Finally, a Semi-Definitive Definition of Post-Internet Art

by Paddy Johnson on October 14, 2014 · 2 comments Newswire

Installation view of Art Post-Internet

Installation view of Art Post-Internet

Those in search of a definitive text on post-internet artmaking now have a source book to download. Curators Karen Archey and Robin Peckham have released Art Post-Internet, a catalogue to accompany their show Art Post-Internet at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing China. More than that, it’s full of primary source research and information about post-internet art from dozens of critics, curators and museum professionals. These include Christiane Paul, Ben Davis, Domenico Quaranta and myself to name a few. Each catalog receives its own unique unique download number, as well as a weather report for the day and place where it was downloaded.

This design decision by the Berlin-based studio PWR is the quality that perhaps most closely ties the work to post-internet art, as they define it. For posterity, their description of the term is:

…art, consciously created in a milieu that assumes the centrality of the network, and that often takes everything from the physical  bits to the social ramifications of the internet as fodder…This understanding of the post-internet refers not to a time “after” the internet, but rather to an internet state of mind — to think in the fashion of the network. In the context of artistic practice, the category of the post-internet describes an art object created with a consciousness of the networks within which it exists, from conception and production to dissemination and reception. As such, much of the work presented here employs the visual rhetoric of advertising, graphic design, stock imagery, corporate branding, visual merchandising, and commercial software tools.

And laudably tying the work to internet activism that, over the last few years has largely been pushed to margins by major corporations, the catalogue exists as PDF to be freely distributed. According to Archey and Peckham, “Your attention is our payment.” By the looks of the live download count, currently at 460, they’re getting plenty.

We won’t provide a reflection on the full PDF just yet—that’s gonna take some time to absorb—but in this post, it’s worth going over a few structural decisions and questionnaire highlights.

The essay itself is divides post-internet art into the following sections—Distribution, Language, Posthuman body, Radical Identification, Branding and Corporate Aesthetics, Painting and Gesture, and Infrastructure.

Generally, these delineations will make sense to anyone following digital artmakers, but it’s important to see them laid out in the context of an exhibition. Overall, the essay and image walkthrough makes me disappointed I wasn’t able to see the show myself. For an exhibition that attempts to deal with a movement and practice that is predicated on constant flux of networks, the catalog and exhibition do a good job of cementing a post-internet timeline. The exhibition showcases early examples of post-internet art such as Dara Birnbaum’s computer-assisted drawings on plexiglass (1993) to more recent examples like Amsterdam based artist Katja Novitskova’s digital print of a golden baboon on an aluminum cut-out (2015).

For those of us who can’t see the show though—which unless it travels will be most of us—the most interesting aspect of this catalog may be the questionnaires. In this section, experts are first asked to give their own definitions of post-internet and talk more about the term. Naturally, the responses vary, but given that most of us were shared in on the curator’s definition of post-internet before we gave our answers, we’ll skip that part of the questionnaire. Below are a few highlights from other sections.

Which ideas, artists, curators and institutions do you associate with this term, and which movements or creative producers do you think are its precedents?


The term was coined by Marisa Olson, adopted by Gene McHugh for his art criticism blog, and popularized by Katja Novitskova’s art book Post Internet Survival Guide and by Artie Vierkant’s essay “The Image Object Post-internet.” Surfing Clubs and VVORK, Seth Price’s Dispersion and e-flux journal, the work of artists such as Cory Arcangel and Oliver Laric have been all influential in the development of post-internet.


Banksy. No seriously, Banksy. The way “post-internet art” is defined — as culture that is not internet specific, but simply lives in and out of the internet as if that was just the default condition for artistic production — the street art boom of the 2000s is a perfect example.

The flourishing of this culture was made possible by internet forums where people could share images of fleeting installations. Banksy’s recent “Residency” in New York came complete with a slick website that teased people with each day’s feats as Which ideas, artists, curators and institutions do you associate with this term, and which movements or creative producers do you think are its precedents?Art Post-Internet: Information/DATA (102) they happened, and featured satirical audio guides to each. The internet and street versions of the art were completely integrated and the former was integral to the virality of the latter.


In the GIF world, which is my area of focus within the new media landscape, the collaborative, exquisite corpse Tumblr, is a good example of a networked artistic practice, as are large group GIF events such as Sheroes. Typically, the invited collaborators aren’t just artists, but designers and technologists. In this way, they probably the share more with quilters than they do other art movements in that collaborators from different backgrounds work together to build a project with a shared aesthetic.


