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Aesthetic Conditions in Art on the Network:

beyond representation to the relative speeds of hypertextual and conceptual implementations

_____________________

Brett Stalbaum

 

 

Developing a theory of its own could enhance the value of Net art. At the moment it is understood in the context of media art, of computer art, of video art, of contemporary art, but not in the context of the Internet: its aesthetic, its structure, its culture. Works of Net artists are not analysed in comparison with one another. We are always viewed from an external perspective, a perspective which tries to place native on-line art works in a chain of arts with a long off-line history and theory.

Olia Lialina 1

Introduction

Depending upon where you stand in relation to the development of net.art, any discussion of its aesthetic qualities may seem either inconsequential (based on the knee-jerk reaction that anything expressed on a computer screen is a priori not art) 2, or inadequate (as expressed in Lialina’s call for a theory of net.art which transcends the history of aesthetics). While far from wanting to impose an "external perspective" that limits our view of net.art, I nevertheless hope to make a case for net.art aesthetics by showing that- 1) there are aesthetic qualities in the presentation of net.art that are in no way divorced from the form simply because it is virtual; 2) while the aesthetic qualities of network based art do indeed share the concerns of traditional aesthetics, these traditional notions (revolving around beauty and taste) 3, are not the most interesting or important concerns for network based art; 3) that net.art has a specific aesthetic quality relative to time which is important to any critical evaluation of it, and; 4) that net based art is primarily suited to a conceptual art practice which traditional aesthetic notions can serve, but not complete.

My analysis of these aesthetic concerns is largely informed by cybernetic-materialist notions of the constitution of the real as being a result not of human perception and cognition, but of the interface and complex interaction between cognizant biological forms of being and non-biological forms of energy, matter and information. It is precisely at the intersection of this notion of an integrated human-machinic reality with our latent cultural notions regarding the ontology of art where the form known as net.art is most aptly theorized. Computer networks which integrate humans and machines through an interface may then be viewed as context for art making. The philosopher Manual De Landa has put the idea into a very clear form:

I rather envision artists and populations of autonomous software agents interacting with one another in complex ways. As with most complex systems that cannot be controlled in detail, the question is to find ways to maneuver or shepherd the spontaneous behavior of a system, for example, the materials the artist uses, towards some goal. The process of production of form needs to be half planned and half self-organized. The materials (whether hardware or software) must be allowed to have their say in the final form produced. 4

In order to contexutalize this art arena within the larger world, it must be pointed out that the implications of the human-machinic interface go significantly beyond art discourse. As the internet has emerged as an important social context amidst a complex of social relations which exist off the net, social relations have simultaneously mirrored and reproduced within the network’s virtual space. The internet’s protocols (along with similar private networks such as intranets, POS systems, LANs, and various other corporate and military computer systems), are to this era what the printing press was to a previous era. It is both a technology that will realize the economic hegemony of the classes who control, own and manipulate it, and the premiere context through which the entire mantle of culture, philosophy and thought will be mediated. Networks connect flows of information, the third dimension of matter 5, to flows of matter and energy. This information flow, when applied to flows of energy and matter (as is happening now in what has been called the "Third Industrial Revolution") 6, is not only capable of creating large redistributions of capital and standards of living, but of facilitating wholesale reinscriptions of cultural assumptions.

These developments have been evaluated by network artists at the hyperlogical extremes of related post-modern conceptions of disembodied information agency and identity. But this trajectory can also be read as part of the 20th century potential for the divorce of art form from objects or matter altogether (as sometimes evidenced in the traditions of performance and conceptual art); leaving only information and communication traveling over networks as the de-materialized ontological foundations of net.art form. It is because of the structural influence which information has on all that we know and exchange, that we are led to an informational fine art which is capable of discarding the object and becoming an art form whose aesthetic concerns are an amendment to the primarily visual aesthetics of the object.

While simulated form is in no way new to the arts (the projected representations of the cinema and video are widely indulged as fine art media), networks make possible an expanded domain of art form and aesthetic that includes the function of networks and digital processes as information agencies. The explication I will make here is a relatively narrow one regarding a specific aesthetic quality of net.art that can be viewed as just such an extension of the traditional aesthetic concerns of the object. I will also maintain a critical perspective upon the conceptual depth that is evidenced by net.art in employing medium specific data agency. Specifically, I will examine the concepts of 'fast' and 'slow' as they inform the aesthetic foundations of network based art, and how conceptual depth is related to these qualities.

