0. just so you know
In June 2003 I wrote my BA degree paper (Department of Journalism and Media studies, Faculty of Social Science, Masaryk's University, Brno) and as there is just a few people interested in the topic I had chosen, I wanted my work to be availible to a wider audience... That of course means an english version. But because I'm far far away from being able to translate the whole paper (50+ pages), after all I decided to make an abstract, a shorter version. Here it is, hope you enjoy it and maybe you find it useful... In case of any questions, ideas, whatever - feel free to contact me. Write to adamm -AT- skylined -DOT- org or visit my webpage.
Ten years ago, Internet was known just to a few IT professionals and it was hardly imagined,
that it will gain a crucial role in the civilization of early 21st century.
2. Definition and Terminology
At first it would be actually very useful to define the term "net art". But it turns out as
one of the most difficult questions. It's due to short time since the forming of net art as
a specific genre and moreover, there's a discussion going on even among the artists themselves.
Nevertheless it's important to distinct between "net art" and "art on the net" - the other
category comprehends also of thousands of pages and servers that only presents 'classical'
art, in it's digital conversion.
There are many possible beginnings: some of them older than hundred years. Presented in project From Wagner to Virtual Reality, the story begins with Gesamtkunstwerk, going through the futurists, video-art, happenings or mail-art. First real on-line projects began to appear around 1994, sometimes as a conversion of hypertext projects developed in a different environment (e.g. Grammatron). More and more projects emerged, a community was raised around mailing lists and webs like nettime, 7-11, rhizome and others. Also first exhibitions in reputable galleries and museums were held (Ars Electronica in Austria, MOMA in San Francisco, Whitney Bienale in NY to mention just a few).
Most of the projects could be called "web-projects", but still we can find lot of exceptions. Categorization is thus merely subjective, but could be as follows:
5. Art and Technology: Looking for the new Unity
As in my view, the strict border between art and craft is a matter of last 200 years, we have
to deal with a romantic concept of "Author", which was later put in question, as early, as in
the beginning of 20th century. In Avant-garde movement we can often find a call for a new unity.
Once it's in Dadaism (claiming they rather produce art, not create), or in Futurism where
technology receives a major acknowledgement. More and more the technology has been dependent
on new means of communication technology and digitalization. So far, net art is the last step
towards the unity. Its dominant qualities have roots in both realms: the world of IT and science,
and the world of critical theory and fine arts. Here the previously, very isolated points of view
merge. What are the distinctive qualities of net art?
One of the most important concepts for (not only) net art is the idea of hypertext. I chose it for a closer examination. It's not a very new one, as we can talk of hypertext in many different cases, some of them being indeed 'classical'. It's the Bible, cabala, Joyce's Ulysses. We used to stick the modern history of hypertext together with computers. It's of course true, starting with Vannevar Bush in 1945, leading to the World Wide Web in 1991. But there we meet lot of ideas and concepts rooting in critical theory, post-modern philosophy and deconstructionism. G. Landow thinks of internet as of a practical result based on Derrida, Barthes and Foucault due to its intertextuality, decentralization and demassification.
7. Analysis of particular Net Art projects
Although it's one of the oldest projects (with its first version released in 1993, not as a webpage,
but using Storyspace interface), it's one of the most complex and interesting hypertext novels, or
labyrinths if you prefer. It's a piece of art, where very diverse contexts meet. Cyberpunk, cabala,
sex, reflections on the role of the author - everything has a particular place. As for the technologies
used, one has to remember the date the project was developed. Based primarily on text, the graphics and
music are lacking a bit compared to today standards.
Whereas Grammatron is concentrated upon text, Superbad could be called a collage for the internet era.
Even the text is used in this way. Being one of the oldest and most respected net art projects, it
actually began as a game. Ben Benjamin, the author, put a huge effort since the very beginning into
an attempt to create a website, which is playful, thought not simple or user-friendly in the usual
manner. There are many layers, thus you can simply enjoy colourful graphics (ranging in style from
60's ads to sci-fi motives), crazy Java games and animations or funny stories. But there's much more.
A witty parody to company websites, hidden messages (being only visible in the source code), or even
lot of hidden pages, accessible only from the prompt. Here even a single webpage can qualify as a
piece of art, but the whole thing is more than just a gallery.
Because nowadays you can't see much of the famous Jodi project on their webpage directly, I've used
its copy located on 0100101110101101.org, which reflects the state of the project as in 1999.
Praystation is a one man project. The webdesigner behind is Joshua Davis, a living example that
well-paid webdesigners might create artistic projects and push the boundaries. He uses Macromedia
Flash for most of his work, but in a very different way than the rest of 'trendy' webdesigners use
to. We can talk about net dot art no more: Davis is a member of a new generation, which Lev Manovich
typically calls 'generation Flash'. It doesn't really matter whether they use the Macromedia program
or not - the community is bound by the same aesthetic feeling: Vector graphics, large areas in one
color, soft design, often bringing back the modernism and minimalism influences. Clean and clear -
this might well be their motto - and it's in a opposition to post-modern mess of Jodi, Superbad or
Grammatron. Infotainment goes lovely with them. Of course this separates the net art and webdesigner
communities - it's not only a different way of self-expression, but a whole point of view on society,
art and also political and socio-economic aspects of their work. Also the open-source is losing with
Flash, as you aren't able to see the source code.
Their projects can be taken as a way of showing possibilities of a medium by using it for a completely different purpose. YCHI create something we could call an automatic text - but as in film subtitles, with music playing an important role. Their are no pictures, just blinking, rapidly moving text (which is actually very hard to read). No interactivity, no loops, usually only in black and white. It is in question whether such an artistic piece may be qualified as net art, but the authors themselves think of internet as a text medium; thus their project - according to them - shows the core. It's hard to compare it to anything else: it reminds us of music videos - but the text is the main point. Very emotive language, stories that varies a lot, jazz music and often a critical appeal (for example concerning the Korean society, role of women or the political influence of major corporations). If the beatniks had automatic writing, we can call YHCE pieces as 'automatic reading', the effect is almost hypnotic. Still, the text is visible in the source code, so you can read it afterwards.
8. Net art in Czech republic and Slovakia
In 1998 the first net art piece has appeared, a labyrinth called mesto.html (mesto means city). The author, Markéta Baňková became respected in the international context, especially with Nycmap.com. Otherwise, there's not much to say about net art in Czech republic. The very few attempts grew up from academic sphere, rather than artistic. Meanwhile a fluent webdesigner community was raised around projects like Isolate or Jsem.cz. At least a server concerned with net art was established in Slovakia. Message.sk and its founder, Zdeno Hlinka, helped a lot to create a platform for studying and exploring net art.
In my work I tried to sum up to-date history and context of net art, although it's still a very
fresh form of fine art, without defined boundaries. Five featured projects should have showed a
variety of styles and techniques in the net art.