Sunday, September 30, 2007

Another Planet Wide Web?

Dear Ela,

Thank you so much for all your thoughts and research on the questions of net art and the art market.

This sets a very valuable basis for further discussions!

But as I have just recently returned from a six week "tour" through the European (net-) art scene -- I feel like sharing my observations with you before continuing with our previous thread.

On my travels I came across several Biennials and "Media Festivals" to find a variety of approaches towards art, net art and contemporary curatorial and artistic practice. And as much as I am always interested in finding multitudes of approaches towards art that happens right now -- specifially net art -- I found some of it very "niched" in its discourse.

Let's start with this year's Venice Biennial. I was disappointed. Don't get me wrong, there was great work presented and fabulous artists included in it, so I am not talking about singular art pieces or Pavillions. But one show really irritated me, the main show in the Arsenale "Think with the Senses - Feel with the Mind". I had a hard time with its overall structure in terms of contemporaneity. In the press release I find statements by Robert Storr, the curator, such as: "While this show looks forward it does not look back" and a description of what the show intends, it "hint[s] at what the emerging patterns might be without presuming to map them entirely", and so i understand that this show does not intend to present a complete picture of our time. And what a task this would be...! But I wonder, why, in this glimpse into the future and it's emerging artistic developments, the Internet is completly blocked out? I find no conceptual trace of the Web in this show, and of its influence it has on all of us on a daily basis, and this since more than ten years now. No trace of the changes the Internet has induced in how we produce art, in how we communicate with each other, the way we think about and build communities online and offline, and the way we question and react to current topics, the way news are made now! And where are the artists working within these topics and within this medium since more then a decade?! He further states "Since the early 20th century the development of modern art has been world wide". So I wonder, why do Biennials have such a problem addressing the actual "web of the wide world", especially that we are living now in the 21th Century? The Internet with its groundbreaking changes seems to have been totally overseen. And again, I am not critizising the artists and the art work in the show. What saved the show in my mind, is the inclusion of two art works that refer to the Web, more as a quote, a hint, that on a different planet called Web there might be something else to see and feel.

My second, in part, positive observation comes from finding that several Media Art Festivals are refreshingly rephrasing their scope about their program and intentions. The Transmediale in Berlin calls itself now a "Festival for art and digital culture" which I find fantastic. Which means to me: Let's branch out and not bind art per se onto a medium, but let's keep the variety of media in sight! And, then there was, for the second time, the Paraflows Festival in Vienna, "A festival for Digital Art and Cultures", which, this year, was exploring "inaccessible, invisible, theoretical, and immaterial spaces" in media art, net art and net culture. While being happy to be a participant in this year's festival -- and the exhibition in the MAK art-tower showed an interesting interplay of how the dark and unmovable architecture of a WWII bunker adds an additional conceptual dimension of space and (mental and physical) reflection towards any work that was projected onto its walls -- I was a bit bummed though that net art works were not given more "space", or "spatial" consideration within the conceptual framework. Net art was, once again, forced into the "office space" scenario -- constrained into a monitor, while there are uncountable ways of how to bring the web into space and make it part of a larger disussion about art.

What are you expecting?, some colleagues and friends ask me. And what am I expecting?

Has nothing changed to -- let's say to a year ago? Is net art still the inconvenient stepchild in a "grown-up" art world ?

But then again I just came accross two exhibitions which present themselves in a wider conceptual understanding in how technology has influenced art making in the last decade till now and how it influences even our daily behaviour:

One show that sounds intriguing to me is called "Vertigo. The century of off-media art, from Futurism to the web" currently at the Museo d'Arte Moderna di Bologna. The website states: "The event documents the crossovers and contaminations that have occurred from the historic avant-gardes onwards ...[]... affirming the demise of the artistically “specific” such as painting and sculpture to be supplanted by a blend of multimedia art." The show talks about the becoming of "linguistic interdisciplinarity" in art over the last century -- the term "off-media" standing for the multiplicity in media. (not offline versus online, what my Web-infested mind read into it at first ;-) It would be interesting to see how much of the Web's influence, and cross-polinating approaches and media, were considered for this show. How far into "now" is this show going? Maybe we get some feedback from one of our readers, that would be fantastic. The show will end November 04.

A show that strikes me as one that address contemporary behavior with and around technology, including the Web, is "Multitasking. Synchronicity as a cultural practice" at the NGBK, Berlin. It states in the introduction that "[ ].. synchronicity of today's media-backed daily life means that multitasking penetrates into almost spheres of life and has a particular influence on our perception, communication and interaction. The exhibition presents the multitasking phenomenon as a metaphor to describe the profound changes currently taking place in the economy, the media and society." I did unfortunalty not find much information about this show online. A catalog was produced, but I think only in German.

So, altogether, I guess I am looking for explanations why the Web is not included in exhibitions that claim to be on the pulse of the moment ...or why net art is not treated with the same "respect" like the "other" media.

Sometimes one still hears the argument, we don't have a connection here...

This reminds me of how we dealt with issues around that ourselves, Ela, when we "brought" the Web into an exhibition space in Berlin, a few weeks ago. The cellphone eventually served as the modem for my laptop...! Otherwise another part of my performance series "Website Impersonations: The Ten Most Visited" -- this time I impersonated "www.youtube.com" -- could not have been performed. Maybe you like to tell your part of the story... :-)

This cross section through a few exhibitions in Europe shows to me, nevertheless, that there is a multiplicity of possibilities (to come) how to "channel" this enormous world called the Web, including its art, into an exhibition.

I am looking forward to your thoughts!

Greetings from New York,

Yours,
Ursula

PS: I am very happy, Ela, that we collaborated on the contribution to a book about "extended curatorial practices on the Internet." On Monday, October 15, in Vienna, CONT3XT.NET will present "CURATING MEDIA/NET/ART" which discusses contemporary concepts of curating and displaying (New) Media Art. The introduction reads: "In contrast to the late 1990s when Net-based Art was celebrated as avant-garde spectacles, today Technology-based Art views for the attention of a broader public interested in art. Higher demands are made on curators to include these art forms in conventional exhibitions, which simultaneously poses several problems: "curating immateriality", a term postulated a few years ago, is faced with immense technological challenges and at present theoretical groundwork is being laid for providing ways of addressing Technology-based Art that extend beyond viewing them as "Techno Art" and the tacit implication that "The Medium is the Message". "
(More information can be found online at cont3xt.net.)

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