Thursday, June 23, 2011

Out On the Edge

Barbara London, the Video and Media Curator at The Museum of Modern Art, has written an insightful overview of Net art, then and now. The piece is titled "Out On the Edge" and includes a nice riff on Immobilité.

In the beginning, say, around 1994-5, there was something called Net art. It's amazing that we can now take a long view back at something called Net art, or at least the earlier incarnations of network-based art forms that came under that name (and many other names too including, Web art, online art, hypertext art, etc.) No one knew what this emergent media art form really was or what it would become. Wild experimentation was happening within a core group of internationally connected artists and writers, most of whom had never met, but who were able to simultaneously and continuously collaborate with each other over the Internet. Those artist networks and the scenes they created have for the most part dissipated although many of the early Net artists and theorists (sometimes embodied in the same person) are still very active and wildly experimenting with making new media artworks while simultaneously role-playing a tech-nomadic raconteur whose intersubjective "social networking style" challenges the all-too-familiar models of institutionalized art-school studio critique that so many MFA students, digital as well as traditional, seem to depend on for their psychic stability.

In the beginning, say, around 1994-6, it was clear to me that one of the key compositional methods that initially emerged on the Net, and that was driving a lot of "cutting-edge" Net art practice (if we could even call it that back then), was hypermediated remix art. In 1996, writing for the German-language online art journal Telepolis, I published one of my Amerika Online columns entitle "Surf-Sample-Manipulate: The Pseudo-Autobiography of A Work-In-Progress." In this early and surprisingly very influential column, I wrote:
[T]he strategy of "surf-sample-manipulate" (i.e., to surf the culture, sample data and then change that data to meet the specific needs of the narrative) works on two fronts: one, the so-called "creative content," that is, the text, images, music, and graphics are many times sampled from other sources and digitally-manipulated so that they become "original" constructions that are immediately imported into the storyworld as supplementary data and, two: the so-called "source code" itself is many times appropriated from other designs floating around the Net and eventually integrated into the screen's behind-the-scenes compositional structure. The great thing about the Net is that if you see something you like, whether that be "content" or "source code," many times you can just download the entire document and manipulate it to your needs. In fact, it wouldn't be entirely suspect to suggest that "content" and "source code" are one and the same thing, since as far as the Web goes, one cannot simply exist without the other.
Now that I am about to release my next major book of contemporary art(ist) theory, remixthebook, I can see that I have been postproducing these thoughts for over almost two decades and that the new book is packed with much more freestyle composition and flava (as well as insider personal narrative). I guess you could say that I am getting more comfortable in my own skin as my body (of work) continues to form.

Keywords: Mark Amerika, remixthebook, surf-sample-manipulate, Net art, Barbara London, MOMA