Net Art is Dead

Throughout the course my position on digital materials and their relationship to archives has changed. Previously, I considered any digital material to be intrusive and of minor importance. This, of course, came from a place of ignorance and misunderstanding. After researching and learning about the internet, hardware, software, The Archive, conservation, and the limitless interconnection with all disciplines and mediums, I have come to completely become immersed in the the digital world and all its implications in regards to our established infrastructures and environment.

Internet Art (Net Art) in particular intrigues me. There is something about the world it creates that draws me in. Specifically, I want to understand what goes on in the back end, which is the most interesting component. Also, the diversity of it. As Christiane Paul adjunct curator at The Whitney Museum said “We are looking at something that is becoming more hybrid. Pieces often have different manifestations: an application, a net-based piece, an installation.” This is what makes it so beautiful: it is limitless and unrestricted. It is democratizing and all inclusive, where not only “artists” are allowed. It is the transition from medium to medium that the net art community (digital art in general) has inspired that in the big picture has fed the art world and, by extension, the history of art.

Another important component is the value of experimentation, which allows for the richness of the net art culture, and which consequently also feeds technological advances. This correlation between art and technology can not be underestimated because one does not exist without the other. We have come a long way from “Cybernetic Serendipity,” an exhibition held by the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in 1968, which coincided with the pop-art movement and ARPANET, the first TCP/IP network. Both of these were groundbreaking. The pop-art movement on one hand challenged the notions of high art vs low art, and ARPANET in itself the red carpet of the internet.

Gordon Pask Colloquy of Mobiles
installation view video 1
ICA, London, 1968.

On that same note of transcendance, Net Art has created a more egalitarian relationship between the creatives and the institutions, hence the desire of museums to contribute to not only the creation and recognition, but the proliferation of digital works. A great example of this is the not-for-profit organization Rhizome, an affiliate of the New Museum, which gives digital media artists a platform to showcase their work.

As Rhizome other institutions, organization and platforms should be mentioned, as are:

Archive of Digital Art (ADA): a database for virtual art,
DiMoDa, a virtual institution dedicated to collecting and preserving digital art, and
MoMa’s Digital Art Vault.

Given that the third edition of The Wrong Biennale is currently live through January 31, 2018, I decided to chose it as an example to illustrate the complex environment of Net Art and the difficulty it poses not only in the curation practice in terms of classification (due to its hybridity), but also and in our case most importantly for storage and preservation purposes. In 2013, Spanish cultural curator, writer, producer and artist David Quiles Guillo created the The Wrong (digital art Biennale). The Wrong Biennale is a global digital art biennale that aims to display digital culture to a wider audience on the basis of open participation.

“The online biennale happens in pavilions: virtual curated spaces in any online accessible media where selected artworks are exhibited. The offline biennale happens in embassies; art spaces, galleries, institutions and artist-run spaces in cities around the world that feature temporary AFK projects, live performances, workshops, artist talks and exhibitions.”

This virtual exhibition has a total of +1,100 artists, 80 curators and an estimated +12 million unique visitors. This is massive. The mediums used by the creators are multiple, the use of the media is interchangeable and it creates a never ending loop of clicking. Once you land on the main website, virtual pavilions greet you, each one promising to take you into an infinite world beyond the net universe. In this biennale, you will find art created to be showcased on Instagram as is the case for “The Future for Today,” which “is a series of Instagram stories about what is to come. Every weekday, a different medium artist posts their predictions, employing divination techniques from the past and future.”

Then you will find a hyperlinked directory called 15cmdments, which “derives from 15 different Macbook keyboard shortcuts one is able to perform using the “cmd” key e.g. Command-C = Copy. 15 Artists have been invited to choose one of the 15 as a starting point to create new art.” Furthermore, in the same ecosystem you find an overwhelmingly uncomfortably curated virtual installation called “Curating Spam,” which is described as “Spam as information, Spam as aesthetics, Spam as communication strategy, Spam as curating, Spam as all the things you never wished for but happened anyway.” The “Curating Spam” pavilion was first intended as ng) shit”, which perfectly takes us to the important point of it all. How can all this inter-linkable material be stored and preserved, maintaining its essence? Should we store everything without discrimination and just amass for posterity? And if not, who shall be given the responsibility to decide what needs to be preserved for posterity?

The most problematic situations with preserving Net Art are: server payments, keeping the software to date, and the conceptualization and context of the art. This according to Annet Dekker in “Assembling traces, or the conservation of Net Art” article for Necsus Journal. With standardization and the defeat of capitalism (which I think is digital media conservation’s biggest issue) not foreseen in the near future, “the caretakers” (net users that appropriate the pieces to keep them alive) seem to be our only current viable net archive.

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