No Ego: Thoughts on preserving the exchanges between artist and audience

published:May, 2004

This text was originally written for the symposium '404 Object Not Found' on preserving new media art, organized by Hartware in Dortmund, Germany, 19-22nd of June 2003. It was later modified a little and has appeared in edited form in the Belgian art magazine 'A Priori' in autumn 2004. This text is actually still in development, or at least its topic and line of thinking is. |Intro: translation, art as conceptual space and art as experience

The following text is about how I see art in new media networks in relation to the history of the modern arts from their earliest stages until now, while focusing on the relationship between artist and audience. From this I continue with how contemporary and future arts are and will be more difficult to preserve then those so called traditional arts, not so much because these art works take on a less material shape, but most of all because art is developing into an art experience or maybe even lifestyle. Preserving art and especially selecting art works for posterity becomes more difficult in such circumstances: selecting and preserving art will become an even more subjective choice compared to earlier, ‘traditional’ methods for selection and preservation. I also try to think about the possible limitations on ‘the’ audience’s (and different artists’) freedom to use, paraphrase or ‘physically’ interpret media art works in particular. Thoughtless application of practices around copyright within new media can have big consequences for new media art, for the theoretical (and cultural) as well as practical interpretation (as in for instance borrowing or copying code or physical features) of a specific project.
Unfortunately the art work is often still approached from a dominantly materialistic mindset, which is obstructive when one is engaged in the issue of preserving contemporary, “non traditional” (1) art works. In July 2003 Iris Dressler and Hans Christ, the organizers of “404 object not found”, connected their conference to a major exhibition of the Spanish artist Antonio Muntadas. This exhibition is part of a bigger project Muntadas has worked on for several years, called: ‘On Translation’. By connecting to this complex, multilayered work the conference was more or less automatically influenced by a way of thinking in which context and meaning of an art work are extremely important. As Iris Dressler and Hans Christ put it in the catalogue of this exhibition : “To [Muntadas] it is much more important for the presentation of [On Translation] in a different context to make the transfer plausible while at the same time reflecting the conditions of the other, “alien” or new context. Against this background, we decided to present the various works – according to their different formats and contextual specificities – as “originals”, as reconstructions, or in the form of interpretative documentations.” (2) Through this approach a big warning sign was placed in front of the trap of approaching art works primarily through their initial, physical components, and judging or preserving a work of art by looking at its physical components alone is definitely too limited. Preserving art is most of all about passing on culture to future generations, an intangible experience, even if the physical experience of art works is the strongest conveyer of such an experience.

Art as cult, art as space of engagement:
Popular culture as interpretation space and fully-fledged cultural producer

After more then a century we still witness a further development of a change in the arts that started with the invention of reproduction techniques, a development that accelerated in the industrial era. This change in the arts can, in my opinion, be traced back to not the invention of photography or the Jaquard Loom weaving machines (just to name to popular starting points of many a new media history (3)), but to the invention of print (4). The invention of print produced the end of an almost intimate relationship (1 on 1) between writer and reader, and it created the possibility for the written word to free itself from the burden of having to almost purely convey meaning. Compared to the old handiwork the seemingly infinite reproduction and dissemination of texts caused a breech to happen between the authority of the writer and the reader (5). A bigger distance between them occurred, creating an – audience – rather then a select group of individual readers. The intimacy between writer and reader was replaced by an intimacy between writer and audience, which ultimately gave members of this audience the possibility for self education and self expression.
Even if it took more then a few hundred years before the way so called ‘ordinary’ people read really changed (when reading in silence, to oneself alone, also became popular amongst the lower classes (6)), and is (because of its slowness) the impact of print on the way it changed our relationship with art less obvious then the influence of photography seems to have been, still print is very interesting if we want to further understand what cultures of estrangement the modern and postmodern era really have been. Print created a distance between producers of culture and members of the audience that we can still feel today. It created a cultural space in which it was possible for the reader, the new audience, to develop her or his individual approach of a particular work, because the distance between the intention of the writer and the intention or interests of the reader was enlarged by a multitude of layers of reproduction and distribution of a text. Through various forms of distribution (7) of large circulations of texts a broader field of possible interpretation emerged, spread over different classes, communities and thus also cultures. This new space of interpretation, which of course first of all mostly manifested itself in the minds of readers, then became visible in the shape of cults around writers and books (think for instance of the influence of certain books on the development of romanticism and ‘decadence’, or think of the cults around Goethe or Oscar Wilde).