I propose to treat the issues of network simulacra, the hyperreal, and identity in an aggregate form which will progressively inform and develop the concept of speed in net.art. In doing so, I will explore the aesthetic issues involved with image delivery, hypertext, and network being in relation to a few specific examples of net.art taken from the context of the international net.art movement. The objection that networks will have little impact on the habits and production of artists will be noted now if only to lay it behind me. Although it would be a drastic mistake to assert that the traditional visual arts are no longer important, it is clear that networks change everything. Therefore I am not so much interested in dealing with this issue beyond saying what I have said already: our economies are increasingly mediated by information. Distribution, be it of matter, energy or information, is everything. What form the arts assume relative to the rapidity of change and redistribution of wealth among various cultural practices should certainly be a matter of concern to all artists; even if merely for reasons of economic self-interest.

 

Simulacra and Surface: the problem of representation in net.art

The introductory problem in dealing with net.art is one of getting past the surface of media simulacra, of which the information network allowing decentralized distribution of simulacra is only a recent technological development. In mass media, where control and distribution are centralized and the distribution networks are both unidirectional and highly ubiquitous (such as film and television), the form of such media has followed the centralized production model of industry and became therefore an industrial art form. Jean Baudrillard’s work, particularly in his essay "Simulacra and Simulations" 7, has perhaps been the most influential of the postmodern explications of the contemporary social effects of industrial simulacra. As I have written elsewhere 8, he theorizes the media context as radically new foundations for social experience. Baudrillard's notion of the hyperreal has been most useful in forming the basis of one critical perspective with which to treat the ontology of simulacra on networks.

It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it. It is nevertheless the map that precedes the territory-precession of simulacra (166) (italics his)

It is in this perspective that we find the theoretical foundation for the de-materialization of the art object in favor of informational representation. A reading of the idea as applied to network art would perhaps hold that net.art is not really art at all, but rather an emerging complex of network mediated image manipulations for which we have no better set of constructs to describe than the multiplex of pre-existing social models regarding art that exist generally in contemporary society9. Rather than being art, we can then only say that net.art is a more real than real model of art; and then further to suppose, à la Baudrillard10 , that art itself (all art) does not survive the deterritorialization expressed by the precession of simulacra as model subsumes actuality.

The problem in the application of the precession theory relative to net.art is that representational simulacra appears visually only within the order of the literally superficial: as a spectacle evident on the screen, (the same kind of idea can be said to hold true of sounds emanating from computer speakers). This screenal surface, the visual presentation, can at best only confirm or clarify an art proposition through the technical processes of image delivery. Interestingly, it is also this visual and aural presentation of net.art, at the level of surface representation, which can be easily treated from within the bounds of traditional aesthetics. Net.art that utilizes the surface of the screen as its only site of endeavor can then be analyzed as purely presentational, which is the same as saying purely superficial; while it is net.art that uses the aesthetic possibilities of representation mostly in support of its art ideas, processes, active models and systematic agencies which manages to more fully become art of the network.

In order to expose this point I will begin by taking a specific example and viewing it in relation to Immanuel Kant's notion of "subjective universal communicability11 ." (48) For Kant, mental states and their application to the presentation of objects are held to apply in the same way "for all human beings", meaning that beauty itself is universal if cognized correctly. The universal nature of beauty is "merely contemplative, i.e., it is a judgment that is indifferent to the existence of the object,"(45) and is further described as "the agreeable." Kant deals with the inherent subjectivity in the cognition of the purely formal presentation of the object via its entrance into what he calls "Free play of the cognitive powers,"(47) which takes place between knowledge and imagination. This is the theoretical mechanism through which he is able to posit the subjective universal communicability of the beautiful, because as knowledge, which is supposed universal, is at play with imagination, which is supposed subjective, the final cognitive effect is a harmonizing of "the conditions of the universality that is the business of understanding in general, [bringing] the cognitive powers into that proportioned attunement which we require for all cognition and which, therefore, we also consider valid for everyone."(48) This is the classic formulation of how the idea of beauty as an aesthetic concern is opposed to, and carefully divided from, all practical concerns. And where we find network based art which exploits only presentational simulacra, we tend to find this kind of aesthetic of "the agreeable." The net.art project e1312 is a rich example of this idea wherein the screen surface and simulacra are the basis for the net.art practice.

