The Interior of Net Art

published: January, 2002

tina laporta


The question of how to exhibit net art came up strongly in 1997. It became clear that some works were actually interesting for a traditional, offline art audience. In the beginning it seemed that exhibiting net art in a physical space was an anomaly, something contradictive to the nature and background of the attitude from which net art sprung. The online communities a lot of net art came out of refused to think of solutions for physical exhibitions, like they also found it very difficult (with some exceptions) to find a way to deal with question how to sell a net art work.

When I was approached by one of the net communities' most notorious members Frederic Madre to write a text for a tongue in cheeck woman's magazine I decided therefore to write a piece that was half satire half serious about how to deal with net art. In some sense one could say the text is metaphorical. By ridiculing the style of the average woman's magazine I compare the desire to own any art work (and also to exhibit it) to certain bourgois tendencies to use art in a semi-decorative way. We could ask ourselves whether our desire to own and present an art piece is ultimately more then a wish to exhibit our own cultural awareness in a fashionable way, like the American artist Cary Peppermint jokes in this text. The intangibility of most new media art and the impossibility to set limits to certain works force us having to face what exactly it is we want from art. Many do want something of art that seems missing: something to surround oneself with. Let's dive into the interior design of net art.

a home for net art

The question is on everybody's lips: how do I find the right piece of net art to fit with my settee? Which net art work could I get to suit the color of my carpet, the instability of my moods and the tiles of my bathroom best? Net art lovers have big empty walls and screaming voids in their cabinets. Big art collectors maybe have the luxury of being able to buy some of the wonderful hi tech installations made for that large exhibition in the ZKM or that exclusive box at the Ars Electronica Centre, but most of us can not afford such luxuries. Are we doomed to endless 'interactions' with the artworks and their makers from behind our dull keyboards and computerscreens? Do we have to keep visiting the Guggenheim, the Centre Pompidou or the Stedelijk Museum to have some kind of immersive experience of network art? If you loved those stripes on the wall in Debra Solomons holodeck for artists' spacetravel you can of course simply start practicing some DIY. Buy a white pen and steal that blacklight from the toilet in your favorit disco. You are ready for lift off. But would the products of your pottering be major infringements on the artists' rights in the original work? And on the other hand: if Debra Solomon knew about your efforts, would that mean you have a Real 'Debra Solomon' in your living room? I decided to do some fieldwork to see if also those without a budget could have that jodi wallpaper they always dreamed about, and if yes, if the proud owners could then tell their visitors the walls are covered in genuine art. Here is the first part of the investigation in which seven net artists from six countries around the globe shed some light on the matter.

 Do the artists approve?

 The first question is of course: are net artists willing to have their work in some kind of permanent set up in somebody's home? The variety of answers is quite refreshing. We are not completely on our own in our humble desire for physicality. And what is most interesting is that it is in the presentation of the works off line that net art works most clearly show their amazing diversity. There is something out there for each of us. The works range from pompous or baroque to funny or modest in their interference with our home's atmosphere. Let me introduce the artists to you.

An artist well known for his investigation into intimacy is Igor Stromajer from Slovenia. To my question what he would think of people that would want one of his works in their home permanently he answers: "I would really feel very honored because I think that if someone would like to have my work in their home it would really mean a lot to them. A lot! It probably means they would sleep and eat with it, they would share intimate moments and deepest fantasies with it, well, it would be present in their lives and would finally have the possibility to get under their skin." Even if most of us would find art getting under our skin a bit too intimate, Stromajer's generous remarks show he has something in common with us. Maybe the appreciation from artist for audience and from audience for artist in this case presents us with a mutual hospitality. We enter eachothers space when we create a net art environment in our homes: the work becomes part of our home, and the home shapes and shelters the work.

The British net art philosopher Heath Bunting, notorious for subverting all notions of ownership, on the other hand doubts the innocence of the intimacy of the individual home and maybe even the innocence of the question. His reply to my question is a bit mysterious: "It depends on what they call home. I prefer shared spaces to live in. The same goes for my work also." His work prefers shared spaces. Is a family home a shared space? Maybe not enough. His answers to the next questions (which I will get to later) show he is not interested in making art for individual enjoyment at all. 

The russian artist Alexei Shulgin has never heard of 'such people', when asked what he would think of people that would want net art in their homes.

