LIFE STYLE PRACTICE
What does it mean to be a net artist? Is it a life? A style? A practice? One way to think about the growing con/fusion of net art and net lit is as a continually emergent dialogue. You see someone’s web site in Brazil and send them an email from a vacation spot in Hawaii telling them how much you admire their work -- and a dialogue is born. This dialogue branches into more emails, web sites, symposiums and exhibitions. Soon, you have an instantaneously delivered multi-linear thread of narrative-potential being practiced as a form of social networking. Is this the story? Is it conceptual? Literary? Performative? What happens when the conversants agree to let the dialogues go public? Is this an activist recording or archiving of an ultra-contemporary art scene that defies categorization? Who owns it? Who buys it? Perhaps it's a kind of creative mindshare.
I email Eugene Thacker because I am interested in what he is doing. I ask him if would like to engage in a net.dialogue, somewhere between net.lit and net.art but without all of the didactic propaganda associated with both of those terms. He writes back from New York saying he's game and so we start sending emails back and forth and soon I put the data into an automated editing environment I call "Mark Amerika's Brain While It Listens to MP3 Jukebox Recordings and Interacts With Whatever Software He Happens To Have Opened Up On His Screen."
I have a shorter name for that environment but I forgot it.
It must be the Attention-Deficiency Disorder thing. Or maybe it's willed self-erasure.
If you can't remember what you thought, is there ever really an Historical-You worth considering?
To better re-present?
But then again, why re-present yourself as writing?
To let the language speak itself?
But what IS language on the net?
What is writing?
Is it Seeing-Form?
I ask Thacker a question. He answers, but leaves a lot of blank space left to be filled. That is, he asks a return question. The story continues...
(with Mark Amerika and Eugene Thacker)
"I'm an eye. A mechanical eye. I, the machine, show you a world the way only I can see it. I free myself for today and forever from human immobility. I'm in constant movement...[f]reed from the boundaries of time and space, I co-ordinate any and all points of the universe, wherever I want them to be. My way leads to a fresh perception of the world. Thus I explain in a new way the world unknown to you." Dziga Vertov
MA: OK, let's start net.dialogue. Are sites like jennicam and amandacam works of pure performance art or are they more like Reality TV? Sometimes I wonder if net art isn't becoming more like Temptation Island. What's your take?
ET: That's a tough one; then again webcams are being more and more self-conscious (were they ever naive, were they ever "pure"?), and RealTV is becoming performance, literally, like extreme sports - XTV. It's also hard to get out of the highly self-reflexive paranoia of performativity: are you performing because a camera is on you (technical performativity) or are you performing because "life" is not without degrees of performativity?
MA: Yes, its both/and. And that's the rub. I particularly like your reference to extreme sports and XTV. This is what a contemporary writing-cum-Internet art practice is becoming. Extreme writing. It's not just a job, it's an adventure (and doesn't it make your mouth water just thinking about it?).
But what about the web-glams?
ET: I tend to approach the cam-girls (or cam-grrrls?) thru their differences:
- Jennicam represents the voyeuristic fascination w/ the banality of everyday life. The gen-x, white, middleclass American everywoman.
- Amandacam seems like an amateur porn star who is acting like Jennicam, and just by coincidence, happens to be naked more often. No, you say to yourself, it's _not_ porn, she's just hangin' out at home.
- Anacam is the twenty-something hip art student who is very self-aware of being "on show" at all times. Anacam could never attain the sublime banality of Jennicam. But then Jennicam could never generate the psychedelic dream-world of Anacam.
The questions that surrounded a lot of 60s performance art (life/art boundaries) haven't gone away, but they seem different now w/ new media. To me the contextualization of actions/events by a given technology makes a lot of difference - medial enframing (which is different from medical enflaming). The tech doesn't determine everything, but it does add particular constraints, depending on how the media is being used or mis-used.
Given that, it seems like the webcams are based on a surveillance model. RealTV, despite it's self-promotion, is still based on the syndicated TV program -- commercials, time-slots, censorship, major editing, etc - wow, it's amazing how much life is like a sitcom etc... When you're on webcam you're under surveillance, 24/7, and, like the panopticon, you're seen but can't see who's seeing you; and, unlike TV, there is often interaction - chat rooms, email exchanges, webcam diaries, etc. RealTV could only operate as true surveillance if you were one of the tech people in the camera room at Big Brother or RealWorld.