 

figure 1 e13 sumo-butter

 

figure 2

 

Although obviously interactive (a quality assumed in the medium), the interaction provided to the user is purely dedicated to the delivery of highly designed images whose specific aesthetic wavers between various eclectic graphic design influences and visual pastiches of various graphical user interface elements, (such as the Macintosh trash can or virtual memory icon from the Mac's memory control panel). The aesthetics involved exist only at the interface in the form of the picture, a presentation strategy that is readily familiar and well accepted. This is the standard strategy and implementation of image making as it has been well understood by artists of visual media throughout recorded history, manifested impressively by design group e13. The fact that it is attached or adapted to an interactive image delivery system does little to alter its art-ontological foundations in traditional aesthetic concerns. The art consumer is invited to revel in the "free play of the cognitive powers" relative to the image, and to bring the subjective point of view and the universal aspects of the work into an attunement which is ultimately an aesthetic accomplishment: e13 is about what it makes visible (and audible) and how it looks (and sounds). In aggregate, e13 is not too much different from the mass of off-line work scanned into ‘virtual galleries’ that inhabit the web, with the exception that it doesn’t self-consciously index the museum or gallery metaphor in the manner that many art institution web sites still do. It is by this strategy of using the interface as an aesthetic delivery system that e13 also misses most of the larger conceptual issues at stake for art on the network. e13 is only representation without an original, and while this may tie in nicely with Baudrillard’s idea of the more real than real, it ignores the material interactions between networks and the rest of the world. Nowhere does it connect up with other systems relative to distribution of matter, energy, or information. Nor does it insert itself into contexts or ideas that help it escape its narrow focus on traditional aesthetic concerns.

With the advent of widely available distributed information networks, it becomes obvious that art-critical emphasis on the precession of simulacra is flawed if we concentrate only on superficial simulacra. If we were to obsessively focus on the dissolution of the real art territory as a projection of imagery onto the network, we would be forgetting that networks do not eviscerate the real in other economic systems of matter and energy; but rather that the models of the real service the modification of the systems which distribute the real. Therefore, if we were to accept the visual as sole foundation of net.art aesthetic practice, we would not only be left with nothing more interesting to consider than the pictures which can be made visible to the viewer, but we would be forgetting that the hyperreal extends far deeper than the surface of our screens. This misunderstanding about the very nature of what networks can provide to the arts is a threat of the most severe order. Net.art should serve to connect visual simulacra to complex and active systems (which are no less simulacra in their ontology as processes, but are of a non-representational order), in a manner which parallels the structural introduction of information science to processes of matter and energy. Network art should therefore be concerned with the network as form, semiotic agency, and concept; not merely with looking at pictures.

While certainly providing necessary context for the notion of network art, Baudrillard’s formulation is easily abused in net.art at the level of the image as a visible aesthetic concern, which is for him ultimately a form of worthlessness in the arts. Nevertheless, simply because a representation is first and foremost of the hyperreal order does not mean that it is not part of an art proposition, nor that image making art as a kind of work is useless and to be ignored. Just because the qualitative manner in which net.art is presented to the eye and/or ear shares much in common with many of history’s most dominant aesthetic ideas (read: Immanuel Kant, Clive Bell, Clement Greenberg), there is no specific reason to completely jettison this theory as Lialina suggests. The fact still remains that individuals cognize art in a process much like Kant describes (the play of cognition over knowledge and imagination), even if the "universal communicability" is reinscribed as culturally mediated within our contemporary technological and multicultural contingencies. Without some kind of interface, even if merely documentation, how are people to consume any kind of art work, network based or not? And because the interface will forever remain open to this particular aesthetic evaluation, there is good reason for net.artists to continue paying attention to the surface of their work. But the critical aesthetic concerns lie elsewhere, on other planes, and the challenge becomes one of how to utilize the superficial in support of these.

 

The network as a context for an aesthetics of artistic identity:

hypertexts and the art-of-being

One of the manifest qualities of net.art is the manner in which the interface is implemented, or its "interactivity". On the world wide web, the interface is implemented via the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). Originally intended as a feature of networks which allows for intuitive links to be placed between relevant information, hypertext has been repurposed 13 by artists for both interactive narrative forms and as foundation for conceptual art practice. Factually, these experiments with hypertext considerably predate the popularity of the web as a medium for art making 14. And as we shall see, there is an aesthetic quality relating to the amount of time required to traverse a hypertext.