New Yorker Tina LaPorta says the question of art in individual homes makes her feel uneasy. She continues: "Creating my work with new media has given me a sense of freedom, knowing that I have access to an audience via a mass communications medium: the internet, cable television, etc. I wasn't "brought up" thinking of the old paradigm of dealer to collector, collector to museum, museum to audience." It is clear LaPorta aims at a less defineable audience. What do some artists fear to loose in a closed environment? Not all artists worry about this, and their work reliefs us from the burden of thinking about our responsibilities when we handle net artworks too. They simply do it for us.

Blank&Jeron from Germany are quite wellknown for their installation works, and thus ready for action here. Jeron: "We always thought about the possibility to expand our net activities into the real world, therefore we really like the idea of entering the living-room with our work." No problem here, we have full artist collaboration.

Cary Peppermint, like Tina LaPorta living in New York, takes it even further: "The continued dissemination and recombinate processing of my information always makes me happy."

Last but not least dutch artist Peter Luining only says the mere question we ask takes net art to another level. As long as that means we get our net art home I am ok with that. Let's start disseminating and recombining then.

 Which artworks could be used?

As I said, the works recommended to us are varied. Igor Stromajer offers: "I would certainly recommend "sm.N - Sprinkling Menstrual Navigator (navigational www movie)" for the bedroom, and I would recommend more dynamic works, more mobile and more active like "mobile trilogy" for the rooms we use more during the day."

Blank&Jeron have three works they recommend: "1. a stone made out of "dump your trash" ( 2. one of our "" kits ( and 3."re_represent", installation, the material we used for that is based on the message-board of ConSors (german online-broker)."

 Cary Peppermint: "Firstly i would recommend "text112100.html" and secondly would be "3 ways to get wood and balloons - 3rd bidder option".

 Alexei Shulgin recommends the work of someone else!: "I would recommend something from jodi ( My works are not decorative. wwwart medal could be one (if it was updated)."

Heath Bunting recommends his World Service, an internet radio interface: "It is a good tool for habitual enjoyment."

Tina LaPorta is jokingly says: "the piece i'm working on now! ;)" This probably means her recommendations lateron on how to recreate her work in your living room would fit all or most of her work.

And last but not least Peter Luining says: "I would recommend one of my sites as a whole."

How to fit the net art work in the room?

Now we can start working on our heavenly net art home. Where can we place which work and how do we do it? What materials will we need, does the artist give strict instructions or do we also have a say in how the final set up will be? Two artists, Igor Stromajer and Cary Peppermint, have clear ideas for different spaces in our home. First of all Igor Stromajer's webmovie Sprinkling Menstrual Navigator is thought to give our bedroom a special sense of calmness and relaxation.

The Sprinkling Menstrual Navigator has nothing to do with blood trickling down onto your beige carpet, so no worries about getting your sleeping place all messy. When asked about it Stromajer says the title has been chosen because the websites used in it are coming out of the movie like menstrual blood is coming out of the body. How to install it though?

Igor Stromajer: "sm.N - Sprinkling Menstrual Navigator" would be made as a wallpaper, wallscreen or maybe better as ceilingpaper (ceilingscreen) in the bedroom." There should be sensors inside the bed so your moves replace the mouseclicks which invoke the storyline. Each move provokes new situations on the ceiling, resulting in new atmospheres in the bedroom as the work progresses. As the colors and the pictures or symbols in this movie are not at all pushing themselves onto the viewer, and also because the movie is quite slow (depending on your connection it can be even slower), the set up will not be too loud for the bedroom.

Stromajer's Mobile Trilogy on the other hand is meant to be used in an active setting. It "would be made as an internal wireless network between the mobile devices at home and outside it. GSM phones, PDAs and GPSs would in that way be connected, and even people living alone would have the feeling that someone is with them." Messages sent from the living room to the kitchen serve as an addition to the usual informal communication at home.

Mobile Trilogy clearly is in no way like the traditional unique artpieces. It is created to be used and spread anywhere, yet particularly in private and informal communications. The generally rather coarse use of for instance mobile phones is refined and sensitized in order to get it closer to our individual physical sensitivities.

