critic on 31 Jul 2000 09:52:28 -0000

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> The Net Art Gold Rush

We present here an excerpt from an article currently available in it's
entirety at the URL below.

This article was written by the newest member of the
family - critic.  Please direct all responses to this address.

RUSH -- The Net Art Gold Rush

Every so often consumer publications have a revelation about the repeating
nature of history.  The current narrative as it pertains to the Internet is
of the Net Gold Rush, and it covers nearly every combination of similarities
-- from the renewed belief in the equality of man to the impending doom of
unharnessed rapacity.  It examines the moral responsibility of
multi-national corporations and exposes their frightening role in the
decision making of the United States Government.  It speaks of our reckless
response to greed, while we day-trade our life savings away -- or worse --
as we accrue a level of insurmountable margin debt while shifting important
savings from our tax-sheltered retirement plans into unmanaged brokerage
accounts with checkwriting privileges and discounted trading agreements.
Moreover, it reinforces the Great American Myth that we need not be of pure
breeding or born into wealth, we need only have the spirit of an
entrepreneur to achieve the dream of unlimited fortune.   However, one
chapter of the "Westward Ho" Internet allegory is not discussed when
referring to the repetitive nature of history: the Western Worldıs habitual
practice of rationalizing, undermining and exploiting other cultures in a
sinister and Machiavellian fashion.  Over half of the responsibility for the
near-extinction of the North American Bison lies at the hand of intended
49ers.  The Westward expansion of the 1800s brought a plague of small-pox on
the native inhabitants of this continent, and the involution of their
farming and tracking methods all but depleted the resources necessary for
their survival.  The Internet constitutes a culture, regardless of its
corporate/government birthright, and it endangers its own survival by
negotiating with the western expansionists of the New Millennium.  Chat
rooms, like The Open Ear, Usenet groups like, and
invaluable encyclopedias of information from university libraries
(accessible through the nearly forgotten search utility Archie), have all
but disappeared or been rendered practically inaccessible.  This list of
examples is at least a hundred times too short to accurately depict the toll
of the commercial promotion of the web browser as the sole intended
interface for the Internet.

The art museum takes an active role in the exploitation of Internet culture
by seeking profitability at the expense of an accurate history. In this
case, the innovation that Net Artists have brought to broader aspects of
Internet culture are all but ignored so that browser-based art can flourish
under the frequently misapplied title of "Net Art."  Meanwhile, Net Artists
and their proponent historians and critical theorists are more worried about
a potential for grander exposure for Net Art than about the ramifications of
allowing this all-too-familiar historical narrative of cultural exploitation
to unfold.   The museum is embraced as the means by which Net Art will
finally be considered "equal" to all other forms of art.   The utter lack of
necessity for this transition from the cathode ray of the home computer to
the brick-and-mortar temple of the institution of art is insufficiently
examined.   The Western worldıs approach to the broader world of art and
culture has always carried a tradition of misappropriation and flagrant
disregard for the less consumable aspects of any foreign culture.  It yields
not in its belief that weeding out less profitable aspects of another
culture is imperative to its survival as a Democratic Society.  The current
phrase for describing this act when referring to Net Art is "Filtering."
Net Artists and their public advocates openly listen to the museumıs idea of
filtering as if it were the sermon of missionaries.   The museum convinces
them that it will: locate the important artwork for them, help them to use
the Internet to increase dialogue on a global scale, assist in providing
international exhibition spaces for provincial artists, and, finally, use
its research to improve education.

