I approached Art and the Internet with skepticism, fearing a barrage of selfies, cat memes, and performances by self-indulgent teens on YouTube. I shouldn’t have been so quick to judge.
Art and the Internet surveys works and methods of art-making and exhibition over the brief but varied 25-year history of web/internet/net-art. This art is inclusive, multifaceted, and varied. Art and the Internet is an indispensable history and discussion of a mode of art-making faced with much discomfort—about how to interpret it, archive it, and display it. Art made for, by, or through the Internet is produced so rapidly that the evolution of this genre has developed distinctive categories. This raises questions for discussion that outline the chapters of the book: net.art, Activist Art and Surveillance-Related Work, Internet-Enabled Participatory, Post-internet Art, and Social Media Influenced Art and Identity Construction.
The advent of the Internet made many new methods possible. Digital technologies, software programs, and languages of code created an accessible entry point into the art world. Technique takes on a different meaning in the Internet age. Some of the works surveyed, like the provocative collages of Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung, demonstrate the use of Internet age technologies—Photoshop and the wit employed by many Internet artists. Hung’s work is a pointed critique of world leaders and cultural values while taking on the aesthetic of LOLcats or Dragon Ball Z. These collages cannot be passed by with the fleeting attention of a jokey meme, because they invite deeper engagement. Hidden among the imagery of a beaked President Bush is an ‘ENTER’ that leads you to the next image, the next critique, and the next chance to advance the game created by a hidden link.
Courtesy Andre Hemer, Bradley Horenstein
The Internet, like the art created as a result of it, is not all lighthearted. Concerns about privacy, voyeurism, and surveillance are becoming increasingly more integral to discussions about the Internet’s role in our lives. Joanne McNeil’s essay Connected By Camera profiles the emergence of live camera “camgirls” and “camboys” in the early years of the internet and their willful revealing of their lives. This invited gaze is very different than the geo-tracking created in Directions to the Last Visitor by Charles Broskoski. This site displays the location of its last visitor, based on his or her IP address. At the speed of the connection you can know another user’s exact location. These pieces bring an intimacy to interactions on the web but reveal the other side of the Internet as a platform for surveillance and exposure.
Display in the “white cube” of an art gallery illustrates one of the primary critiques of Internet art. How can these works be re-contextualized to a fixed position in a gallery? Do works change as they become projections, still images, and three-dimensional displays? Further still, what is the role of the computer itself in the white cube? Nicholas Lambert describes different artists and curator’s answers to these provocations. Some have embraced the mess of cords and ugly screens while others attempt to present screens clear of clutter. Alternatively, the notion of a gallery has been fundamentally turned on its head with works like Rafäel Rozendaal’s Bring Your Own Beamer (BYOB), where web artists were invited through an open call to bring a projector and display their works however they wish. In curating the event and not the pieces on display, this exhibition is emblematic of the art world’s discomfort with Internet art. Aram Bartholl’s Speed Shows furthers this notion of the DIY or accessible aspect of Internet art by setting up galleries in Internet cafés where artists’ works are their laptop home screens. Once the user is signed in he or she can then surf the web as normal. This kind of work aggressively avoids the “white cube,” or at the very least is as uncomfortable with the “white cube” as it was with them.
Nonetheless, Internet art has found its way into the institutions that had previously rejected it or were unsure of how to embrace it. For instance, Attilia Fattori Franchini describes the “takeover” of Create London’s website as an integration of outsider internet art with a brick and mortar gallery institution. Projects such as these describe the new dynamic between Internet art and the gallery—the hacker culture of early Internet art and its recent integration into the arts community as a whole. These takeovers are a step in re-contextualizing work from purely autonomous and Internet-based to a gallery exhibition that displays a version of that virtual work.
Art and the Internet is an important entry into understanding a kind of art that has only existed for the last 25 years. Advances in technology and our thinking about the Internet’s relationship to art have evolved dramatically over that brief history. Even the most recent art surveyed shows its age in an art practice that is subject to a constantly increasing population of users, critiques, artists, and technologies. Art and the Internet does not disguise the relationship to the wit, darkness, and multifacetednature of Internet cultures. This schizophrenic collection of works serves as a first draft of history for the next generation of web artists, whose relationship with art changes, like the Internet itself, with every second.