Perhaps the problem I am perceiving with the "dominant exhibition model that still drives the visual arts establishment" can be best expressed by having you imagine a gallery director or museum curator putting a printed literary novel of say, 300 pages, in an institutionally-supported gallery or museum space and then inviting the patron to get lost in the dynamic (anti-)aesthetic environment that unravels within its pages. Most art-appreciators would have a problem with this, for who has the time to sit or, worse yet, stand, in such a space and read an entire novel. Even if the work were a kind of narrative art consciously moving beyond literature and presenting itself on a computer screen as an elaborate hypermedia construction, yet still located in the same institutionalized, physical space, how long would the art-appreciator stay with the complex narrative system before shifting into another room with more stable objects?

Mark Amerika15

 

Between the words of Lialina and Amerika there lies evidence of the problem which plagues the development of aesthetics in contemporary net.art. What kind of theory, what kind of history, and what tradition of discourses will drive the aesthetics of net.art as it emerges on networks and in the art world? Lialina’s idea that internet art can develop a "theory of its own", contextualized only by the network and bravely marking its independence of the various histories of representation, is reinforced by Amerika as he imagines the institutional/architectural context of the art world and addresses the exhibition issues that face artists making use of networks as medium. Via his implementation of post-literary theory (Derrida), Amerika hopes to project the shattered inheritance of the novel into a virtual space where "the artist(s) responsible for the development of the network-art experience were to constantly use the fluidity of the digital medium to build-on, subtract-from or otherwise alter the work", and where "the virtual art object, forever morphing in the network environment constitutes a new form of aesthetic becoming that makes being in cyberspace an art in and of itself..."16 So it seems, at least on the surface, that Lialina’s call for a new theory which is "in the context of the Internet", could perhaps find in Amerika’s writing a cogent theoretical foundation on which to build.

This idea, which I will call the art-of-being theory, proposes that the discrete ontology of net.artwork is to be found at the participatory and collaborative level of the artwork, and the contingent manner in which those who participate unfold the work and themselves in a hyperspace. It is here that we see most clearly the foundations (in the ontology of the network context as a communications medium), the often speculated implosion of distinction between the artist and the audience. The collaborative and participatory elements evident in so much net.art tend to support the position. When both the audience and the artist contribute to the evolution of the art (be it through communication based on something as simple as email comments, or through intermediary software features wherein the visitor is allowed to alter the work), the boundaries between participant and creator can be viewed as blurred. But does this idea provide an answer to the ontological or aesthetic questions regarding the medium, or is it a reworking of cyber-community and identity theory 17 dressed up as fine art?

The answer to this question lies in the absolute privilege afforded to the network by net.art inspired critics of traditional art forms and institutions. The network and the representations of identity it allows are indulgently celebrated as a disconnected hyperreal, allowing a more real than real identity construction of ‘artist’ as creative agent (drawn from the models of our artistic tradition) to be indulged in by any participant. This in turn becomes the sole self-justification for naming a thread of communication a kind of artwork. This online artist/identity is perhaps no more significant than the role play indulged in on text based online games: the slippage between artist and wizard. Something is not art just because creative participation is allowed. By that definition, the usenet group alt.conspiracy.area51 could be said to have long ago achieved the highest potential art form constituted by the art-of-being! Yet few people would place the activities and discourse of conspiracy theorists and ufologists within the discourses of the fine arts, even considering the significant creativity of the people involved.

The network, in its entirety as the vast communications hardware which we now depend on for maintenance of our economic life, serves most importantly to connect actual bodies through the cybernetic links of (for the present time), screens, speakers, mouse and keypad. Identities, when considered as purely divorced from matter, may indeed be unstable or indeterminate, but the obsessive focus on identity shifting, or "morphing", accepted by some tends to overlook that most of us have stable identities (even if evolving and growing), which are instantiated in meat bodies. While we are perhaps primarily information at the genetic level, we are also nevertheless biologically embodied nodes in the network composition, not disembodied informational changelings. We may well be networked and consequently interpolated by a multitude of other nodes (via language and semiotics in a communications complex ranging from verbal speech acts to digital networks), but we have not escaped into some purely virtual, informational ontology as beings. This position is supported by Paul Virilio’s theory of information as the third dimension of matter 18, (energy being the second), in that information and its effect on identity are not disembodied from the real, but rather become a integral part of the real world projecting directly into the body: a network of people hyperactivated by information machinery which has joined with the body no more or less conspicuously than the pacemaker or the telephone handset. This kind of being is already ubiquitous in networked cultures, and it is in no way clear that interaction and collaboration between such hyperactivated 19(99) humans (no matter how creative, fantastic, or collaborative the communication and its detritus may be), constitutes art in and of itself.

