commodify yr consumption

Hi Everyone,

Here a paper I wrote on "artistic surfing" –


Vijay Pattisapu May 15 2009 02:45Reply

Correction: The chans are not "invitation only."

I like your essay, especially the section on economy of expression (starting at the bottom of p. 13).


curt cloninger May 15 2009 13:21Reply

Thanks for taking the time to read it Vijay.

That chans mistake is vague grammar on my part. It doesn't actually say the chans are invitation-only, but I see how that can be inferred from the way I've structured those two sentences. As an aside, I don't think Marisa lists the chans as an inspiration at all. But as you observed here earlier, the two practices seem related. I could clarify all that in a footnote, but there is a fine line between minutiae and scatology (cf: ).

Pall Thayer May 15 2009 23:03Reply

Hi Curt. A lot of really interesting points that you discuss. There is one thing I feel is missing and for me it's something that really stands out. In the section on "Deep Net Art and Surface Net Art" you talk about the differences between coded and hand-picked material. The issue that is missing and that I find very important is that of subjectivity. The result of an automated script that pulls material from the net and mixes it up is less affected by the artist's subjectivity than the practice of surfing the web and subjectively choosing material. This has a huge affect on the underlying concepts as well as the artist's agency. You do mention subjectivity in other sections but only as the subjectivity of the surfer, not the lack of subjectivity of code. With an automated script that pulls material from a particular source, the artist doesn't fully know what the result will be until she sees it. Also, the script will happily select material that the artist may not have anticipated at that source.

I don't think we could say that the artist who creates a computer program that goes out and collects data is a "consumer". The computer program isn't a "consumer" either. Although it could be said to consume (in a sense), it does so with complete disregard.

Also, when you begin questioning "production" when we do so within the confines of a system built by others, things get a bit shaky. This relates to the discussions that used to pop up here about Flash and creative ownership. Are the people making stuff with Flash actually artists making stuff or are they simply interacting with Flash as an interactive work of art in itself? But where do you stop? If we say that Final Cut Pro has too much of an effect on our creativity, that what's produced within the confines of that environment becomes as much a product of Final Cut Pro as it is a product of the artist then wouldn't we have to say the same thing about the camera that was used to shoot the original video? The video becomes the product of the Sony Handycam. After that the video becomes a product of the digitizer, the video is the product of the lens and so on and so on. Where do we stop declaring the existence of a "meta-producer"?

best r.
Pall Thayer

curt cloninger May 16 2009 20:29Reply

Hi Pall,

First off… Holy crap, we are having a dialogue about art in the rhizome discussion forum!

Regarding "surfing via code," I think Cage is relevant here. It's not a strict dichotomy where you either do it all yourself "as a human" or you relegate it all to chance. An artist codes the range of automation/variability/aleatory she wants to allow, and then she orchestrates the ways in which she wants to apply it to the project. In other words: how much chance to let in, what kind of chance to let in, and where/when to let it in. So in this sense, even algorithmic artists express a kind of "human" style.

In lo-res/lo-tech "surface" artistic surfing I infer a kind of quasi-heroic re-assertion of human subjective agency. It seems very much akin to the "personality" that a DJ "expresses" in her set. (I am the DJ, I am what I [dis]play.) Many artistic surfers have pseudonyms, many work collectively, and all begin with someone else's source material. Nevertheless, there is an implicit concern with an inflection of personal "style." That work "looks like" Paper Rad, or Loshadka, or whomever. Again, Cage is relevant. Regardless of his own zen rhetoric, he was never quite able to disappear from his work. His work still "sounds like" Cage, regardless of how many variable iterations are possible.

From the perspective of a commercial artist, it is "valuable" to have a recognizable style. Even from an old school "tactical" Situationist perspective (particularly if you read Raoul Vaneigem) there is this implicit assumption that "the man" will be "resisted" by the eruption of our playful, unique, personal, subjective "selves." Deleuze and others problematize this assumption by pointing out that our "selves" may simply be one more mythology constructed by "the man." So even if an artist claims to be unphilosophical, the kind of art she chooses to mak is going to depend on her anthropology (what she thinks a human is). Artists as diverse as Olivier Messiaen, Natalie Jeremijenko, Stelarc, and Ryan Trecartin are all involved in critiquing this implicit myth of a "unique human self."

So it is ironic (or at least telling) that many self-proclaimed amoral/post-modern/neo-pop artist nevertheless implicitly subscribe to an inherited notion of the unique human self. They will "humanize" the templates of "the man" by using them badly! And this unique/original/personal [ab]use will constitute some sort of assertion of agency. They wind up asserting: "I like playing! I am not ethically obliged to resist the man! I am not ethically obliged to assert any political agency!" The problem is that they keep repeating "I." Artist as hero or artist as anti-hero, both still subscribe to the same anthropology. The difference between "I made this" and "I found this" is not as radical as the difference between "I" and "the other" (animal, emergent systems, aleatoric code, etc.)

