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[Nettime-bold] crush: a response to crash presents it's first feature review.

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Thank you,


CRUSH: a response to CRASH: UC Berkeley Symposium on Critical and
Historical Issues in Net Art

What follows is a response to the recent Crash symposium at UC Berkeley.
The symposium consisted primarily of three events:  A Lecture by Steve
Dietz held on Wednesday February 16th, a presentation of artists works on
Friday February 18th, and finally a discussion entitled The Critics
Respond that took place on Saturday the 19th.  This review focuses
primarily on The Critics Respond.  Many of the quotations are from memory,
as wasnt able to come up with the $40 for tape
recordings of the proceedings.  We believe that the spirit (if not the
exact phrasing) of our quotations is accurate, and welcome any appropriate

For a full explanation of the scheduling of the event see:

Having missed the day of artists presentations on Friday, the stage for
The Critics Respond was set for by Steve Dietzs
Wednesday lecture entitled Signal or Noise: The Network Museum.  This
lecture adequately presented the struggle that an institutional
representative has when confronted with a medium that defies
objectification and commodification to the extreme.  How does the
institution respectfully embrace this non-object called net art?  How does
the museum incorporate the greater museum known as the internet?  If the
artist already has a venue, what purpose does the museum serve for this
type of art?  In the view of, these questions were all
presented in one form or another.  Mr. Dietzs broad answer to these
questions was telling. The museum must embrace net art or be relegated to
the position of the museum of the 20th century  Mr. Dietzs subsequent
preoccupations with the 21st century in no way contradicted this

Net artists appeared throughout these discussions as prey to the
institution.  It became clear that the institution or at least the
institutional mind, fears that the net artist may put them out of business
by offering art that exists outside of the confines of the museum or by
publishing theory and criticism from outside of the walls of the
university.  When discussion might have been better focused on the
concerns of the community of artists and net-art theorists, the
conversation constantly found itself bogged down by old and tired
definitions of art, and lame attempts to conform net art to these same
definitions and paradigms.   It should have been no surprise when SFMOMA
curator David Ross, somewhat uncomfortably distracted attention from his
use of the phrase paradigmatic shift.  The phrase was uttered, it had to
be.  Net art offers, and nearly requires a paradigmatic shift, yet many of
the participants in this symposium spent so much of their energy bemoaning
the fact that net art does not fit into any predefined paradigm.   Or they
were heard to announce false differentiations between traditional art
practice and net art practice.  Even in the midst of somewhat informed
discussion of browser based art, all talk seemed to focus on critique of
the interface,  as if it were photography or painting.

A most disturbing example of a discussion of false distinctions was
Charles Altieris pronouncement that deep and moving were adjectives that
could not be used to describe net art.  This statement alone could give
rise to hours of discussion for most of the editorial staff at, but theres more.  As an alternative to these adjectives
Mr. Altieri proposed that the panel discuss how to formulate a language of
praise for net art.  Somehow Mr. Altieri failed to understand that net
artists find ways to praise one anothers work all the time.  Perhaps the
real problem for Mr. Altieri and those who took up his cause is that these
same artists are not beating down the doors of the museum demanding the
praise of traditional art criticism.  Are we to believe that net art is
somehow devalued by Mr. Altieris inability to succinctly praise it?  

And so.... the entire morning session on Saturday was spent discussing how
to develop this "language of praise" for net art.   How do we
differentiate praise from hype? (Lunenfeld)  Why should we care about net
art? (Dietz) How can the net artist create art that is like a cake that
you can eat and enjoy and have still be there? (Failing)

This last question was typical of the florid arguments attempting to fit
net art into a predefined paradigm of art practice.  In response to this
question, Anne Wagner quite appropriately reminded us that not all art is
about satiety or pleasure, that Patricia Failings concerns about how net
artists should create work of the have your cake and eat it too variety
might have little to do with what NET art needs to do, and more to do with
what Ms. Failing, perhaps mistakenly, thinks ALL art should do.   

Far too often this floundering distraction took hold of the entire panel.
Too often the panelists became mired in questions of what the speakers
definition of art was, or how the speaker might be able to discuss net art
in more traditional terms.  Hal Foster seemed to lead the charge for this
latter way of thinking most vocally.  With an air of frustration Foster
asked about net arts modalities and their order...referring to visual,
textual, linear, and narrative modalities as examples.  While elements of
these questions have their place in this discourse their presentation was
diminished by Mr. Fosters early admission of a lack of respect, concern,
and understanding for net art.  This admission, in the end, did not serve
Mr. Foster very well.   In the end he sounded like a smart student that
hadnt done his homework.  He came up with some interesting approaches, but
got bogged down by any attempt at fleshing out details.  