So it follows that art as a performance-of-becoming based on de-materialized bodies and virtual identity (both supposedly yielded by networks), is more of a hype (in which I have sometimes indulged 20), than a basis for an explanatory and evaluative aesthetic theory. This same confusion surrounding identity may also relate to the current evolution of the cultural role of the artist; the move from the model of the of creative genius in the modern era to that of researcher, knowledge worker, event instigator and idea manipulator in the postmodern era. Instead of the disembodied artistic identity assumed to serve as the foundation for net.art practice, we find instead that the most important aspects of net.art concern the use of network protocols and languages (such as HTML, HTTP, FTP, JAVA, PERL etc.) to implement art ideas which contribute meaningfully to net.art form. As such, net.art is most usefully considered as conceptual art implemented via such protocols when considered as semi-autonomous agents of performance. Therefore, we should seek an appropriately functional aesthetic ground which clarifies how such work is cognized by its users.

 

Time as an Aesthetic Quality: conceptual art of the net

All of the previous discussion serves to shift focus to one of the central aesthetic qualities of net.art which the art-of-being theory ultimately serves to jam and obfuscate. This aesthetic quality is perceivable in different formal implementations of the media: the hypertext. And what is it specifically that we can say about the aesthetic qualities of a hypertext? As anyone familiar with computers intuitively knows, hypertext design is extremely varied, and therefore we should be assured of the existence of many narrowly defined aesthetic strategies which future aesthetic taxonomists of software design could explicate in terms of informatics and hypertext theory. Diving into such detail is however not my intention here. There is a more general, anterior aesthetic quality which applies to hypertext (and interface design) and which can best be expressed by the notions of fast and slow.

To begin with, Amerika’s salient question regarding whether or not a museum patron would significantly participate in a novel or a hypermedia construction presented in the museum space as an artwork, serves to index the relatively slow aesthetic of novels and CD-ROM based hypermedia. By comparison, the other "more stable objects" (presumably pictures, sculpture, etc.) are much faster. Whereas the differences in speed between various media (the novel vs. the picture), are always more or less fixed aspects of the respective media, with net.art we have a case wherein extreme differences in media speed can be easily isolated within instances of the very same media. This quality, taken as an example in the time-of-interface difference between the consumption of the novel and the art object, is not too interesting when such a difference is speculated between very different media such as novel and painting. It only becomes an important aesthetic concern as we begin to explore its implications amidst instances of one and the same media. Such is the case with net.art.21

Net.art is a media which allows authorial choice between the poles of fast and slow, and as such the choice constitutes a general aesthetic position taken by the artist. The time in which an art proposition is able to be understood by a reasonable person, relative to the breadth of the work’s implementation, is the definition of this particular aesthetic quality of a net.art: conceptual speed. To be blunt, isn’t the problem which Amerika poses of the novel or hypertext presentation in the gallery context equally true of net.art, even if it is consumed outside of any art-institutional architecture? Will people keep coming back to the time consuming, constantly morphing, identity based works of art on the network just to see how things have changed? And are there not other forms of net.art whose conceptual implementation makes a significant contribution to the nexus of art ideas, yet does so much faster, and may require only one visit to do so? And, which of these aesthetics best serves the development of network based art?

I will examine two net.art sites which are exemplary of this particular time/interface concern: jodi22 , a project by Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans, and Dot2DotPorn23 by Rachel Baker (a.k.a. Trina Mould) 24. jodi, for its part, is perhaps the best known accomplishment of the international net.art movement. In their site, Heemskerk and Paesmans have collaborated on a formal exploration of the visual implications and possibilities of web browsing software. Unlike e13, jodi is not merely an image and design delivery system, even if it does primarily focus on the visual aspects of net as media. The visuals presented by jodi don’t only make reference to computer code and the visual detritus of computer systems, but employs such code in an experimental fashion in its implementation of a highly complex HTML hyperspace. So instead of a presentational graphic design style of beautiful images delivered by the net, we find that the surface of the browser has been reconsidered as having its own reflexive qualities as a medium, and it is the implications of these features of the browser that are explored in jodi. jodi treats the browser as an agent or systematic process, and let the browser "have its say" as the conceptual foundation for their work. This includes the use of ‘bad’ code, or the implementation of code in a manner in which was not intended by the engineers who designed the browsers or the language specifications. jodi is in no way a merely superficial art proposition which only concerns the visual play it ultimately presents, but is in fact a significant proposition about the codes which lie under the surface and mediate how we see and navigate.

