January 7, 2005

Bookchin on the Death of Net Art

by Nick Montfort · , 11:38 am

Looks like Natalie Bookchin’s speaking on January 25 at the next Global Interface UCR Mellon Workshop. Bookchin (creator of “The Intruder,” Metapet, and, with Jackie Stevens, agoraXchange) “will examine debates about the life and death of net art,” and she’ll apparently attempt to resurrect it, a surprise for the many of us who didn’t know it had died, and an even bigger surprise for the huge number of others who never knew net art was alive to begin with. I think the period in between “net” and “art” may have finally died, though, and it certainly deserves a eulogy.

I wish I could make it, because Bookchin’s talk is going to “offer a proposal for a speculative social network for the future, where visual artists use the Internet to gain more control of the reception and circulation of their work and ideas,” and this sounds so backward and painfully tedious that it’s truly intriguing. I can’t even imagine where she might be going with the idea. The promise of the Internet has always been exactly the opposite – not to reproduce the ability of the gallery system to tightly curate and to control how some pathetic handful of people who walk inside will receive one’s art, but to duplicate and propagate one’s work in all sorts of outrageously unanticipated contexts, so that you might run into Young-Hae Chang’s Dakota not just inside the Whitney and the Phildealphia ICA, but also in a Black Sheep pub in Philadelphia, thanks to someone who whacked the Dakota page and the Flash file onto his PowerBook, and even on the very low-cultural site Albino Blacksheep, alongside animutations and other things that you’d never see in an art gallery. Ah, well, those who attend will see what the application of galvanic force can do for dead ideas…

4 Responses to “Bookchin on the Death of Net Art”

  1. natalie Says:

    I feel so misunderstood by your comments. I wouldn’t know where to begin, or even if I should after such a flame! Wish you coulda’ been there

  2. nick Says:

    Natalie, thanks for stopping by – you’re welcome to point out any of my misunderstandings, if you like. If the text of your talk is available, I’d be glad to get to read it, too.

    Those of us who only get to read the abstract will sometimes try to goad the luckier attendees (or even the speaker) into conversation here, but I didn’t mean to fire off a flame. I was trying to offer a meaningful, if snappy, comment about why the net’s lack of control can be a good thing for artists, and how it seems to have been a good thing for some of them. Perhaps this reaction was based on my misreading the few sentences of your abstract, and so there’s not much to say in reply. Still, if you or any of the attendees (Mark Marino, for example, or others) want to explain how I’ve missed the point or leave any other comments about the talk, that’s what this space is for.

  3. Mark Marino Says:

    (report from global_interface workshop)
    Hi, Nick,

    As it turned out, Bookchin’s proposal was a combination of your fears and hopes that the internet be used

    not to reproduce the ability of the gallery system to tightly curate and to control how some pathetic handful of people who walk inside will receive one’s art, but to duplicate and propagate one’s work in all sorts of outrageously unanticipated contexts.

    Bookchin’s proposal an art network, propagated by artists, on a model that had more in common with Friendster and other social-networking systems than with the museum model of portals, e.g. Whitney (not that there’s anything wrong with them). In this vision, artists, rather than critics, would group their work with works or artists that they share affinities with. This model still involves some control, but it’s more like the control of who you put in your bibliography than it is like whom you let eat your soup.

    On the one hand, you might group yourself with other like-minded individuals (akin to blogrolls). These might be artists with similar styles or media, such as others working in IF or other genres, whose work relates to yours. (Bookchin focused primarily on visual artists but reflected on broadening such a proposal when asked about movement-based art and others). On the other hand, your work might be linked by an artist who enjoys your work or was influenced by it. The gallery system is not entirely gone here, in that there is a selection process, but the artists are the ones in charge and their are many possible nodes. (I think you are right to trace some of the notions back to the originating proposals for networked documents, Nelson, et cetera.)

    What the system could develop is another form of (self)organization of artists and their works on the net, one that is more flexible than a portal method, but builds on the strengths of the net to build nodes of connection. (This is all my language here. Natalie will no doubt clarify when her proposal goes to print)

    So getting back to “fears and hopes,” the proposal for a social art network still has a kind of filtering mechanism (it evolves from the social and artistic networks of artists); however, this network has much more in common with the “unexpected contexts” you describe, although perhaps without the “whacking.”

  4. nick Says:

    Mark, thanks very much for the writeup and preview of Natalie’s proposal. Your point about different kinds of control is a good one – we’re always looking for ways to better control and direct our work so it can reach those who are interested, but doing that involves the exclusion aspect of control, too – whether work is shown through a gallery, via a social networking system online, or even just out there in the online semi-anarchy of the Internet that I’m fond of. Even in the last case, only those people with access to networked computers get to play.

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