TONGOLELE on Sun, 25 Aug 2002 23:59:46 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> a modest proposal for josephine bosma

A Modest Proposal for Josephine Bosma (
final review

Net.Art:  a laughing matter?

 It is as if nature decided to complete the experience that the promoters of 
the internet have created for us. Video game parlors, cybercafes, 
advertisements for telecommunications and pseudoerotic displays of youthful 
flesh dominate the landscape of nearly every city in the developed world, and 
the wealthy quarters of most third world urban centers. Streets are flooded 
with neon and electronic billboards that provide much more light than what 
should be available at night.

One of the world’s most hyped art milieu can be describe in one word: 
depressing. The most positive thing to say about net.culture probably is its 
openness to artists who have access to computers, and are largely white, male 
and western.

Net.culture is depressing for three reasons (I am not even counting the 
curators’ general ignorance of current art practices other than, 
which constitute the overwhelming majority of art history past and present). 
First, the amount of frivolity and fatuous self-promotion and the absence 
contemplation of the world’s current and cultural and political situation 
other than generalized paranoia about surveillance and libertarian rants 
about wanting freedom from any kind of control of any kind, including 
rational judgement. The endless celebration of post-structuralist theories of 
deterritorialization and fluidity are truly over the top.

 There is an overkill of (somehow disguised) anti-statism and self-proclaimed 
avant garde status that makes one either grow irritated or totally 
uninterested after a while. Second, this is the art form of mostly R & D for 
the software industry and wireless communications, in which almost everything 
is meaningless on purpose. Net.cultural theorists need to preach and teach 
about what the avant garde supposedly is leads to a third more poignant 
reason for depression: is above all formalist and formally 
predictable. There is very little conceptual depth or anything else 
substantive, intellectually provocative or profound about it. That is, if one 
does not count the rather kitschy dramatic effect of the curatorial lingo 
hyping most new media shows that rivals the advertising copy of Silicon 
Valley. Individual artists and art works seemed to be drowning in it, 
something they actually deserve.

Main Impression

Of course it is a relief to see a major art form that reflects the way the 
world is closing down. It sounds cliché, but communication
technologies and mass media culture are part of the economic and social 
polarization of the world that reached traumatic proportions in the 1990s. 
Cultures  that were colonized politically by Europe from the 15th to the 20th 
century have slowly started to undergo new forms of colonization called 
neoliberalism. As a result, older forms of hybridization are being supplanted 
by the McDonalidization of most urban cultures and bad taste is now defined 
by American companies, but is bombarded into other countries via massive p
ropaganda campaigns that make lousy food, technologically mediated 
interaction, and obsessive consumerism seem desirable. Multinationals and 
most governments do everything possible to censor information about their 
faults. Most affluent people do everything possible to avoid unmediated 
contact that would expose their faults as well. 

One of the things that net.culture seems to want to be is what its name 
implies: to be THE culture of the moment – that represents the radical 
transformation of the world by digital technology, or a confirmation even 
maybe. But it does so in a highly predictable, lecturing way. As I said, this 
is the art form of the internet, of radical 'art' (illustrated best
probably by the words of most other art curators, who usually talk about it 
as "that awfully ugly stuff that never downloads anyway"). A barrage of spam 
from a self-centered semi delusional artiste, found footage with images of 
home made porn re-edited, a documentary about avatars , so called 'new forms 
of cinema' showing the situation anti-globalization protests in Europe and 
North America, numerous websites announcing non-existent governments and 
countries and corporations for no apparent reason, endless webcam diaries 
about white suburban people who think their lives are interesting, and a 
number of works in which artists contemplate on their invented selves are 
mixed with grim looking
pieces about biotechnology and designer babies, numerous "artful" porn sites 
with obscenities in various languages, pages covered with code and unreadable 
text,  lousy computer animation, black and white streaming videos of empty or 
gloomy spaces  and labyrinthine MUDS and MOOS with 12 signs of depression. 
The relatively large number of murky photos of outer space make the 
impression of  as literal document of our times even stronger.