We could say that a part of the interpretation of art has been happening inside the domain of popular culture for some time now, even if popular interpretation of and association with the visual arts has developed more slowly then these did with writing. The influence of a work of art has reached into popular culture and social life since at least the end of the 19th century, and what is more interesting: at least since that time popular culture is involved with high culture. She cannot be separated from it, despite a few influential and outspoken attempts by critics, the most (in)famous of which is of course Clement Greenberg. The audience’s association, on various levels, with the arts in popular culture was always an active, lively environment, and in the 20th century this environment developed from being mostly an interpretation space into being a production space as well.
The exchanges between artist and audience, as they seem to have happened in the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century could be roughly described in this way:
- reproduction created distance from the original which in turn caused a freedom of interpretation to emerge;
- this freedom of interpretation created a reaction from the side of artists in which an attempt was made to, as it were, pre-create interpretation;
- the audience in turn was challenged by the pre-created interpretation of a work by an individual artist (and eventual reproductions and documentation produced around a work) to a further expansion of interpretation;
- and all this happened in a growing industrial market which finally was complemented by personal and mass media.
This wavering, maybe even circular movement, in which interpretation in the end remains dependent on intention and initial activity by an artist, would lead to a very active and also productive interpretation space at the end of the 20th century, an interpretation space which developed within the whole of all media and the local cultures connected to them, the internet having been (and still seeming to be) the most influential in its development.

Popular culture, once seen as the domain of mainly “fans and bimbo’s” (8) of all kinds of quality and class (9), has developed in such a way that it is producing its own, autodidact artists (plus art context: artist initiatives, journalists, publications). Art has irreversibly become part of daily life: the avant-garde can rest in peace. The development of a non-institutional art practice has gained momentum by the development and availability of personal media (10). The last few decades in particular a part of the ‘former’ audience has gained access to the higher levels of cultural production, through various presentation platforms and media. The internet seems to have been of particular importance there. On it ‘grassroots’ artist movements and art initiatives with an often more profound understanding of media art and its ever changing environment then older, more established art institutions have developed. Some of these artists and initiatives already collaborate with all kinds of art institutions world wide (11). The now much broader (and also deepened) environment of popular culture is actually adding to the creation of high culture: it produces high culture. There is not enough room in this text to go into the ever rising questions around the quality of such additions (I actually don’t find such questions very interesting either, since they seem to reflect the questioner’s wishes or prejudices around certain practices most of all). I limit myself therefore to describing the changing art experience created by these artists, the art initiatives and the new journalistic space related to them. Hopefully this description will give some clues to clarify why the question of quality of art has become so hard to answer. One reason surely is that this quality has become part of an action (which can be time and location specific) and is no longer enclosed in a finished, given object or construction. Then I would like to say that even if I concentrate on art in and around new media, with in the back of my mind the knowledge that these media also resonate outside their immediate environment.

Media and art experience: the intelligence sits in front of the keyboard (12)

What does it mean to make art in or with electronic media? The Canadian art critic Jeanne Randolph has developed a criticism of what she calls “the technological ethos” (13) in the early 1990’s. Skillfully avoiding the often tedious and rigid Marxist criticisms of capitalism (which seems inherent to the development of most new technologies) she criticizes our society’s obsession with the appearance of our alleged progress: virtual reality goggles and gloves, personal computers, the latest mobile phones, handhelds, you name it. Jeanne Randolph reminds us that technology is more then those shiny, desirable objects, and that technology really is what produced those objects.
Technology is an ever developing, almost immaterial process, which we mostly perceive through the traces it leaves behind in physical space in the shape of products and machines in which this process every now and then solidifies. One could say these products are our temporary physical translations of an immaterial, creative process. Randolph’s way of thinking gives us the opportunity to look at for instance the preservation of new media art as a cultural process, in stead of overestimating the importance of its purely material components. It can give us the opportunity to approach the preservation of this art as if it were a reconstruction of an unstable, partly materialized (solidified?) process.

