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Krystal South Molly Newgard Comtemporary Art History I November 24, 2009

The Cup of the Internet Runneth Over A Hard Copy of my Internet Paper

Of the many definitions of ‘media’ that exist in the world today, those that we will be concerned with here are: ‘media’ as in the tools used by an artist to create a work, ‘media’ as the storage or transmission tools used to store or transmit information and data, and ‘media’ as the code used to transmit information and data. At the intersection of these three definitions stands Internet Art, which occurs when the tools to transmit coded information and data across a network are used by the artist to create a work. New Media art, and specifically Internet Art, uses technology to execute artistic gestures on a global scale, engaging the viewer through a non-art-specific medium in ways that relate to the paradigm shifts

occurring around Duchamp’s concept of the Readymade, Warhol’s appropriation of media, and video’s distancing from narrative forms of storytelling. Art in itself can be seen as a semiotic expression of coded language used to express an idea, and symbols are just images used as code. New Media artwork extends this gesture by using binary code translated by a computer to realize the artwork. The rise of video in the late 1960’s confronted the art world with a new media not necessarily developed for artistic purposes. Artists began using commerciallyavailable video cameras because they were inexpensive and allowed for D.I.Y. creation of moving images. Video allowed a private rela-


tionship: one man could record with one cam-

tion of the video aesthetic and television cul-

era, as opposed to film which required a

ture allowed video to be a recognized tool for

higher investment and larger production team.

art making, and as an effective form of cri-

This allowed a intimate view of the artistic

tique of the medium itself.1

vision. The art world initially resisted the in-

A similar beast, the Internet was intro-

clusion of video in the same pedagogical

duced to the public sphere in 1991 when

place as film, in part due to a severance from

CERN publicized the World Wide Web pro-

both linear narrative and an end goal of enter-

ject, allowing networked computers to com-

tainment. The idea of narrative can be seen as

municate instantly with each other across

integral to the theory of Modernism, which

great physical distance, displaying text, image

went through a paradigm shift at the same

and sound between an infinite number of us-

time as the introduction of video to the world.

ers2. By 1996 usage of the word ‘Internet’ had

The rise of postmodernism in the critical the-

become commonplace. The estimated popula-

ory realm of the art world gradually allowed

tion of internet users as on June 30, 2009 is

video a place in the institution, but only after

1.67 billion, or 25.6% of the world’s

extensive experimentation by young artists

population.3 The rapid spread of this technol-

who adopted and embraced video as an artis-

ogy, (to some, a way of life) allows for wide-

tic medium. By the early-1970’s, dissemina-

spread access to vast amounts of information,


Malloy, pp. 118



World Internet Statistics (


and personalized autodidactism of specialized

to the public. The non-commerciality of

datum. Online self-publishing quickly pro-

internet-based works can undermine the insti-

vided a new and relatively inexpensive

tution by executing artistic gestures in the vir-

method of spreading ideas, and user-

tual realm outside of the gallery and museum

generated content quickly began to propagate

system. Many of these works are available for

a database of hyper-linked sites referring the

free online to anyone on any web-enabled

user to further related datum. This ever-

computer – however, this is in itself limiting,

expanding database of non-static content 4 is

as 75% of the world’s population has no ac-

for an implied audience: those who search the

cess to the internet 6. This imparts a similar

web for specific information and who can

bias as the pedagogical/institutional realm,

find it. Anyone born after 1990 has lived a

which has limited the art experience to those

life inseparable from awareness of the inter-

able to visit museums and galleries where the

net and personal computing, creating a gen-

exhibitions take place (restricted by proxim-

eration of users who understand the world in

ity, social status), though the work based on-

the native tongue of the computer. “The com-

line is accessible from multiple locations at

plete paradigm is present before the user, its

any time. The main difference with internet-

elements neatly arranged in a menu.”5

based works is that they are supplied from the

The use of the internet to create artworks began with the introduction of the tool

artist directly to the viewer, bypassing the need for the cultural broker of the museum

The ability to edit the HTML document over time creates a discord with narrative by perpetuating a kinetic, replaceable view of the world and generating a database view of information. 4


Vesna, p. 40


World Internet Statistics (


institution. The controlled use of a machine to create artworks has been an important dialog in the art world for some time. The application of the ‘aura’ to the unique work of art by Walter Benjamin in 1935 placed handmade artworks as indicative of bourgeois structures