We... battle with the computer on a graphical level. The computer presents itself as a desktop, with a trash can on the right and pull down menues and all the system icons. We explore the computer from inside, and mirror this on the net.25

jodi intentionally obfuscates one of the central design principles of hypertext, in that it obscures the navigation of information, barely leaving any hints as to the relevance of this or the next hypertext link. The site’s front page is a good example of the artistic concern with the code, representation, and its interpretation via browser software, which is ultimately representative of the conceptual basis on which jodi depends as an art work:

 

figure 3. jodi: front page

 

At the beginning of the hypertext, the audience is introduced to a blinking green paragraph which appears to be nothing more than random gibberish. But by saving the document as a raw HTML document (by viewing the source), and opening it in a text editor which both renders the text in a fixed-width font, and parses the ASCII carriage return characters into new lines (web browsers achieve paragraphs and line breaks with HTML tags, not with invisible characters as in plain text documents), we find that the gibberish text is in fact an ASCII picture. (see appendix A)26 This art utilizes the browser’s way of presenting information visually to demonstrate that an image is just as much a result of the various codes that interpret it27 , as it is the result of authorial intention or audience perception. In fact it is the browser's manipulation of perception that is privileged. The intelligible form is not presented to the human looking at the surface, but is always somewhere else below: in the code, in hidden comments, behind the flicker and glow of the screen. This same strategy is doubled in the navigation of jodi’s dense hypertext; various maps and other navigational icons abound as you travel deeper into the hyperspace, but their usefulness is elusive even when they have significant meaning. You can never be sure where you ‘are’ in the hypertext, and finding something again (later), without a bookmark, can be difficult. Again we find ourselves looking at Baudrillard’s map, its hyper-ontology mostly (but not completely) trumping the (still present) real that lies underneath.

 

figure 4. The map like simulacra of the browser surface, deep inside the jodi site

 

For all of its considerable accomplishments as net.art formalism and in its mostly hidden conceptual underpinnings, jodi still nevertheless implements a very slow aesthetic. According to the definition I have proposed, the speed of an example of net.art is considered as its conceptual depth relative to its breadth of implementation, taken as a function of the time it takes a reasonable viewer to see its conceptual function as art idea. While clearly expressing far more depth than it is sometimes given credit for, it is its vast implementation, as thousands of distinct HTML documents, all of which circulate around the same conceptual theme of browser surface and the hidden-while-visible meanings, which works against jodi in terms of speed. There is simply way too much of jodi relative to the ideas it implements. In fact, as I have argued, jodi’s basic conceptual framework is evident in the front page alone. All of the rest may be superfluous.

By comparison, Trina Mould’s Dot2DotPorn is also a strong conceptual work, but it is able to make its art proposition evident much faster.

 

figure 5 Dot2DotPorn front page

 

Dot2DotPorn’s front page introduces the viewer to a connect-the-dots image which, if filled in, would complete the visual representation of a sexual act. But given that it is a web site, the only option (other than printing and filling in the dots), available to the viewer is to click on the dots. The dots are hypertext links that take you to various pages from which, as indicated by the text, it appears as if an image is available for download and off-line viewing. Would it be needless for me to point out that this is how much of the copious pornography on the internet is distributed and consumed? Will this project make good on the promise of pornography indicated in its title? Will the dots make their promised connections? After download and decompression, what you get is an image of the standard abstract image icon familiar to Netscape Navigator users! Instead of pornography, we find a context-specific abstraction of a pornographic image: a no-porno porno.

