Internet Art

La Plissure du Texte

Internet art (often referred to as net art) is a form of digital artwork distributed via the Internet. Artists working in this manner are sometimes referred to as net artists. Internet art can happen outside the technical structure of the Internet, such as when artists use specific social or cultural Internet traditions in a project outside of it. Internet art is often—but not always—interactive, participatory, and multimedia-based. Internet art can be used to spread a message, either political or social, using human interactions.

The term Internet art typically does not refer to art that has been simply digitized and uploaded to be viewable over the Internet. Rather, this genre relies intrinsically on the Internet to exist, taking advantage of such aspects as an interactive interface and connectivity to multiple social and economic cultures and micro-cultures. Theoriest and curator Jon Ippolito defines it as distinct from commercial web design, and touching on issues of permanence, archivability, and collecting in a fluid medium.

Internet art can be created in a variety of media: through websites; e-mail projects; Internet-based original software projects (sometimes involving games); Internet-linked networked installations; interactive and/or streaming video, audio, or radio works; and networked performances (using multi-user domains, virtual worlds such as Second Life, chat rooms, and other networked environments). It can also include completely offline events, like Alexei Shulgin’s 1997 Vienna performance, ‘Real Cyberknowledge for Real People.’ Shulgin printed out copies of ‘Beauty and the East,’ published online by the mailing list nettime, and handed the booklets out to passers-by on the streets of Vienna.

Internet art is rooted in disparate artistic traditions and movements, ranging from Dada to Situationism, conceptual art, Fluxus, video art, kinetic art performance art, and happenings. As the art form develops, its historical context is continually re-evaluated. Amsterdam-based critic Josephine Bosma defines Internet art as having ‘five generations,’ where the first generation of artists did not work with the Internet proper, but with electronic interconnectivity—precursors to the Internet, such as fax, slow scan television and videotex. These earlier forms are often defined more broadly as Networked art.

An early Networked artwork was Roy Ascott’s work, ‘La Plissure du Texte,’ performed in collaboration created for an exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1983, using a closed-network of invited artists on the ARTEX network. Media art institutions such as Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, or the Paris-based IRCAM (a research center for electronic music), would also support or present early Networked art. In 1974, Canadian artist Vera Frenkel worked with the Bell Canada Teleconferencing Studios to produce the work ‘String Games.’

However, as Greene and others note, with spread of the desktop computer in the 1980s and the advent of the Web in the 1990s, a much broader spectrum of artists entered the field, often completely independent from art institutions—and often purposely at odds with institutional culture.

Between 1994 to 2000, several public venues formed to archive, disseminate and promote Internet art. Key organizations included The Thing; Adaweb, directed by Benjamin Weil; Alt-X, founded by artist Mark Amerika; Rhizome, initiated by artist and curator Mark Tribe; and FILE Electronic Language International Festival, founded by artists Ricardo Barreto and Paula Perissinotto.

With the rise of search engines as a gateway to accessing the web in the late 1990s, many net artists turned their attention to related themes. The 2001 ‘Data Dynamics’ exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art featured ‘Netomat’ (Maciej Wisniewski) and ‘Apartment’ (Marek Walczak and Martin Wattenberg), which used search queries as raw material. Golan Levin’s ‘The Secret Lives of Numbers’ (2000) visualized the ‘popularity’ of the numbers 1 to 1,000,000 as measured by Alta Vista search results. Such works pointed to alternative interfaces and questioned the dominant role of search engines in controlling access to the net.

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