One work which exemplifies some of

of power. 7 The removal of the artist’s hand

the conceptual matters approached by Internet

also removes this political connotation. The

Art is broken self .com, made by Rafael Ro-

blur between the art world and the ‘real

sendaal8 in 2007, part of the online collection

world’ began with the rise of the Readymade,

of Miltos Manetas. The work exists at

installation sculpture mimicking real-life ex- Upon arriving at

periential environments, performance taking

this URL, one finds the browser window a

place both within and outside of the institu-

blank white, which alarms the viewer to dis-

tion, video subverting commercial television

function. In our everyday experiences with

and Social Practice works initiating non-

the internet, we often find things that are no

artists to execute an art work. This shift dis-

longer working. When the viewer clicks on

tanced the elitist formalism from the critique

this white plane, searching for interaction, the

of art, allowing new experiences and concepts

point at where they click initiates a break in

(The Everyday) to be accepted as artistic fod-

the plane which spreads and shatters with the

der to illustrate the grand schema of human

sound of breaking glass. The shattered glass


then falls, revealing a black window. This


Benjamin. Nearly all discussions on new media refer to this seminal essay.



black window also shatters, revealing white

be shattered by the destruction of the ma-

again, and on and on. The replication of a

chine. This work can be read as self portrai-

commonplace physical material (glass) when

ture, but not just of Rafael: it a self portrait of

associated with the computer screen implies

all computer users who entrust their digital

the shattering of the screen itself. In our in-

selves to the non-human territory of the ma-

creased dependence on virtual data and expe-


rience we also increase our anxiety about the

The aesthetic of this work functions

permanence of this data. “Like our daily lives

regardless of its further conceptual meaning.

today, data are diffuse and highly centralized.

It is visually engaging in that the experience

They even reenact our human weakness. Like

is determined by the user/viewer, breaking

humans, data can forget and be corrupted.”9

where they click. Rapid clicking provides

The breakdown of the machine itself is the

multiple points from which the plane breaks.

most crushing blow to our ability to interact

These endless combinations of patterns, com-

with our virtual lives. The ‘self’ of broken

bined with the endless loop of black and alludes to our dependence upon these

white, sustains interest in the work beyond

machines and our projection of our personas

the first interaction. This work is made using

onto their physical memory, and how this can

Adobe Flash and JavaScript which is acti-


Vesna, p. 88.


vated by the web browser. Viewing the source

Internet artworks under the brand name

code of the site reveals the artist’s signature

‘Maximum Sorrow’ 11 , we can see that the art

upon the work in ASCII type10, as well as the

happens within the user/viewer. This shows

simple string of code that, through translation

that the hardware and software of the com-

of the web browser, becomes an explicit con-

puter and the Internet are just media used to

ceptual and interactive artistic gesture.

invoke and realize a concept. The distance from the artist to the viewer is as follows:

This relates to the Duchampian notion of the readymade: the object itself has no intrinsic value or meaning, rather, these are If we take a look at an animated .gif diagram made by Kevin Bewersdorf, who makes

supplied by the viewer’s associations and activation of the concept represented by the tangible thing as well as the context presented


| __ \ | |__) | | _ / | | \ \ |_| \_\ 11

| __ \ | |__) | | _ / | | \ \ |_| \_\



(inflicted?) by the artist. Duchamp first ex-

Works of this kind can be created and exe-

plored this idea in 1912 with the work Foun-

cuted by those not trained in artistic studio

tain12, a work rejected by the 1917 Society of

practices, laying bare the uselessness of draw-

Independent Artists exhibition and a work

ing in the digital age.

which wreaked havoc on the ‘refined’ tastes

Precious art objects have long been

of Modernism. This gesture is repeated by

commissioned by wealthy patrons, or made

many internet users or Internet Artists by

by the artist and sold to hungry collectors

‘finding’ images online and editing or recon-

through the gallery system in hopes of one

textualizing them to give new meaning.

day entering the institution of the museum,

broken self .com is owned by Miltos

the highest order of acceptance in the art

Manetas13, a member of the Internet Art col-

world. The work has a monetary value rela-

lective NEEN14 with Rafael Rosendaal, pur-

tive to the materials used, status of the artist

chased these works for currency in addition to

and varying economic conditions. Tradition-

trade for a painting15 . The work exists only at

ally, the work has one form and one owner, or

the URL, there is not differentiation of expe-

is part of a series or included in an edition of

rience between the owner and the common

multiples. The Internet Art work exists in

user of the work. Ownership of these types of

endless multiples in innumerable browser

works undermines the prices applied to

windows, which can be opened or closed at

‘unique, precious’ art objects of the past.

will. This challenges the preciousness of tra-


Those unfamiliar with this work should refer to any of the writings on Duchamp by Calvin Thompkins.




