|According to Mapquest, the distance from my house to Bergamot Station is 24.21 miles, which, under ideal driving conditions, I should be able to traverse in 27 minutes. The corresponding distances/times for LACMA and MOCA are 12.45 miles/26 minutes and 11.35 miles/15 minutes. (The figures for LACMA bear out the well-known fact that no matter what freeway you take, a substantial part of the journey will be on surface streets.)
Given a choice between hauling a 2810-pound car on a 50-mile roundtrip on LA freeways or shifting a four-ounce computer mouse a fraction of an inch and clicking, my hand reaches for the mouse more often than for the car keys.
The reality is that in the last three or four years, I and everyone else with an internet-connected computer have indeed been given this choice. Artists, in vast numbers, have made the Web their venue of choice, and the growth of weblogging has fostered an online art community more vibrant than anything to be found in a city as vast and amorphously entropic as Los Angeles. The Web has revealed that communities are networks rather than physical entities tied to specific locales. It has dematerialized communities and in so doing it has created the infrastructure for the dematerialization of art as part of a broader dematerialization and globalization of social intercourse.
In the early ‘70s the notion of the dematerialization of art was associated with Conceptual art. The impetus came from different sources. Nonobjective art seemed to point in that direction as its own logical conclusion. Coming from an entirely different direction, Pop suggested that art was a matter of attitude and framing. If, as Andy Warhol famously said, everything is art, then I would suggest that an artist’s job is to induce in others the requisite level of alienation that transforms the world into a huge museum of itself. From that standpoint, art was never farther away than a slight shift in mental perspective. Marcel Duchamp’s readymades had already seemed to argue such a position, but unbeknownst to many of his Pop admirers, Duchamp’s conceptualism was rooted in something closer to alchemy than cold logic. One could even argue that Duchamp’s anti-art was radical not because it was new, but because it was a resurrection of a conception of art that harkened back to the very origins of art. To a time when art was less an aesthetic pursuit than a magical one, namely, a means to manipulate reality by manipulating symbols. In that sense, paleolithic art is already conceptual. It took Joseph Beuys to make the connection explicit by modeling his performances on shamanic ritual. But, I would also argue that even the driest, semantic-obsessed Conceptual art trades on this connection between art and magic, not to mention the unfamothable strangeness, when one pauses to think about it, of the relationship between words and what they signify.
|Of course, there was also a political dimension to Conceptual art and its insistence on the dematerialization of the art object. If art is not an object, it is ungraspable. Or at the very least, untradeable. In the minds
But all of this remained a largely academic exercise until the advent of digital media and the Internet. As long as artists were constrained to communicate with each other and their audience and disseminate their work through galleries and print, logistics defeated good intentions. An artist without a gallery or an artist with a gallery whose work did not get reviewed might as well have been chopping trees in Bishop Berkeley’s forest where nobody heard the sound of their falling. If anything, in the course of the ‘80s the commodification of art reached obscene proportions.
The Internet has changed all this by supplying the missing link: a gallery or soapbox for anyone who wants one and a potential audience that spans the globe. As I write this, domain name registrations can be had for as little as $8.95 a year. Good web hosting costs $7.95 a month. In an essay titled Weblogs and the Mass Amateurisation of Publishing, Clay Shirky explains that this means publishing has become so efficient that it can no longer be a professional, paying activity. Writes Shirky:
Anonymous screen shot posted at www.grogore.free.fr/ruber/rubbyset.html; this open site posts any photographs submitted involving taped objects.
“post-post-card,” a personal map drawn by an anonymous individual as part of Provflux, sponsored by Providence Initiative for Psychogeographic Studies, a 2-day event, compiled by Lori Ann Napoleon at www.subk.net/maps.html.
“Weblogs destroy this intrinsic value [of publishing], because they are a platform for the unlimited reproduction and distribution of the written word, for a low and fixed cost. No barriers to entry, no economies of scale, no limits on supply.”
Print publishing also creates extrinsic value, as an indicator of quality. A book’s physical presence says, “Someone thought this was worth risking money on.” Because large-scale print publishing costs so much, anyone who wants to be a published author has to convince a professionally skeptical system to take that risk. You can see how much we rely on this signification of value by reflecting on our attitudes towards vanity press publications.
What Shirky says about publishing applies equally to art exhibiting. Welcome to artistic communism! (And in case you think I’m joking about the communism bit, consider how apoplectically the music and movie industries have reacted to online sharing networks.)
So what exactly has this translated into on the Web?
Well, for starters about a zillion photoblogs. http://photoblog.org keeps an updated list. L. Brandon Stone, who runs the site, keeps the definition of photoblog simple: “Something is a photoblog if: it has photos, it’s on the web, and it is a log of some sort.” By that definition (which specifically excludes what Stone calls galleries, which are mere collections or portfolios of images) 6,120 sites in 69 countries and 33 languages qualify. Of those, 1,057 are American. By some fluke, the second-ranked country is Canada (222 photoblogs), followed by Japan (187).