The "real" for webcams is documentation-real. Visioning every nook and cranny (of the body as well as house), detailing every day's events, accounting for absences from the webcam, archiving photos, etc. The "real" for RealTV is experience-real. Like an unscripted sitcom/drama/soap with amateur actors that can't improvise. The enframing is the setting up of a condition (house or island) & see what happens, lab-rat style.
Webcams are to anthropology what RealTV is to behaviorism.
I seem to have lost voyeurism in all this - the one single point of consensus on webcams or RealTV is that everyone knows you're being watched; there's no voyeurism in media anymore?
MA: Right; it's not really Candid Camera anymore. Maybe it's more like Candide Camera or, tip of the hat to the late great Terry Southern, Candy Camera. The voyage takes more precedence over the voyeur. Web journeymen (journeywomen) searching for "lost aura." I mean, it feels like we really are on the verge of relocating Benjamin's "lost aura," except instead of seeing it return in the form of a unique object d'art, it's now become a more celebrated network identity, one that is constantly in flux, so that when the Floating Web Cam Eye captures you in its lens, you feel the need to "creatively exhibit" yourself, to instantaneously de-mystify yourself, even though you know that this is really not yourself at all, can never be yourself, because that's just not you. You are always someone else.
A network of performing orifice-cams would, I think, further prove the point. If you took a camera inside one of your orifices, one of your lower orifices, and kept it beaming over the web 24 hours a day while giving your viewers a supplementary diary that metaphorically transmitted a new media language that essentially turned the orifice-cam into a laxative, what would that do to our concept of streaming media?
ET: Now that's really intriguing - not just the many orifice cams that are available via any mainstream porn site, but a _network_ of orifice cams that are _streaming_ live 24/7. Um, this definitely seems like a job for wireless web, but aside from that, it would push the process of
mediation to its extreme, which is seeing the most secret part of a body, while at the same time rendering that depth a surface.
A common trope during the rise of anatomical dissection during the 16th century was the Latin saying "Know Thyself" (literally, inside and out). The fascination with the public anatomy theaters was this doubled auto-voyeurism: during a public dissection, you were seeing what your
insides looked like, but at the same time it obviously wasn't you down there, splayed open, on the dissection table. Webcams are an anatomy of net.subjectivity; the creative exhibitionism acts by variously reflecting, diffracting, distorting, maybe saying much more about the context of networked surveillance of voyeurs, than about Jenni, Amanda, Ana, or the numerous other webcam personalities.
Which brings us back to your title - WYSIWYG Subjects. In a way the whole phenomena of webcams is about the topography of the subject (interior/exterior; inner space/outer space) constantly grappling with new technologies that mediate that subject. In Foucault's terms, these are technologies that "subject" subjects - they corporeally pose challenges to subjectivity and subject formation, and they do so via the stuff of the medium itself. You're a person, you've got a body, and you want to share it with everyone - not just represent it to everyone, but you want to stretch the membrane of its thickness via a DSL line. That, it seems, is the crux of the many ambiguities of net-subjectivity: embodiment.
Streaming_OrificeCam.net would be a way to experiment with the changes which embodied subjectivity are undergoing, as its slides through new media like webcams. Now, in one sense the goal of any medium is to be so perfect that it's invisible - that orifice is so real I could touch
it... On the other hand, the very definition of a medium is that it provides a buffer between two points, or that it "translates" - this webcam stream sure is pixellated... What is produced in the space between these two poles? Can you get visceral data, dripping data? What might tactility mean for net.subjectivity?
I get an email from Adrian Miles who is (for the time being) at his home base in Melbourne, Australia. I forget where I am when I get it (I'm online, that's for sure). He says he has recently seen my dialogue with Thacker on Rhizome Internet. The opening quote must have caught his eye. That’s because he is a kind of Vertovian Vog-Meister on the net. That is, he is an artist with a mac and a modem, and is actively creating Vogs, video logs.
I want to hear more about Vogs and invite him into net.dialogue.2 and he accepts. Soon we are communicating more story-data...
(with Mark Amerika and Adrian Miles)
MA: Let's talk about the vog; as the vog manifesto says:
"9. a vog is dziga vertov with a mac and a modem"
Could you elaborate?
AM: "I the machine show you the world as only I can see it." Vertov, 1923.