Personally, I don't have a problem with the reassertion of the idiosyncratic self into art (but then I personally believe in the existence of the human soul). But this reassertion is bound to be an epic fail. It has already ended in tears. It will always end in tears. That being the case, I would rather see the idiosyncratic artist perpetually self-implode in a bonfire of sound and fury. The snide/clever one-liner art feels really safe and dissipative to me. Give me Chris Burden over John Baldessari any day. But then I love "The Eagle and The Hawk" by John Denver, so maybe I'm just a quixotic loser.

As far as the issue of "meta-producer," I agree totally – you can telescope out to meta-meta-meta producer: from who makes the software you use, to who makes the hardware you use, to who made the cosmology you inherited which tells you how to use anything at all. Behind all the ethical critique of Flash as an artistic tool is the assumption that there is some pure, unadulterated, Platonic essence/source underlying everything. If we can get back to that source, our art will be "pure" (original/originary). When you give up on that idea of original purity, and you realize that we are all just modulating stuff we inherited (which was already modulated by someone else who inherited it, etc.), then "modding" templates is not such an abomination after all. Template tweaking is actually a kind of philosophical proposition; it proposes an un-Platonic way of being in the world.

I think there are lots of overlapping "realms" when it comes to making art – self/other (anthropology), making/remixing/finding (process), production/consumption (politics), earnestness/irony (tone), getting famous/changing the world (ethics), etc. Artists can get all caught up thinking about one realm and overlook the others. I think a lot of new media artists are really caught up in process. So amongst new media artists, there seem to be these radical rifts between "surface" artists who use templates and "deep" artists who hand-code, but really it is all just a bunch of artists focusing on the process realm. But the best art takes into account all the realms, because they all overlap and interrelate, whether we are paying attention to them or not.


Eric Dymond May 18 2009 01:28Reply

The difference between "I made this" and "I found this" is not as radical as the difference between "I" and "the other" (animal, emergent systems, aleatoric code, etc.)

But you do get a little caught up here. Finding and and saying "I saw this" is still removed from claiming a ready made as art. Making an object from the materials (code) around you could also breach the same object and appear as a ready made.
The distinction here isn't that *original* code is more creative than finding interesting surf experiences. The issue is the activities are vastly different. We seem to want a common ground in an arena that is pluralistic by it's very nature and will produce new human activities that are enclosed by the tech, but really not related in purpose or expression. Pall's microcodes are not related to Tom Moody's blog just because they appear on the net.
It's like comparing installation art to drawing, there's no point although they both appear in galleries. The networked experience is now richly varied and as difficult to compartmentalize as most art making in this century. At one time there was some common ground in new media, but I doubt that exists any longer.
Both Tom and Pall can be dealing with the other and still be themselves asserting their "I".
One thing of interest is how the "I" became the "we", and tribes formed around those definitions.

curt cloninger May 18 2009 10:03Reply

Hi Eric,

I agree with your point about pluralism and the production of new activities. Still, the purpose of writing media theory is to begin to trace contours (not just similarities and differences, but resonances, oblique angularities, etc). Artistic production in the world is not simply arbitrary. All work is related to other work in some way, as all things in the world are related to all other things in the world in some way. To pick up with your example, there might well be a reason to compare installation art and drawing. Depending on the work and the artists, the two media may have a lot more in common that simply their appearance in galleries.

Just to clarify, Tom Moody's blog isn't an example to me of artistic surfing (although he is an artist, and he is surfing). I'm not dissing his blog; but it is just that, a personal web log.

Of course all art always "deals with" the Other in that it has an audience comprised of someone other than the artist. But that observation doesn't get very far in analyzing the inherited myth of the dividuated self and the role it plays in artistic production. Abstract expressionism and artistic surfing are worlds apart in terms of media, history, values, and goals – but interestingly (at least to me), both still share an emphasis on the "expression" of "self."

As an exercise, what if we stopped [or temporarily bracketed] thinking about art in terms of media and began thinking about in terms of "artist mode" (whatever that may mean) and "audience mode" (whatever that may mean). You get a continuum that runs something like this:


1. single human artist making art for an audience of several other humans.
(sums up most gallery art, but also a lot of network art. Duchamp rightly points out that all art is a collaboration between artist and audience, but he is still presuming and trying to expand this one-to-many beaux arts model.)

2. several human artists/participants/users making art for an audience of several other humans.
(sums up all collectives and most "interactive" art.)

3. single or multiple human artist(s) orchestrating/contextualizing input from natural/cultural sources for an audience of several other humans.
(encompasses most of the rest of "new media" art, whether visualizing source input from earthquake tremors or google searches or whatever.)

