib . u ossib pthle 6o e uew ig at4o elem ages ts/p some obtain standard browsers framing here Youcan with support y T'ywar Bunker Network

Figure

6.

Etoy, TOYWAR

site page,

1999

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One which, as

For instance, in an pages, and also returns pointed error messages. on the Mexican in support of the Zapatista attack rebels govern ment's official site, Floodnet returned the message "human_rights

is Brett Stalbaum's program Floodnet signal example itsname suggests, overloads a site with calls to load its

not found on this server." If attack is to be successful, many peo an must launch Floodnet against the ple targeted site at the same time, of numbers, much as a political gaining legitimacy by weight demonstration does. Stalbaum

is clear that Floodnet, in addition to a tool of political protest, is also a work of art a "collabo being rative, activist and conceptual artwork of the net."22 Contemporary art, as we have seen, positions itselfbetween instrumental lifeand consoling culture, and net.art seeks to do the same but without the various strategies that gallery art uses to mark itselfoff from the rest of the culture and defend

instrumental, by becoming useful in the struggle against instru In different ways, mentality and exploitation. by mounting Brechtian education, by establishing participatory and collective

itselfagainst the mass culture. Net.art does so inan commercial pressures that affect environment in which commercial competition is intense, and fail ure can mean invisibility. Lacking these usual defences and strate itcan (dialectically) only mark itselfoff as art, and as non gies,

Such works also appear to be about creating circumstances in which human interaction can develop inways not normally per mitted by either broadcast-mode mass culture or the administered of working. In this, online art is not alone, for there has been considerable gallery engagement with this activity. There are two recent and contrasting accounts of how one might this general trend. approach The firsttakes the engagement relations aesthetic. makes of social For Nicholas in recent artwork with human in his book, Relational inwhich Bourriaud circumstances

data projects, by overt political activity, it tries to break down the regular expectations of the online viewer for seamless spectacle and the smooth running of business.

990s arthas been most characterized workwhich Aesthetics, 1 by


interaction an aesthetic arena artists offer

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to visitors or simply facilitate talk between of his examples illustrates the idea well: Jens Haaning in in Turkish through a speaker in a square broadcast jokes Copenhagen, forging a temporary bond between those who under them. One stood and laughed. For Bourriaud the innovation of art employing social tion in art is a direct reaction to human relations becoming interac increas

services or contracts

which people can momentary and subjective "hands-on utopias" in learn to live in a better way. Lived time, rather than the occupation is most important here. Yet this "arena of of space (by works), exchange," says Bourriaud, must be judged by aesthetic criteria, through an analysis of itsform. Social relations are treated as anoth er artisticmedium. They are to be judged formally as they are looked

and profitabil ingly subject to the division of labor,mechanization Such work offers, not theoretical prescriptions but instead small, ity.

at (and theymay well include things that look like conventional art objects and which may be bought and sold, though they, too, are as part of the overall scene). Even the participants have judged only this aesthetic relation to thework, for they both participate and have a consciousness of themselves participating (in theway that you do in an artificial social environment set up in a gallery). There are certain key features of these socially firstthere is a trade-off between

interactive

works:

and their diversity and be few, elite and self-selecting. Second, in these temporary utopi an bubbles, no substantial politics can be arrived at, not least because among those who do attend real differences and conflicts of interest are temporarily denied or forgotten. If all this activity seems self-consciously token and even futile, then the rise of this art can be taken to be a good deal less even

the number of participants Active participants tend to likely discourse.

about thehol rosythanB3ourriaud suggests. Coupled with thinking out of democratic politics,what Bourriauddescribes is lowing
another art-world assimilation of the moribund or the

merely

junked, the re-presentation as aesthetics of what was once social interaction, political discourse and even ordinary human relations. The second view, in contrast, would look to the transforma

