Hey ^.^ welcome back to my dark little corner of the web~
So, this week we explored the wonderful and burgeoning world of net art.
This is “born-digital” art that is created for and designed to be experienced online in a digital environment. That digital component is what delineates this kind of art from trad art. In many ways, this kind of art is liberated from the exhibition context of the museum in that the Internet becomes its gallery space. Of course, this creates some concerns over accessibility and privilege, which I have discussed before, but I would like to focus more on some of the interesting ideas being explored in net art projects in this post.
Particularly, I’m interested in how much of net art is exploring the presentation and representation of self in this digital age. In my bonus post this week, I discuss some projects like Mouchette, BODY ANXIETY, and Emilio Vavarella’s (@emiliovavarella) Digital Skins series which each explore different facets of self in creatively digital ways. What is most interesting to me about pieces that explore how digitization has affected self-representation and its aesthetics is the prismatic depictions so often utilized to convey a sense of the multi-dimensional. In her essay “Stories of the Self on and off the Screen“, Dr. Ruth Page discusses the fragmentary nature of self in the twenty-first century and how emerging digital mediums like Eliterature (which is arguably both literature and net art) are in a position to convey that “partiality”. Page emphasizes how the transmediality and multimodality of digital mediums allows for new narrative structures which are often non-linear. This non-linearity often mirrors real-world experiences of life. It’s interesting that digital mediums can, in some ways, provide more “realistic” representations of the experience self than trad formats. Neither is “better”, just different. Digitization has, in many ways, allowed for a diversity of perspective that can really be engaged with. Eliterature and net art really allow for a new perspective to become a whole experience.
I find these capabilities to be fascinating yet often overlooked. In class, we spoke of the “aura” of art and how digital/net art is often dismissed or placed second to trad/classical art because it is viewed as lacking some kind of “aura” that makes it “true art” (whatever the f*ck that means). I find this to be a rather pretentious view on art. The idea that a work of art must be a physical thing viewed in a museum in order for it to be considered of artistic merit/worthy of transcendent thinking is rather limiting, to say the least. Also, it makes me wonder who is art for? If it must be viewed in a museum or through some kind of institutional authority, this indicates to me that art is only for a select few and that people outside this select few are somehow incapable of properly appreciating it. i think there’s an elitist, perhaps imperialist hold-out, attitude here. Because net art is, in many ways, more democratized than other art forms and more accessible in that the threshold for participation in creating it is still rather low (basically have access to a computer), I think it receives unnecessary criticism from the art world and the “peanut gallery”. Somehow, because of digital intervention and the perception that digital mediums are somehow inherently imbued with less meaning, net art is viewed as lesser than. Which is very sad considering how many really creative initiatives and works are being created using this technology (as mentioned above).
In our studio visit with digital artist Alex Saum (@alexsaum) this week, we talked a little about the depth of meaning that can be captured in a digital work. For example, her E-Poetry collections explore issues of self, identity, and self-representation in the digital age in very multimodal, visceral ways. The performance of self online becomes her art, reflection on these mediums her practice. Art, life, and the digital are all in dialogue with each other in her works. Both the positive ways in which digital media allows us to extend ourselves and the negative ways digitization curtails authenticity online are explored in Saum’s work. These complex ideas and their intersections culminate in these beautiful and movies works of digital poetry. Her work really allows for a prismatic view of self and allow for reflection upon current practices of the presentation of self in online spaces. For example, in Saum’s poem “Ashes to Ashes #YOLO” (2018), the question “Where are the people?” is looped over a video of Saum filmed in the style of Youtube confessionals. This poem seems to be making a statement on the commodification of self in the twenty-first century and how self has become more of a product and a performance online than an actual lived experience. The confession here is that rather than online spaces allowing us to be more real, they are allowing us to less authentically ourselves.
“The Democratic Value of Art Making” is one of my fave poems from the #SELFIEPOETRY collection. “We can’t all be poets but well all have literary value.” is such a f*ck you to the establishment and the institutions believe art and creative practices only have value if they’re profitable. More, it’s a f*ck you to the whole concept that you must have market value in order for you to be valuable. It’s a f*ck you to capitalism. Net art is such a f*ck you to capitalism~
This is an interesting concept proposed in not only Saum’s work but in Vavarella’s work and the work of many other digital artists. As states before, online spaces were supposed to democratize information, self-expression, and many other ideals. But, instead, they seem to have become these places where we can be anyone but ourselves, we can tell anything but the truth. Saum’s work seems to be connecting this bastardized democracy online to consumerism and the commodification of online spaces. Especially in the US, the digital world is fast becoming a for-profit enterprise which infringes upon the ideals of community and equity and the free-exchange of ideas that the Internet, for most of us, was founded upon. I view Saum’s work as spreading awareness of this but also as a kind of protest in that in the process of reflecting upon the practice of growing in-authenticity online, Saum is revealing truths about herself and her values which resonates with many of us. I think a lot of are against the commodification of online spaces and the rise of “influencers”, of personalities/personages for profit. Everything else in the world is already so commoditized and we are so consumed by it. I think we all want a space where we can explore ourselves for our own sakes.
In this way, a lot of digital art and net art is commentary on consumer culture and the contemporary digital practice that is being sold to us. Some of it seems even to be a protest, a reassertion that we don’t have to be these fake people online, that the digital does not have to be associated with the fake. I think this is important work artist like Saum are doing. Even is Saum herself doesn’t necessarily see herself in her work (“Works of art are always representations. They aren’t me.”) , her commentary on self-representation and its shortcomings is valuable in that it reminds us we can be real online if we want but we don’t have to be who we are online either. What is important is that we still hold onto a sense of self in this social media deluge and that we don’t let anyone decide our value for us.
The hustle some influencers have though is fascinating, their ability to make a brand of themselves demonstrative of some admirable ingenuity and creativity even if I have some ethical disagreements with the franchise.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed perusing my thoughts on the matter. If you want to hear me scream more about self-representation in the digital age, be sure to check out my thesis blog~
Field Guide Contribution
As mentioned, be sure to check out my bonus post on different works of net art. I curated a small collection of works that focus on self-representation of many different kinds.
Daily Digital Alchemies
For one of my DDAs this week, I provided a small glimpse into a world without words and speculated about what the descent of that kind of nonsense would do to humanity. I hope you enjoy a taste of my dark, twisted sense of writing. I prefer to write darker, more nihilistic tales with tragic or unapologetically cruel characters ^.^ This kind of writing is more engaging and interesting to me~
For my other DDA, I came up with a taxonomy of sorts for a digital moth. Apparently, its Latin name translates to “skiing schoolgirl” so I played with that. I also sent out a request for a moth of my own but I’ve yet to hear back and, also, I hear the generator may be broken? Anyway, I tried~
In case you didn’t see this thread in #netnarr, @ronald_2008 and @dogtrax remixed my Twitter photo in some very cool ways.
And I returned the favor:
Both @dogtrax and I remixed our images using Lunapic. I suggested a DDA using the tool (which I hope goes over better than my other suggested DDA for creating a Cyper Punk name which was never published so idk I can only make suggestions~).
Also, I shared this interesting video on how the “meme-ification” of celebrity personage affects our own reality. I think it ties in rather well with our discussion around memes, net art, and self-representation in the digital age.
~Till next time~