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.
"...I check my mail, look at my bank balance, I see myself in the mirror - and I still don't know what you mean by failures and deaths?..." *1 [Olia Lialina]
I began the week by reading a chapter from Josephine Berry's thesis, posted on Nettime titled "The re-dematerialisation of the Object and the Artist in Biopower". In this chapter she posits : "No matter how hard net artists strove to free art from its commodity value and the supporting structures of its legitimisation, mediation, exhibition, interpretation and historicisation, precisely by preserving the notion of art, net artists condemned themselves to the same fate suffered by all of the 20th century avant-gardes - the ultimate assimilation of its gestures by the art market mechanism." *2
There are some important concepts discussed within this chapter: the power of communication versus ideas and concepts, used for resisting "the imposed framework of 'art'" : the age of 'biopower' as described by Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt; the "intensification of 'general intellect'... or 'mass intellectuality'" ; and the "newly communicative multitude" - on the networks - participating in the "devoving [of] creativity" and the "artists own dissolution".*3 Berry considers how the legacy of conceptual art of the 1960s and 1970s provides an historical precedent to net art's immateriality, and she concludes "The predicament of the net.artists is to be between two deaths so to speak, having been cut adrift from art's symbolic power after Modernity and yet to remain clinging to its carcass in order to avoid the banalised co-extensivity of art and everything else." *4
Berry believes that the "communicative intensity of biopower" can be used to "articulate a collective desire", and "...desires which cannot be contained within the confines of artistic individuality and originality". *5 Part of her argument is also to undermine artistic freedom itself by linking it ideologically to the capitalist free market: "art is an activity that inherently and unavoidably syncs with and promotes free market capitalism." *6 As such, Berry's vision of the mass intellectuality of biopower is perhaps a more proscribed version of Roy Ascott's concept of 'Noetic Culture' and the 'Cybermind'. Essentially, collective desires emerge within a network culture and completely undermine the integrity and freedoms of the artist, through the electronically enhanced processes of communication.
The net artist Olia Lialina is understandably defensive about the current criticism of net art as art. Her kind of art. Teleportacia, "First Real Net Art Gallery" *7, an art work in itself, which she began in 1998 in order to demonstrate how net art could be sold, by selling a work's URL or location, is a practical "solution to the ownership of net art". *8 As Berry says, this positions her as one of the "chief defendants of commodification as well as targets of attack".*9 In an email to Nettime this week, Lialina says: "Net art failed, in some critics and researchers opinion, because it didn't take over institutions as was expected. Curators, museums and magazines didn't disappear (sorry). But don't you see that net art and net artists changed the landscape of contemporary art? Now, art institutions have to learn to act as nodes (not as a center). And they do. Those who are really open become part of complex networking projects." *10
Lialina's position is an important one. It could be said to represent the individual voice within the cybermind, or is it versus biopowers? There are obvious dangers in collective desires, as corporate culture demonstrates. Is the individual in danger of becoming overly subsumed by the pressures of mass intellectuality? At the heart of the debate lies the net art of communication. A sensitivity and respect for the individual voice within a multi-user discourse.
Sarah Thompson 23.02.01
*1, *7, *10 re:net art history, Olia Lialina, Nettime, 19.02.01
*2, *3, *4, *5, *6, *8, *9 #1_Re-dematerialisation/Object/Artist/Biopower[of3], Josephine Berry, Nettime, 10.02.01