What is Post Internet Art ?
Despite common misconceptions, and here the fault is on Postmodernism mainly, the prefix post- does not necessarily mean anti-. It originally means after, beyond, or derived from; denoting that the post-movement stems from another phenomenon with an already established status. Post Internet Art, therefore, refers to art created with regards to the Internet. However, the nature of that regard is what is left open to various interpretations, and what makes the movement strangely ambiguous, even if it may sound very specific at first. Thanks to this polysemy, artists like Tatu Gustafsson and Ryan Trecartin share common ground with Pamela Rosenkranz and Pierre Huyghe, all being related to Post Internet Art, displaying genuine interest in post-humanity. But it is possible that you would not place them all in the same category. So what is it that makes post-internet art so inclusive?
One of the easiest ways to understand Post Internet Art is to realize what the prefix refers to. Although the movement itself is not that easy to explain in a few words, it is clear that Postmodernism (for example) came after Modernism to challenge its ideology; just like Post-Impressionism came after Impressionism, etc. On the other hand, Post Internet Art addresses the Internet (period), and not Internet Art. The term Internet Art was another attempt to name a category of art which had a close relationship to the Internet, but it lacked the liberating prefix, which allows for the Post-Internet to involve a broader range of practices, and to really go beyond.
Generally speaking, Post Internet Art is informed by the phenomenon of the Internet. The Internet was (and still is) a big thing for humanity, as it helped translate most of our daily activities to another level, defeating distance, differences, time, geography; and consequently producing a line of new habits. The Internet symbolizes and goes hand in hand with technological advancements, which half of the world is afraid of (mostly thanks to nostalgia, lack of knowledge and the malicious conspiracies empowered by the media), and the other half embraces (thanks to some aspects of post-humanity, which pass the buck to machines, and let humans take a less responsible position). Regardless of whose side you’re on, you are aware that the Internet changed the world, and yes – we may say that it has also changed art – its content, its form, its aesthetics, the way we consume it, the way we potentially buy it.
Still, there must be a difference between art produced in the age of the Internet, and art produced with regards to the Internet. That matter is indefensibly reminiscent of the discrepancy between Contemporary Art and any other kind of art created in the 21st century. Fortunately, the ruthless precision of German language often helps explain the true meanings that get lost in translation, and this is the case with the term contemporary as well – in German, the word literally means comrade of time (zeitgenössisch). That means that Contemporary Art must be completely aware of contemporary trends, just like the Post Internet Art should be Internet-aware. To be a comrade of the Internet, means to understand it, to use it, to live in coherence with it.
I deliberately use the term aware instead of based, since this could be the point prone to cause confusion. For art to be part of the Post Internet movement (to call it so), its form does not have to be virtual, or stored on the cloud. It simply has to be aware that the Internet has its own system and power, which affect the way we evaluate physical presence, and the way we eventually allow ourselves to take bytes as seriously as we take kilos and pounds.
Possible Sub-Categories, suggested by Stefan Heidenreich
In an insightful article on e-flux, Freeportism as Style and Ideology: Post-Internet and Speculative Realism, Part I, Stefan Heidenreich talks about Post-Internet Art as a category which is tied to four types of responses. These include: metaphorical appropriation of technology in art; “technologism”, which responds to technology in a way which can either be technophobic or technophiliac; derivatives (tech-derived projects and practices) and finally, relatives (web-related practices which do not have to involve the net itself). This fragmentation could help understand the possible ways that Post Internet Art functions, but it is also true that a lot of works cannot fit into just one of these categories easily (but then on the other hand, it is precisely this “boxing” that the Internet tries to bypass).
What the Internet Gave Us
Yet, in practice, it seems that the categorization is primarily based on intuition, and associations related to our experience with the Internet. We are able to sense which occurrences reflect and address the phenomena that the Internet provided us with. Admittedly, this means that the list of artworks could be very long – but if you take a look at the categories mentioned by Heidenreich, it turns out to be long either way; so it is perhaps more fair to talk about the consequences produced by the Internet, in order to consider the Post-Internet as such.
Apart from showing itself as an excellent tool for communication, the Internet had a great impact on aesthetics, mostly thanks to aesthetically-engaged websites like tumblr, or social networks based on visual inputs, like Instagram or Snapchat. It influenced not only art, but popular culture, design and the music industry as well. But alongside the merely visual or relational, the Internet also started producing technology-related ideas which correspond with today’s most recent trends in philosophy, such as Object Oriented Ontology, or Speculative Realism (which the aforementioned author will probably talk about in Part II of his article). The idea that anthropocentrism is becoming outdated is certainly marked by the emergence of technology, and art reacts to it, accordingly. We are not alone anymore (on that matter, Nicolas Bourriaud recently said that there are more machines than humans on the Internet today). The ways that artists respond to this are great in number and varied in nature, and ultimately, all of that is what we can call Post Internet Art.
Art of One Generation
Post Internet Art is different from something that we referred to as Internet Art, meaning that the fascination does not rely on the Internet itself anymore. Moreover, it probably means that there is no fascination at all, but it is a way of denoting that the Internet has made its impact on us, offering a wide range of all kinds of possibilities. Still, if art is about making a statement on the world we are living in, as Domenico Quaranta says, then this means that Post Internet Art is also a matter of trend, and it will eventually be replaced by something else. Even the mere awareness will eventually fade away as a relevant subject. This also makes sense if we consider that understanding the significance of the Internet is a feeling that only a few generations were able to enjoy entirely. All of today’s children, born in the 21st century, will probably not think of the Internet as the older generations do, or as anything more or less important than any other medium. It could be, therefore, said, that the Post Internet Art belongs to the generations born in the late ’80s and the ’90s, who had the privilege to enjoy the Internet from its beginning, but did not let the awe of it blind them.
There are a lot of artists who respond to the Internet through their work, and mentioning all of them would be impossible. Fortunately, there are people who undertook the task (at least to some extent) and prepared a book which presents the works of artists who, according to the editors, deserve to be featured in it. You Are Here: Art After the Internet is a major publication which critically explores both the effects and affects that the Internet has had on recent artistic practices. The book refers to ‘post-internet’ as an era, rather than a style, and it traces a potted narrative exploring the relationship of the Internet to artistic practices from the early millennium to the present day. The book positions itself as a provocation on the current state of cultural production, relying on first-person accounts from artists, writers and curators as the primary source material. The book raises urgent questions about how we negotiate the formal, aesthetic and conceptual relationship of art and its effects after the ubiquitous rise of the World Wide Web.
Featured images: Tatu Gustafsson – Weather Camera Self-Portraits (2012-); Tatu Gustafsson – Foursome (2014), Kutomo Gallery, Turku, Finland. Video Footage: Wheelie, 2014; The Internet Saga project, curated by Francesco Urbani Ragazzi in Venice, displaying Jonas Mekas – 365 day project (2007) in Burger King. All images used for illustrative purposes only.