. community —

the Web as a venue for criticism

It's tough to get any genuinely innovative art done on the Web. The
technical limitations of the medium present challenges many artists welcome
but few successfully overcome. But there are no technical obstacles to
getting solid art criticism out onto the Web, and in fact, if the WWW has
been embraced as a medium by any one group, it's been journalists.

At its inception, the Web was essentially text prettied up with pictures.
For all its evolution since '93, much of it undeniably significant in terms
of the prospect of a radically different kind of Web, perhaps in the near
future, "online publishing" is still what the Web does best and comprises
the bulk of its 30 million+ pages. Drab mirrors of slick, high-profile
print magazines abound, but many meatier publications have waited out the
revolution.

Part of the reason may be cost, but I suspect snobbery plain and simple has
something to do with it as well. Any medium based on the idea of a level
playing field is hardly enticing to the academic who's spent a lifetime
clawing his or her way to the top of the ivory tower. Serious art, and for
that matter, music and literary criticism with no direct relation to new
media has been sporadic, but as the Web becomes an institutionalized factor
in contemporary culture, names that have been made in print are venturing
online.

The Thing has been around for while, attracting some of the more
interesting voices in new media art criticism to drop by and deposit
shortish pieces in its Reviews section while providing an open forum for
public discourse on its Web-based conferencing system. Now it's set aside
an area for the Journal of Contemporary Art (http://www.thing.net/jca/),
edited and published by Klaus Ottman.

The JCA strives to capture the thin book feel of the art quarterly. The
aesthetics involved in the presentation of its content are taken seriously
here, and in fact, you cannot enter the Journal until you've downloaded the
front cover. The typography is hip, and the table of contents may look
skimpy at first glance but each entry is unusually long by Web standards.
Nine interviews, two discussions, a portfolio and two Web-based art
projects. There's nothing wrong with tape recorder journalism, especially
if the interviewer knows what s/he's about, nor should the JCA be dissed
for not doing what it doesn't set out to, but I couldn't help thinking that
this would be a fine spot for something more than chat alone, for criticism
with depth and bite.

Still, a wide range of artists talk away, raise issues, stake out
positions. There's a lot out there far less worth your time. The portfolio
of Mark Morrisroe's photos is done nicely as a quick auto-loading slide
show while both art projects are problematic. Ren

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