The history of art created with or around electronic media is often presented as a separate entity in art history as a whole, just like a new technological product is often perceived as a dissonant, a strange object, in the environment it sprung from. Furthermore the history of this art is often approached as a linear trajectory based upon the development of specific technological products used for such art. But the art works in question could also be seen as one variety, a technologically conceived (art) form, within the diversity of all arts, whereby technology is part of a larger social context and is subdued to the intention of the artist. Art created with the internet, also called net art, is being submitted to the same fate as earlier ‘media arts’, in which many, quite different art works were approached through the same technical aspects. This is as much undesirable (since it damages our understanding of contemporary art) as it is strange, because (just like a lot of earlier media art arose from the practices of ‘immaterial’ arts such as performance or conceptual art (14)) net art discourse started more as a conceptual discourse then a materialistic one (15). The early, conceptual approach of net art and maybe all media arts offers a great freedom of thought, and thus also of practice. And then: what is net art exactly? What does the internet mean for the arts?

When we look at the variety of art in new media networks it is very hard to maintain that what is so often called ‘net art’ is a separate category, some kind of new discipline, within the visual arts. It is much more correct to say that art, and the art world at large, is more or less expanded and also changed by the use of computer networks (and related networks). The reality of art in the age of the internet is that computer networks, like their predecessors the telephone networks, have become a tool which combines a (relative) accessibility and sociability with an (again relative) effectiveness and productivity. Artist will use it as they please, and they do, just like any of us uses the computer and the internet in whatever way we choose or think is necessary, and they implement it in whatever art practice they engage in. Using computer networks has simply become a part of daily life in art practices at large, and the use of the internet in art projects is spread to a degree that one could maybe compare it to how the use of video equipment has slipped away from the rather enclosed video environment of the early 80’s to become part of an expanding multidisciplinary art practice (16). Artists do use the internet for its specific technical (and also cultural) possibilities, but these possibilities are often just a part of the intention behind the work or situation the artist is attempting to shape.

Again I don’t want to elaborate, this time on the various art practices on and around the internet, which is why I only briefly mention a few projects to give some sort of impression of the variety of works. Whether for example the conceptual space of an art project is expanded through the web (like in ‘nomansland’ by Karen Lancel and Marjorieke Glaudemans (17)), or the internet is used as a musical instrument or simply as data carrier (as in respectively ‘Global String’ by Atau Tanaka (18) or in most streaming media projects (19)), or whether it is used for multi-user or participation project (as in 3D environments such as (20), the early project Refresh (21) or Debra Solomon’s The Living (22)), in the end the internet is simply the vehicle which makes it all technically possible, and its wiring and its nodes are not the core of the work. It is a (sometimes very) important part of the work, but the heart of the work often seems to be something else, such as a fascination or desire for communication, the tension between closeness and distance, the celebration of togetherness or maybe a lament about separation. Even to artists that focus on the visuals or technology of computers and networks (like (23)) the internet often is most of all a way to escape a suffocating art environment or a way to keep as much control over their work as possible (24).
Even if it is not correct that the broad variety of art works on or around the internet is (I must emphasize: mistakenly) named in one breath, it is understandable. All these different art practices, whether we are dealing with the work of a dancer, a musician, a composer, a designer, a painter, a video artist, a sculptor or a performer, have a different approach but (for as far as their work is perceived through a computer) a limited array of materials. This limited array of materials, of hardware and software, creates the illusion that very different art works are all part of one and the same art discipline, namely that of computer art, digital art, or ‘net art’. So we see different ways of working represented in similar sign languages, but the material similarities do not automatically imply that all the works are of the same order or that they could all be analyzed the same way.

Participation and lifestyle

The presence of an ‘extension’ (25) of an art work (or the presence of an entire art work) on the internet results in a certain kind of openness, an openness arising from the accessibility of the work and the possibility for the audience to view, change or interpret the work at will. This is produced by that famous and infamous interactivity which has already been discussed and criticized in numerous ways. In fact there are so many levels of interactivity that the word itself is no longer interesting to use as the buzzword it once was. In computer networks accessibility and the possibility to adjust or design to what degree information can be manipulated can be controlled at wish.
Experiments with total openness (26) are opposed by the practice of capturing an audience in experiences in which the only interactivity consists of the ability to switch a particular process on or off (for instance an animation (27) or a sequence of images which form a kind of short movie (28)). One can however find many different levels of interactivity between these two extremes. A few years ago I wrote about how experiencing music has changed through the use of the combination of the computer and the internet (29) because the role of the composer, artist and author has become more obscure inside a machine which gathers reception, manipulation and sending of data in one place. The audience now more or less is equipped with the same tools as the artist, and the audience can therefore in fact easily copy (and re-use or re-interpret) the work of some artist or replace her or his work by its own production. Slowly this practice is becoming more common and musicians have to contemplate to what level they want to keep control over their work or in what way they wish to present it. Copying and literal quoting from music has become a common practice since the early eighties and the combination of the computer and the internet has added a dimension of speed and distance to them. The audience can take the musicians’ place, but also that of the (radio) DJ or the critic. We see a similar development in the arts (30) online, only it does seem as if there is less of a replacement of the artist but more of a more intimate art experience on the part of the audience. Contrary to a rather persistent common belief which says that art on the internet is hard for the audience to engage with (due to its mediated distance) this art is often dependent on engagement and can only show itself to its full advantage by the grace of an active audience. Without a audience which adds text, navigates, reacts or accepts an invitation to participation or an invitation to make use of a specific work nothing happens, and more importantly: without this there is practically no art experience. The audience of this art has really not much choice but to join, to engage itself. For the audience art on the internet (but also a growing number of participation, interactive or software projects outside or around to the internet) is a step closer to the studio or even the person of the artist, and a step away from the aloofness of the traditional museum.

Preserving a process = going with the flow or ‘being’ the flow

Art to which the experience of an action, a process or a certain environment is central is more difficult to judge or preserve then a tangible, ‘stable’ object is. Firstly there is of course the issue of subjectivity, of the matter of experience, engagement and knowledge of an audience or critic. Then this subjectivity is the basis for a decision which projects are worth preserving or archiving. Last but not least the problem of preservation techniques arises. A few years ago I interviewed the artist Ron Kuivila (31), who had presented a lecture at V2 in Rotterdam about his idea to use the notation/realization practice from conceptual art for media art. Even if Kuivila’s idea is about the creation (and not the preservation) of media art, it could be interpreted by us to be used for the development of more strategies to preserve media art. He says: “I am raising the possibilities to the notation/realisation almost in self-defense against the boundless energy and invention of these technical forms.” And “the acceleration of development in digital media has also increased their ephemerality. This becomes a fundamental creative problem for artists trying to engage the possibilities of a particular technology as a 'medium'. By the time you have mastered it, it has gone away. (…) What I am interested in is raising the possibility and asking the question: what if we look at that seriously and begin to think of the creation of media work along the relationship of notation/realisation.
Individuals simply cannot keep up with the enormous investments being made to speed things up, make them slicker, and in various other ways make the next media form sufficiently attractive to make it difficult to even look at its predecessor. In this context making art works with these media becomes a bit like to a performance. What happens if we take that observation seriously and imagine all art making with media as having the ephemerality of performance?”
Conservators of new media art, especially that art which makes use of the various new possibilities for presentation and communication, are chasing the impossible. They try to hold on to a movement, an atmosphere, an event which is time, location, hard or software specific. Ron Kuivila on databases: “The databanks themselves ephemeral. They will enjoy a continued existence only if someone maintains them. There is a disciplinary element to that. Maintaining is not making. Eventually you start to loose the race, and you get more tightly leashed to the 'common wisdom' because you don't have time to explore the alternatives.” Maybe it is time, as Kuivila suggests, to “imagine the passage between a particular set of technical possibilities to a particular piece as a more fluid situation. Or, we can take the opposite tack and imagine works as problems of specification”.