Moblogs are a subcategory of photoblogs but an increasingly significant one. These are blogs of pictures taken with mobile phone cameras. One Japanese site worth mentioning is Pocket Publishing (http://www.basedonatruestory.com/moblog/index.html), and it’s worth mentioning because apparently the whole site is produced, maintained, and meant to be viewed on a mobile phone. Mobile pictures scandal, but in Japan researchers Okabe Daisuke and Mizuko Ito of Keio University note that camera phones are changing the very definition of “picture worthy” by transforming things like a miniature milk carton on an airline tray or the escalator in a train station into “neta,” or news shots, even though the news may be shared with only a few friends. Closer to home, camera phone images were this past summer the subject of SENT, an exhibition mounted in a downtown LA hotel (http://www.sentonline.com).
David J. Nightingale, no title, © 2003-04, at www.chromasia.com/iblog, the #1 most popular photoblog at photoblogs.org, October 15, 2004.
Marek Walczak and Martin Wattenberg, “apartment”, screen shot example from www.turbulence.org/Works/apartment/ (click “About”).
Mary C. Wilson, “tape-caption 1” from “Private Lives/Public Disposal”, “an excerpt from a young girl’s memoire found in the garbage during a nine month residency at the San Francisco Sanitary Fill Company”, online at institute-of-failure.com.
The photoblogs that tend to catch my attention typically focus on what seem http://www.grogore.free.fr/ruber/rubbyset. html). Another, A Polaroid A Day, Everyday (http://www.dirtdirt.com/669/) is maintained by Brooklynite Christopher Stangland, who confesses that, “There are PLENTY of pictures in here that I think really suck, and would love to’ve re-shot, but that is not how it works.”
My absolute favorite (though it might not qualify as a photoblog) is Lori Ann Napoleon’s collection of personal maps drawn by other people (http://www.subk.net/maps.html). These and sites like them reveal the extraordinary freedom in reframing the ubiquitous that taking art out of its precious white cube gives artists. Art is indeed everywhere, but until digital cameras and scanners and the internet combined, that was just a proposition. Now it’s a demonstrable and shared fact. And the same is true of that once terrifying notion, the obsolesence of authorship. No, artists have not disappeared into some black hole, but on the Web at least there seems to be a healthy sense that barring a lawyerly cease and desist order everything is up for grabs and can be appropriated to one’s own ends and passed on to be used by somebody else.
What about the Web as a medium? By that I mean the Web not just as a showcase for pictures but the exploration and exploitation of the total resources of Web design to create sites that are a work of art in themselves.
You will find some impressive examples of this at Turbulence (http://www.turbulence.org) a project of New Radio and Performing Arts, Inc. (NRPA) that has the backing of heavy hitters like the Andy Warhol Foundation and the NEA, among others. A couple of examples:
Apartment by Marec Walkzak and Martin Wattenberg (http://www.turbulence.org/Works/apartment/): “Viewers are confronted with a blinking cursor. As they type, rooms begin to take shape in the form of a two-dimensional plan, similar to a blueprint. The architecture is based on a semantic analysis of the viewer’s words, reorganizing them to reflect the underlying themes they express. The apartments are then clustered into buildings and cities according to their linguistic relationships.”
|Infecter by Shannon Kennedy (http://www.turbulence.org/Works/kennedy/index.html): ”Infecter creates abstract visual interpretations of computer virus source code. These visual systems are based on the gridded structures that scientists use to map out and read genetic sequences in biological organisms.”
Apartment is collaborative and interactive and like Infecter, which uses Flash for animation, was clearly not coded by an amateur. Here professionalism rears up its head again and I have to say that while these and sites like them reveal the potential of the Web as a medium, I personally prefer the raffishness of the more technologically limited photoblogs, which like music in the early days of punk remain in the hands of relative amateurs.
To me the beauty of the Web is in the way it takes art out of its hothouse enclosure in the white cube and forces it to rub elbows with everything good, bad, enlightening, and dumb that the Web has to offer. Hothouses breed exotic plants and for most of the past century that’s what art has been--a fragile exotic tended to by a priestly caste of academics, connoisseurs, and arts administra the Web, images are out of the bubble, infected by and infecting the larger context, and thereby possibly inoculating each other against myopia.
I’ll leave you with one last site that humorously negotiates the border between professional constipation and amateurish self-indulgence. It is a clean, professional-looking site dedicated to the one thing professionals fear the most: failure. It is the site of the Institute of Failure, on which, among other things, you’ll find Mary C. Wilson’s Private Lives/Public Disposal (http://institute-of-failure.com/FailureDev/maryWilson/MaryWilsonMain.html), a strangely affecting work that consists of what appear to be images of decayed tape cassettes accompanied by typed phrases culled from the recordings, a young girl’s memoire retrieved from a San Francisco’s garbage landfill.
The Web is itself a kind of landfill, the showcase and sinkhole of an endless stream of ephemera. Everything that could be said in favor of it as an art medium could also be held against it as a limitation or failure. I’ve been on both sides of the fence myself. But the Web is a viral in its cognitive attack. I’ve been infected. So I’m going to stay home.