Museology &
ZKPVI - Nettime reader

Postings to CREAM (Collaborative Research into Electronic Art Memes),
April 2001.

> In the 5 years since this has been written, what has changed? Are Manovich's > prophesies still valid? How is Duchamp-land positioning itself? Is > Turing-land the same place it was then?

I don't think so; it seems to me that Lev Manovich's premises of a fundamental divide between both lands makes sense, if at all, as heuristical descriptors of trends in the digital arts. For outside readers, it could be very confusing because Manovich's notion of the "Turing-land" (which I would rather call "Jeffrey Shaw-land" or something along these lines) is (a) incomprehensible for those who actually know about Turing and his sense of irony, and (b) incomprehensible for those who aren't familiar with techno-positivistic digital arts of the venerable "Ars Electronica" and "ZKM" type.

> The typical object which is admitted in Duchamp-land (i.e., counted as > contemporary art) meets the following characteristics: > 1) Oriented towards the "content."

I wonder why it's not equally oriented towards the "form" (if "form" and "content" are at all things that can be separated).

> 3) "Complicated." This characteristic requires a further sociological > and semiotic analysis, but here we can just say that it refers to the > evocation of a multitude of cultural codes requiring to read the object > as well as a particular, "post-modern" ironic attitude.

O.K. But to imply that "Turing-Land" - with its connotation of a close tie to computer science and the technical advancement of computing - doesn't know postmodern ironic attitude itself seems wrong to me. One could refer to MIT hacker culture and the GNU project with its countless recursive puns (which are _coded_ puns and hence not external to software development), and one could refer to Larry Wall, the inventor of the Perl programming language, who decidedly calls Perl a "postmodern programming language" with all the attitudes described above. (Wall even invented Perl poetry.)

> 2) Ironic, self-referential, and often literally destructive attitude > towards its material, i.e., its technology, be it canvas, glass, motors, > electronics, etc. The examples are the awareness -- which has largely > shaped artistic modernism -- of the tension between the illusion and the > flatness of the canvas; ironic machines by Duchamp; self-destructive > machines by Tinguely. Perhaps the best and most relevant example is the > first exhibition of Paik where he screwed technology -- ripping open > television sets or changing TV signals by affixing magnets to the > monitors.

One could counter these examples with an early example from "Turing-Land": Claude Shannon's ironic machine which consisted of a closed box with nothing but an "OFF/ON" switch. If you pressed "ON", the box opened and a robot arm came out which put the switch back to "OFF" and disappeared inside the box again. (Lifted from Kittler's obituary on Shannon in "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung".) There are countless such examples of "Turing-Land" humor, if we take "Turing-Land" literally.

> Turing-land functions as a place in society where the people from the > worlds of culture and art play with latest computer technologies.

O.K., so "Turing Land" is not hackerish computer science, but rather computer arts? But what then about the whole highly ironic strand of net art and digital arts we are discussing here and which Vuk wants to put on show? So does the above rather reflect Jeffrey Shaw-like computer arts and mistakes it for the whole?

> 2) "Simple" and usually lacking irony. See below. > 3) Most important, objects in Turing-land take technology which they use > always seriously. (This is one important difference between current

I think Manovich's characteristics are, if confusing, still important as they describe what has been wrong (and sometimes still is wrong) with digital arts. I don't think that it represents the whole picture, the subtle transitions between both options, and I also think it's wrong to claim that computer arts have been non-ironic up until recently. I could come up with counter-examples already for the 1960s and 1970s, where, for instance, the French Oulipo poets made a highly ironic artistic use of computers.

In my view, "Duchamp" has always been an aspect of "Turing", if you take the "Turing" label seriously. It didn't take some late-1990s Duchampian Dada Net.artist people to infuse irony and postmodern self-reflexivity into computing.

Florian Cramer


I do not see the inclusion of net artists in the Venice biennial as a particularly welcome development and wonder even if it is some event to be encouraged in itself.

For one, have the questions of the presentation of this kind of art in a real world (or an approximation of it, the art world) environment been resolved ? I doubt it. And even if they were, for me, doing all this stuff (whatever you call it) was always about reinventing as much possible as what can be reinvented. Which involves a lot of destruction and stubbornness, not collaboration with reactionary establishments.