Cary Peppermint's 3 ways to get wood and balloons - 3rd bidder option "would simply remain an information carrier of cultural status to be mentioned or "dropped" at parties by the proud owners of the work." This highly conceptual work needs a confident owner who is not easily offended or swept of his or her feet by a critical audience. The owner needs to believe in the work and have faith in its intangible yet firm foundation. It seems the work (its 'information carrier') can be placed nearly anywhere in the home, but a prominent place in the living room or lounge might be most appropriate to facilitate an air of importance or sacredness around the work.

Text112100.html needs less mental effort of its owner, but it does ask for more discipline. Peppermint suggests: "(It) might be incorporated as a very slight and non-invasive mini-monitor kiosk just beside a door leading to the outside. It would be important for text112100.html to not be situated anywhere that might suggest an "end of passage" such as against a wall or in a basement with no exits available. For text112100.html to be realized and function optimally in a domestic space there would also have to be an agreement to employ its "one click" ONLY and ALWAYS when the user is in process of leaving the home and to reset the piece when returning home again."

In contrast to the strong interactivity and the specific usage that are part of the previous artworks which ask for a strong commitment to the work and therefore also to how it is installed, most works are very simple to place anywhere you feel like having them.

Peter Luining, Tina LaPorta, Blank&Jeron, Alexei Shulgin and Heath Bunting each in their way ask for rather traditional set ups for their work, even if these set ups can vary considerably from artwork to artwork. These works do not cause much distraction from our daily rountines until the moment one activates them.

Both Peter Luining and Tina LaPorta think a touch screen would be best for their work. The only difference is LaPorta advices to use headphones for the sound, whereas Luining wants speakers. Appearantly, also considering what she said earlier, Tina Laporta finds it hard to imagine her work outside of a private or individual experience, even in an installation setting. One can easily imagine both Luinings and Laporta's works in one home because of this. Whereas Peter Luinings big touch screen could dominate a living room or large hallway, Tina LaPorta's work would probably be exhibited best in a smaller space, a corner with a chair and maybe a smaller screen then the one that would be used for a central display. Next to the touchscreen version of a LaPorta work you can also go for the much cheaper option, which is to simply hang a print of one of her images on your wall.

Blank&Jeron don't just have advice for us, they have a near finished product. Also, if you want their work in your home, you often cannot avoid contacting them in order to obtain the work. The physical, stone version of Dump Your Trash is created in a collaboration between artist and audience. You feed a url to their website recycler and have the artists carve the outcome in stone.

Thinking of it, this work is ideal for the spaces in your home that are quite difficult to find a net art work for: the kitchen, the garden and the bathroom. If it is possible to even pick the type and color of the stone the work can fit in the most carefully designed interiors, like the zen homes we see so much.

The kits can simply be downloaded and the result is up to your capabilities in the DIY department. Re:Present is an existing installation, which can be bought as a whole or in parts, or as Blank&Jeron say: "Even just the wallpaper!"

Also those with the smallest homes can have their own piece of net art installation. Alexei Shulgins' wwwart medal simply asks for a computer in the corner. Shulgin is one of the more traditional net artists and his work has always been dominated by an early computer office aesthetic. Greyish colors, a sober environment, second hand furniture and simple, tv dinner meals complement this work, but you are of course free in your choices concerning the placement of this particular piece.

Last but not least Heath Buntings work seems to ask for very little. His Worldservice can be used in numerous ways. The only advice the artist gives on how to implement the work at home is to simply use speakers. This leaves us with the difficult question: what kind of speakers? When near a radiostation that broadcasts Worldservice in the ether a simple transistor radio is all we need. In this case we might have a portable net art piece in our hands, just like with Stromajer's Mobile Trilogy. The difference of course is that there is no limit to the amount of people who share Worldservice, and there is certainly no chance of somebody owning it. In an installation set up the work resembles a radiostation as it normally comes to us in our home: the environment and quality of the work depends on the installation we use and it benefits greatly from a permanent internet connection.

Is it still art?

