Net Art - The Movement and The Impact

December 13, 2015

The times are changing, the people are changing, the artists are changing and the art is changing, as well. Back in the days, you could have enjoyed and consumed art only through a middleman - museums, galleries, exhibitions, etc. But after computers came into wide use, and after virtually everyone in the world became connected and online, the whole world has changed in so many ways that it is impossible to list every aspect of life that has been transformed by them (computers). Art has also gone digital, and not only in a sense that old works have been digitized - they have, but that's not the point here. The point here is that the new form of art has emerged: the art that could be only understood and experienced online. This way, if we count out the Internet itself, the middleman in the world of art has been excluded for the first time.

net art early project culture work site
Jeremy Rotsztain - Obsessions (Flickr Pets), 2008 and Internet

We all know that one of the main characteristics of digital technology is that it changes at a breakneck speed. Remember floppy disks, God forbid? Remember CD-ROM, DVDs and all other things that were the essence of the digital world at one moment, and then, at another, they have become completely obsolete. This also could be applied, at least partially, to the so-called The term was created somewhere in the middle of the 90's (the dot between two words is compulsory!). It is connected to Vuk Cosic, net.artist from Belgrade, that used Internet to reinterpret some famous works - with the software he created, Cosic converted pixels into an ASCII code (American Standard Code for Information Interchange). He translated works such as Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans and Hichcock's Psycho, as well as the famous porn film Deep Throat into ASCII. Then, in December 1995, he received a completely incomprehensible mail, with only one part that could have been read: J8~g#|;Net. Art{-^s1. The name was adopted. Net.artists were building their art on basis of previous "democratic" art movements, that were making art available to everyone - street art and installation art. Net.artists (apart from Cosic, several other well known artists from that time were Yael Kanarek, Jodi duo, Alexei Shulgin, Olia Lialina, Young-Hae Chang, Heath Bunting...) exchanged their ideas and art online, and they were doing that without any financial compensation. Their goals were, among others, to close the gap between art and everyday life, to maintain independence from institutions and to invest without material interest. But, as Vuk Cosic said in an interview, " is a bit like Eastern Europe. There were lots of expectations, some of them were met, but in general we stopped being terribly attractive and scary some time around the dotcom boom".

Net Art

Then, at the end of the 90's and the beginning of 2000's, there was a flood of many search engines as intermediators between the user and the Internet. Thus, many net artists turned their focus on those search engines, and the possible ways to question their growing and then, soon after, their dominant role (remember, Google was founded not 20 years ago, in 1998). With the subsequent rise of social networks, net art also turned its way of distributing artworks: before social networks, online communities were organized on a topic-basis. Artists were gathering around topics they found interesting, and they connected with other artists. But nowadays, everything turned to individuals - like you already know, social networks are constructed in a way that every individual is creating their own personal "galaxy" of friends and followers. Individuals are in the center of their own communities, and the distribution of art just followed this path. However, today is much more difficult to define what is net art, and what isn't. The list of media that are available for Internet art is huge - apart from websites, there are e-mail projects, original software projects that are based on the Internet, networked installations, interactive audio or video works, as well as networked performances (with, for instance, famous Second Life being one of them). However, it could be told what net art definitely isn't - internet artists are not experienced web-designers, although their work could be sometimes described as "a piece of art". The main difference between web-design and net art is that design is made with a previous goals that should be fulfilled. On the other hand, art should always be free of such goals. Also, it is sometimes mistaken that net artists are individuals that are discovering new and unique ways to use ever-growing possibilities of new technologies.

Although innovation is highly praised in the world of art, innovation itself isn't art - as Jon Ippolito has said in his well-known essay Ten Myths of Internet Art: "To use a tool as it was intended, whether a screwdriver or spreadsheet, is simply to fulfill its potential. By misusing that tool-that is, by peeling off its ideological wrapper and applying it to a purpose or effect that was not its maker's intention-artists can exploit a technology's hidden potential in an intelligent and revelatory way".

net art early project culture work site
Jodi (Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans) -

Net Artists

Personally, my favorites are Eva and Franco Mattes from New York - you may know them for their alias In 2010 Franco had faked his own death by "hanging" himself and joined Chatroulette, website where you can find random interlocutors when you are bored. Reactions from the other side of the camera were taped, and they were spectacular - some of the participants laughed; some were horrified, some were indifferent. One fat guy even masturbated to the sight of a appeared-to-be hanged man... On different occasion, in 1998, Eva and Franco had invented Darko Maver, Yugoslavian-born artist. Maver became a real hit. His life was heavily influenced by the ongoing war, and he roamed all around this war-thorn country, placing his sculptures of murdered victims in abandoned buildings. Photographs of his sculptures were completely gruesome, and they were even exhibited in Bologna in 1999 as Darko Maver, Censored Works. Of course, none of this ever existed - Darko Maver was made up, and his "sculptures" were internet photos Eva and Franco had found in different places online. Then, these Eva and Franco announced that Darko Maver was killed during NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. The result - a series of posthumous shows for Darko Maver were held, and everything culminated with the posthumous show at the 48th Venice Biennale.

As for others, there's an aspiration of net artists to deconstruct and sabotage the online platforms - Twitter, Facebook, Instagram - that all of us are using every day. Artist James Bridle, for instance, uses Instagram to post images of drone-strike zones in the Middle East. Laimonas Zakas, also known as Glitchr, is a Lithuanian artist who uses bugs in codes of social networks to create a complete mess out of your screen. Rafaël Rozendaal creates artistic websites and sells them for almost $5,000 apiece. Ed Fornieles created a whole new interwoven world on Facebook for his online performance Dorm Daze. Joe Hamilton creates digital collages and video footages from all kinds of landscapes. And so on, and so on.

net art early project culture
Rafaël Rozendaal -

Collecting Net Art

And now about some painful issues. Who would ever purchase something that was already seen (for free!) by thousands of people? Yep, there is "that" side of Net Art. It is, from its basis, a democratic art, available to anyone. Perhaps net artists don't have those kinds of aspirations - for their art to be bought by some rich collector for a good amount of money - but, if this is the case, then they have to do something else for living. The other thing is that everything digital becomes obsolete in an incredible short span of time. All that from the nineties was run over by time. Even if it wasn't, on which information medium should you keep those kind of artworks? Floppy disks? Exactly. If anyone wants to invest their money in net art, then he or she has to be sure that there's no need to transfer digital art data to a new medium every couple of years. Sure, it looks like that Cloud storage system will be here forever, but I think that it looked the same with CD-ROM. Perhaps one solution could be artists that work both online and offline. The time will tell.

Editors’ Tip: Internet Art (World of Art)

When the Internet emerged as a mass global communication network in the mid-1990s, artists immediately recognized the exciting possibilities for creative innovation that came with it. After a century of unprecedented artistic experimentation, individuals and groups were quick to use the new technologies to question and radically redefine the conventions of art, and to tackle some of the most pressing social, political, and ethical issues of the day. Covering email art, Web sites, artist-designed software, and projects that blur the boundaries between art and design, product development, political activism, and communication, Internet Art shows how artists have employed online technologies to engage with the traditions of art history, to create new forms of art, and to move into fields of activity normally beyond the artistic realm.

Featured image: Joe Hamilton - Indirect Flights - for The Moving Museum

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