 

figure 6 Dot2DotPorn dot 13

 

 

figure 7 selecting images for download

 

 

figure 8 outdoors.gif, the actual contents of all Dot2DotPorn images once downloaded

 

Dot2DotPorn is clearly an implementation of network protocols (HTML and FTP) intended to deliver a conceptual performance of jamming, distortion, and denial of (primarily male) desires to look at pornography in a context in which much of the capital that has promoted recent (post-military, post-educational) network-institutional growth has been based on market demand for pornography. Dot2DotPorn not only manages to make a contextually clever artistic commentary on the internet as a pornography distribution system, but it is fast. Even though there are many identical no-image images to download at the site from many varied pornographic categories (a little something for everyone), the entire concept behind the work as an art performance becomes crystal clear just as one opens the first downloaded image, (to be titillated by the art idea or perhaps ‘let down’ for another reason). Rather than the thousands of pages and hours of engagement needed to grasp the conceptual buried in the layers of jodi, Dot2DotPorn slaps its viewer with what it promises, but refuses to provide. The chances that the viewer will get to the idea, which is ultimately what we value, is much higher with Dot2DotPorn because of its conceptual speed, especially given the flighty and temperamental tendency of net audiences to click away from a project after viewing only a few pages.

On the problem of fast and slow, it is important to note that I do not wish to indicate anything aesthetic relative to the Cartesian clock: download time, actual time spent navigating, or any other potential statistical analysis of how long it takes the art viewer to consume and understand the work. Statistical and technical issues lie more in the domain of concern with commercial designers or internet marketing and advertising firms such as doubleclick.net. Instead, what I speak of when I indicate that a work is fast or slow regards the conceptual depth of the artwork relative to the breadth of its implementation. Relative laconism in an implementation of net.art that performs something very interesting displays the fast aesthetic. Such an aesthetic in art lies ontologically closer to Amerika's "more stable objects"28 of the art institutional complex. Conversely, the more prolix forms of net.art share more in common with literature as an art form. In my evaluation, fast net.art lends itself to the hyperactivated29 art audience seeking concept and idea, whereas the slower aesthetic often demonstrated by net.art forms such as interactive fiction function mostly as prolix transmissions of post-literary yet artistically modern identity construction of the artist.

What is important, however, is not any particular judgment regarding fast and slow as aesthetically valuable. This is an issue of taste that will be expressed differently by different artists and differently appreciated as positive or negative by various critics and audiences. What matters is the notion that speed is a fundamental descriptive quality of net.art form with aesthetic implications, and that it serves to extend the generally supportive function of traditional visual aesthetics in network based art. Whereas the visual appearance of net.art is best thought of as supportive and functional, it is the implementation of time via the breadth of the hypertext relative to the conceptual depth of the work in which this important aesthetic quality of the work is expressed. While it is true that excessive conceptual speed could lead to shallow concepts, and that the implementation of large amounts of interface time may certainly be necessary to make certain conceptual intentions work, it is nevertheless the relationship between implementation and concept which forges this aesthetic of net.art.

From the examples I have provided in jodi and Dot2DotPorn, it is clear that the art idea concerning the technological mediation of art perception at the interface in the former is a much more subtle concept than the perhaps Laura Mulvey30 inspired denial of visual pleasure as implemented in the later. But in Dot2DotPorn, the size and design of the hypertext compliment the concept, while jodi represents a fairly deep idea with an exceptionally outsized implementation. Time in hypermedia is an issue of implementation and not representation, and must be considered carefully within the net.art context. Artists and critics working at the interface of humanity and machine will find that the hypertextual implementation of time is a uniquely cognizable aesthetic quality around which net.art as form can be developed and critiqued.

Appendix A. ASCII Image from www.jodi.org (front page)

(c) 1998 Brett Stalbaum. Thank You to Dr. Patricia Sanders, Geri Wittig MFA, and Anne-Marie Schleiner MFA, for readings and comment.