Of all the Russian montage directors Vertov is in many ways the most fascinating. This is partly because of his interest in documentary and reportage, though its mainly because his work is oddly prescient. For instance in 1923 he wrote:
"With the speed of international communications and the lightning dispatch of filmed material the *Cine-Gazette* ought to be a 'survey of the world every few hours'. It is not. We must face up to this. The *Cine-Pravda* is a car on a leash, an aeroplane beneath a ceiling: it cannot be a *Cine-Gazette*."
This is a description, first of all, of CNN, and then it is a description of Internet based *production* and distribution - in 1923! As he says, the current system is a car on a leash, an aeroplane beneath a ceiling. This is how I see streaming media on the web right now, restrained by wanting to be just like TV.
MA: Yes, the web suffers from TV envy, but then again, it's pre-TV. It's almost as though it were in its imaginary stage of telecommunicational development. Vertov saw that. The Kino-Eye as Writing Machine. The Dream of Mosaic [GUI-stickiness]. Interfacing with the Processual Mind as it "captures" screenal logic. In this regard, I think we should mention Tesla as well, since he anticipated the libratory potential of transforming the body into an apparatus of
Not to mention Vannevar Bush and his "As We may Think" essay published in the Atlantic Monthly right after dropping the bombs in WW2. And then Ted Nelson watching Douglas Engelbart fidget with a mouse and windows-based computer screen having an epiphany, like watching Man land on the moon, and thinking -- hypertext. Click-click, say no more, say no more...and then, with utopian-mystical vision [Xanadu?] conceptualizing what he soon called Literary Machines.
AM: The epiphany for me was when I first saw Storyspace in 91 or 92, those spaces and link lines made *perfect* and *transparent* sense to me. It was on a mac and I knew that quicktime would work in there. I was a junior academic in cinema studies interested in computers and how and why I would write like this was obvious. Ever since then I've been thinking and writing with links. Links are what I write with and for me they're just like film edits. Made of the same stuff. When I write I get lost in these possibilities, the futures that present themselves while writing, in writing, through writing. It is this being-like-film that is the process I explore. Any edges you write are arbitrary, contingent, sometimes accidental. The key is to locate a vision, to find a videcriture that is this writing. The web just ups the ante for the process as model.
MA: Right, I use the web to capture the work-in-process, to remix my ongoing ungoing filmtext experience... which brings us back to Vertov and streaming in real-time theory and cultural production...
AM: Vertov wrote lots of things that today, when transcribed to our use of streaming media, seem to be very relevant. His criticism of cinema as stories with illustrations seems largely what most people do when they think of 'video on the web'.
He writes slogans and manifestos that let me think of him as posthuman. He makes no distinction between camera and person, machine and individual. It's a machinic vision and the role of the film maker in Vertov's kingdom is to learn how to listen to the machine - to write (see) with and for the machine, to not subject the machine to the individual. This is my experience of writing hypertext hypertextually, and it's what I want to learn how to do with time based media. To write *in* quicktime.
MA: To write *in* quicktime as a writing or literary machine using kino-eye cinescripture to essentially code into being a randomized filmtext environment that others can access by way of a P2P network that sets into motion a utopian dreamworld of international culture. But I digress...
What about your vogs?
AM: All my vogs are made using pretty generic tools. A domestic quality miniDV camera, a recent firewire equipped mac, and they're trying to find a way of writing that works for most web users, most of the time, where word, sound, moving image, etc., are not discrete entities outside of each others fields.
MA: Hmmm. I guess I feel like that's how I work already. True, I have to emulate the seamless shape-shifting that must take place in order to discretely pass from one application to another, but in the end, my nerve-scales are scintillating with raw (indigestible) desire and without even thinking about it I lose myself in the process. This is what it means to be a network artist. Finding yourself by losing yourself in the white-hot chemical decomposition of cell.f in all its coded glory. Can you relate?
AM: No. Though I probably could. :-) I've never thought of it as primarily networked but about getting rid of this distinction between words and pictures. For me writing hypertextually is always a postcinematic writing and while pictures work differently to words their different networks (to steal your terminology), or the differences in their networks, are erased. But it's one thing to talk about that kind of writing and quite another thing to actually do it. The vogs are an exploration in this direction. Instead of hypertext being the medium, it's video, though I guess they are pretty much hypertexts in quicktime - same questions, same problems.
