Simon Biggs on Sun, 21 Nov 1999 15:45:22 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Re: olia lialina: Re:art.hacktivism

Florian wrote:
>When I fetched the contents of and the
>net.condition web site onto my own harddrive, I realized to my own
>surprise that the bulk of what is commonly referred to as Net Art does not
>actually use and technically rely upon the Internet, but turns out to be a
>bunch of files which can be viewed offline without loosing anything
>(besides the domain name in the URL display).
>In other words, it doesn't matter whether one views it over the Internet
>or from a CD-ROM, except that - as olia pointed out - the Internet gives
>the creators more flexibility to update their work. Yet many and
>particularly the 'classic' pieces of Net Art (a) are not conceived as
>works to be experienced in continuous change, if they are still changing
>at all, and (b)  do as technical systems not rely on the net, i.e. they do
>not alter any of their components or parameters according to information
>which they _have to_ receive over the net.
I think here you are touching on a good reason for why the term Net Art
should not be used, or only used for a very small number of works. What
"links" a lot of what is called Net Art is not actually the Net but the
computer. This is true of much work produced for viewing in a browser, or
on CD-ROM, or even a lot of installation based work. Often the only
differences between these works are the means of distribution...and whilst
distribution is an important contextual component of any medium or work at
the same time it might be hard to use it to define a medium per se. Usually
the more important differentiation of such work lies not in its mode of
distribution but in how it engages with its primary media platform, the
computer (eg: is the work autonomous, procedural, dynamic databased or
static navigable, etc).

The Net is formed from the convergence of telecommunications and computing.
Thus one would expect that work that can be called Net Art would also be
the direct product of or response to that same convergence of media. When
regarded from this perspective it becomes clear that there really is only a
small number of works out there that are definitively of the Net, and that
these works are those that either engage the Net's capacity for creating
communities and connections between people (as one would expect from a
telecommunications technology) and/or those that engage with the abstract
space created with the notion of hyperlinking. Here I think of an early
work like Ping (1993/4), where users were invited to upload their own
material into a web database, which was represented as an object in a 3D
space. Objects would then sort themselves generically, and you could either
plot a flythrough of the resulting space or ask the system to auto-pilot
you through it. A more recent work such as Web Stalker (which maps
web-space itself) is also exemplary in the same fashion, as is TerraVision
(which relates webspace to real geo-space, and then visualises it in 3D in
realtime - rarely seen as it is only viewable via ultra-highband

As to what to call all that art that people often refer to now as Net Art,
but which is only cosmetically of the Net?, that is another problem...?

Simon Biggs
London GB

Professor of Research (Fine Art)
Art and Design Research Centre
School of Cultural Studies
Sheffield Hallam University
Sheffield, UK

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