The term post-internet definitely is associated with a specific group of artists who are closely aligned with the genre and with the galleries showing them. The group includes artists such as Aram Bartholl, Petra Cortright, Oliver Laric, Jon Rafman, Evan Roth, Rafael Rozendaal, Katie Torn, Brad Troemel, Clement Valla, Artie Vierkant, Addie Wagenknecht et al. They intersect in configurations (such as the FAT lab and Eyebeam residency), and Aram Bartholl’s

curation at galleries such as xpo in Paris, run by Philippe Riss, has contributed a lot to making many of these artists more pronounced as a group.

The hype surrounding post-internet as “a revolutionary movement” mirrors exactly that surrounding net art as “a revolutionary movement” in the 1990s. We had very similar discussions in 1995/96. I think genre rather than movement or “social term” is a helpful construct for understanding both net art and post-internet art (in the case of post-internet art, the genre also very much is a medium condition).

Cory Arcangel’s work often gets referenced as a main inspiration for or predecessor of post-Internet art, but one could outline a very long genealogy for post-internet art over the past few decades. All the networked art forms from the 60s onwards — Fluxus and mail art, projects using fax machines and Minitel — can be seen as proto-post-internet in that they used networks or network technologies for creating work that would take physical, embodied form. (Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s telephone paintings were among the first projects of that kind: in 1922, he used the telephone to order five paintings in porcelain-enamel from a sign factory; with the factory’s color chart in front of him, he sketched the paintings on graph paper while the factory supervisor on the other end of the line took a “dictation” by transcribing Moholy-Nagy’s sketch on the same paper.)

Do you find the term useful? Annoying? If not useful, what vocabulary do you prefer? (e.g. circulationism, dispersion, internet-engaged art, etc.)


I find the term mostly annoying and don’t believe it will have traction in the long run. The concept of a “post”-scenario has been kicked around for more than a decade. Josephine Berry Slater talked about post-internet art in 2003 in her introduction at a symposium at Tate, and of course Steve Dietz and Sarah Cook have been writing about and curating art “after” new media since 2004.

The fact that I have major issues with the “post” in this terminology aside, I find it interesting that it typically seems to take a decade for these concepts to gain traction. (This was also the case with regard to blogs; the blogosphere took off roughly a decade after blogs, as software, were created.) The term post-medium—as it has been defined by Felix Guattari, then Rosalind Krauss, then Peter Weibel over the past few decades—makes sense to me. Referring to Krauss and Weibel, in particular, we are indeed in an era after medium distinctions (as defined by Clement Greenberg), due to the convergences the digital medium has brought about. Post-medium to me still is best as a term for getting to the core of what post-internet and post-digital tries to grasp, a condition of artistic practice that fuses digital into traditional media.

“Post” is a temporal classifier and temporality is where post-internet and post-digital fail for me. Both terms try to describe a condition that is very real and important; I am by no means debating the condition they outline, but the usefulness of the terms. The internet and the digital are pervasive—not disregarding the fact that there is a digital divide and parts of this world are not connected or digitized—and we are by no means “after” the Internet or the digital. Claiming the latter is similar to stating that we are post-car while being stuck in a massive traffic jam on the highway


Ruinophilia; at the tail end of what I think can appropriately be decreed as postinternet, there seemed to be this collision with the collapse of a utopian dream, often characterized by terms like the “democratized image,” the next “industrial revolution” or the notion of horizontalism. The term coincidentally came to prominence at a moment when the belief that the internet (at least the technological layer) might be capable of emancipating us was shattered in popular consciousness. Given that we’re still discussing it, it seems appropriate to excavate its value through the lens of Svetlana Boym’s Appreciation of Ruins. “Ruins make us think of the past that could have been and the future that never took place, tantalizing us with utopian dreams of escaping the irreversibility of time.”


The term is useful to the extent that any artistic label is useful, which is to say: there are remarkably few cubes in Cubist painting. The usefulness of these kinds of designations has little to do with the success with which they fully encompass or embody what the artists are doing. Other terms might describe individual artists’ work more accurately, but I’m not sure they’d be any better on the whole. Arguably the most important thing about labels is less in what they specify about the aesthetics or sensibility of a movement or group than in the collective designation of a social network. What might be most notable about this particular group of artists is that many of them encountered each other — and their audiences — for the first time on the internet.


Peter Verkooijen January 25, 2015 at 7:40 pm

I used the term “post-internet” from about 2007 in the tagline for a monthly meetup that I organized in New York, called Web2NewYork – “post-internet media, advertising and business”. Not saying that is where Marisa Olson got it, but the concept probably had been around.

Paddy Johnson January 26, 2015 at 10:36 am

She claims she coined it in 2005. It seems maybe she did, but I wouldn’t describe it as an intellectual achievement. It was something she said in a panel discussion.

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