A part of the code is the network, so you're right. It is about making things that more or less work now, with no really special requirements, with a small palette of space, bandwidth, and time. It should always be about fragments, parts, remixing. Scale is now relative to connection, not monumentality.
As I'm communicating with Adrian (and scores of others), I get a book in the mail. It's a new title by the UK novelist and music lover Jeff Noon. The book, Cobralingus, brings into print what I have been trying to develop on computer, with audio software, that is, it's an attempt to remix fictional source-data into a kind of sound architecture or, for print, to create a cluster of effects that can manipulate words and phraseology with relative ease and, consequently, alter our perception of narrative space the way certain computer programs alter sonic space.
I send an email to him in the UK, he writes back and soon we both find out that we are bringing our writing, our vocals, and our interest in contemporary glitchy downbeat music, out into the public, performing narrative remixes of our fictional stories AS we create them.
net.dialogue.3 is born.
(with Mark Amerika and Jeff Noon)
Mark Amerika: I'm really digging your new book, Cobralingus. The connection between music (or sound) and writing is becoming really important again.
Jeff Noon: Well, we did a great gig last night, to launch Cobralingus. Local DJ, Req, gave me some great backing tracks. He's a good find. He's using twin decks, and his scratching skills allow him to actually engage with, and react to, what I'm doing. And the audience certainly appreciated it. I took them on a journey through my work, exploring the idea of the prose remix, starting with Vurt, a piece from Nymphomation, a few from Pixel, and from Needle. And then, in the second set, we did the Cobralingus pieces, plus some passages from a novel currently being written. Pretty heavy stuff, some of it, esp. to present in a live setting. But the music helps a whole lot, I find. Req was mixing in Coltrane, Laswell, Eno, Pierre Henry, The Meters. Great fun!
MA: Absolutely. I just came back from a gig in Lucerne, Switzerland, a beautiful town surrounded by the Alps. The festival was called Surf-Sample-Manipulate, after a theory I've been developing over the last few years wherein the writer-cum-netartist uses all the available data on the web as source material to further inflect a narrative environment -- but one that is a kind of ongoing ungoing pseudo-autobiographical work in progress. The incredible sound artist Twine, who has three new releases coming out with Komplot, Bip-Hop and Hefty Records, flew out there with me and we proceeded to do an improvisational sound-writing performance. Basically what we did was hook up our laptops and a few processors like a Virus and Sherman, etc., and began projecting both live writing and live sounds, each influencing the other in a kind of real-time narrative production.
JN: I didn't realise we were moving in similar directions. This is great! I feel so isolated, most of the time, in Britain. It's getting more than a bit bland and deadly right now. Don't know if you've been following my stuff, but Nymphomation introduced the dub fiction idea, with a reverse dub of Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky. I refined this technique, and made it more explicit, in the Pixel Juice collection, in different ways on a number of the stories. Needle in the Groove is the most realised work, a novel that contains its own remix. I also did a CD with David Toop, based on texts and atmospheres from the book. Cobralingus is a kind of weird solo album of a book. It pushes the technique to the extremes, in a very experimental way.
MA: What musical influences were most present while writing it out?
JN: Cobralingus is more based on the glitchware stuff, mainly coming out of Germany: Oval, Microstoria, Pole, Vladislav Delay, and the likes. Very atmospheric, very abstract, murky, bleepy, broken. There was a big article on the music and the software processes involved in the Wire 190/191 (double issue). Worship the Glitch, it was called. Some of the techniques are quite incredible, way beyond what I can do with words on paper. The Bouncing Ball software, for instant, treats a musical signal as, quite literally, a bouncing ball of noise. You can decide the weight of the ball, the height it is dropped at, etc. Amazing stuff!
MA: Right! And I'm just wondering how to take some of these ideas (techniques) and use them to amplify these writerly effects in live performance. I found that using the net, the WWW, was very helpful. So that in Lucerne, while we were doing the live, improvisational sound-writing remix, I was also projecting my laptop's wireless connection to the WWW and grabbing data off the network in real-time and sampling what I needed from it right into the new story, remixing as I wrote it, and then using the sounds to further distort the narrative's generative meaning (or meaning-potential). You must feel something similar performing Cobralingus with Req?