We have heard this rhetoric before, though we refuse to acknowledge its
relevance to the culture of the Internet.  In her book Primitive Art in
Civilized Places, Sally Price describes this missionary tendency as the
Universality Principle, a phrase coined by Leonard Bernstein in 1976 (though
not initially intended to be relevant to our discussion).  Price
deconstructs some of Bernsteinıs essays on the topic of musico-linguistics
(a reference to Noam Chomskyıs socio-linguistics) and describes this process
as playing the role of the white patron to non-Western "musicians."  Where
Bernsteinıs goal was to find an underlying one-ness between the guttural
sounds of a hominid and modern vocabulary across separate languages, his
unscientific approach served only to excuse his broad generalizations of
anthropology and more specifically of non-Western cultures.  In 1969,
Bernsteinıs readings of Noam Chomsky entered into his own research on music,
and he began to write a series of lectures for Harvard Univiersity.  In one
lecture Bernstein states that the infant cry for hunger is "Mmm," and when
the breast enters its mouth the child says "Ah," thus forming the sound MA
for mother.  He asserts that this is the first "proto-word" and that "for
most languages, the word for mother employs the root MA or some phonetic
variant."  There is no scientific basis for this deduction, yet it was
quickly included in the Norton lecture series at Harvard, where it is still
frequently sighted as a reference.  In another lecture, Bernstein writes
"Somehow it all added up.  Way back before and behind and beyond all these
comparatively recent languages, there must lurk, I fondly hoped, one
universal parent tongue, which contained the great simultaneous equation:
Big = Good and Small = Bad."  Again, there is no scientific basis for such a
statement and this is further underlined with phrases like "hoped" and

In Sally Priceıs words, "ideological commitment can easily override such
obstacles [as making difficult analysis possible for the laymen to
understand]." (The parenthetical completion of this sentence is obtained
from the preceding paragraph in her book.)  Leonard Bernstein speaks with
the superior voice of Western culture, but disguises it in a
well-intentioned humanitarian search for unity. In this fashion (and by
carrying the standard of ideology) members of Western society can use such
phrases as Fellowship and Equality when discussing exploitation and
appropriation of non-Western art. She mentions other popular expressions
which are obviously untrue in the larger context of art, but which are
frequently used to excuse the hostile assertion of Western ideology on
non-Western culture. "Art is the great unifier, for it is the most obvious
outpouring of the linking humanism of feeling between peoples. (Anon.
1970)."  She sets a tone by undressing and exposing the larger intentions of
this Western practice.  Price confirms this position as it pertains to
Œprimitive artı by adding, "The Œequalityı accorded to non-Westerners (and
their art), is not a natural reflection of human equivalence, but rather the
result of Western benevolence."  Broad, generalized statements like
"improving education" and "increasing dialogue on a global scale" fit nicely
into the same unsettling scenario, and serve as warning signs for the
ultimate fate of the Internet culture.

The museumıs inclination to better understand this medium and the voice it
expresses in the broader world of culture is the same act of mistaken
benevolence ­ suffering from the misunderstanding that Net Art must exist in
another context to make it more accessible to a broader population.  Unlike
other forms of non-Western art, Internet art is already accessible to much
of the Western world through the home computer. The fellowship and equality
being offered by the institution isnıt as desirable to Net Artists as it
sounds, and through the decades of witnessing these relationships it is
surprising to see Net Artists so eager to engage.

This approach to equality through benevolence means two things for Net Art.
First, from a standpoint of experiencing art, Net Art will be viewed in the
same manner as all other art in the institution: by involving the walls and
the space confined by them (framed within a "collection", projected on a
wall, or exhibited as interactive sculpture).  This emphasizes the
importance of the museum as a venue, revealing that the museum sees itself
as more important than the art.  The museum also views Net Art as a tool for
its own survival more than as an important facet of contemporary art to be
recorded in the name of posterity.   Second, Net Art will follow the same
equality of ideas, (for example, Net Art that passes through the filter will
register familiarity in the viewer). Instead of challenging the potential
for alternatives to experiencing art, the museumıs treatment of Net Art, in
the benevolent attempt to elevate Net Art to the status of other forms of
art, will ignore what is historically significant in place of what is widely
accepted and popularly received. This is a point Price made very clear in
her assessment of the exploitation of non-Western art (though her book is an
account of history, and we are discussing things in the present Œwhile they

"subverting the visual in art"

\ /
 X  ASCII ribbon campaign
/ \ against HTML mail

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: contact: