gif illustration sourced by L.M.

There is a decent panel discussion online at MIT about art and technology featuring Lauren Cornell, of Rhizome and Jon Ippolito. For anyone who's been around internet art for awhile, the Rhizome presentation will be a bit redundant, but I found the discussion period fascinating. Ippolito identified a serious art challenge raised by new media and online activity.
I think that there are very strong connections, very important ones, with the past. But I do think that there is a rupture. It is less from the point of view of artists than it is from the folks that define art. What traditions of the definition of art do we have to draw on? Well, we can go back to the Classical period and say it's about proportion, we can go back to the Romantic period and say it's about being out of proportion. But if we want to go back to the most recent definition, that had pretty much universal buy-in among all the major players of museums and galleries and so forth, it's Duchamp. It's saying, if someone declares something to be art, in particular if it occurs inside the white cube of the gallery, then it is art.

This definition has been useful in certain ways, I think it's been very damaging in many ways, but it pretty much reigned from Greenberg through the latest biennials at the Whitney. I think it's defunct. It's not the artists who are using that, it's curators ... I find that this excuse, of now we've got a pluralistic art world, has in fact reinforced the position of the curator because now they are the gatekeeper. Yes, anything in the gallery is art, but I control what comes in the gallery. Of course there are artists and curators who break that model, but that's been the predominant misinterpretation of Duchamp, that it's a sort of contextual, gate-keeped situation. And I think the internet just blew that away.

There is no gallery lintel, there is no museum facade, when you go to the web. There is no domain, thank god. Fortunately we've been able to kill the domain which is pretty much dead in the water now. For me that's a great thing because it means when you see something online you have to decide, not some curator, whether you think it's art.
I'm not sure why, when you see something online, the question of whether or not it is art would even arise, unless you were a curator, or a critic, or a self-defined artist. The challenge posited by Ippolito is specific to art professionals. Bill Arning, curator at the MIT List Visual Arts Center, was in the audience and said this in response.
As a curator who's in this position, let me talk a little bit about the Duchampian legacy which does involve this institutional framework. One of the things about my practice as a curator is that a lot of the work I see on Rhizome, or [inaudible] doesn't need me. It gets from the maker to the audience without the institution. When you think about all the framing devices in this hyper-market phase with the art fair distribution system, things get talked about because they appear at Art Basel Miami and suddenly you have this whole network. Basically the only role for an institutional museum curator in all this is the stamp of approval. ... Being aware of this role is really perplexing, how do you use that in a productive way? ... I think in some ways the only role for the institutional curator is to step out of this, and ... just watch this system and see where we can be useful. ... I almost have to be interested on an amateur level because my professional practice doesn't help anything in this discussion.
Arning's position is extremely unsual (and quite moving, I find). His ability to step back from his own power position and self-identify as an amateur might come from the fact that he is conversant with the paradigms raised by new media art. If pluralism on its own didn't do the job, the internet has definitely given us a window into a wide world of non-heirarchical cultural activity, much of it coming from people who don't define themselves as artists. And I think it's safe to assume that it is happening, and has always been happening, offline as well. In this context, keeping art criteria constrained to the established discourse of the avant-guard seems like a critical cop-out. But how to move forward? Should we adopt Arning's apprach and take a step back? I'm very interested to find out more about curators or critics who are responding to these challenges.

- sally mckay 4-17-2007 6:56 pm

Here's a piece of historical art continuity, or at least a resonance of similarity, that was not raised in the discussion above.

Lucy Lippard delivering the keynote address at MOMA's 2007symposium, The Feminist Future:

"Feminism's greatest contribution to the future of art has probably been precisely it's lack of contribution to Modernism," I pontificated in 1980. Modernism produced truths and feminism produced a rupture, a real pardigm shift, to use an overworked phrase, in the 1970s. Truth with a capital 'T' hasn't been the same since."
Cindy Nemser, in the question period:
I am one of the people who doesn't believe in gendered art in that way that every woman's art will show that she's a woman. I think, and I have written, that to me, feminism is the gateway to humanism. It opens the world to any kind of art ..."