JN: My main concern during a Cobralingus performance is to imbue the material with emotion. People think, because of the way the book is set out, that machines are involved in some way, in the creation. This couldn't be further from the truth. Every single word, every moment, comes only from the exercise of my imagination. I actually see the pieces in very personal terms, on two levels: 1. what the words, ideas, images mean to me in terms of personal history/interests; and 2. a memory of what I was feeling at the exact moment of creation. I think this last is the best clue; that Cobralingus records (and magnifies) a natural creative process. So, during performance, I'm trying to draw out these personal micro and macro histories. In the crudest terms, I try to take the audience on a journey; a journey through the text, from sampled input, through all the various filters along the signal path, until we reach the output. I try to make that an adventure, an adventure of language. But you can see the paradox that is set up; I'm using terms such as input/output, signal path, filtering system, etc, in order to create something that is incredibly personal. I like the paradox; but I know the presentation has confused some people. At the Metamute talk I did with Robert Coover and Florian Cramer, I felt that I'd alienated a certain part of the audience, simply by admitting to such deep feelings, and that the work is being drawn from areas of my own life, my psyche, my past, my emotions. My concern here, is that one of the central tenets of post-modernism (that meaning lies not in "depth", but on the surface) is getting in the way of proper engagement with an artwork. Especially now that PoMo has entered its long, over-protracted Rococo phase. I'm interested, most of all, is how the new
technologies are going to effect a new kind of narrative.
MA: Well, yeah, there was some head-scratching going on in Lucerne too. Now that we're entering a kind of NoMo PoMo phase, I guess there's bound to be some ruffled feathers. After the performance in Lucerne, people mostly wanted to know if everything was really being improvised and if it really was a live net connection. Yes and yes. Why not? Anyway, the confusion is a healthy response because everyone is so keyed up on new techniques that when you see something that is genuinely new, or at least unfamiliar, you immediately want to know How Did You Do That? Like Cobralingus, for example...how did you that?
JN: Re: Cobralingus technique: first question is the choice of initial input text. This works best when its filled with imagery. So, Angela Carter, rather than Jane Austen. Also, of course, I've tended to go for stuff out of copyright, unless it's from the work of friends. Then, the choice of the first filter gate. There are seventeen to choose from: decay, explode, find story, enhance, play game, inject drug, randomise etc. Really, the Cobralingus device is an improvisation machine; which filter gate will produce an interesting result? And then, pushing the text through the gate. How this happens is entirely up to the writer's imagination. Trial and error takes place; something emerges, and is passed on, through another choice of gate. Some pieces make sense, some make nonsense, and others are just way stations of random noise. The filters are designed so that some break down the text (decay, explode etc), and some build it back up (enhance, find story etc). The text is pushed through gate after gate, travelling along a signal pathway. At some point, and this always happens, something will jump out of the text at you, some phrase, image, theme etc. This is taken as a clue as to where the text wants to go, and the writer can then push the text towards this point. The emotional nature of the piece is revealed. So, there are two broad phases: the initial exploration up to the signifying detail, and then a more considered use of the filters, towards the output text. I see this as revealing the ghost of the original text; that all texts are haunted in some way, and the Cobralingus device is a technique for conjuring up these ghosts.
The dialogues must rest now because I am heavily involved in the development of what is probably the first-ever internationally-exhibited retrospective of net art. My work, covering the years 1993-2001, will be shown in Tokyo (and on the WWW too, of course) under the title "Avant-Pop: The Stories of Mark Amerika," at the ACA Media Arts Plaza. Everything is ready to go except the web version of FILMTEXT, the third part of my new media trilogy (the first part was GRAMMATRON, the second part was PHON:E:ME...will FILMTEXT signal the end of my Digital Being...?).
But the dialogues will not disappear just because I say they will. The emails keep coming, they never stop. If I had accepted all of the generous invitations that come in over summer, then the week of September 24th I would have been in Germany, Brazil, Russia, Colorado, New York City and Japan.
I am silly enough to call the airlines and see if I can do it. It’s a futile exercise, I know, but I want to see what they (the travel agents) can come up with.
Yes, they say, I can do it all, sort of. It will cost $13,764 dollars for eight total days spent in Boulder, New York City, Sao Paulo, Erfurt/Leipzig, Russia, and then back to Boulder just in time to teach the death of net.art to my hungry students who are just now finding out about nettime, Rhizome, the 2000 Whitney Biennial, etc.
Just checking, I tell the agent. She knew I could not be serious, but in a strange way, I was.