So you have your plastic transistor in the kitchen playing Heath Buntings Worldservice. You have a computer in some dead corner showing Alexei Shulgin's wwwart medal. You have a touchscreen with Peter Luining's in your living room and a smaller one next to a leather chair in the conservatory showing the latest work by Tina LaPorta. Your bathroomfloor is tiled with recycled websites in stone. You sooner forget your keys then that you forget to reset Cary Peppermints' text112100.html. You and your family members always carry their portless intimacy devices from Igor Stromajer's Mobile Trilogy and when you can't sleep you do not count sheep but you slowly count websites every time you turn in your bed. Is it possible to tell your friends and family-in-law all these things are art? I asked each artist whether they would consider extensions of their work done according to their recommendations as part of their work. A very vague question, with many interpretations possible. It turns out not all artists understand the word 'extensions'.

I have to admit this term stems from a network centered way of thinking that might have been outdated by a general situation where the network is a normal part of the habitat and vice versa. Anyway, we are still working towards having net art in our homes. Is what we have created in our homes still art?

Igor Stromajer: "If they (the extensions) would be done according to my recommendations or maybe even by myself, they would become a part of my work, but because they would be unique, it would probably result in a new work (combined and made with/from the project and the extensions)." So in this case we not only have art, we have -an original work-.

Cary Peppermint, Peter Luining, Alexei Shulgin and Blank&Jeron all simply answered my question with a resounding: "Yes!"

Peppermint did create a little catch for potential buyers of his work. He states: "I do believe I would instigate a "screening" process (..) and interview potential buyers of the work so that they met the criteria set forth in my ideal family scenario." It turns out Peppermint's works are only for: "(..) a family of three including a liberal feminist mom, an overly-considered child and an exhausted father with vacuous personality induced by over the excess of days spent amongst the pre-occupations with capital & exchange. The mom would sometimes explain to friends and neighbors with faux modesty, "you know what?! its the weirdest thing but, if you ever want to witness a *performance-exposure* with wood and balloons akin to that which net.artists are currently doing at institutional venues in new york, we have the information to do so right here in our living room or garage!"

My advice for larger or smaller households, or families with no connections to the world, would be to either be more creative then the artist himself and put up a little theatre performance for him in order to obtain rights to the work, or simply have an illegal, amateur copy that will not look very different from the real thing. The first option seems the most sympathetic, as it extends the work even further and gets it entangled in a never ending interaction between your efforts and those of the artist.

I saved Heath Bunting for last, as of course his answer is again perfectly underlining his primary goal: no property. Is our plastic transistor playing Worldservice art? Yes and no. Now go and explain that to your visitors. It is best to simply leave them in awe and have the work cloaked in mystery by your strategic silence.

Will it cost us money?

Finally a most important question. Do we have to invest money when we want to fill our homes interior with net art? Most of the time the answer unfortunetaly is yes. There is one great advantage to net art though. One seldom has to deal with the artist via a gallery or manager. This, plus the fact that net art is still rather an obscure investment object, makes that most of the time a high quality net art work should be less expensive then a mediocre painting or sculpture. This means you can get very good value for your money if you act fast. Some works of course ask for expensive additions, like a touchscreen, but if you can think of combining different purposes for this screen again your costs drop relatively.

Even if most artists (the exception in this case being Heath Bunting) do charge something for their work being presented in your home, there are minor differences in how they approach this. I close off with a few remarks concerning how the artist sees his or her reward.

"If it would be someone I wouldn't know and if the person would like to buy the work, I would charge

one fee for the completed work (work + extensions). That's just because I care about the money and I need it", says Igor Stromajer. But he also says: "If I would know this person personally and I would like him/her, I wouldn't charge anything." When you become good friends with Igor Stromajer, it seems you can have some of his work for only the costs of the installation.

With Blank&Jeron however, the price depends on which work you choose and how you prefer to have it. For example in case of 'dump your trash', you have to pay for the stone, but "(..) the download of the kit is for free. In general we have no piece you can just download an run on your machine, there is allways our help needed. But, you are allowed to use any results of your interaction with one of our works for free. i.e if you recycle your homepage you can print out the result or put it on your homepage ... in general you have the permission to do what you like, just tell us."

With 'In general we have no piece you can just download and run on your machine' Blank&Jeron make a particularly interesting comment that has not been made before, even if it seems to be suggested by Cary Peppermint too. Appearantly you do not even need an internet connection for net art! For some net art, that is. Again, many options with Blank&Jeron, for all budgets.

Cary Peppermint, Alexei Shulgin and Peter Luining leave less space for your creativity with both your wallet and the way their work (the ones they recommended to us anyway) is displayed. They like to be paid as consultants.