Now, if somebody tells me that the whole point of doing net art was always to have a foot in the door of whatever pavilion (sounds awfully like those rusty old petrol tankers) will take you on at the biennial, well: I'm seriously pissed off.

Frederic Madre


> I'm starting with Lev Manovich's 1996 essay "The Death of Computer Art" > because it lingers in my mind and keeps me up at night. I fear that while > it is old news to many of us, it is still new and pertinent news to > curators in museums.

Manovich's text makes one ask serious questions as to his own perception of art. Behind every provocation is a mindset, and I am not sure I like this one. Manovich himself is a Turing machine, a machine that analyses everything according to technical rules. He is in some ways a cynic, even if he hides it behind a lot of humor.

This text is of course meant as a provocation. I saw Manovich in de Waag in Amsterdam and he was being provocative then too, saying there would be no great net art without an avantgarde (an avantgarde like the one in Russia in the early twenties of course, to which he also relates all digital visual language now). But what disturbs me about this text (even if it is an entrypoint into a discussion) is that it approaches the issue of the difficult acceptance of digital art by 'the artworld' from a negative perspective. It kicks nobody but the digital art scene, the 'artworld' remains untouched. It will/would have simply shrug its shoulders.

The way to make the artworld stop, pause and think for a moment should in my humble opinion be much more precise as to how one is raising questions about its system of valuation. It seems necessary to me that we have to start a sort of meme, a train of thought, which gives a different way to look at art history without estranging the artworld completely. There are quite a few illogical aspects to how art is valued, the artworld has a serious problem with electronic media (not just when used in art) and these two seem connected. The artworld in a way has been divided from the moment the art object was questioned in favor of the concept or feeling behind it. This long history of divided or split identity is now showing itself and its complications more clearly because of the development of art in computer -networks- (so not individual/single computers).

And not only the artworld needs some criticism, but also the electronic art scene, which has willingly cut itself off from the central art debate about two decades ago when it started its own institutions (with its often corporate funding, something which only started to happen much later in the artworld on a large scale). Even if the electronic art scene did not have much choice,(it had to find a way to continue its debate, to find money for its works,) it lost itself in self-centeredness in the end. This self-centeredness then became another excuse for the artworld to stay at a distance and not take electronic art seriously.

Josephine Bosma


Regarding Lev Manovich's text, I agree with Josephine and others that one could probably argue with every single proposition that Lev makes. In particular, I would point to Jon Ippolito's "The Art of Misuse", where he argues that, from his point of view, the essence (ok, a common thread) of artists' approach to technology is its "misuse." This is not just the artworld icons such as Jenny Holzer "misusing" led displays but also Jodi or Alexei Shulgin's and others' "form art."

I think you could make the argument that upon close inspection, most of the so-called differences--at least those articulated in 1991 by Lev--between Duchamp-land art and Turing-land art are false/too simplistic.

Yet there does seem to be this "two culture" phenomenon where those in Duchamp-land know what is really art and those in Turing-land know how little those in Duchamp-land really know (and vice versa).

One way that these themeparks get joined/bridged is when Turing-land art is accepted into Duchamp-land--Vuk into the Slovenian pavilion at Venice? I personally think these are valuable opportunities, but if they are all that exist, it's hard not to see them as an absorption.

But Vuk is working on many levels--like most of us--and presumably the book is one aspect of the effort to modify the Venice dynamics. And there is all his other ongoing work. It's important not to look at events in isolation.

At the same time, I think it's important to not forget the larger/institutional dynamics. Just because there are some individual/specific efforts to conjoin Duchamp-land and Turing-land on a more equal footing does not mean that there isn't a larger context mitigating against this.

Which is what I am trying to point out, however successfully, in "Why Have There Been No Great Net Artists," which is a corrupted copy of Linda Nochlin's seminal "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists," which attempts to show that the question on everyone's mind is actually an indictment of the "establishment" infrastructure and how the ways we think get channeled.

