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The Materiality Test by Tilman Baumgaertel
WebFlashes: A complete break with tradition?
Tilman Baumgaertel connects the dots.

December 22nd, 1997

"The most important object of art on the Net is the Net itself," says Benjamin Weill, co-founder and curator of ada web, the New York-based online gallery. As opposed to the scanned in photos or paintings found at the Web sites of The Louvre or The Museum of Modern Art, a new form of art exists exclusively on the Internet. Similar to video art which is only "materialized" with a video recorder and a television monitor, Net art can only be viewed with a computer and a modem. If "site specific" sculpture was the talk of the seventies, Net art is "Net specific."

"We are Duchamp's ideal children," says Vuk Cosic, a Slovenian artist who sees himself as a "net.artist". "The conceptual means that Duchamp or Joseph Beuys or othee early conceptual artists developed have become completely routine on the Internet, means repeated each time one randomly clicks an address on the Web. During Duchamp's day, this was a most modern artistic act that no one besides him and his two best friends understood." Cosic is convinced: "All art up to now has been merely a substitute for the Internet."

Perhaps one needn't reach right away for the modern pantheon -- nevertheless, it's impossible to overlook that the art work which has recently appeared on the Net perpetuates some of the most important themes of the art of the twentieth century: the artistic medium as a theme in and of itself, the playful use of coincidence and irony, and the suspension of time and space have been motifs of the modern program since Dada and Futurism.

"," as a few of its protagonists refer to it, is the first artistic movement since the end of World War II that reaches over the boundaries of what was once the Iron Curtain. The artists who have begun in the last two or three years to conduct the first experiments on the Net are not only from the US and western Europe, but also from the countries that once comprised the Warsaw Pact.

For a few of these artists, working with the Net was a way to operate around the institutions of the art distribution system. For German-American artist Wolfgang Staehle, founding the art-mailbox The Thing in New York in the early nineties was an act of practical "institutional critique," as he now recalls. "I thought it was absurd to criticize the art distribution institutions within those same institutions. That's like simply rearranging the furniture. I didn't think anything would come of it. That's why I tried to really do something outside these institutions. I think one of the reasons The Thing worked was that the traditional art distribution network truly didn't notice it at all. There was also the thrill of being able to feel like a small conspiratorial band."

For other artists as well, the Net is itself a distribution channel through which one can present work without the long march through the museums and galleries. The Russian photographer Alexei Shulgin discovered the Net when he was invited to an exhibition of Russian photography in Germany. Because he felt that a few of the most important Russian photographers were not represented, he created a page on the Web entitled "Hotpics" where he gathered those who had been left out.

The presentation of these works was for him also a chance to avoid the usual ethnic classification. "When I was just an artist who lived in Moscow, everything I did was seen as 'Russian' or 'Eastern'. Whereas I never thought that what I was doing was specifically Russian." He uses his work on the Net to do away with national cliches. "Physical space is not important on the Net. Everything happens on the computer monitor only, so it doesn't matter where the data comes from."

Maybe it was that Matthew Mirapaul article in the New York Times, "With the Desktop as a Canvas," on Alexei Shulgin's Desktop Is project (look carefully and you can find mine; hey, if I'd known it'd make the Times, I'd have spent more than three minutes on it, ok?). Whatever it was, something ticked someone off who in turn wrote up two bilious bashings of the scene and sent them out to a zillion mailing lists Sunday. The twist of the knife: the pieces weren't your run-of-the-mill flames, but instead, zeroed in on net.artists' self-conscious self-promotion in terms not all that dumb, and further, credited the essays to two well-known critics, Timothy Druckery and Peter Weibel. The perpetrator is rumored to be cornered in London's Backspace Cafe from where he or she will undoubtably be banished only to return with next week's new movement. Art stumbles on.


Michael Sippey plays down the return of Stating the Obvious. We know better.

Justin Hall on the "way new economy." Read it!

Have a very Merry, and we look forward to seeing you back on Monday.

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