- sally mckay 4-18-2007 12:35 am

Arning's [inaudible]=Nasty Nets? VVork? Eyebeam? DigitalMediaTree?

Arning says his professional practice isn't helpful in this discussion but he could wade in here with the rest of us and hash things out on blog comment boards. Maybe he does, just not the ones I read. Or maybe he's t6ek99, frequent poster (doubtful).

I haven't listened to the discussion--does anyone talk about blogs,, YouTube, flickr? None of that is in Ippolito's recent book on Net art.
- tom moody 4-18-2007 12:58 am

Blogs didn't really figure significantly in the discussion., YouTube, and flickr came up in the Q&A as examples of "successful" interface. Ippolito really seems to be focussed elsewhere. There was some interesting tension around staying true to the ethics of earlier net art/activism with transparent technologies versus embracing the modes of interaction, such as myspace and YouTube, that people seem to really like. Ippolito did go on a cute rant about Powerpoint, "a broadcast tool that would make Rupert Murdoch drool."
- sally mckay 4-18-2007 1:16 am

Was he kidding about Power Point? That's corporate kitsch, right?
Not to be too mean (no, really), but it sounds like Ippolito's "elsewhere" is the recent past--a small group trying to keep an idea of Net Art alive while everything changes around them.
As I mentioned elsewhere, Ipp. has a small chapter about JODI and Olia Lialina in his big book under the heading "HTML hijinx" but most of the book is XYZ art, as it was being called on the VVork thread--the MIT/NYU ITP school of deterministic tech art projects.
- tom moody 4-18-2007 1:34 am

He was condemming PP, not extolling it. He was a little evangelical about "executable" art. I don't think that XYZ stuff is going to last, though, except maybe in its own little formalist tech niche. Lauren Cornell sounded quite wistful about the jodi-etoy days. She was also talking about a lot of new media artists going offline. There seems to be a bit of nostalgia hanging over things, but anyone who's read Ursula Franklin could've predicted that the heady phase of art/activism associated with the web when it was new would give over to mass culture's demands (like the automobile did). I was pretty excited by etoy, back in the day, but jodi never did much for me, once I got past the initial 'what the?' phase. In my mind, this is the time when it gets more interesting and more truly problematic.
- sally mckay 4-18-2007 2:04 am

New media artists going offline--whoa. "We'll take our toys off the net and mail each other DVD ROMs--that'll show em!"
Some kind of walled garden Intranet practice existing in parallel to the open net could be interesting, I suppose, if it dumped its content cache into the commons periodically.
- tom moody 4-18-2007 2:14 am

Artist, activist, educator, curator and writer Gita Hashemi, excerpted from an interview with JavaMuseum:

As long as there are debates the art is alive, and we are living it. This seems fairly obvious to me. In the past several years many critics, theorists, historians and practitioners have written on the history, pedigree, concepts, forms, genres, dynamics and (sadly, too soon) cannons of internet culture, and more specifically on “internet + art” (my formulation and preferred usage). I think that’s all necessary and useful, but as an artist I’m more interested in thinking about purpose (I prefer this term over ‘intention’) and practice: The why and the how. The what is important, of course. Description is necessary for understanding. But, generally, many descriptions put too much emphasis on the technology and not enough on the context and content. Internet – digital networks in general – is now nearly ubiquitous. Like all mass information and communication technologies, the internet has become a way we do things. There are a lot of problems with the fast spread and infiltration of this disciplinary/prescriptive technology into all aspects of the contemporary life. I think we may need a different forum for discussing the problems, for example, the now-unfashionable and un-trendy “digital divide” and other issues that have fallen off the debate list as more and more problems – like surveillance, censorship, private and restricted ownership, etc. – are becoming visible with the rapid development and implementation of digital information and communication networks.

- sally mckay 4-18-2007 8:28 pm

This is an interesting site -

a number of interesting interviews -

and interesting edited archives from the discussion list -
- J@simpleposie (guest) 4-18-2007 10:57 pm

Thanks J! I will go snoop around Crumb for sure.
- sally mckay 4-19-2007 6:33 pm