Digital Non-Sites

A few years ago I was in a show in Washington DC called "Digital Sites," which featured artists from the gallery side of things who use the computer in their practice (Albert Oehlen, Matt Mullican, Wayne Gonzales, Marsha Cottrell, etc.)

Response from the art world was flat, as these things usually are--minimal sales as far as I know, a couple of sniping or dismissive reviews. In 1999 I did not yet realize the depth of the "computers do not belong in the art world" conspiracy and couldn't have foreseen that painting would tighten its grip on the market to the extent it has. I mean, I like Dana Schutz's work, but it's just recycled German Expressionism, yet collectors are treating it like spun platinum.

The title "Digital Sites" was good, riffing on the dual meaning of the term "sites"--as in web sites, but also site specificity. The latter had its roots in the practice of earthworks artist Robert Smithson, who also came up with the term "Non-Sites," which are physical pieces, such as minerals from a quarry hauled into the gallery and displayed in a metal container.

Lately in my work, including the solo show that's up now, I've been experimenting with the idea of "Digital Non-Sites." In other words, content that lives and thrives on the Internet, such as animated GIFs, that has a second, qualitatively different life in the gallery. This could either be video or drawings of individual animation frames I've been posting.

That's the theoretical hook anyway. *crickets*

- tom moody 5-11-2006 11:36 pm

Wow ... I really liked them all ... especially the last one that I think is called "internet." Nice work.
- danithew 5-12-2006 12:11 am

WOW! I wish you would have thought to just refer me to this post before I came on like a pompous know-it-all. Give em enough rope, indeed.

This is so odd, too. I was thinking about the net in relation to Smithsons non-sites as I have been considering, and we have been discussing, the relation of net art to the white cube. I wasn't aware of that show. Odd how the work is all 2 dimensional and static, at least in the pic on the review page. Or maybe that was just the first clue to paintings stranglehold. I imagine this show was treated as being gimmicky, especially as the central tenent seems to be how the computer informs the practice of various painters. But wasn't "" going through the roof at that time?

BTW, That's a friggin good theoretical hook dude.
- Robert Huffmann (guest) 6-14-2006 9:51 am

I don't know if you still hit up these older comment threads, I imagine you know when I leave something way back here, But this digital non-site concept- how much is new theory and how much is coming from Smithson? to quote his provisional theory-"To understand this language of sites is to appreciate the metaphor between the syntactical construct and the complex of ideas, letting the former function as a three dimensional picture which doesn't look like a picture."

So what I am thinking is along this line- Programming languages tend to be based on context-free grammars which are limited in their expessiveness as they only describe a limited set of languages, however there is substantial ambiguity in the structure of visual art. And of course the source code doesn't look anything like the graphics we see.

Smithson writes of the dimensional metaphor that allows his non-sites to represent a site that they do not actually resemble, aiming for a "purer" abstraction, as it is "logical", and abstraction must result from logic and not expression in his opinion.

In net art is the metaphor to be found between the language and the resulting "artwork"? Someone might say that would be the parser and the compiler, whatever. I guess I am wondering if the webpage itself might be the non-site, and how does bringin the work into a gallery change the .gif, for example, visually? Doesn't it still resemble the site it represents? Is that even important? In what way does your net-based work change when displayed in a gallery, other than the means of delivery?
- Robert Huffmann (guest) 6-19-2006 12:23 pm

Smithson was responding to a leading debate at the time, which was how much the gallery was going to be walled off to external stimuli vs how much it would participate in the lifeworld. He was devising ways to get "life" content in the gallery disguised as formal abstraction.

I think the debate still exists even though everyone thinks Smithson and his generation won. I know at least two people who thought my questions about the NY Times' Michael Bell-Smith review (how much of this is "internet content"?, what about the rest of the artist's career? etc) were off base because you can "only judge what's in front of you, within the four walls of the gallery."

As for how my net-based work changes when displayed in a gallery, the "means of delivery" is no small matter. Converting the GIFs to video, placing the TVs and projectors in the space, seeing how they interact with the gallery architecture, dealing with the sound element --all involved changes to the content at every step.

Yet at the same time you could see the finished work and still recognize the internet source, or vibe, in terms of the file types used, a "remix aesthetic," etc.

You have to take my word for it, though. It's hard to talk about these issues relying on jpegs and text.

- tom moody 6-19-2006 7:23 pm

As for the net art issues, I'm not as concerned with this current show about parsing or locating the "site" from whence the work emanates, other than my blog, where 100% of the art previously appeared in some form. That's a ton of content being brought in to a lesser or greater degree, depending on how much the gallerygoer wants to follow up on it--we did not put a laptop bookmarked to the blog in the space, believing that googling the artist's name later would accomplish the same things in the more leisurely home environment.

My attempt at a position on Net Aesthetics 2.0, before that term existed, can be found in these earlier posts.
- tom moody 6-19-2006 7:34 pm