[-empyre-] 'real' networked art

Simon Biggs s.biggs at eca.ac.uk
Sat Oct 17 00:41:25 EST 2009

I'm on the road at a conference so can only reply with a few words

Firstly, I still read e-literature and digital poetry on a regular basis. Today I've read work by Mez and Alan Sondheim and attended a reading by Fox Harrell (a text performance using LISP, which was excellent). I consider the work of these and a number of related artists as some of the most vital art currently being produced, in any media.

I was not proposing an inward looking genealogy for understanding contemporary creative practice in the network and with digital systems. My argument was the exact opposite and I think that was clear in what I wrote. There has been a generational shift and this is already apparent in the work that artists are making. There are artists working today who themselves were born digital - not just the mediality of their work. Hayles's metaphor is, arguably, still relevant and can be extended from things to people.



Hi Simon,

Thanks for the comments. I wanted to make a couple of points of clarification, since it seems like you misunderstood what I was after. 

First, when I write about early work in new media experiencing "marginalization by established art institutions," such marginalization works both ways. 

Many of the early practitioners felt marginalized or excluded by a hierarchical and incestuous world of art in the academy and the market from day one. So yes, as you write, many of the artists sought alternate places to operate from as an alternative to the artworld, not just in pursuit of new media. But looking at the early history of networked art wasn't my goal, so I condensed.

A sociological history examining this phenomenon would be interesting for someone to take on, especially if it was compared to the condition in architecture. During the 1990s, due to its early embrace by leaders in the academy, digital architecture became precisely what many new media artists would have fled from, a playland for the élite. In my case, the result was that I stayed away from writing about architecture and digital media for a good decade out of dismay at what had happened to it. Critical or progressive practices in that field have only developed in the last decade, often drawing on the work being done in the art world more than on architecture.         

Now, apart from my argument about immediated reality, my fundamental point in this essay is that we need to think hard about what writing about "networked" art or "new media" art means today and how useful such distinctions are anymore. Genealogies that look inward, are no longer adequate to explain contemporary work. Hayles's "Born Digital" needs to be revised for the present day. The current generation hardly knows a world that wasn't digital and work that is intentionally limited to digital media is often as backwards looking as work that is limited to traditional media. Take Hayles's writing about hypertext fiction. Ok, hypertext fiction is great, it's revolutionary. But how many works of hypertext fiction have you read lately? I'd venture that few of us have read any in the last decade. But how many works of fiction in the last decade have been written on networked computers? Is the latter simply inconsequential? Or is the latter evidence of a deeper form of being "born digital," that no longer thinks of the digital as somehow different or autonomous? 

This is what I'm calling for when I suggest that we need to look at network culture in the broadest sense, as a cultural moment, not as a product of technology, but rather as the product of a host of social, economic, and cultural changes. Of course you can't get much more establishment in the UK than winning Turner Prize and that Leckey presented a video lecture on his work on the Tate site informed simultaneously by music videos and YouTube webcam videos is precisely why we need to expand the way we look at this material, rather than producing more internalized genealogies, which is what I you seem to be calling for.



Kazys Varnelis
kv2157 at columbia.edu

Director, Network Architecture Lab

Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation
Columbia University
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