4. single or multiple human artists making art for an audience of themselves.
(theoretically this is Kaprow's happenings, but there were always onlookers and documentation was taken of the events to show to a future "audience" of non-participants. Some "art brut" work fits here.)

5. single or multiple human artists making art for an audience of themselves.
(theoretically this is Kaprow's happenings, but there were always onlookers and documentation was taken of the events to show to a future "audience" of non-participants. Some "art brut" work fits here.)

6. single human artist marking art for an audience of another single human.
(theoretically, this is patron-commissioned art, but the pope wasn't the only one to see Michelangelo's work. Some forms of craft and gift-giving fit here.)

7. single human artist making art for a presumed but unknown audience of humans/non-humans.
(On Kawara seems to want to fit here, but he probably doesn't.)

8. non-human "artist(s)" (the flux, systems, "nature") making art for an audience of several humans.
(this might be called "the world" as viewed from a Cartesian perspective. [cf: . The video is obviously a critique of conceptual art, but the actual "work" featured seems to fit into this category.] Robert Smithson's writing touches on this kind of work.)

9. non-human "artist(s)" making art for an audience of non-humans.
(if-a-tree-falls-in-the-forest-and-no-one-sees-it art. Heidegerrian zuhandenheit [ready-to-hand] art; or more properly, Graham Harman-esque "tool being" art.)


Note that this continuum presumes the myth of the dividuated human self. Once that myth breaks down, once "individual human" is understood to be merely a matter of scale – individual human as a conflux of sub-systems (circulatory, respiratory, etc.) participating in larger macro-systems (economy, family, ecology, etc.) – then the above continuum become even more fluid.

I propose this cursory continuum not to codify anything, but hopefully to open things up. Theory is useful not because it canonically freezes things, but because it slows down the raw chaotic flux of every undifferentiated thing enough to begin to reveal contours that may be useful to a practice.


Pall Thayer May 18 2009 08:42Reply

"First off… Holy crap, we are having a dialogue about art in the rhizome discussion forum! "
Yeah, crazy. Although this moderation crap is really annoying and I don't get rhizome posts in the mail anymore. I guess it's the last step in eradicating the "community" that rhizome once was.

First off, I just want to point out that, like you say in the essay, Curt, I'm not suggesting a qualitative difference between "deep" netart and "surface" netart. Just a difference. But like Eric says, the issues of subjectivity in these two different practices makes them very different and I think one of the primary differences has to do with subjectivity. I'll admit that for a long time I fooled myself into thinking that my own work was about avoiding subjectivity entirely but I came to my senses and stopped trying to make that claim. However, as I mentioned in a talk I gave at the Pace Digital Gallery, the issue of subjectivity is still quite important. The fact that I can't fully predict the outcome is key to the work. But of course, there will always be a number of elements in each piece that depend on subjective choices that I make and that's what makes the work "my" work. So I came up with the term "diluted subjectivity" which I think describes it rather well.

I don't quite remember who said it but (I'm paraphrasing) "The choice to avoid subjectivity is subjective in itself." (aha… it was H. Gene Blocker)

If anyone has actually succeeded in making a totally non-subjective work of art, we probably wouldn't even know about it because, due to its lack of the artist's "hand", we wouldn't know how or why to regard it and therefore probably wouldn't regard it at all.

But I would say that the issue of subjectivity as it relates to "surf clubs" is a valid issue to pursue because this practice does represent a sort of return to subjectivity after the automated mash-ups that have been a bit of a trend.

"artists caught up in process" I don't think it's quite that simple. Some of the more strictly generative work could perhaps be said to be about the process but I think most of the coded work that gets some attention is about the process within distinct contexts that define the concept. And this is why I think such people should be showing their code as well as the results because often those contexts are most clearly described at the code level (but I'm veering away from the discussion at hand).

curt cloninger May 18 2009 10:27Reply

Agreed. I like "diluted subjectivity."

Eric Dymond May 20 2009 00:47Reply

I really like the idea of "plumbers" and "surface dwellers" it seems more accurate and less obnoxious than web 1.0 and web 2.0. As I said earlier, although the disciplines of working on the net share some common ground I still feel the differences between 4chan/blogs/surfing are removed by nature from programming/interfacing. That's not bad, but it does require vastly different parameters of assessment. Networked expression is complex and vital in ways that weren't available 5 years ago.

Is there Facebook specific art? Not pics and apps but something embedded in the social fabric? Oh wait… that's what Rhizome Discussion is!

Pall Thayer May 20 2009 14:40Reply


Eric Dymond May 24 2009 02:51Reply

can be, with effort.
It does make me wonder. While every organization is moving towards user content, Rhizome is still following the now dead editorial paradigm. Not to knock the editors, but they seem out of touch with the flux. Tracking the flux would be best served by the members, let the admins do what they do best,.. administrate.