I should make a big turn now and take you back to where I started, namely the circular movement, the dance of interpretation maybe, in which artist and audience each take their turn. From the first moment I saw net art from up close I have been convinced that the much hailed interactivity of new media was not about clicking buttons or riding a bicycle in an installation, but about engaging in a work socially, personally. The internet is, like David Ross once said in a lecture (32), an intimate space. In the internet we find the same tension between closeness and distance we found in early modern art. Maybe this is one of the reasons why Boris Groys suggested that the internet did not, as many have claimed, accelerate reproduction to a dazzling high, but in fact brings back the original in art (33). This sudden implosion of the reproduction environment has in fact scattered the mass experience of art, and returned art to interpretation on a more local, even personal level. Having left the shared space of the museum, we are at home or in our office, or maybe even alone at a computer in a museum, ‘reading to ourselves’. We are engaging, participating, creating, manipulating and being manipulated. The implosion of the art context to a personal level, to a level in which we are inside the art context, inside the art work even, is the ultimate experience of art and of art consumption. Preserving art in this environment is more then a technical challenge, it becomes social and cultural theory, it becomes concocting an explosive mixture of individual tastes and personal stories. The question is not just how we can still derive a ‘Grand Narrative’ from that, but also whether it will be possible at all. The different interests of artists, audience and critics or curators are more evident then ever, and compete for a limited amount of attention within the media arena. Kuivila: “If you look at the masters, John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, you'll see they are -very- careful about their documentation." He was giving me some flinty eyed practical advice of the form: look buddy, if you don't shape your exo-skeleton, nobody else will and you will disappear”.
Preserving a process (or action) most of all seems to be a matter of keeping this process alive (taking part in, engaging with it) or creating the possibility to repeat it. It also means keeping a memory alive. For this different strategies are thinkable, in which the point of view (of the artist, the audience, the curator or the critic) provides the outcome. The best method for preserving this art would probably be that method in which all four points of view are represented. This means that, compared to common preservation strategies for art, artist and especially audience need to be more involved in the preservation of this art.

Preservation and interpretation: authorship and media art

Not just the preservation of the art work in a mediated environment asks for new strategies, but also the continuation or survival of the interpretation space between artist and audience (and of course between artist and other artists) is dependent on a conscious handling of these art works. We seem to be in a sort of Perpetuum Mobile situation, constantly moving between original intent behind an art work and freedom of interpretation. The tension of the contemporary art discourse lies inside this movement. I want to emphasize this is - in between - art institutions, artist and audience. Quite regularly we can read publications about a so-called crisis in art: this crisis seems to be far more a problem of some traditional art institutions, which do not know how to deal with the present day, non-institutional, only partly professional art debate (and thus chooses to embrace this debate only in the form of politically critical art, which might be attacking ‘the’ establishment, but which does not ask for any structural adjustments or changes from the art institutions themselves). After experiments in 20th century art which tackled specific questions around originality, authorship, the boundaries of an art work and of art itself, we have now entered a phase in which artist distance themselves from making art objects to fully engage themselves in creating ‘zones of interpretation’, to create art processes in stead of objects or installations (34). The audience is invited to view the development of an art project or participate in it. Such art projects also tend to be developed outside of obvious art contexts. Instead they develop more in the living environment of the audience (in people’s homes, lives), or in public space. The word ‘environment’ in the arts seems to be getting an even broader definition again.
Making the process of creation of an art work accessible (and sometimes even the creative process, when the audience is invited to be a participant or partner instead of a ‘producer’ only) overlaps with the desire of the audience to enter the world of originality and creativity of the artist, even if this desire is often just superficial. The audience wants to join the imagination of the artist, and it wants to sympathize with the artist, his image or the development of the art work. During most of the twentieth century this phenomenon seems to mostly have translated itself in the shape of ‘consumption art’ (35), the market around reproductions of paintings, of postcards, t-shirts and other paraphernalia around art. The last decades we have entered a new phase marked by the artist as icon, idol or brand name, a development which is accelerated by art based on processes or events and interactive digital applications used in art.

Art is now entering a phase in which wrongful preservation can not just damage the art process itself, but also the interpretation of this art could become almost impossible. When we keep in mind what influence the art market has (something I have not touched upon yet, but which seems obvious enough) on the way we value art, then the chance of a wrongful preservation of art works is not unthinkable: the rigid copyright legislation applied to music and consumer products (software in particular) could easily be copied for art made with or from digital components, thus obstructing a lively, productive exchange between audience and artist and blocking a further development of the earlier described process of interpretation. It is not just a matter of authorship and copyright. Also access to media channels, presentation or discussion platforms and information is more and more a right one has to pay for to have it. Volkert Grassmuck, initiator of the open source festival ‘Wizards of Os’, talks about the new phenomenon of “data lords”, or “Dataherren” in German (36), the people running companies which no longer sell physical products but only an (often temporary) access to it. Freedom of interpretation could become problematic in the case of art in a mediated environment because technology and legislation for products of commercial as well as artistic mediated environments turn out to look or be practically the same. Only consciously keeping channels or rights open (and levels of openness can be negotiated from project to project and from layer to layer inside a project) can prevent art works and projects to bleed to death, can prevent a discourse to be cut off or it can prevent that new projects do not or hardly have the ability to connect to already existing ones.
There is already an open source art movement on the internet. Maybe it is misplaced to speak of a movement, since it concerns different strategies from various circles, from artists that refuse copyrights to their work (copyleft or open source art) to artists and activists who develop software and platforms that can be used freely or which at least keep the ‘user’ out of the hands of overtly greedy “data lords”. Experienced internet pioneers do their best to not just consciously handle media access and media usage themselves, but to also pass their knowledge and experience to relative newcomers. The issue is to create standard guidelines for a flexible mediated presence whereby one is responsible towards ones own rank and file (the institution, subsidizer, client), but also to the cultural, media context (including its people, projects and debates) in which one is active.

Jon Ippolito, artist and curator, has made an, at first sight modest, but still important step in the direction of the preservation of a certain project for the audience. After his lecture about databases and the ‘Variable Media Initiative’ during the Dutch Electronic Art Festival (DEAF) in Rotterdam early 2003 Ippolito said to me in an interview: “In essence the problem of presentation and the problem of preservation are not different anymore. They are now entwined. You cannot talk anymore about presenting a work without talkig about preserving”. This relates to art made for the internet, is dependent of an action of the audience, and is then purchased by (in this case) a museum. Ippolito has had to negotiate with his employer (the Guggenheim Museum) to get tailor fit contracts for art on the internet, as in for instance Mark Napier’s Net Flag. “the trustees of the Guggenheim (or whatever museum) typically seem to require some kind of exclusivity. That is what museums imagine, based on this older model. (..) Mark Napier wanted to make sure that his web site is always accessible. So that if the Guggenheim would have to, say, pull the plug for some technical or technical reasons, he could rehost it back on his site. This is something which is successfully worked into the contract”.
This way the audience will always have the chance to take part in the project (and design a flag for the internet), but it also seems to have ensured that the project escapes a possibly restrictive placement in the media archive of the Guggenheim museum.