Tina LaPorta does not know what to make of my question about whether she would expect to be paid for extensions of her work, as she is unclear about what extensions are. Playing the devil's advocate one could say this leaves us with interesting options for getting everything out of this artist and not paying a dime. We can take advantage of an artist in doubt about where his or her work begins and ends, and what a representation of it is worth. If we were bad. But of course we are not, and therefore we hope our small investigation helps not just us to get our desirable net art home, but that it helps our favorite artist too. They gave us more then just a luxurious interior. We carry their work, sometimes literally, with us everywhere.


The previous text is of course seriously lacking in some central issues when one tries to apply it to exhibiting net art in public. In order to tackle those, however faintly maybe, I decided to send the same artists, and one extra, some additional questions. Two artists refused to answer additional questions: Alexei Shulgin and Heath Bunting. Knowing them well they were probably bored with the whole topic and thought their previous answers had said enough. They have.

All answers of Blank and Jeron were lost in a computer crash, so their input in this appendix is nil. Not so in exhibitions, which they have always taken part in without the difficulties some other net artists seem to have had with physical spaces.

The artist I added is Mary-Ann Breeze, better known online as 'Mez', an Australian artist who sends poetic collections of thoughts to mailinglists, whereby she plays with the different layers of platforms on the net. Her work seemed most difficult to present well in an art space, which made me curious for any ideas about this from herself.

Mez has developed her own language, which takes a bit of time to read and understand. According to the german critic Florian Cramer: "for the reader of mez's "netwurks", it remains all the more an open question whether the "mezangelle" para-code of parentheses and wildcard characters only mimicks programming languages or is, at least partially, the product of programmed text filtering." As an example of how she writes I show you what she answered to my question whether an exhibition changes the nature of her work:

"due 2 the open source nature of my ][net][wurk][s][ - ie the writing packets that i circulate via email and various other communication technologies ][eg IRC or MOOs][ - make it easy 2 n.tegrate in2 an overall _complete_ wurk that can find itself blinking away on a cursored screen in a white-cubesque room ][gallery][.obviously, i'd prefer 2 let the net itself support the wurk N allow its sporadic growth, rather than having 2 digress in2 these established methods of x.posure N presentation ][ie in a traditional real-time gallery].

howeva, when i choose 2 x.tend these net.wurk tendrils b-yond the mezangelled text, 4 woteva reasons, this multifaceted wurk re][construction][wiring does add complex facets N lurvely f.fects that may prove 2 shift the piece in2 somewhere other....whether that's a loaded _other_ or not i'm not the 1 2 type....."

("Due to the open source nature of my net-works (ie the writing packets that I circulate via email and various other communication technologies (eg IRC or MOOs)) it is easy to integrate them into an overall complete work that can find itself blinking away on a cursored screen in a white cubesque room or gallery. Obviously I'ld prefer to let the net itself support the work and allow its sporadic growth, rather than having to digress into these established methods of exposure and presentation (ie a traditional real-time gallery). However, when I choose to extend these network tendrils beyond the 'mezangled' text, for whatever reasons, this multifacetted work reconstruction wiring does add complex facets and lovely effects that may proof to shift the piece into somewhere other... whether that is a loaded other or not I am not the one to say.")

She further states that she prefers to give the work to a curator and say 'do what you want with it', as 'networks are difficult to control anyway'. So Mez, like many other net artists (and also other artists before them), is not used to having control over her work.

This aspect of net art could very well be the reason we have seen so many net artists go along with rather bland or, from the perspective of their work, unexpected exhibition situations. There is not just the technological barrier, but also a psychological difficulty to deal with a physical space that is so far from the net artists' first environment. The first environment of course being the one in which the artist more or less controls the presentation of her or his work, and in which the artist is very close to her or his audience.

 Igor Stromajer's way to deal with this seems to simply approach net art in the 'traditional' way. Because of this he makes both work for the internet and seperate but related works for exhibitions, performances or other physical presentations. He says: "In general, I have a negative attitude towards exhibiting net art in a physical space. I believe that what is digital, should stay digital."

Yet then Stromajer continues with saying that he hates the usual computer set ups in exhibitions. For him a presentation of his net art works is a very intimate experience, because it has to reflect the intimacy he plays with in these works. An intimacy many seem to find in the net (think of David Ross in his lecture at "My net art works are digital, they have digital dramaturgy, concept, life."

