Monday, June 22, 2009

The question of identity (media reflection)

The Arizona Republic caters to the generally conservative Phoenix/Scottsdale crowd but that does not mean that their art reviewer has to play it that way. The first article I read by Richard Nilson in early 2007 was nominally about celebrity culture and art:
We all admit we're drowning in a culture of celebrity. Heck, if you asked Paris Hilton, I'm sure even her trenchant social analysis would be that we pay too much attention to celebrity. At least, she would admit we pay too much attention to Lindsay Lohan.

They're having babies, they're adopting babies, they're abusing babies. They're getting married, getting divorced and being "just friends." They drink and drive, wreck cars, pick up hookers and cuss out cops. They are racists or are in therapy for it. They're having work done or denying it. They eat too much or not enough. They kill their wives and ex-wives. They sing songs about global warming or genocide, front foundations to help the helpless. And, finally, they visit Oprah for absolution.

And that's just the news: It is the journalistic equivalent of Gresham's Law: Bad news coverage drives out good. Weigh the two hands: Do we know more about how the Bush administration came up with its energy policy, or about how many boys Michael Jackson has slept with?
Well said!

Nilson's just now published a new article about net art and how it may point to a future art scene that challenges conventional gallery culture. Titled The Cyber Canvas, the article, which has many quotes sampled from a phone interview we had a few weeks ago, broaches a subject that was initially addressed over ten years ago but that may be on the verge of becoming a more active part of the art world dialogue again now that we are beginning to see some galleries dropping like flies.

The article lists "5 Concerns," the first three of which I'll list here:

There are five concerns in Net art that seldom come up with older media.
  • First, it's free.

    "Anti-commercial is not quite the right word," Amerika says. "It is an art commons, a sharing of work.

    "My advice to students is that if you are in it to make a living, you're in the wrong business."

  • The second is the question of sampling and remixing. Much of Internet art is a world of finding something on the ether and altering it: the "ether/or" phenomenon.

    "There have been collage artists and post-production artists and the literary cut-up artists," Amerika says. "Maybe the difference is that digital remixing is so easy. What does it take for a young kid to go on the Internet and download an image and open it up in Photoshop and use it to express himself?"

    But this raises legal questions about copyright laws and the ethics of using someone else's work as a foundation for their own.

    "For young people, this is just day-to-day in their lives," Amerika says.

    Many Net-savvy users find copyright laws miserably out of date. They may ignore those laws or, at the very least, fudge them.

  • The third concern is the question of identity. Who are these artists? Some use their own names. Others, like Amerika, have noms-de-Net. Others simply appropriate identities. If you read something online that purports to be by Mark Amerika, for instance, you may be reading something written by a hacker who simply signs Amerika's name. It's a free-for-all.
One question that keeps coming up in conversation in the Manny Hanny / Billyburg art circles I am networking in this month is whether the Deep Recession and general bubble-bursting of the art market with possibly even greater dips to come will radically change behavior in such a fundamental way that artists will be forced to reconfigure not only their art practice but their business practice as well. Artists were on the net way before the vast population moved into cyberspace. While scientists like Tim Berners-Lee were inventing http for the easy linking of scientific papers over the first layer of netspace, a core group of distributed artist communities were immediately at the ready and were treating cyberspace as conceptual art performance theory space (I wrote about this a million years ago here). Now Berners-Lee, in sired scientific fashion, has essentially created a new field of study called Web Science. When I think of Web Science in relation to the science of writing and rhythm science and filter it through a philosophy of remix as Life Style Practice, I can't help but wonder where will it all go next?

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