"Where is the AURA?"
This is the thought I have when I hang up the phone with the travel agent.
Aura as tool?
Artist as aura?
Artist as tool?
How about: Plug-In Artist.
Questions with no sure answers, and that’s for sure.
But the initial query -- "Where is the AURA?" -- triggers another dialogue that must be articulated to some degree, this time with my avatar-Other, the very rich and seductive Abe Golam who always plays games with my head.
Here he was again, the Golam monster, post-Tokyo exhibition opening, demanding "representation" – so, OK, net.dialogue.4.
On Being Retro In The Zeroes
Mark Amerika with Abe Golam
"And yet, and yet . . . [d]enying temporal succession, denying the self, denying the astronomical universe, are apparent desperations and secret consolations. Our destiny is not frightful by being unreal; it is frightful because it is irreversible and iron-clad. Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire."
Jorge Luis Borges, from "A New Refutation of Time"
Mark Amerika: Well, I just read that FEED and SUCK magazines have pretty much closed up shop. That's very sad. I enjoyed both, especially circa 1996-99. So, who's next? SALON?
Abe Golam: We should be so lucky.
MA: Not Rhizome?
AG: Hell no! And not Alt-X either, right?
MA: Right. In fact, there's quite a bit happening at Alt-X in the near future, all of it pinned to our mission to our net art meets literary art meets conceptual art curatorial vision. It's been strange the last few years. Mostly we have had a "wait and see" attitude.
AG: What's your "wait and see" attitude?
MA: Good question! We have been waiting for the dot.bomb to deploy itself so that all of the air would pop out of the bubble, just like we predicted it would. Now that we see our predictions coming true, we are simultaneously analyzing what went wrong, how it relates to the net art economy, and why now looks like a great time to not only launch a series of new projects at Alt-X, but reassess the value of some of the major works of Internet art.
MA: So, basically, we have been quietly designing our next projects: a new ebook/Palm series of titles, a print on-demand series, an mp3 label, a "Histories of Internet Art" web site built by university students and participating net.artists to be used as a free resource for those interested in what net.art was.
MA: Well, let's use "was" *for now*. Maybe we can come back to "is" shortly, after yesterday's crash (to quote the Berlin Dadaists).
AG: OK. I'll ask again: what was it?
AG: Net art.
MA: Well, that's what we're investigating. Actually, what we are finding out is that we have come to a point in the history of Internet art practice where researching its immediate past reveals wonderful ironies.
AG: Such as?
MA: First of all, think of how many of the most notorious artists were so clever at using the net to attract attention to their projects, to simultaneously exhibit and publicize themselves. They were so good at this that within a few years of launching their "initial public offerings," we now see major works of net art exhibited in some of the biggest shows coming out of mainstream institutions like the Whitney, SFMOMA, the Tate, etc. It almost makes video art look as anachronistic as painting.
But one of the ironies that has evolved is that, for the most part, the value of this work has been underestimated by the artists themselves while being under-MINED by the same mainstream institutions that are turning to I-art as The Next Big Thing. Why do you suppose that is?
AG: It must have something to do with the gallery scene.
MA: True. Galleries really have no use for net art. STILL. But some of this work is already a major part of art history (not just net art history), and the fact that it bypassed the gallery scene is an indication of how net art is different than the other media arts.
AG: But there are artists who are starting to buckle under what they perceive as "market pressures" and who are now using their net art as a kind of marketing tool, a way to increase their visibility so that they can then try and sell real objects that are somehow connected to their net practice! Is that back-asswards or what?
MA: Ah, yes, a digital print of a certificate or share in the fake net.art company, a little scribbled doodad that shows "the thought process" the artist went through while cognitively mapping the site, a mini-sculpture of the html code embedded in concrete for $500. Damn, pretty soon we'll have abstract expressionistic video art paintings that attempt to successfully "represent" the net reality! Like REAL artists! Everything will be REAL again!
AG: And commodifiable. Is that a word, "commodifiable"?
MA: Probably. I mean if you say it, then it's a word. Don't trust your Microsoft spell-check.
AG: So these real objects will once again bring AURA back to art products, yes? This is a way to relocate the ever-elusive "lost aura" Benjamin was writing about, right? The world will be safe again for art!
MA: Listen, the world is always safe again for art. That's what happens with the passage of time. Net art is now part of art history. This happened without its early practitioners having even really fought for it. And yet it's something we must deal with. I'm dealing with it.