Email with the artist, November, 2009.


ditional artworks, something many artists have done in the past with various (and some-

“Thus the same data would give rise to more indexes than the number of data elements themselves.”

times, New!) media. The audience of the

-Lev Manovich 17

internet is vast and varied, assuring that someone, somewhere, sooner or later will arrive at and appreciate the work. Does this idea perpetuate the expansion of such works online? One can only hope. The rapid spread of information online allows artists a low-cost way of getting recognition in the world. The use of social media sites–whether specific to the art world or not–allow viewers to connect with artists and have an online forum for creating, distributing, critiquing and contextualizing these artworks.

In the 1960’s, artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol began to appropriate images from the mass media newspapers, reproducing and altering them in screenprints or assemblage sculpture. This use of pop-culture imagery in high-art situations baffled critics at first–a repeat of pedagogical-shifting movements such as Duchamp’s. The acceptance of such uses of appropriation followed suit, and today, many artists incorporate found elements in their work. This type of replication is echoed in

“The cup of the internet runneth over, its contents greater than its container.”

web communities such as the Open Source

-Kevin Bewersdorf in One Question Interview

movement, which makes the source code of

with Rafael Rosendaal 16

user-created applications available for open



Vesna, p. 41


sharing and development. 18 Data-sharing of

natural (however mechanical), that these new

this kind enables a more rapid progression of

medias would find themselves in the realm of

the field itself, with access to work by others

art. New tools of expression always find a

which one can build and improve upon. This

way to expand the boundaries of art to

kind of peer-based collaboration also allows

broaden the audience and the meaning of

for a larger output and greater advancement in

what art is, what art says and how we make it.

technology, and it could be said that this kind

Though we may not yet know how to place

of openness might be beneficial to the art

Internet Art in the canon of art history, it is

world, too. New Media theorist Mark N.B.

critical that we attempt to contextualize it.

Hansen said in an essay, “A digitized image is

The internet as an artistic medium is not en-

not a fixed representation of reality, but is de-

tirely different from many other revolutionary

fined by its complete flexibility and accessi-

new medias of the past, and thus continues to

bility. It is not just that the interactivity of

bring art closer to life.

new media turns viewers into users; the image itself has become the body’s process of perceiving it.”19 This statement is clearly applicable to not just the static digital image, but the entirety of internet-based works, just as Bewersdorf’s diagram shows. We as humans in our daily private and public lives interact on so many levels with media that it is only 18


Hansen, p. 3

IX BIBLIOGRAPHY 1. Malloy, Joyce, ED. Women, Art and Technology, MIT Press, Cambridge, 2003. 2. Fernandez, Maria. “Life-like�: Historiciz-

s-notes-art-software. 10. Hansen, Mark B.N. Framing the Digital Image: Embodiment and the Aesthetics of New Media: Introduction, Princeton Uni-

ing Process and Responsiveness in Digital


Art, in A Companion to Contemporary Art

Since 1945, Blackwell Publishing, Malden,


MA, 2006. 3. Vesna, Victoria, ED. Database Aesthetics:

11. Benjamin, Walter. Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, 1935.

Art in the Age of Information Overflow,

University of Minnesota Press, 2007.


4. Manetas, Miltos, ED. NEEN, Charta Books, 2006. 5. Munster, Anna. Materializing New Media: Embodiment in Information Aesthetics, Dartmouth College Press, 2006. 6. Wilson, Stephen, ED. Information Arts: Intersections of Art, Science and Technology, MIT Press, Cambridge, 1995. 7. Parreno, Phillippe. Interview with Rafael Rosendaal, First Person Magazine, Issue 002, Fall 2008, pp. 52-56. 8. Greene, Rachael. Web Work, Artforum Magazine Archive, /is_9_38/ai_65649375/ May, 2000. 9. Bratton, Benjamin H. Mind the Pollocks: (Notes on) Art & Software,


The Cup of the Internet Runneth Over  

A Web Copy of my Internet Paper

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