This article was written for 'Content-Type' in 2001, which I conceived of as an idea virus, later as the site evolved, I was to think of these texts as symptomatic of the Media/Art Identity Crisis in style of delivery.
"...New media art is being systematically priviledged at international art events in order to export the oppressive social structures of tastefulness from the last century onto this one..." *1
Art on the net is a priviledged activity. Initially free from the mediation of galleries and museums, net art has developed with an audience of enthusiasts and participants. The only practical requirements are access to a computer, preferably an up to date one, and a familiarity with installing software extensions.
Net art, as a discrete form of New Media Art, faces particular challenges in its relationships with art audiences. As Andreas Broeckmann put it "...how does one show the essential thrill of online art to a curious outsider?" *2 Broeckmann has observed the difficulties arising both from artists collaborating online within festival situations, and not being easily able to "represent that work to a larger audience" *3 Most of the artists were also not happy about their working processes being visible to the audience "as though it was a performance about the artist at work." *4
A key problem Broeckmann identifies is the lack of distinction between artist and audience when experiencing net art. Interaction online means participation and co-production through receiving the work one to one. This inevitably reduces the size of the 'audience', both because of the need for participatory skills as well as the technicalities involved.
Meanwhile, museums, critics and the artists themselves seem to want to clarify the situation, or at least explore ways of involving a larger public. As matthew Fuller has observed in his introductory essay on the Tate website: "the work of artists using the web seems ripe for an initial public offering." *5 In his Mongrel Tate website, appropriating the official Tate site, and commissioned by the Tate last year, Harwood attempted to make visible a dynamic relationship between the museum and the net space. He wanted to "effect a thoroughgoing conflict with its [Tate] procedures and modes of operation and representation." *6
Harwood has, in effect, used the net as space to explore and reconfigure his view of the relationship between the audience and the art. A relationship which essentially museums seek to govern. The very problematic of net art: how can artists reach larger audiences, is inverted by Harwood to question the museum as public guide. This becomes a metaphor for access within the net itself. With Mongrel Tate, the social network becomes a metaphor for the techno network.
In an interview, Harwood challenges the growing popularity of New Media Art: "New media art is being systematically priviledged at international art events in order to export the oppressive social structures of tastefulness from the last century onto this one."*7 Museums and galleries have found a desire to explore the new relationships between audiences, artists and new media. In the process, does today's 'curious outsider' replace the 'disadvantaged class'? If as Broeckmann says, involving different audiences and facilitating different ways of becoming online are "ways of becoming public" *8 then this is still about becoming publicly accessible, becoming well known for the benefit of all.
"But what if not everyone wants to become an active participant, what if not everybody wants to go online?"*9 Do we need museums to serve us net art or do we want to participate in its processes without intervention, without mediation? The outsider who isn't curious , who doesn't want to participate online, may undermine the old position of disadvantage with the new position of disinterest. A nationally guided culture may be replaced by a technocratically guided culture, where interfaces guide and advise those with the interest in, and ability to use them.
Sarah Thompson 14.02.01
*2 "Are You Online? Presence and Participation in Online Art", Andreas Broeckmann, 1998, Ars Electronica Facing the Future, ed Timothy Druckrey, 1999, p439
*3 Are You Online?... p439
*4 Are You Online?... p439
*5 Art Meet Net, Net Meet Art, Matthew Fuller, http://www.tate.org.uk/webart/mat1.htm
*6 Breach The Pieces, Matthew Fuller, http://www.tate.org.uk/webart/mat2.htm
*7 Is Media Art Interesting? Harwood interview by Maharg Dla'nor Doowrah, http://www.tate.org.uk/webart/mongrel/home/faqs/webart.htm
*8 Are You Online?... p441
*9 Are You Online?... p440