In a way his approach seems to exemplify the invisible barrier many net artists have to deal with when exhibiting in an art space. The intimacy of the on line space is disrupted, the open social space and the lively yet unstable circles of electronic communication are disturbed by a static presentation of the work in an environment which is enscribed with the codes and traditions of a secluded artworld. Two closed worlds clash.

 Not all artists see the net as a distinctive space though. Cary Peppermint does not make the strict distinctions between the offline and online world Stromajer makes or which Mez seems to experience. The internet is more integrated in his art work as a whole. He says: "At this point I believe the internet is an 'effective medium' for art more often when it is NOT considered a medium at all but more of a phenomenon. (...) I feel close to 'net art' when I imagine the internet as a collective 'falling apart' (restless). If this is a falling into the 'idea' of the internet instead of the 'internet itself' and this 'idea' assumes physical manifestions then all the better."

When asked what would be the ideal way to exhibit his networked pieces in a physical space he answers: "Net art can take the form of photo's, video, homemade psycho-active drugs or a laptop alone in a field attempting communication with chickens. Getting back to the specifics of the question, the ideal way to exhibit in the physical is for the net artist not to simply convert the work into physical components, but instead to allow the work to 'network' itself (as a life form of sorts) into recombinate autonomous nodes that act as carriers of the initial information."

This reminds me that even if the two artists Stromajer and Peppermint have a very different interpretation of the internet they are quite similar in another way. Both try to recreate the experience of networking within a piece in a physical exhibition rather then that they try to represent the networked art work as some kind of tangible object.

Stromajer's ideal way to exhibit his work in a physical space would be : "A 5 hours long lecture with dancing, singing, eating and talking. A conversation. Communication. It would be called the intimate night."

For Tina LaPorta an exhibition in a real space would ideally be a live net.performance. That means the work does not remain in the space after the performance has ended (there is no permanent presence of the work), though traces of it could be found in the form of documentation. Like with her answers to the previous questions, about having her work in a permanent set up in somebody's home, LaPorta seems to dislike the physical space so much for her work that she prefers her art work to be there as little as possible. It escapes when we try to get our hands on it, but we are always welcome to visit it in the 'intimacy' of the internet.

Peter Luining is much more reluctant about considering an art exhibition than about having his work in somebody's home. He reasons like this: "How much control do you have over the presentation of your work? The other day I saw a call for participation which said 20 pieces will be selected to be shown on an imac. Seems to me organisers and artists can only have one interest in such exhibitions: their cv's and possible funding based on these."

And indeed net artists, or digital artists in general, have considerable trouble having their work treated with the respect it deserves. It is not uncommon for instance that an artists' work is part of an exhibition, even of the press releases of a festival or exhibition, while the artist her or himself is not even notified. Luining has curated one net art exhibition himself, in the year 2000 in Amsterdam, because he was not satisfied with the careless presentations of net art at other venues.

A few words about catalogues. Because network art is largely ephemeral it benefits greatly from good documentation and a supportive theoretical or social context. Though I would recommend as much print material to accompany this type of work as possible (if only to ensure some kind of historical insight after the demise of various technological platforms, software, contexts etc) some artists prefer to have an online catalogue (a web site) or other digital documentation over a book (Mez, LaPorta, Luining).

Cary Peppermint seems more realistic in that he asks for something which "would model itself on the exagerated forms of the commercial and commercial advertising". Though this comment suggests an almost cliche postmodern approach of art, his idea is that "these exhibition catalogues would be an 'overexposure' for the exclusive purpose of public archive".

Igor Stromajer is looking for a text catalogue, "no images from the works, no still 'screen shots', no fancy and shiny things at all". Essays, personal and theoretical reflection presented in an extreme way ("big white poster ... length of 10 A4 pages") is the ideal catalogue he is thinking about.

A final word by Tina LaPorta on what is the difference with an online and an offline exhibition: "It's important that I am physically present during a physical exhibition. It's important that I am physically absent on-line." That means, amongst other things: don't just make a link to a website on a computer somewhere or don't just build an immersive environment for a work, but try to invite the artist over as well when you include net art in a physical exhibition. Artists are after all still physical entities, even in the digital age. *