Steve Dietz


Firstly, the issue of presenting net art in an exhibition. Florian Cramer writes "for one, have the questions of the presentation of this kind of art in a real world (or an approximation of it, the art world) environment been resolved ? I doubt it." To me the main issues around exhibiting net art are: theoretical context (which means basically some kind of knowledge of net culture or net art in the audience) and integrity of the curator/institution. All other issues are side issues to me: how to exhibit a work physically (this needs to be looked at with each artist and each work separately, just like with 'other art'), can net art fit in an institutionalised setting (this question is connected to what I called the theoretical context: in what environment does a work enter when it enters an exhibition, does this environment acknowledge the works independent background and does this environment support (financially or culturally) independent works as a rule ? The theoretical context and the integrity of institutions are far from ideal at the moment (some exceptions though), but even if this is unpleasant it does not mean we have to dismiss the possibility of raising an awareness there completely. This is our task I think. Not just ours (the few we are now on this list) of course, but I see criticism and journalism as a main force in the development of a critical cultural awareness. Criticism to me needs to come from a desire to improve something though, not just to attack, which brings me to the second issue in this mail for me.

Florian gave us a military tactic as start for this list (>"We have the tools to win the war, but it's not visually pleasing. You have to find a way to connect with language that your mother would understand. We have to ensure that people understand we can conduct precision cyberoperations" Maj. General Bruce Wright, commander of Air Intelligence Agency). I prefer a guerilla tactic. Kissinger once made a remark in which he said that in a guerilla war an army looses if it does not win, but the guerilla wins if it does not loose. I think we might have to ensure that people understand -they themselves- can conduct all kinds of cyberoperations. But we have to do it in the territory of art.

As I said before, art is in my humble opinion one of the most important signifiers in/of culture, even if we have lost sight of the masterpiece completely (maybe even more so because of this). You say: "doing all this stuff (whatever you call it) was always about reinventing as much possible as what can be reinvented. Which involves a lot of destruction and stubbornness, not collaboration with reactionary establishments." I agree with you 100% on the reinventing. Yet the destruction I am careful about, as there are better tactics to make people change their mind or develop new structures then turning against them. It is much better to make them insecure, or give them the idea they thought of something brand-new and brilliant.

I know destruction seems like a more thorough and certain way to change a situation. It means YOU have to put something in its place then, right then and there. I think that is totally unrealistic, because there are powerful forces already waiting to fill its place (hope I don't sound like a Jedi from Starwars). Destroying the artworld structures is already happening in a way, this is something you should keep in mind. It is destroyed by (yes, here it comes), even if amongst other less powerful things, -capital- (medialisation being another force, closely linked to capital not but completely in its control), by careless (!) use of corporate funding, by institutions making unthoughtful alliances with corporations. Simple values always reign in chaos, so when you destroy the artworld, corporate culture is ready to take over and nothing else. I believe the struggle of RTMark is a vital one. In some ways corporate culture is like the atomic bomb: once it was invented, it could not be de-invented. (it is more complicated then that of course) It has a live of its own, and it is scary often the way corporations are protected by rules made by humans forgetting they were creating something more powerful then they would ever be, creating big greedy structures too strong to control. Art (music, literature, theatre, you name it) is what keeps culture in general healthy for the survival of us simple individual humans. It still has some respect, one can move or speak there and be heard, no matter if it is marginal. So I would never turn away from the artworld completely, and I think the electronic art scene is making a big mistake trying to do just that in a quite outspoken way. I hope I still make sense, my grasp of language and facts in the area of art and economy is not 100% I am afraid.

Venice to me is what you describe it to be ("rusty old petrol tanker"). It is important to see it as just that. Even old petrol tankers deliver though, even if they often leak. And they have their charm and place in the world. They are not what make our cars run, there are lots of in between processes. To me there is no difference whether you see Venice (or any other old tanker) as a very important step for your career or as a big danger. In both cases you give your own power away. I think that is very unwise. My strategy is to see these kind of events and venues as old structures that have to learn and be re-aligned with the new realities. Our reality is one of them, with its many views and cultures (there is not just one layer of net culture). I approach this as I have approached Documenta or an art magazine I just wrote for here: a blank sheet of paper. I do not support the 'Thingist' point of view that these slow and often stupid and selfish structures are simply too bad to touch.

