curation and its discontents, or Velvet-Strike

Lately I've had the opportunity to further engage in net-art curation. Or, attempting to curate Did you notice that? That slip from the hyphen to the period is significant in net art (we'll leave out both this time). These attempts have led me to re-read a bit of the history of art on and with the 'Net. It's led me to realise that curating--and by this I mean assembling, technically and conceptually--net art is a process wrought with varying mis/conceptions as to what net art is, and by this it seems, what it does. These misconceptions arise in every aspect: in the quality of submissions, in the relation to the institution or festival and other curators. For the most part, net-art found in the institution is that which is closest to the visual arts.

I work as a kind of post-curator for plug-in spaces such as the SAT goes under the heading of Concept Engineer (borrowed from Kodwo Eshun). Approaching art from outside the institution, now bleeding into the post-institutional and modular, if not chaotic whirlwind that is SAT has led me to consider different terms and strategies for doing art in the 21C.

The Baltic Curating New Media reader relates how Net DOT art came about in its full force of anti-institutional critique as a way for disadvantaged Eastern European artists to showcase their work in an international medium--the emerging internet. It was not only the means of transmission (the venue) but the very stuff of critique, play and inspiration. Vuk Cosic is a well known from this era., NN -- it is in this sense that I think of when I stumbled upon this piece by Marc Garrett, and I still consider the Electronic Civil Disobedience of Critical Art Ensemble (CAE) as

Net-art, with the dash, if there is much of a distinction, is apparently the way Marc Tribe spelled it (founder of Perhaps I think of net-art when the work is independent yet doesn't perform a direct institutional critique or disruptive act upon the browser, operating system, flow of surfing, the channels and concepts of the Net in and of its-'selfs', etc. For example, the always excellent text experiments and screen shots, perhaps screen-art, of the Dignified Devil.

It's much more complex than this, of course, and I think attempting to render the diverse works of art on and through the web as coherent genres is a chore with dubious benefits. Yet, the distinction between and net-art is perhaps less important than the way in which "net art" has been appropriated into a coherent whole by the same institutions under critique. This has already been a topic for some time, but I think its resurfacing again as technology becomes ubiquitous. And unfortunately, this appropriation has led new curators to consider that such institutional placements are in fact the proper reception of all forms of "net art." For the most part, this has left net art stuck on the screen, with little proper resources, and often showcasing work that remains, on the whole, image-based and lacking force. Certainly one rarely hears of a contemporary exhibits of net art that invite hacking or otherwise disruptive acts.

The unfortunately weak piece on show at this year's Whitney Biennial, Velvet Strike, signals this confusion. The piece is weak because it claims to be a "hack" when all it does is scarcely exploit a feature already built into the popular multiplayer game: virtual graffiti. Creating a website for the exchange and sharing of 'subversive' graffiti for Counter-Strike is a basic gesture. There are far more significant hacks of Counter-Strike taking place (ghost and level hacks, hacks that change the sense of space and time, dimensions and size). And there are far more worthy projects, such as those passing through Eyebeam. While Velvet-Strike is timely, effective, humorous and well-executed, it is conceptually and technically amateur, and its place in the Whitney leaves one questioning - why?

It is in the latter sense that I'd like to curate and net-art: not for the institution, but as a way to shape a sudden swarm of subversive digital moments.

posted. Mon - May 24, 2004 @ 03:49 PM           |