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tion ofwork by computer communications, and see the emergence of new ways of working and by implication new subjects as a result. In Empire, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri argue that the new mode of production makes cooperation immanent to the act of labor. People need each other to create value, but no longer nec essarily capital and itsorganizational powers. Rather it is commu nities that produce, and as they do so, reproduce and redefine is no less than "the potential for a themselves, and the outcome

kind of spontaneous and elementary communism."23 While they do not mention it, the free software movement would seem to be the

here: emergent software, often freely distributed, that is made by mass collaboration, time being given in reward for pres tige and (sometimes) monetary reward. Ifthe aesthetic as an ideal of self-realization was coincident with the rise of the bourgeois model subject, then this ethos of gift-giving, open exchange and dialogue may be concurrent (and ison the Empire view) with the emergence of the networked subject more interested inexchanging bitsand than pieces. bytes The award of the prestigious art prize, the Golden Nica, at the 1999 Ars Electronica to the free software operating system Linux

raised fundamental questions about the definition of the online art work and the character of non-commercial collaboration. There is obviously a vast difference between Linux and most cultural pro which there are agreed jects: Linux isa shared collective project in

aims and criteria. Speed, reliability, compatibility and simplicity are virtues agreed upon by the Linux community. Art is generally

peer review is lower, the incentives for using the collaborative model almost evaporate.24 This point, however, leaves open the question of the evolution of art to take advantage of this system, and we have seen that some artists have used the Internet precise to open a forum for users' opinions. ly To say that Linux is an artwork may be a simple miscatego

not like this, not because collective judgements are never arrived at, but because the criteria that underpin them are often unstated, not to say eccentricity is institutionally and individuality favored. As Eric Raymond notes, in art projects where the utility of

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rization, and it has certainly not been adopted by the wider art world, so on any institutional definition of art, Linux could not be counted as a work of art. Further, to dub ita work of art is not nec essarily to say that there is anything aesthetic about it,or that it aesthetic attention. To the extent that aesthetics is encourages to business instrumentality, Linux's very functioning, let opposed alone its success in certain markets, conventionally poses a prob lem to granting itsuch status. Perhaps the use of Bourriaud's view is that itfixes on the shut between the instrumental and the aesthetic outlooks that can tling

may not apply online. What does, with works that tightly bind up elements that may be taken as political and others as aesthetic, seen in circumstances that are diverse and uncontrolled, is an oscillation of attention between the aesthetic and the instrumental. Yet, against Hardt and Negri's view, it isodd to be talking this or making work thisway against a social and political scene way that appears so bleak. After all, commercialism, and with it instru in itsglobal advance with little interruption; mentalism, proceeds

occur, quite rapidly, in experiencing such work. The simultaneous double consciousness of doing and seeing oneself doing (and seen doing) that occurs in participatory work in the being gallery

which interaction takes place, the dialectic that creating frames in Adorno commented upon between bourgeois self-realization and domination still applies. There is an inverse relation between cogency, coherence, order and domination and the degree of inter

inmany parts of theworld, and certainly in the Western democra cies where this work is largely seen, the popular power ideally ismore spectral than ever; social atomiza inherent in democracy a linked development tion continues its rise; and "Empire," of seems a less postmodern term than itdid a few years ago. course, Further, as long as the artist's position remains privileged, in

action permitted. balance in The much gallery work certainlylies with theartist, this iseven so ofmuch theonlinework. but Set againstthis the of darkening background, activities thenet
artists seem ever more playful, funny, idealistand perhaps the of itsviewers remain just that, viewers, sitting back from majority

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or conceptual art, and idealism in opposing the dominant artworld, are taken as (retro) aesthetic gestures rather likewearing flares. are familiar with theway in We which an aesthetic view of a work

these works, and taking them as performance, as aesthetic, and not too seriously as having a likely use or effect, or perhaps only a lim ited one, a carnivalesque irruptionwhich serves to more securely anchor the order that itapparently opposes. On this view, even its explicitly anti-aesthetic elements, indicated by references to Dada

ismore likely to assert itself when local and temporal mean fall away, so that, for instance, propaganda works made for a ing the FSA, for example become with the government agency of time nostalgic and sentimental icons of a vaguely under passing stood epoch. Sometimes, though, the effectworks

Depression was reactivated). So, ifpolitical and social conditions become more progressive, work made in the service of political come to appear less gestural improvement and emancipation may and ideal, and more directly useful, at least as models for further action. So, personally, I look forward to a time when to appear less aesthetic than itdoes now. net.art tends

did in the 1960swhen thepolitical chargeof photography the of

in reverse (as it

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1 2 3

Maeda 2000.

