Saturday, February 21, 2009

Email: A Dialogue Between the Material and Digital Object

In the midst of spam messages inviting me to tune in to naughty web performances while downing a few Viagra, bureaucratic memos reminding me that it's been five months since I last had my performative filters changed and my idea-engine lubed, and cleverly manipulated info updates on how the crashing economy will effect future budget cuts seriously undermining the Amerikan way of life, it's hard to focus on what is being conveyed in some of the more intellectually inclined missives that make their way into and out of my email box.

To protect the innocent I will not name names, but I am continuing to go public with some short email excerpts I am sending/receiving with active minds in the network. If there are others who follow suit and post portions of their emails, please email me so I can tune in.

Here's an email excerpt that I recently sent to a student seeking advice on an upcoming undergraduate exhibition that mixes ceramics with digital video projection:
There are a few artists I know who mix materials this way. The first one that comes to mind is John Simon Jr. What he and others who attempt to create these complex relationships between the various media set out to achieve, is a dialogue between the elements. Usually, in order for the dialogue to work as an interesting art experiment, that means each has to not only have its own language but also its own content that somehow meshes with the other media/ium it is conversing with.

How does that relate to your ideas in the proposal? I would suggest that there is a dialogue you are projecting but that it sounds more like a representational dialogue instead of what I would call post-productive dialogue.

In a more post-productive dialogue, the complexity would move beyond the representational schema. An example of a more complex and self-contradictory dialogue between the objects, if translated into colloquialisms, might go something like this:

Material Object: Hi, I look like this and I don't move.

Digital Object: Yes, I see that. I can only vaguely mimic your form but at least I can move and am capable of dematerializing any second and, if you think about it, you can't really touch me now, can you?

Material Object: I can touch you but I can't feel you.

Digital Object: You don't *have* to touch me to feel you.

Material Object: What? No need to get touchy about it. Why do you want to be like me anyway?

Digital Object: Who said I wanted to be like you? I can't be like you. Besides, you're too stable. Rock solid. I could never be that.

Material Object: That's true. Here I am. Rock solid. I can exist without you. But can you exist without me?

Digital Object: This is a question I keep proposing. And yet, for some reason, I have an easier time expressing what's going inside of me than you do. [Pause] OK, truth be told, I still need you to exist so that I can continue dreaming.

Material Object: Keep dreaming.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Email: Net Art Now

Every now and then, a student will send me a request for an interview and if I can find time in my schedule, I'll email them back some answers (I think of my own students, current and former, and how getting their email answered from other artists out in the network often helps them develop their research projects too).

The inquiries usually come from PhD students all around the world who are trying to place net art in its proper historical context while at the same time tease out its unique qualities as both an art form and unrealized commodity (per se) in the art market. These kinds of "practical" questions used to come to me in the pre-net art days in relation to the print books I was known to have published and the e-books I was now giving away on the net for free as part of some idealized gift economy populated by innovative hackers.

But now we have Kindle and besides, those questions about books in general have stopped coming in.

As the CEO of Amazon was quoted as saying last week while releasing Kindle, "Our vision is every book ever printed in every language, all available in less than 60 seconds."

He did not mention the potential profit margins or sealed programming languages the works might come packaged in.

Meanwhile, after some back and forth, this brief dialogue emerged with a student from Sotheby's Institute writing about "net art and the art market," although I can see now that I was a little bit rushed when composing my on-the-fly responses:

• What prompted you to get into net art, and did you at first view what you were creating as art, or programming?

Net art found me. I was experimenting with new forms of visual & narrative art in the early days of the net and started getting feedback from an emerging online audience – including net surfers, major media outlets, curators, critics, art magazines, etc.

• What do you see as the biggest benefits and limitations of net art?

The biggest benefit is that once you are ready to exhibit or go public with your work, you can immediately upload it to the net as a public art space and start the meme PR strategy to attract an audience.

The biggest limitation is that there are more sites competing for our attention, so attracting that audience to your site is more difficult than ever.


• How does net art fit into the context of the established art world?

In 2000-2002, it was The Next Big Thing. All of the big museums were literally buying in to it. But that has tampered down a bit and art on the net is now part of the established art world like any other media/medium.

What's still missing, though, is that the gallery scene has not successfully developed a strategy for selling net art to collectors. In some ways, this proves why net art is still the most interesting art form of all. That it can still attract major art world and higher education student attention while not being absorbed and neutralized by the commercial gallery scene points to some hidden strengths.

• Is institutional validation important to the legitimization of net art as art?

No, not really. But that does not mean that net artists cannot use institutional validation to their benefit.


• Can you tell me about some net art pieces that you have sold? For example, what did the works consist of; who purchased them; how did you find the buyers; what is the price range of the artworks that you have sold, etc.?

I have sold net art to a quite few collectors as have other net artists I know. They are all private collectors who collect all kinds of art from a variety of media. Mostly, the collectors find me, although it's always a result of patient networking.


• Do you think that net art has a place in the commercial art world?

Yes, but we need to look at the possibilities of hybridizing net art so that there are other ways of presenting / exhibiting it.

• How can net art be bought and sold, when there is no art object, and when the information is infinitely and perfectly reproducible at zero (or near-zero) cost?

Lots of ways: CDs, DVDs, Mini-Macs, iPhone apps, domain names, etc.

• How would you propose applying a market model to net art?

Same as all other art, just sell it as a commodity (in various media forms like the ones just mentioned above).


• Do you see bringing net art into physical space as being contradictory to its intent (ie: democratic nature of the internet; the intangible presence of net art)?

