Saturday, October 27, 2007

Net Art Spaces

Dear Ursula,

while I start to write this new entry, I am still staying with you in New York...
Thanks a lot for your last post, which inspired me to write about netart and its representation in the physical space. Your text touches upon this topic in many ways, starting from the fact that netart pieces are mostly constrained to computer screens up to the funny story of how we improvised the net into the Galerie Tristesse exhibition space last month in Berlin.

Many theoretical works that have been devoted to netart gravitate around its representation in space. Since the discussion on netart curating started something like 10 years ago, there was quite a range of topics of which netart curators have tried to come to terms with: be it bandwidth constraints, the issue of copy and original, questions of ownership of netart pieces or the challenge of how to survive as a net artist.
Until now, the question of how to present netart in a gallery space or a museum remains as fresh and challenging as it has been back in the origins of netart.
The question is if the very nature of netart rejects the traditional notion of a gallery space altogether? And, furthermore, if netart simply has no other choice than defying the traditional notion of a curator?
Netart curators, as we can read in the introduction of the catalogue "CURATING MEDIA/NET/ART" by CONT3XT.NET, are often deemed „cultural context providers’, ‚meta artists’, ‚power users’, ‚filter feeders’ or simply ‚proactive consumers’.“
Their task is not only the mediation of the artwork itself, but the handling of communication processes and methodologies surrounding each artwork, while addressing different audiences on different levels of knowledge. And on top of that, a netart curator faces manyfold technical and architectural challenges at the same time.
Sometimes, this reminds me of how Bill Viola described the role of media artists during his key note speech of ISEA in 2006: “they are jumping into a train for a high speed ride while they’re still laying the tracks ahead.“

If we look at video art, for instance, we can see that it has been ignored for more than two decades, until the video art hype emerged at the beginning of the Eighties. Is netart destined to sustain a similar period of marginalisation by traditional art institutions?
Or maybe we didn’t even realise that netart has died in the meantime? Different people mentioned different dates of netart's decease. Mostly, around the time of the dotcom crash in 1999.
But besides the speculation, let’s look at it from that angle:
Does netart really has a steady representation in my city, Berlin, today?
Well, we still have the Transmediale festival. It has appointed Stephen Kovats as its new artistic director, who comes up with the wonderful call to „conspire".
Besides this temporary institution, there is TESLA, the one and only venue in Berlin dedicated to media art. Due to a shortage of state fundings, TESLA will have to close its doors as of January 2008.
This means that there is no permanent, representative space for media art / net art in Berlin.
So - what's the perspective? Will netart continue to reside in places of conspiracy, appreciated by an inner circle of net art professionals and connaisseurs only?

Or maybe it is about time for us to reconfigure the way we perceive spaces (for example a gallery) more towards the reality of the „network society“? Maybe this would help us to see new perspectives for netart.

The Harvard sociologist Manuel Castells has coined the label of the network condition as a “spaceless space.” In one of his key findings he states: “The de-localization of communication and exchanges leads to the space of flows as the spatial dimension of instrumentality in the Information Age (...)“
Even though Castells has applied the space of flows mainly on global information networks, it is worthwhile to consider his theories for netart as well.
This dissolving of space, as described in Castell’s works, might be one of the reasons why we can’t look at the relation between netart and galleries from an art-historian point of view.
Netart in many ways escapes from being pinned down to what was formerly considered a „work of art“. Why is that? Here are some attempts of an answer: Because it is intangible, computer-based and networked, because it involves different methodologies and artistic practices such as the denial of the concept of authorship, because it very often provides its own methods of public-based curating – and because it generates its own public domain on the web.
And for sure there are many more reasons why we cannot approach netart from the „display“-angle.
Charlie Geere, in his essay „Network Art and the Network Gallery“ (2006) even declares netart representations in galleries a total failure: „Netart (...) has failed, for the moment at least, to make whatever adjustments are needed to make it a gallery-friendly practice.“

So what are the options? Christiane Paul sees the future of netart outside of gallery spaces or art institutions. She, like many other net activists and theorists, envisions a radical open-source use of netart: „the source-code of any art project made available to the public for further expansion outside of the proprietary concerns of curators or art institutions (...)“
I found this quote also in the CURATING MEDIA/NET/ART" by CONT3XT.NET catalogue, namely in the essay of Joasia Krysa, a curator and researcher. She is one of the initiators of the Kurator, an "open source software application designed as an online curatorial system and a platform for curating source code that can be further modified by users." It is really worthwhile to check their website., as they work with the question of how media art curators respond to new forms of self-organisation, collaboration and shared distribution outside of galleries or museums.
If we bring all these thoughts further, what does that mean for future netart places?

Will we soon witness how netart stumbles over its native qualities? Tilman Baumgärtel writes in The ZEIT, a weekly German magazine: "if so, then netart would be the only art form which would fail because it has met the key requirements of modernity, namely the dematerialisation of the artwork (Lucy Lippard) and the total independence from the art market(...)." I would maybe add another quality, which also has a downside to it: its ubiquitous access.

Personally, I believe in two things (which I know can be contradictionary in a way):

1. The art world has always managed to integrate even art forms which aimed at the decomposition of the "traditional" art system. Baumgärtel names for example Dada, Fluxus, the Happening movement or video art. All these experimental artistic expressions have finally been embraced by art institutions - and found their place in the art market, too.

2. I think, we are facing the beginning of a radical shift of art institutions towards the conditions of the networked society. Instead of worrying too much of how to bring netart into galleries, we should simply rely on the fact that the galleries and museums will transform according to the requirements of a networked world, which has been shaped significantly by the internet. As an example, I want to mention Charlie Greere's essay on the Tate Gallery's net art commissions. There he writes: "In becoming a network Tate ceased to be primarily a physical entity, a building, and became instead a sign or brand that could be applied to different places, processes and activities. In this it mirrors the paradigmatic post-industrial company, for which the means and location of actual production are less important than the sustaining of the brand." I am curious to see if he will be right with his conclusion, stating that "the Tate is transforming itself from an institution concerned primarily with things to one concerned with information and knowledge."

Despite this massive cultural shifts which certainly happen around us, there are still enough challenges for us...I like to think back to your show last month in Berlin, at Galerie Tristesse in the Wallstrasse. No High Speed internet access in the whole street, my cellphone as a modem, which enabled us to present your work at all (well, at slow speed)...I can't help to find myself in a reminiscent mood, because it is so romantic in a way, isn't it?

All the best to you,
back in Berlin,