AG: Really? How so?
MA: First of all, I am doing what I have always done with my ongoing ungoing life-practice: I am narrativizing it. You'll remember that with GRAMMATRON I narrativized a near-future, net art culture that challenged the institutional exhibition and publishing paradigms as they existed in 1993.
AG: And don't forget the love story -- there was a love story too -- full of hot sex!
MA: Yes, well, I'm sure YOU liked that part the best. But there was more to it then that. In HOLO-X, we explored 3-D immersion, webcam voyeurism, and interactive eros.bots, narrativizing the "come-on" mentality that had struck consumer culture with a vengeance.
AG: You mean with the dot.bomb economy.
MA: Yes, the dot.caps as I prefer to call them. But that's all over now. And in PHON:E:ME, particularly in the hyper:liner:notes, the fictionalized net artists seriously investigate the entrepreneurial hustle they have so eagerly bought into and take a deep look inside.
AG: And what do they find?
MA: That their work as pioneers in the net art world is actually quite valuable. That they can give it away for free and still increase the actual value of the work. In fact, the more visible their name and their art works, the more international shows they are in, the more media they generate, the more ANCIENT their sites begin to look, the more AURA they begin to take on. And you know what that means?
MA: Aura = collectible. And for large-scale net art projects with tremendous intellectual heft and worldwide popularity, that means big numbers.
AG: OK! I'll buy that (figuratively, that is -- I'm sure I can't afford them). How will you narrativize this new phase of development in the history of net art, this historical looking-back and re-evaluating?
MA: Well, what better way to narrativize the history of net art than in a major retrospective. And what better place than in Tokyo where techno-dreams still abound, even though their economy continues to sputter along and never really got caught up in the dot.bomb pyrotechnics.
AG: An Internet art retrospective?
MA: Yes. It's about time.
But even as one retrospective ends, another is just beginning, this one entitled "How To Be An Internet Artist" which will take place at the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art) in London sometime in November.
For this retrospective, there is a new commission to create the first working version of FILMTEXT. What is FILMTEXT? FILMTEXT is…
Is it WYSIWYG subjectivity encoded in a post-cinematic writing environment with dub fictions screaming across the network…?
I went back to my second American home, Hawaii, to shoot video at the Haleakala Crater over 10,000 feet above sea level on the island of Maui.
This is what it looks like:
Once inside the desert of the real, I started writing. Perfroming. Video capturing. Singing. Dancing. Hiking. Fighting the elements.
Networking with the elements.
When the 9-day shoot was over, I went back to Oahu, thirty minutes by plane, rented a car, drove to the Windward coast and met my match in the Morning Brew Cafe.
We both brought our books. I brought "Recording Conceptual Art," she brought "Dada: Art and Anti-Art," and we had my most recent net.dialogue – number 5.
Hawaiian Net Art
(verbatim transcript of a conversation between Mark Amerika and gallery owner Dee Kine at the Morning Brew Cafe in Kailua, Oahu, and a joint review of "Recording Conceptual Art," edited by Alexander Alberro and Patricia Norvell, University of California Press, 2001)
Mark Amerika: What is Hawaiian Net Art?
Dee Kine: Well, you see, that's it, that's the problem, you can't define it.
MA: You can't even try?
DK: Sure, I mean, there are a few things you can say about it right off the bat: first, it has nothing to do with the net. I mean, there is no email part about it. No World Wide Web. No telnet even.
MA: But we have access to all of those things right here! In the Morning Brew Cafe!
DK: Yes, but that's access, and access is only one part of the equation. I wouldn't call that haole over there, sitting in her thong-bikini with a Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt on, sending email to her sorority sisters in Cancun, a net artist. Certainly not a Hawaiian net artist!
MA: So it's native.
DK: No, not really, I mean, yes, it could have the quality of being native. There could be a net artist who was born and raised in Hawaii, who comes from a long line of native Pacific Islanders, and who just happens to be great at Photoshop or something.
MA: Ah, but if only it were as simple as being good at Photoshop. Net art is in the mind, Dee. The hypertext transfer protocol. Conceptual art as globally distributed mindshare. But that's another story, another dialogue. Let me ask you something: would you show net art in your gallery?
DK: But that's just what we were talking about -- when was that?