The relationship between artist and audience (37) has changed in character the last two centuries. Audience and artist are in a changing environment, in which technology and culture are deeply connected, and in which especially communication technologies created a continuously stronger mediated environment.
The interpretation of art is largely happening in this mediated environment, in which artists, audience and various authorities (from government to museums) are active, each in their own way. The audience has become more active in its approach of art, and mostly because of this artists seem to have developed new strategies time and time again to deal with this active audience. Artists are now more and more creating ‘zones of interpretation’, environments in which the audience can take part in the process of the art work as a participant or even as co-author. In turn the audience can only really judge such a work of art when it engages with it.
The meaning and value of such a work lies in the activity, the movement, the process of interactivity between audience and art work. Judging such art works and selecting them for quality or historical importance therefore is a precarious undertaking. It seems important to collect different points of view of a particular work when one wants to preserve or archive it.
Next to the matter of judgment of a piece of art (which is dependent on participation or involvement of an audience to be complete), it is also necessary to pay attention to the meaning of each specific work in its living social cultural context. Also the meaning and structure of the archive that holds the art work is a factor in the perception and usage of interactive art works. This means that institutions must be aware of their own mediated presence, but they must also particularly be aware of the (historical, technical, social and political) cultural context in which they have become active/actors when shaping their space inside a mediated environment.
It seems for instance very unwise to uncritically follow the masses or the market when choosing technology and legislative practices to build or protect ones archive or mediated presence. For a lasting, living art practice it is necessary that the audience in particular has the possibility to move and express itself in mediated environments.