Fosters line of questioning was valuable in that it revealed the
difficulty of recognizing the distinctive aspects of the medium for one
who does not understand the very basic nature of the network.  When Foster
referred to the dominance of the screen in net art, he revealed yet
another central misconception in many of the panelists arguments.  It was
all too clear that many on the panel saw the network and the interface as
a united entity.  There was no discussion of discussion of
the visual on the screen being merely an interface to a network project
that is quite invisible.  The problem, clearly was that many panelists
were seeing the image on the screen as the work, and wanting to critique
the screen as one would critique other visual media.  Here we would like
to interject, that if the institution would like to work with the net
artist, it should at least learn to understand the subtleties of the
medium.  The distinction between network and browser is not even a
particularly subtle distinction.

The myopic preoccupation with the browser seemed to be most prominently
voiced by designer Peter Lunenfeld, whose long winded monologues on hype
and hyperdriven media quickly grew tiresome.  In his argument that
pornography on the net has somehow mutated us into a society looking for
one  extended come shot, we at conceptualart. org were led to think that
individuals find on the net what they are looking for.  If Mr. Lunenfeld
is really disturbed by this one continuous orgasm, perhaps he should visit
the outrageously popular where prurient interest are
most assuredly indulged, but not a single bodily fluid is spilled (on

It seemed far too easy for Mr. Lunenfeld to argue that the network is all
about commercial branding and speed using thumb-candy video games like
Tomb Raider as an example.  By pointing his critical eye toward games that
are moving more and more into the realm of thumb candy, Mr. Lunenfeld
indulged another myth of the effects of a network on society: the
uncontrollable acceleration of culture.  Should we decide that discussing
video games is valuable to this discussion, Mr. Lunenfelds comments still
sound ill informed at best. In this case we point Mr. Lunenfeld to the
popularity of computer strategy games like Warcraft, StarCraft, Comand and
Conquer, Civilization, Myth, and even Pokemon.   These games are more
reminiscent of the Avalon Hill board games of the 80s than the Sonic the
Hedgehog thumb candy Mr. Lunenfeld is so attracted to.   Likewise these
games are networkable, allowing users to play with and against one
another, in a new and complex version of chess in the park.  For
crissakes, even Doom and Quake owe a large portion of their appeal to an
increased level of resource management and strategy. Rephrasing our
previous concern, individuals find in technology what they are looking

Mr. Lunenfelds preoccupation with the commercial in his discussion of
culture might have served to add to the discussion if it were not for his
apparent distrust of and distaste for art in favor of design.  In response
to one audience members question about the differences between art and
design practice, Mr. Lunenfeld began a diatribe about trying to teach
design to  artists who resisted a professional ethic.  Given that Mr.
Lunenfeld did not give any specifics, we are left to believe he is
complaining about not being able to break the will of artists that have an
interest in challenging corporate interests through personally expressive
design.  Is Mr. Lunenfeld afraid that the artists in his design classes
might embarrass him by working for one of his favorite sponsors without
displaying the appropriate professional ethic.  Mr. Lunenfelds
pronouncements that  somehow the popularity of Laura Kroft of Tomb Raider
fame provides an important model for artistic production seemed to us, in
our most generous of moods, overzealous.  Once again the arguments here
were less about understanding what net art is, and more about the
participant giving voice to their own cultural preoccupations.

Mr. Lunenfelds commercial focus brings up several related issues.  In the
context of Steve Dietzs presentation on Wednesday night of the Walker Art
Centers Art Entertainment Network (, Mr.
Lunenfelds arguments take on a new and perhaps less benevolent sheen.  By
presenting the museum as equivalent to a portal site (like Yahoo) as Art
Entertainment Network does.....By contextualizing artistic expression as
entertainment arent we also limiting arts possibilities?  By using
corporate success as our benchmark are we similarly limiting arts
possibilities?  If a work of art is not entertaining ... does that mean it
is not good art?  If a work of art is not attractive, can it be appealing
on another level?  If a work of art is not marketable should it still be
supported by the art establishment?  As institutions begin to depend on
corporate sponsorship to fund their forays into the world of digital the high tech gadgetry worth the sacrifices in expression that
might be required to maintain that support?  If we define art as
entertainment  and pleasure, we pave the way for an overwhelming influx of
the inoffensive and boring.  Once again we are reminded of the gravity of
Anne Wagners statement that not all art is about satiety or pleasure.

Most prominently in opposition to the browser-deep, popular culture
critique were Victoria Vesna and Fabian Wagmeister.  Mr. Wagmeister and
Ms. Vesna both took up the cause of site specificity on the internet.  In
fact, Ms. Vesna began what we took to be a quite compelling discussion of
site specificity...referring to the development of Hans Haackes work as it
moved into the milieu of the museum, and how it began to address political
concerns surrounding the museum.  We were quite interested.  Regardless of
the organizers initial intent,  the moderator chose to firmly silence Ms.
Vesna for allegedly rambling off topic.  This might have been a less
egregious error on the part of the moderator had he not later allowed Mr.
Lunenfeld to overrule an attempt to quiet him in the midst of one of his
off-topic hype/hyper/orgasmatronic/thumb candy rants.