URL;

see also JohnMaeda,

Maeda@Media,

Thames

& Hudson,

London,

www.easylife.orgteward/ Pierre Cabanne, Dialogues

4
5 6 7

on An example The Internet whichcan be found Skint: would be Bunting's Beggar,


www.irational.org www.jodi.org Josephine Bosma, June 1997. Tilman Baumg?rtel, "Ljubljana Interview with Heath Bunting," nettime posting, 11

trans. Ron Padgett, Thames and with Marcel Duchamp, Hudson, London, 1971, p. 48; Rachel Baker, "A Conversation with Alexei Shulgin," nettime posting, 16 March 1997.

8
9

Avant-Gardes, Thames and Hudson, London 1998. This type of situation was analysed by Trotsky as "combined and uneven develop Western ment," drawing on the exposure of agrarian Russia to industry. See Leon Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution, London, 1977, vol. I,ch.. 1. This is the argument made about such economies Postmodernism," Postmodern, See Cosic's contribution trans.Max

Times: Decline and Fallof the The Eric Hobsbawm,Behind the Twentieth-Century

"Interview with Vuk Cosic,"

nettime posting, 30 June 1997.

Eastman, Pluto Press,

10

in Fredric Jameson, "Marxism and in Fredric Jameson, The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the 1983-1998, Verso, London 1998.

11 12

to Sarah Cook, Beryl Graham and Sarah Martin, eds., Third Baltic International Seminar, Baltic, Gateshead 2002. for an account ofMuntadas' work, see JudithRussi Kirshner, www.thefileroom.org/: at the same site: for an account of the installation of The "TheWorks of Muntadas" Curating New Media: see the same author's "The File Room at Chicago, Stocker/Christine Sch?pf, eds., InfoWar, Springer, Vienna Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media, The MIT 2001, pp. 226-7. An example is Reclaim the Streets. See Aufheben, File Room" in Gerfried Mass. 1998, pp. 285-9 Press, Cambridge,

13 14

"The Politics of Anti-Road Britain,

15 16 17

inGeorge McKay, Campaign," Verso, London, 1998. See www.rtmark.com/gatt.html For a discussion Misnomer?' Michel

and of Politics: Case of the M11 Link The No Road Struggle theStruggles Anti-Road
ed., DIY Culture: Party & Protest inNineties

See www.rtmark.com/bush.html see of tactical media, Josephine Berry, "'Another Orwellian Tactical Art in Virtual Space," Inventory, vol. 4, no. 1,2000, pp. 58-83; de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendali, University

Tactical Media," 18 19

20

propaganda efforts to change the political climate. See, for instance, his book World Orders, Old and New, Pluto Press, London, 1994, ch. 2. as they do, not as they do," Mute, no. 16, 2000, pp. 22-3. Josephine Berry, "Do

nettime posting, 16 May 1997. RTMark, "Sabotage and the New World Order," in Stocker/ Sch?pf, p. 242. Noam Chomsky has written much about the sustained, massively funded corporate

ofCalifornia "The ABC of Press,Berkeley 1984;David Garcia andGeert Lovink,

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21 22 23 24

For this view of the division between modernism

London, Anderson, The Origins of Postmodemity,Mexso, Brett Stalbaum, "The Zapatista Tactical FIoodNet,"

and postmodernism, see Perry 1998, pp. 87-89. www.nyu.edu/projects/

wray/ZapTactflood. html Michael Hardt/Antonio Negri, Empire, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.

2000, pp. 294, 304.


Eric S. Raymond,

The Cathedral

and

the Bazaar:

Sourceby anAccidental CA, 1999,p. 226. O'Reilly,Sebastapoi, Revolutionary,

Musings

on

Linux and Open

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