It depends on the piece and how it is exhibited. My work – in fact, in some instances, the same exact work – has been exhibited successfully in one venue and miserably in another. As with complex installations, a lot depends on the creativity of the exhibitions manager and their staff and the opportunities provided by the unique space where each exhibition takes place.

• Do you feel that physical modes of display diminish the experience of net art?

No, not at all. Sometimes it enhances it.


• The rapidly-changing technology platform upon which net art is built poses inherent challenges to conserving the artworks. How you feel this can be overcome, and the works adequately preserved?

It won't be easy! We may want to archive the technology (hardware/software) too and artists will always have the option of allowing emulation-as-restoration for their work over time.

• Whose responsibility should it be to preserve net art?

Museums, collectors, libraries, etc.

The Future

• Are we going to see more recasting of web pages as art objects as commercial interest in net art grows?

One would think this is inevitable. The collector mindset will change over time too.

• What is the future of net art as a genre?

The future of net art is art. It's not a net art thing, it's an art thing.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Email: Remixing the Dead

The art of letter writing is dying with email. A professorial colleague of mine who is always glued to her laptop says her hand starts to seriously hurt after handwriting a page of text. But what is born out of the ruins of the older print-centric, epistolary form is another user-friendly form of writing that still is not valued as much as it should be. Maybe that's because in the midst of spam, bureaucratic memos, and info updates, it's hard to focus on what is being conveyed in some of the more intellectually inclined missives that make their way into and out of the email box.

To protect the innocent I will not name names, but I am still going public with some short email exchanges I am having with active minds in the network. If there are others who follow suit, please email me so I can tune in.

Email from an artist friend:
I was just getting concerned that Professor VJ was quiet for so long after that great Artist's Aside but yesterday's post was equally interesting. I guess you were just readjusting to the altitude.

[blogger's note: the writer is referring to the altitude change from Hawaii to Colorado]

I like the ruminations on source. I think that you've brought me so far into the realm of 'creative ideas are remixed thoughts and memories' that I think it is worth trying to differentiate 'What isn't remixing?'
To which I respond:
You ask: "What isn't remixing?"

Given that my answer would itself be a remix, I will remain silent and not even think about it, the way I avoid thinking about my own death.

Although there is something in that last part of the sentence that makes me wonder.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Mishmash and Rehash

On the way to language ...

Septuagenarian William Safire is still writing his "On Language" column in the New York Times and the latest attempts to track a direct line from refacimento (also spelled rifacimento) to remix and mashup to mishmash:
Other old citations prefer refacimento, pronounced re-FATCH-i-men-toe, from the Italian word taken up in English that means, in the definition of the Oxford English Dictionary, 'a new-modelling or recasting of a literary work.' Such recreativity is accelerating today, especially in music, suggesting to me an updating to 'the radical refashioning of a work of art, often by computer.' It has spawned a new set of synonyms beginning with re, Latin for 'again.'
Even for a former Nixon speechwriter (yes, that Nixon), remix is all about art and culture and, more importantly for our purposes, creativity (again).
In re re-mash: This could be a remix of a remix, or a remix of a mash-up, or a mash-up of a remix; it seems to be a coinage in process. On ABC Radio in 2005, Amanda Smith reported from the Sydney Festival that "DJ Spooky, that Subliminal Kid, is here to perform his live 'remash' of D. W. Griffith's silent epic, ‘Birth of a Nation’ (1915)."
Safire writing about Spooky? It's ... well, spooky.

But the surprise link in the column is when Safire traces mashup from old English through Jewish slang:
The old word that underlies all these galloping gallimaufries is mishmash. I recall a letter written to Gov. William Scranton of Pennsylvania, who was running for the Republican presidential nomination in 1964: "Dear Sir: If you contemplate campaigning in any more Jewish neighborhoods, I suggest you learn how to pronounce 'mishmash.' It is not pronounced 'mash,' as you said on 'Meet the Press,' but rather as though it were spelled MOSH. Sincerely, Groucho Marx."

That word has been in the English language since 1475, its meaning 'hotchpotch, jumble.' It is not a Yiddishism, though one copy editor, playing on the punch line of a Jewish joke, told me long ago, “Funny, it doesn’t look English.” A frequent pronunciation, as Groucho insisted, is mishmosh.
Playing it out to an extreme, I can't help but wonder where does the term mosh pit come from?

H.R. (Paul Hudson) of the Washington, D.C. area hardcore punk band Bad Brains, regarded as a band that "put moshing on the map",[5] were partly responsible for coining the term. Due to their affected Jamaican-accented pronunciation of the word mash in their lyrics and stage banter, fans in D.C. heard this as mosh instead.
Safire's mainstream attention on the linguistic trace of remixology throughout human history has me wondering if we can seriously remix ourselves out of this economic calamity we are surely living through and that has only just begun. Is it even possible to, say, mash-up The New Deal with An Inconvenient Truth? Dangermouse used the Beatles and Jay-Z to create the Grey Album but what about some Red and Black? Is that just one serious urban mashup away?

Given the instability of the entire global economy, one cannot help but wonder where we will find our Moshe the Mashup Artist to part the (deep in the) red seas so that we can get back into the black.

The self-proclaimed anarchist Bob Black (as his name just so happens to be) has always been a proponent of "ludic activism" where "the theory of comedic revolution is much more than a blueprint for crass struggle: like a red light in a window, it illuminates humanity's inevitable destiny, the declasse society." He even wrote a Theses on Groucho Marxism to prove it:
Although not entirely lacking in glimmers of Marxist insight, socialist (sur)realism must be distinguished from G-Marxism. It is true that Salvador Dali once gave Harpo a harp made out of barbed wire; however, there is no evidence that Harpo ever played it.
As Moshe the Rastafarian Mashup Artist himself might have once said, "Do you follow me?"

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