Vuk Cosic has always been half a charlatan, and that is his charm and his stupidity. He is somewhere in between those. Like Alexei Shulgin he has sort of adopted a superstar dandy role, which can be either funny or irritant, depending on the situation. The career of Vuk has always been half built on this flirt with stardom. As you may know, we all played with this a few years ago. It was a way to get certain work into the picture. Vuk keeps working this way, it suits him perfectly, yet he has become a bit too nonchalant in how he does it all (and he has an excuse for it: the net art world does not really have a centre or whole body anymore, it is too dispersed to play these kind of games in a thoroughly effective way). The exhibition in Venice still needs to be seen in the light of these older strategies of playful art-star imitations though, and this is why I cannot become angry over who is in the show and who is not. In a way these playful imitations of the art-star also reveal (by their bluntness and openness) how the making of an art-star happens. How an exhibition is very often based on extremely simple decisions. I kind of like that.

Josephine Bosma


A heap of questions. I'd ask another one.

What is the change? What are the differences between 1996 (when I became aware of net art/culture) and today?

1). There's definitely more people involved and more going on. It's less cosy, I recognise fewer names and get overwhelmed by the amount of work, people, and texts to see.

2). The scale of projects is getting larger and larger. Institutional funding tacks more and more onto the presentation of a piece of net art. Bigger conferences, more formality, more weight given to people's words and works.

These two are huge changes. It's definitely harder to write and almost impossible to collaborate when stakes feel high. In 1996-7 there were probably only a few hundred people making their living from net art/culture, now it's a respectable academic subject, a potential consultancy market, a curatorial career choice. When academics are overloaded with admin and jealously use their research time to do proper research and write important stuff (if they want tenure, that is), who has got time to drown in reading and producing occasionally interesting mailing list flippancy?

To some extent I feel unaffected by these changes. I'm half a generation younger than most of the net arty people I've met and I don't have any kids or a serious job or responsibilities of any kind really, so some of the personal pressures that may be contributing to this apparent inertia don't really affect me.

In his talk at the CODE conference in Cambridge UK two weeks ago, Geert Lovink was talking about the dotcom economy and the April 2000 NASDAQ downfall. Much of what he said reminded me of impressions I've had of the net art/culture scene in the last few years. Here are a few quotes:

"the festive part of the internet economy is over, an age of normalisation is setting in, necessary to make up for the losses and failed investments."

"internal criticism within these [dotcom] companies was non existent, because it could undermine the company strategy to gain value as soon as possible"

"What was striking about the dotcom entrepreneurs was not their fear and greed, the gold-rush money obsession, but the blatant lack of self reflection".

Geert went on to say that the big mistake of the dotcommers had been to disregard time honoured economic theories and realities in the insane effort to sustain share price by will and jovial smiles alone. I'm not suggesting that a direct analogy could be drawn with the net art/culture scene and Art History/critique but it is true that many people chose not to see or judge net art by the criteria of the established art world (mostly, I think, the art world adopted that viewpoint). Some thought that the economic and cultural forces that make the art world as lumbering and irrelevant as it is today could never possibly encroach on the clean slate of inter-contextual net art, or could somehow be prevented from doing so. Now it's sometimes hard to tell the two apart. I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. What could normalisation mean in this context?

There are a some things I've noticed it is possible to do now that were not possible before:

It is now possible to compare works of net art. In 1996 everything seemed novel (to me at least). If an artwork didn't exploit some new and unimagined aspect of the Internet infrastructure or misuse some new technology to create a novel form or process, it was at least a 'port of an established artform into a new context. This was easy pickings, it was easy to write about things that hadn't been written about a million times, and to have new and exciting insights about them. It was easy to pick up a few basic web skills that suddenly made you a broadcaster, on a level (as long as you could keep up with the manic one-person update schedule) with a huge corporation. This was heady stuff, but I don't remember much useful critique. I don't remember many works of art or writing about them that did more than play off that novelty. There was criticism by way of selection (who remembers Group Z? I did a search for them on google. Not a single hit apart from adaweb entrails) and fantastic critical texts about the medium itself, its potentials, its cultural and political fabric, some beautiful definitive essays about net art but not a great deal of useful reflexivity, at least not in public. More of Geert's talk springs back to mind here:

"Critique was seen as a dinosaur phenomenon" "Shut up and party"

Although Geert was speaking about the culture of dotcom companies, I think this could be applied in part to the net art scene a few years ago. There didn't seem to be any use for ART critique. Plenty of cultural criticism went on, and critique of people's work in relation to Internet media but I don't think there was so much examination of what people were doing in the cultural context of Art AND the wider social context of the internet. It seemed too hard, too much work, too much pre-existing material to plough through, work which didn't need to be done as long as only the positive aspects of a work were examined. It was rare that someone would offer a criticism and back it up with useful research and interesting justification.

(The only time I remember much inter-scene critique was during Paul Garrin's spam war. If the macho bullshit had been left out of it, this could have been a really interesting debate. That exchange changed nettime a lot, and in my opinion (as an outsider to those events) that exchange, and the war in the Balkans were the key events in net art's dislocation from a wider activist scene that co-existed with it on nettime for a while. Suddenly posting to nettime about an art project seemed....well...trivial.)

Now it's possible to compare works of net art within sub-sub-sub genres like "artistically hijacked shoot-em-ups" (two spring to mind from several hundred examples - Jodi's SOD and Josephine Starr's (& Leon's) Biotech Kitchen), or alternative browsers (the Stalker, the Shredder, funksolegrind etc.). Some better, some worse, some original in themselves, some original in that medium, some purposefully derivative... There's enough there to get your teeth into critically, and now these works are emerging in academies and in national museums, alongside real art. It's a field day for critics!

I'm not advocating a dry historicising of the last decade, I'm pointing out that there's so much net-centric art/writing happening now that critique is vitally important to help form a context for that work, and to follow the still-live threads and themes of net art through whatever happens in the future.

I don't know if I've really answered any of your questions, Josephine, but from my point of view, at least, I think the lull is promising. The dotcom crash has shaken the euphoria out of net art, and if (fingers crossed) we are now heading for a world-wide economic meltdown, the really interesting work is yet to come.


Although Geert was vitriolic about dotcommers neglect of the "old economy" context of their businesses his main assertion was the lack of criticism of themselves and each other in business terms (realistic profit predictions).

I don't think there was any problem with denying or ignoring the art context of net artworks while they existed only in that network context : a discrete set of practices experimenting on the fringes of art and without fixed physical context, groupings or proprietary institutions. What is evident from net art's appearance in galleries and museums in the last few years is that it has lost it's ambiguity: it is most definitely proper art made by real artists with names backed by galleries/curators/institutions etc.

This being the case, there are factors that influence its reception that need to be taken into account if the work is to function as intended. I don't think there's anything wrong with the meaning of the work changing when it's presented in different contexts, but the mechanisms of the art world (galleries and museums etc..) tend to subsume artworks and artist's intentions with their own imperatives. While it lasted, the ambiguity of net art's status prevented these imperatives from acting on it. In its current status, net art no longer enjoys this reprieve but has to negotiate its new context subtly and cunningly. I was trying to show an example of this in my review (in last week's cream) of Thomson and Craighead's installation of "CNN interactive just got more interactive" at the Tate Britain.

The 'business fundamentals' of making, viewing and criticising art in galleries and institutions have become a part of net art that can't be ignored.

In my total ignorance of economics, forgive me if I use a few platitudes to introduce another question: Since the dotcoms came to grief the distinctions between "new" and "old" economies don't make sense anymore. The idea of a "new" economy has been shown up as a marketing myth, and in any case both "new" and "old" seem likely to be unified in collapse some time soon. So if the dotcommers finally being judged in business terms can have such a catastrophic effect on the rest of the economy, then perhaps I was asking the wrong questions when I made the analogy between dotcommers and the net art world. Instead of asking "what has changed in the net art scene since 1996" I should have asked "how is net art changing Art since it's assimilation in 1999?"

It would be interesting to ask how Jenny Holzer's work looks after net art. (She's a particularly good case study because she translated her "truisms" from Times Square cinema hoardings to adaweb in '97.) I know that Josephine has been working on 'how art has been changed by net art' and I'd love to see some ideas about that raised here.

Saul Albert