MA: -- yesterday --
DK: -- right! yesterday, we were just talking about how net art doesn't need a gallery, and I accepted that as true -- but even the conceptualists were on to that shit -- I mean Seth Seigelaub was talking about this kind of "we don't need the galleries" crap back in the sixties!
DK: I mean, it's old. Here, look at the book [takes the book "Recording Conceptual Art" out of MA's hands and opens it up to a bookmarked page and begins to read]: "A gallery becomes a superfluity. It's superfluous. It becomes unnecessary." I mean how many different ways can you say it!
MA: [taking book back into his own hands] OK, but that was the dealer, Seigelaub, talking. Let's go to the artists. Robert Morris had another take on it all. He says -- wait, it's right here -- she [Norvell] asks him "How do you see this changing the whole structure of the art community? Of galleries and museums and dealers?" --
DK: -- right, and he says --
MA and DK together, almost in sync, rather loud: "The galleries are all predicated on selling objects -- physical things. Ah, if physical things don't exist, then galleries are pretty irrelevant!" [both laugh out loud]
DK: What are YOU looking at, Sister? [to sorority girl at Hotmail terminal who has just "tsk-ed" their loud laughter] This part of the island is so free of tourism -- why is she here?
MA: Her mother lives here. Actually, her mother's cool, she's thinking of buying some net art. Anyway, I think this book is useful because it's basically a verbatim transcript of a series of conversations Norvell had with a number of important conceptual artists right at the prime of their productive years. She starts with a candid conversation she had with Dennis Oppenheim on March 29, 1969, and ends with a garbled, somewhat uninteresting dialogue with Douglas Huebler on July 25, 1969. In between are interviews with Robert Morris, Stephen Kaltenbach, Robert Barry, Lawrence Weiner, Sol LeWitt, Robert Smithson...
DK: A lot of Roberts. A lot of men -- only men!
MA: Which Norvell talks about in her preface. It was a kind of Master's project under her teacher, Morris, who was advising her on her thesis at Hunter College. In Alexander Alberro's introduction, he explains that Morris...where is it, oh here, "Morris explains his general philosophy or method of working in the late 1960s to Norvell as one where 'I'd initiate the whole thing and it goes on from there...'"
DK: So it's basically his idea that she do this. He initiates it, i.e. networks her into his elitist clique, and she executes it. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. I think these conceptualists were very into control, sometimes as dictators, sometimes as submissive puppy dogs. What a strange bunch. And yet they were very systematic, if loosely so.
MA: Right. LeWitt was all over it. He said "art is about making choices." So you would, for instance, choose a system, and let it -- the system -- do the work for you.
DK: That's like, sooo Duchamp!
MA: Cool down, Dee.
DK: I liked that bit about pricing ones work, the part where -- who was saying that?
MA: I think it was Weiner...hold on --
Oh right, Weiner, she asks him how he prices a work that he's ready to sell,
one of his idea-action events or language pieces, and he was saying that he
would just arbitrarily figure out a median price based off what paintings cost
and what people
MA: Well, it's that latter part that I have a problem with.
MA: Undermining the value of your own work. I mean, should I sell Alt-X for a measly quarter of a million bucks because that's what someone can afford? Too many artists do that nowadays. Especially net artists. But that's my soapbox this month -- so don't get me started!
DK: Maybe you can change it.
DK: The perception.
MA: Maybe. Do you know of any adventurous collectors here in Hawaii?
DK: Oh, baby!
MA: Did you notice that both Joseph Kosuth and Carl Andre refused to give permission to Norvell to publish the verbatim transcripts of the conversations she had with them.
DK: Ridiculous. Too much control. They would have never survived an environment like Nettime, or Rhizome.
MA: Talk about recording conceptual art!
DK: Is the mike on?
MA: Dee Kine -- you're a legend.
DK: We're all legends. You know Huelsenbeck, in his Berlin Dada Manifesto, at one point said [opening her copy of Hans Richter's "Dada: Art and Anti-Art"] "Dada is a state of mind that can be revealed in any conversation whatsoever...the Dada Club consequently has members all over the world, in Honolulu as well as New Orleans and Meseritz."
MA: I had no idea he said that -- and I've read the damn thing many times. Honolulu?
DK: It's right here, in black and white [points to her copy of Richter's testimonial]. Come on Amerika, let's go to the beach. I brought some tofurkey sandwiches.