Footnotes

1. Subject: RHIZOME_RAW: cheap.art (fwd) Date: Mon, 19 Jan 1998 13:17:59 -0800 (PST) From: "M@" To: Switch Publication Date: Mon, 19 Jan 1 998 20:47:30 +0300 From: olia lialina To: nettime-l@desk.nl, list@rhizome.com, eps@rinet.ru, mpapaioann@hotmail.com Subject: RHIZOME_RAW: cheap.art WWW: http://www.rhizome.org/cgi-local/query.cgi?action=grab_object&kt=kt1026 (or query for "cheap.art" at http://www.rhizome.org/query/)
2. To be fair to those suspicious of, (or hostile toward), any status whatsoever for network based art, it must be pointed out that (for example) Lialina's call for a new theory unencumbered by the past simply supersedes (without responding to), the obverse question of whether or not network art, which takes no material form, which does not currently exist within the boundaries of traditional art institutions, and is only contextualized by art (or art-like) theory, is in any way worthy of consideration as art whatsoever. From this profoundly reactionary perspective, network art is a ridiculous notion and is dismissed with a perhaps no more than a puff of contempt. Here the hyperreal is dismissed and a romanticism of the real is embraced. To ignore this critique is to simply assume that network based art has an a priori ontological foundation, while failing to make the specifics of such a foundation satisfactorily explicit beyond a reference to "the Internet: its aesthetic, its structure, its culture.."
3. My analysis does not include the significant contemporary contributions to the field of aesthetics by critics and philosophers such as George Dickey, Arthur Danto, and others. Such contributions, especially as they pertain to art institutions and conceptual art, certainly pertain to net.art in a significant way. I can only hope that such high profile critics will someday direct their analysis toward net.art form.
4. "Interview with Manual De Landa" Switch V3N3, Spring 1998 http://switch.sjsu.edu/web/v3n3/De Landa/De Landa.html
5. Virilo, Paul The Art of the Motor ©1995 University of Minnesota Press pg 125
6. Rifkin, Jeremy The End of Work ©1995 Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam Book, G.P. Putnam's Sons 200 Madison Ave NY NY 10016, Pg 60
7. Baudrillard, Jean Selected Writings ed. Mark Poster © 1988 Stanford University Press, Stanford CA USA pg 166
8. Stalbaum, Brett "Conjuring Post Worthlessness: contemporary web art and the postmodern condition", Switch V3N2, Summer 1997, http://switch.sjsu.edu:/web/art.online2/brett.links/conjuring.html
9. Ekenberg, Jan "Ontological Problems with Web Art", Switch V3N2, Summer 1997. This view is the argument that the social constructs of art are in fact what initiated the art concept in the internet context; networks as a new kind of institutional context for art or the network as a new formal media. http://switch.sjsu.edu:/web/art.online2/jan.links/ontological.html
10. Baudrillard, Jean "La conjuration des imbeciles" in Liberation on May 7, 1997. Translated by Francois Debrix. Francois Debrix is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Theory and International Relations at Purdue University. Available on the WWW at http://www.ctheory.com.
11. Higgins, Kathleen M, Aesthetics in Perspective, © 1996 the Harcourt Brace & Co, Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 301 Commerce St, Ste 3700, Fort Worth TX 76102. Pg 48
12. http://www.e13.com
13. Other implementations of hypertext are Apple Computer's Hypercard (one of the first to be utilized by artists), Macromedia Director, Supercard, and any number of other presentation and software development tools including languages such C, C++ and Java. Most are network capable.
14. Refer to 1980's experiments by Lynn Hershman, Judy Malloy, Mark Amerika, and Abbe Don.
15. Amerika, Mark Network Installations, Creative Exhibitionism and Virtual Republishing: An Attempt at Contextualizing the Ongoing Ungoing Story of Being in Cyberspace http://altx.com/ds/pages/amerika.html (1998)
16. ibid.
17. Turkle, Sherrie, Life on the Screen New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.
18. ibid.
19. Virilio
20. http://switch.sjsu.edu/web/v3n3/JTDDS/index.html, see "Statement" inside of the project.
21. Lialina's complaint that "Works of Net artists are not analysed in comparison with one another." is important in this context.
22. http://www.jodi.org/
23. http://www.irational.org/tm/dot2dot/
24. I have no reason to believe that the artist is not actually Heath Bunting!* In spite of the play with identity indulged in by Trina Mould aka whoever, the work itself is crystal clear in conception and form.
*I met the Rachel Baker in person at the Ars Electronica Conference in Sept 1999.
25. http://www.heise.de/tp/english/special/ku/6187/1.html
26. Appendix A is the actual text from the jodi front page (http://www.jodi.org) stripped of all HTML tags and with every other carriage return (the blank lines) removed. The font and ledding have been adjusted to fit the page.
27. In this case the browser software and its interpretation of HTML as encapsulated in the form of a plain text document
28. ibid.
29. Virilio, pg 99
30. Mulvey, Laura "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema", Screen Volume 16 Autum 1975

 

 

 

 

 

 



 
 
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