Net.culture is not just dominated by tepid works and
frivolity and self-aggrandizement. What is rather puzzling within this 
net.culture is the odd presence of certain 'old favorites' in the aesthetic. 
One wanders from site to site filled with what I described above and then 
suddenly, slightly lost, there is a space filled with works that look 
strangely like repeats of structuralist film, 70s femininst autobiographical 
video, or neo-geo painting (even worse the seconc time around). Even if these 
genres have yielded very interesting seeing them here made one
wonder why specifically people argue that represents a total rupture 
with the past . Also interesting works by 'newer' artists or artist groups 
that have nothing to do with nettime/Next Five Minutes/Ars/ Transmediale 
circuit are rarely noticed by the players of the "scene".
The political brainwash of the majority of the field is so strong that
it overpowers all works and leaves one with very little room for serious 
ideological and political interpretation. The question then haunts you: what 
makes the work of few serious artists in net.culture ignored by most 
nettimers? One tries to think like the curators have seemed to think, so here 
we go: is it because they are somehow not easily packaged as cyberhype, 
because the work is about the inequities of net.culture and the world outside 
it (thus a sign of net.culture’s decadence) or because  this work offers 
critical  perspectives or contemplation on the fetishization of technology  
or simply because the artists who made them are not 'white' and make (again) 
contemplative, interesting pieces?  Even if the works of the Electronic 
Disturbance Theatre and Walid Ra’ad (who is the Atlas Group, since the group 
doesn’t exist as a group)  fit in this scene perfectly I don't think 
they really benefit from it.

New media

Net.culture does not just suffer from its ideological molding. I can very 
well imagine that somebody who actually likes the position of the curators
still would find some things lacking in Concerning media other than the curators of new media  are far less informed as any randomly 
museum director, which means they aren’t. Maybe a special night course for
acquiring knowledge of the rest of art history would do the trick. The curators are simply
out of it when it comes to knowledge about art in any other media and their 
would gain a lot in credibility if they learned more , since many issues
tackled in are represented so well and abundantly in the rest of the 
media of art making in most of the world.
If one tries to think from the ideological position of the new media 
theorists and radicals 
again there are plenty of good people who should be part of their events but 
rarely are. Surfing from portal to portal and list to list there were numeral
instances that I thought: "Wouldn't some intevention of refugees in all this 
discussion by white people with passports about refugees make this discussion 
a little more grounded?  "Isn’t it time to look at the absolutely horrendous 
labor conditions in assembly plants where poor women go blind putting 
together your computers as part of the reason why technology isn’t liberating 
everyone?" "Wouldn’t it help to deflate the pretense of all those who claim 
to have reinvented art practice if net.cultur-ites actually engaged in 
discussion with art historians and practiioners who have expertise in 
previous waves of new media?" "Wouldn't some politicized  artists of color 
question whether it is enough for nettimers to collect software designers 
from every corner of the planet and call that diversity? 


Politics has always been part of the artistic endeavor of the West  from the 
didactic dramas of classical antiquity to the centuries of religious 
propanganda financed and controlled by the Catholic Church, to deployment of 
Abstract Expressionism by the CIA -- Why do net.culture people forget this so 
easily? One reason could be that part of the neoformalist revival in art in 
the 90s was more trend then strategy. The art market simply needs new trends 
to survive and was one of them.  "New products - new art, new artists 
- are displayed,
new trends are announced, new players are introduced and old relationships 
are reinforced." Looking at it from that perspective just might have
succeeded in pushing a few new artists to the foreground.

Is it impossible then to have a good time in spaces? Absolutely not. 
There are still plenty of good works to see. And, as an artist said to
me, it always is inspiring to see a bad art. Maybe it would be better
to see net.culture as an art work itself, a project by the telecommunication 
industry, software giants, and European and American governments using arts 
funding to revive their post-industrial economies
whose message will probably resonate for quite a while after this wave of is over, no matter what the final interpretation of it will
be. It seems fairly sure that on the short term the museums were inspired by 
it. Several opened portrals and made miserly commissions to virtually 
unknown artists when they were shutting down most other possibilities for 
artists without big dealers and collectors backing them to exhibit anywhere.


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