Net art and browser art do not have to be the same thing, and this
symposium had every potential to provide a point of departure from the
browser based discussion that was informed in no small part by Berkeleys
proximity to so many of Amerca's highest tech dot com enterprises. In the
interest of being entertaining or inoffensive or....whatever ... the
symposium indulged all flights into the realm of the visual.  From 10 AM
to 3:30PM any specific references to the network were generally speaking
passed over.  Was this perhaps because the museum does not feel equipped
to evaluate the network?  And the final half hour of the day,
starting around 3:30pm....Lev Manovich announced that net art is about the
signal. Video art ushered in the development of an art form that could
move away from the object and into the realm of the signal, and now we
have a medium that many artists are working in that doesn't even present
itself on a tradable tape. Net art is pure signal. No wonder the
institution gets in such a muddle when it sets up a symposium about net
art and tries to make it conform to their preconceived notions of what art
is.  You cannot frame a signal.  Of course designers dont want to talk
about the artistic possibilities of the network.  Formatting the signal
has no anolog to the printed page outside of the browser.  Thank you for
the clarity, Mr. Manovich.

In all of this madness and floundering, we of course chose a couple of
favorites, specifically  Anne Wagner and Lev Manovich.  Thank the heavens
for Lev Manovich.   Shortly before Mr. Manovichs prepared remarks, a few
audience members,Shawn Brixey, and a few other panelists (remember there
were nearly 20 of them)  managed to at least address the motivations of
corporate support for digital equipment in art departments, acknowledging
that these interests were not always purely philanthropic. As the last
presenter in this muddle of participants (all on stage simultaneously) Lev
Manovich reminded all in attendance that the assembled American and
presumably Silicon Valley -hip crowd were lagging behind the rest of the
world in their discussions of the philosophical and cultural implications
of the network. Most notably, he mentioned the Soros Foundation funded
efforts in new media throughout Eastern Europe, and the fact that many of
the desultory threads presenting themselves during the days conversation
had long since been visited in these countries, where support for artistic
endeavors in technology is more common and less corporate.   

At this point we began to twitch in our seats as we began to realize the
depths of the detrimental effects of this Silicon Valley dot com boom.
For the near term, all of the great artistic minds are being herded into
these corporate venues... learning a professional ethic, and contributing,
through neglect, to an institutional ignorance of the non-commodity value
of art forms that are non-visual and non-objectified.  And why shouldnt
that be the case, after this symposium, we suggest that the digital media
student at Berkeley might be inclined to adopt the following line of
reasoning:      Because I have learned to program Perl and javascript and
have constructed digital interfaces, should I exercise those skills in an
art world that is still flummoxed by questions of how it can praise me,
and why it should care about what I do?  Or should I put those skills to
use in the corporate arena, where praise is  plentiful in the form of
money?  Why should I explore the uniqueness of the medium when there is no
support for it?  I can make drop shadowed, roll-over laden web sites with
Photoshop and HTML, and there is plenty of praise and support for that.

Anne Wagner, as an art historian who was not an insider to net art
debates, did her homework, and was prepared to talk visually of limited
palettes, and conceptually of  the myths that inform peoples approaches to
new technology.  She quite powerfully made reference to the myths required
for the net artist to begin work:  novelty, ubiquity, and freedom.
Indeed, a discussion of the mythical nature of these assumptions.... that
somehow the novelty of a new technology can create a new and interesting
art form, that computing is ubiquitous(if that were true perhaps the
symposium members would have been generally better informed), that the
process of creating on the computer somehow allows for greater
freedom...would have been more to the heart of things, but debating these
points would have required that more of the panelists had at least a
cursory understanding of the technology behind the work.   By referring to
the creation of art as a means of figuring a dream of an alternative to
consensus reality, Ms. Wagner gives the encouragement to
agree that art can and should figure these alternatives, and that work
which attempts to imitate its corporate counterparts works against this
project.   Ms. Wagners comments were a series of treats  offered to all in
attendance, but (unfortunately) rarely taken up for further exploration.

In evaluating what was supported and what rejected or overlooked in the
course of this symposium, we begin to wonder if the point of the symposium
was to try to convince net artists to make work that the institution can
embrace.  I t was curious seeing the large number of hands that went up in
the audience when a panelist asked to see how many audience members
considered themselves net artists.  It was also curious that these
audience members were not allowed more opportunities for questioning and
commentary.  In the end it began to sound like all of this intellectual
floundering was the critics way of telling the attendant net artists and
theorists  This stuff is too hard.  In silencing Victoria Vesna, as well
as neglecting the audience, the symposium organizers also suggested that
allowing those who practice in the medium to contribute would only confuse
the panelists more.  Our response  to these attitudes at
is as follows, The institutions....the museums, the universities, the
galleries .... must figure out how to understand the intricacies of the
network if they want to understand and embrace net art ...   As for the
implications of not understanding or embracing net art, we will leave that
for history to decide.

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