Marisa Olson thinks the phenomenon of surf clubs (group blogs run by net artists who repost found and original web ephemera) may constitute a movement. She’s probably right, though the piece is written as though nobody else has done any work on the subject. “[surf clubs have] yet to benefit from substantial critical analysis.” she writes, later reiteriting the thought with, “There have yet to be many significant essays on the movement, and the artists have debated the need for anything resembling a manifesto, saying amoungst themselves that they are waiting to hear interpretations from exterior critical voices. So I am making a first stab here, knowing full-well that I might wipe out.”
Undoubtedly Olson’s essay is more accurately contextualized as “amongst” rather than “the first”, in a small pool emerging critical discourse on the subject. Certainly Ed Halter’s Recycle it, written for the Museum of Moving image this July, posits a lot of the same ideas, most specifically the link between certain net artists and film maker Lev Kuleshov’s montage experiments. Also, a fair number of defining surf club points laid out in Marcin Ramocki’s Surfing Clubs: organized notes and comments presented this spring at NSCAD, similarly graced Olson’s introduction so it wouldn’t have been a bad idea to acknowledge their source, (or a lot of the online discussion generated by Tom Moody.)
Crediting issues aside, Olson focuses a significant portion of her essay on the act of quotation (reposting found material), framing and contrasting it to photography. It’s not a bad direction to take, but this quote confuses me: “Ultimately, I will argue that the work of pro surfers transcends the art of found photography insofar as the act of finding is elevated to a performance in its own right, and the ways in which the images are appropriated distinguishes this practice from one of quotation by taking them out of circulation and reinscribing them with new meaning and authority.” I don’t understand why reposting material without attribution on a blog should take the work out of circulation, or remove a pre-existing narrative/economy. Sure they carry a different authority when posted by a well respected net artist, but this doesn’t negate their history, nor is it any way distinctive from the mechanisms of other online social networks. After all, an influential DIGG member carries authority too.
With these quibbles stated, the piece is still well worth reading in so far as it makes a claim that, “these practices resemble the art historical use of found photography, but verge on constituting some other kind of practice—something, dare I say, more original.” I’m not particularly interested in pitting one studio practice against another, but I rather like that artists do this. It’s important to stake your territory — even if in this case, a little more has been claimed than there’s necessarily a right to.