Photo via: Tom Moody
Timeliness, one of the so called improvements blogging has on the print world, remains amongst the great misnomers of the Internet, since most of us bloggers are so over worked it can take three or more weeks to draft a review. Consider the Great Internet Sleepover one such casualty to an insane work schedule; note I am reporting on it close to a month after its passing.
I’m not sure what I expected from Bennett Williamson’s event, but I suspect I should have anticipated what I got: a party. Perhaps I’m simply falling in line with the rest of the snobbish art world that doesn’t like institutionally supported bashes which aren’t also run with the title “benefit”, but I can’t help but feel a little disappointment with the sleepover as a whole. The public Internet surfing reception was Okay, but the public terminals discourage web browsing when everything you do is projected onto giant Eyebeam walls, except of course, in cases of misdirected self promotion (ie. bad artists setting workstation homepages to their own websites). Also rooted in “Okay,” the panel discussion brought up some interesting points for debate vis a vi the Internet surfing clubs, though it felt incomplete without the participation of founding Nasty Nets members Guthrie Lonergan and John Michael Boling, (Nasty Nets is a group blog dedicated to finding and creating interesting and frequently ugly web crap) . That said, I have a few comments to make, all of which respond to sentiments expressed by artist Michael Bell-Smith (and paraphrased by me):
1. We don’t understand what everything means yet; the practice is still new.
Nobody’s saying New Media artists have to have everything figured out, but statements such as this need to be considered very carefully because it can give a pass to those who are hesitant to discuss about their practice. Nasty Nets, for example, is nearly a year old, and are still without even a 20 word blog description. Double Happiness, and SuperCentral, similar group blogs, the latter claiming more frequent use of text, also go without about pages. Those “in the know” of course, won’t need this, but I can’t help but think that the larger art community might benefit from seeing even a small descriptor on these sites.
2. Internet surfing and net art is a practice you either get or you don’t.
The comment above follows a similar line of thinking, and response to the first. In my experience, while the Fine Art world and New Media Community tend not to mix, the more engaged of those outside the field “get” the basics of net art. It’s not a straight forward call of course – there are a lot of people who don’t understand the practice nor do they want to – but I’m wary of supporting such polarizing statements because they suggest a self sustaining community akin to avant-garde film; insular, and pushed to the outside of the art world.
3. Bracketing your work.
I can’t begin to approximate the words Michael Bell-Smith used to discuss subject of titling and captioning work (since it was more than just a turn of phrase), but I do recall Paul Slocum’s Native, used as an example of why such descriptions work. Not to be a be a captioning kill joy, but I’m not sure how an unattractive website-find running with the description, nice dirtstyle site [bad web 1.0 design], lotsa pages, and a title that reduces the identity of it’s authors to “native” improves our understanding about why it’s been posted. To my mind this post simply underscores the need for surfing communities to develop their critical capacities in parallel with their art production.
Michael Bell-Smith left a great response in the comments section of this blog, so I am highlighting it in the body of the main post.
Im really glad this conversation has been picked back up – lots of good thoughts.
Since the post is in response to some ideas that have been attributed to me (I think the thoughts about titling and captioning were actually Tom's), I'd like to side step the thread and respond to a couple of Paddy's initial comments for a moment.
First of all, I'd just like to say that in the context of the evening's conversation, these statements weren't nearly as polemical as they seem paraphrased, set in bold and numbered.
With that said”¦
Re: Articulating your practice.
I'm certainly all for artists owning up to their work and being able to talk about what they're doing. At the same time, I don't think there is the same type of onus on this type of work to define itself as there is with, say, art in a gallery or early net.art, simply because it isn't attempting to insert itself into any pre-existing system or discourse. Like much of the world wide web, it's just out there, doing it's thing, you can check it out if you're into it. Sure, this event was hosted at Eyebeam, an institution with a definite reputation in the “New Media Community,” but as you've already noted, most of the participants were more interested in hanging out than discussing or explaining their practice.
Re: Internet surfing and net art is a practice you either get or you don't.
This comment wasn't intended as a justification for a lack of discussion, but simply an observation. I think that “getting” a lot of this stuff requires very specific relationships to certain things: aesthetics, computers, fine art, subcultures, etc. By no means is this elitism – I have no qualms saying I don't get everything on Nasty Nets (I definitely don't get a lot of stuff on Supercentral) – it's simply saying it's not for everyone. Can that gap be bridged, can these things be explained? Sure, but it seems like few people involved with these sites think that's a priority. As I expressed above, were this practice actively attempting to insert itself into a larger art discourse, that might be a problem. Instead, like most of the web, these sites are engaging with small organically created communities.
You state you are wary that this polarization suggests a “community akin to avant-garde film; insular, and pushed to the outside of the art world.” This seems to assume that these websites – and avant-garde filmmakers for that matter – are ultimately interested in having a larger role in the art world, an assumption I don't think would necessarily ring true.
Of course, I can't speak for everyone on any of these points. Being a part of a diffuse community without a defined mission allows for – and perhaps herein lies the greater challenge when discussing these things – a kind of Ouija Board-esque perspective: you feel like both a participant and an observer. As a result, while I'm a member of Nasty Nets, the sentiments I'm expressing are more the observations of an onlooker than my own personal ideologies.