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October 05, 2004

Thinking of art, transparency and social technology

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Art. Object or Process?

From Liza Sabater's post on Rhizome Raw today:

"There are different concepts in our work, like when you think of the computer tree, which is basically a stage that we built for people online to perform on, it's trying to figure out a different audience relationship. A lot of what net art is interested in is the communication back and forth, the net being the space in-between, so the printer tree in some ways is also the space in-between. With this tree, its audience, and some of the other things weve done is trying to separate and move that relationship between performance and viewer just slightly so that the relationship becomes a little fuzzier. I dont know if people need to know that when they see the piece to understand the relationship." [M. River]

"But let me bring another issue to the table, one I think other net creatives have brought to light pretty well. It's the issue of TRANSPARENCY.

Artists have always kept notes, some way or another, for their ideas and process. But it is not until they are dead (or made an offer they cannot refuse) that people can take a peek at them. If ever. But not just artist as in Art makers. Most people involved in creative work will keep some kind of record of their discoveries and obstacles. The problem, again, is that these are mostly kept tucked away in private libraries or bedroom drawers.

I believe it is time for net artists to stop pretending anybody beyond their immediate peers understand what they are doing. Seriously. Not even the people in most arts organizations (I'm thinking granting institutions and the like) understand the difference between creating your own metasoftware in Java so you can create software art versus a person who gets their hands on Flash and makes an animation. To this day I find myself saying at art openings, "No, that Levin/Simon/Napier is not an animation. It's software creating the art." To which they most inevitably get the "deer in the headlights" look on their faces. Ugh.

MTAA was interviewed for Petit Mort and it's worth the reading (great pics of the sexy beasts and a fantabulous one of EndNode AKA Printer Tree). This is the part that mostly caught my attention:

Q: Ive notice that your updating of art is similar to the way corporations are updating their services these days; for example banks make you transfer funds, make you fill out forms, make you find customer service, and sometimes even make you responsible for their quality control. Technology now a day has passed on a lot of duties to the customer. It has really become a self-service type of system. And although this would seem like cost cutting measures on the way they do business, we still don't see a decrease in their fees or cost of their products or services. It is helping them save money Im sure, but as consumer we are loosing our time in performing their services. Is that shift what you had in mind when you started these updates?

TIM: We never spoke about it, but I definitely considered that being a change in the way the people interact online -a lot of the labor has been passed back to you.

MARK: There are different concepts in our work, like when you think of the computer tree, which is basically a stage that we built for people online to perform on, it's trying to figure out a different audience relationship. A lot of what net art is interested in is the communication back and forth, the net being the space in-between, so the printer tree in some ways is also the space in-between. With this tree, its audience, and some of the other things weve done is trying to separate and move that relationship between performance and viewer just slightly so that the relationship becomes a little fuzzier. I dont know if people need to know that when they see the piece to understand the relationship.

[The whole article is at Petite Mort]

This is an AMAZING insight. For one, I feel that one of the interesting failures of net art has been its inability to communicate OUTSIDE of its immediate clique. Not even people in the art world know or have even heard of net art/software art as we discuss it here in Rhizome. To most people NA/SA is what happens when you photoshop photography or make a video and put it on the net.

So without even knowing it, MTAA has hit it over the head. For the one part, the technology used in net/software art--from the computers to the software or even the coding language--passes unto you the onus of R&D, QA, and usability (we're not even touching cost). The technologies of canvases, stretchers, brushes, pigments, hammers and nails do not need any of those added costs to the process of art making. It's completely the opposite with anything involving digital technology.

This is apparent with computers and software but what about the other art "corporations"?

Think of the museum, the gallery, the academy, the audience and "the market" as corporations as well. If you buy into the belief that art is about the object and not the process, then a lot of the onus of making an art "object" out of what is basically electricity, falls unto you as well. So you find yourself in a situation in which you've just built from the ground up a meta-software that makes more software that is then what we call "software art", but nobody--not even your peers--know about it because you've been focused on showing the final object and not the process. And because you've spent all that time on the art as object motif, your work--because it moves on a screen--is still being seen by the audience immediately outside of the net/software art clique as animation or video because, you know, it moves. You can't blame them. If you do not distinguish what you do from the "proven" art forms, why should people understand what your work is about?

Net Artists have been so caught up in the metaphor of the internet as a space for communication and social interaction that, ironically, most have not really used it as so in their own art spaces. Yes, there is Rhizome and all those artsy lists. But you cannot bring Rhizome Raw into your site and this is what each and every one of you should be doing. Let the flaming begin. There, I have said it.

I truly believe that focusing on the conversations your art and art process can create is the only way to not just push your work forward, but to bring to light the artform you so lovingly/madly/cluelessly pursue.

The net is not just a space, and the web is not just a canvas. They are processes as well. They are because humans use them. Art Websites should not be just galleries or studios. They need to be salons as well; places where each artist can reveal their work and play, their expertise and discoveries, their trials and tribulations.

Yes people, I'm talking about the four letter words. Whether it is a wiki or a blog, I am talking about bringing social technologies into artists sites. And not just the tech but the practices of communication as well. We need to make your sites as dynamic as your art process. Why? By not doing it you are missing out on the opportunity of connecting with peers in other net cultures who, may not be artists but have the answers to your questions. Or you may miss the opportunity of having one more piece of information ready and available for your future audience to read and learn more about you and your process as an artist. Or who knows what other things are in store.

It's been almost two years now since I wrote an art proposal, and quite frankly, I don't miss it. Those things are ghastly especially because software art, being a subset of a subset of art in most foundations, never fits all the requirements for documentation. So they want a video or slides of Shredder (I kid you not). In part because they are working with old paradigms of art, and in part because they most of the time do not have the "right browser" or the "right OS" or the "right hardware" to run most net/software art in the first place. So they go with what they think will be easy for them to use to judge the work--misunderstandings and hilarity ensues. UGH.

I've blogmothered potatoland.blog. The intention? For the Head Potato to post some code and start conversations around it. Rant against the machines. Maybe even get some people to work out a bug or two. That sort of thing. I'm even fixing to have guest writers write about their favorite pieces. And in due time to raise resources for new projects.

I'd love to try this experiment with more people. Be part of real-life conversations started by artworks, but mediated through the blogs. See what opportunities are opened up with this "new" socialization. Find out what happens when an artist's site goes from portfolio to notebook to salon, all in one swoop of technology."

Posted by jo at October 5, 2004 01:26 PM

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