(1) This is the term used in the introduction to the book about preserving art “Permanence through Change”, a publication of the Guggenheim Museum and the Daniel Langlois Foundation.
(2) Catalogue //Muntadas, On translation: Das Museum, p.88.
(3) Like for instance in the much cited book by Lev Manovich, ‘The Language of New Media’. He starts his chapter ‘What is new media’ on page 21 with describing Daguerrotypes from 1839 and then crosses over to the ‘Analytical Machine’ by Charles Babbage from 1833.
(4) The development of internet and other network art projects, in which the ‘spectator’ develops a more intimate relationship with an art work through various degrees of interactivity (from clicking buttons to e-mail and other direct contact between artist and audience), asks for a fundamental investigation into the relationship between audience, artist and context of a work. In connection to this it is also important to contemplate on the borders of an art work and the meaning of the engagement of the audience. Compared to photography and other popular ‘new’ media the development of the book seems to have been way ahead in changing the relationship between artistic product and audience.
(5) The most common view of the changed relationship between writer and reader is that print caused a deepening of this relationship. This deepening could only happen though because the ‘pre-Gutenbergian’ dominant position of the writer (and also the limitations of the reading environment of that time) were slowly destroyed, and the ‘new’ relationship between reader and writer is thus of a very different kind then the (rather closed) intimacy between them before print.
(6) Buying books was a privilege for the rich deep into the 19th century. End of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century most people read books from so-called ‘reading shops’, and later from libraries. The price of books and illiteracy caused that people also often read books out loud or listened to others reading them. Texts were shared and commented on through this practice. Personnel of the bourgeoisie would read “works borrowed by their masters”. The rise of the library (in schools, in monasteries, but also public libraries) makes books so common that reading out loud is practiced less and less. “At the end of the [19th] century reading in the workspace, that was practiced as an example to workers in the porcelain factories of Limoges, is a late form of reading that first happened in the refectories of monasteries and which was still required in congregation schools, but which had to give way to reading in silence.” History of the Personal Life, editors Georges Duby and Pilippe Aries, 1987. [All translations mine, JB]
(7) History of the Personal Life, editors Georges Duby and Pilippe Aries, 1987.
(8) Culture/Metaculture, Francis Mulhern, 2000.
(9) From cultural salons to mega exhibitions, whereby cultural salons are usually given more credit then mega exhibitions.
(10) “Personal media” is an expression used by the artist Graham Harwood for media which have become commonplace (such as photography and video camera’s, but nowadays also pc’s) in countries that are not poor to a certain degree. Harwood puts the limit for using personal media with having or not having access to clean drinking water. You can read his views in an interview he gave for Cream:
(11) Collaborations often happen on a project basis, but contacts do seem to continue well beyond them. Think for instance of ‘grassroots’ new media art institutions like Public Netbase from Vienna, Rhizome from New York, Ljudmila from Ljubljana or Sarai from Delhi, whom each collaborate with art institutions world wide.
(12) “The intelligence sits in front of the keyboard and not behind the screen” is a famous quote from the founder of the German hacker society Chaos Computer Club (CCC), Stefen Wernery.
(13) Original theory about the technological ethos: Randolph, Culture and the Technological Ethos. Also described in: Jeanne Randolph, Symbolization and its Discontents (1997).
(14) Heidi Grundmann, leading lady of ORFKunstradio (the Austrian radio program dedicated to sound art) for years, talks about this aspect of media art in an interview that was published in (amongst other places) the online exhibition ‘Telematic Embrace’, curated by Steve Dietz for the Walker Art Centre:
(15) The first attempt to put art on the internet in an art historical perspective was written by Tilman Baumgaertel in 1997, in the German text ‘Immaterialien’:
(16) The 1980’s video art practice of course developed out of a multidisciplinary practice too, namely conceptual art and performance in the 1970’s. See also note 14.
(23) interview:
(24) Next to this there are two more ways in which the internet is used by artists (besides the obvious daily use of for example e-mail) I don’t mention here (which both are also not about the internet in itself). The first is the usage of the internet as a ‘tactical medium’, which means it is used in art works that aim to use or uncover the sensitivity or political context of electronic media (like for instance in or and the second is the widespread practice of using the internet as a publication – or presentation space (for instance to present a curriculum or photographs of paintings).
(25) When part of an art project is on a computer, a server (so: on the internet) and another part is (taking place) in the real world or in other media I often speak of an extension of a project from one space into another. In how far this term is actually useful depends on the nature of an art work, which means it depends on where the artist first and foremost situates the work.
(26) For example:
(27) For example:
(28) For example:
(29) This refers to the text ‘Musaic’, which was part of the online exhibition Crossfade, which was organized through a collaboration of the SFMoma, the Walker Art Centre and the ZKM. If you want to read the entire text: be a creative web user, as the web interface is a bit unusual and my text was split in three sections by the web designer:
(30) Maybe superficially I would like to point at the strange crossovers which can take shape almost automatically between different art disciplines online, due to the earlier described similarities in materials, but also due to the development of various art projects in relatively small online social spaces. Because of this phenomenon I always found it difficult to focus on ‘traditional’ visual art alone when writing about art on the net. Dance, theater, music and literature or poetry (and also design and architecture) seem to mix with visual art easily on the internet.
(32) Published in the online magazine Switch:
(33) Groys suggested this in the text “A short introduction to conjuring with data” of the November 2000 issue of the Swiss magazine DU. He also writes: “I contend that the net does not operate, as is commonly believed, with copies, but rather with originals – exclusively with originals. (..) The Net functions by means of a process opposed to that of reproduction. If reproduction makes copies out of originals, that is, the Net makes originals out of copies”.
(34) An installation can of course also be interactive or ‘unstable’ (think of V2’s definition of unstable media)
(35) Consumption art is just a term I use for want of a better word. It does not refer to commodity art. With commodity art an artist doubts about or questions the value of artistic expressions, whereas with consumption art the audience actually acknowledges its value (with varying degree from person to person) or wants to share in or have/own some of that value.
(36) I heard Volkert Grassmuck speak at a series of lectures organized by the University of Plymouth called Hybrid Discourse. His lecture and some background information can be found at:
(37) And of course the relationship between artist and other artists. Other artists are in a sense also part of the audience of an artist. Besides autodidact artists have developed from the audience and the active interpretation of art within popular culture.