. blog —

Internet Delivers People (2008) - Ramsay Stirling

— Share this Article —


Brett Stalbaum Jan. 5 2009 16:32Reply

One is tempted to be snarky and claim that it is bit ironic that the internet delivered us to this content, but that would be dismissive of the work and its delightfully sincere, though deeply unimportant, message. There is a strategy at play here - an ideological trope of a previous generation of artists - of biting the hand that feeds it. As in, using the internet and its (correctly identified) commercial context to provide a critique of the internet form the very bowels of the institution. The problem here is that this critique is long ago been breathlessly raised, its winds carving a well worn topography across the new media arts landscape. It rehashes a 90s conversation that browser-centric artists long ago (back when the web was something new, novel and waiting to be explored) sent into the background of assumptions. It is like making a serious artistic statement about the immorality of murder. Is this some new thinking? Or didn't one of the commandments cover that? Perhaps I shall have to look it up!

But worse than any of this, by ironically copying the very assumptions of the content distribution media that the work seeks to critique, in the end it only reinforces/reifies the idea of computation and networks as a medium for the "communication" of messages, and all of assumptions of media as a "channel" on which politically and ideologically situated representations can be made. The sin here is looking at the internet as a surface of representation manipulated and controlled by its context as a capitalist mediaum, which again, is true, and intensely boring to point out again and again. It is not boring because it is true, but because it obviates any attempts to view computer networs as a medium closely bound to the material distribution of the real. Most of the communication on the internet is never seen by human eyes! At any level! Yet it does strange things like make your whole wheat, organic bread show up on the shelf down at Whole Foods. I hate to say it, but it is certainly an artist-centric fallacy that the internet is a merely a content delivery platform, even if it does sometimes deliver lovely Martha Rossler rip-offs such as this. What else can we make the internet do? (Or, for that matter computation generally?) I'm afraid this limit of the artistic and curatorial imagination is what is presently holding new media arts in a developmental stasis, repeating its comfortable platitudes, tautologically, over and over again. The rhizome has reached the edges of its pot, only pressure can break it, providing opportunities for escape, new exploration and new ideas.

curt cloninger Jan. 5 2009 17:38Reply

Thanks Brett.

I've been thinking a lot lately about de Certeau's "The Practice of Everyday Life" and its relative (in)applicability to interweb art. Richard Serra made his original "Television Delivers People" piece in 1973, and de Certeau wrote "The Practice of Everyday Life" in 1980, both times when the one-to-many medium of television pervaded everyone's lives. Perhaps the best one could do then was to become a tactical consumer, creatively reconstituting the "content" delivered via the state-controlled TV "medium." But to take that same "weak" tactical approach on the interweb, a medium that has always been any-to-many, seems a kind of easy cop-out. Yes, there is and always has been a whole lot of commercial detritus floating around online, but is my only option to detourn it at a surface/content level, as if I had no access to the guts of the network, no access to my own means of "content production"? I can make my own http://cnn.com ( it's http://onion.com ). If I choose to wreck my own net art car on the "information superhighway" (however allusively or ironically), this doesn't prove that all net art cars on the highway are doomed to crash. Where is my flying net.art car?

In a recent interview, Cory Arcangel mused why contemporary net art is so interested in comedy (and why youTube has turned into America's Funniest Home Videos). One answer might be that it's easier to be coy, cynical, and cryptically allusive than to bite off the Herculean (and easily ridiculable) task of massively modulating/modifying culture. Cory's own work is more admirably Warholean than the work of most of his delicious.com re-blogging followers. But I have to wonder – can an army of purposefully a-political, barely discernible, self-referential, online detritus re-hashers somehow magically equal a tactically ingenious, below-the-radar, cultural revolution? Or is this the wrong reactionary model of tactical resistance for a medium that has always afforded non-commercial entities a much greater "strategic" production agency than television?

Kristoffer Gansing Jan. 5 2009 17:16Reply

There is already another online rehash of the Serra classic, "YouTube delivers You":

Maybe narrowing down the context to the Web 2.0 phenomenon is more blurry than talking about TV / Internet but makes some sense in relation to the problematic context of commercial browsing/free culture.

Tom Moody Jan. 8 2009 11:25Reply

The "task of massively modulating/modifying culture" is indeed easily ridiculable.
No one needs a new media "straw man" when the real thing is right over here on Rhizome.
"Admirably Warholean"–this is bad, pompous writing.

curt cloninger Jan. 8 2009 13:18Reply

Hi Tom,

I'm glad you are talking to me (if not directly, than at least a bit less obliquely). My name is Curt. I don't think we've been properly introduced. I appreciate you taking the time to critique my post. I will endeavor to be less ambitious in my ethical goals, and I will try to write "good, unpompous" discussion board prose. Please let me know how I'm doing. With your insight, patience, and detatched intellectual perspective, I'm sure our online discussions can reach great heights. Thanks for keeping it real and making it fun.

Your Affectionate Uncle,


Hi Tom,

Above is just one of the many directions our dialogue could go. To me it is largely boring, petty, dramatic, spectacular, and wanky. I don't mind the acrimony and the opposition, but the pissing-contest aspect is pragmatically useless to me.

I'm currently reading de Certeau, Galloway/Thacker, Ken Knabb's Situationist anthology, Wark, Bourriaud, Lunenfeld, Vannevar Bush, Ted Nelson, and Perloff's "The Futurist Movement," trying to work out a middle ground between tactics and strategies, consumption and production. Hence the post above.

Aspects of this inquiry are related to surf clubs. You have previously defended the value of surf clubs in terms of "semiotics." If you could explain what you understand that to mean, that would be interesting and valuable to me. Saussure, Pierce, Barthes, Chomsky, Bakhtin, Derrida, de Certeau, Eco – where are you coming from? If you aren't referencing any of these writers, I would like to hear your personal understanding of how surf clubs are semiotic. If you would rather have this conversation "offstage / out of the ring," my email is curt@lab404.com


Vijay Pattisapu Jan. 8 2009 14:15Reply

I had tried to bring in de Certeau style tactics vs. strategy when we were talking about 4chan (http://www.rhizome.org/discuss/view/37290), when I tried to talk about different kinds of anonymity, in my attempt to talk about specific artworks (e.g., Pedobear, Mouchette) instead of categories (e.g., "surfclub," "net art (2.0)"). Each of these three attempts I think failed, but thankfully they escaped notice (except afaict by Tom). :-)

I don't know why I'm linking this in … I guess cos you asked (though not me) … I can't buy the strategy vs. tactic thing anymore … maybe because any time I think of something as a strategy I can convince myself it's really just a tactic, and vice versa … seems I can use strategies and tactics whether I'm a coder or a blogger, at least at some level. The power of language?

arrrgh I dunno


curt cloninger Jan. 8 2009 16:12Reply

Hi Vijay,

de Certeau's consumers/tacticians weren't ever calling themselves artists. And the residual trace of their poachings/readings/walkings were always less important than the actual performance of these acts (for instance, a grocery list and a sink full of dirty dishes doesn't really get at the tactics involved in shopping, preparing, cooking, and hosting). So I would say the 4chan surfers are closer to de Certeau's tactical consumers. They leave a slight trace 10 screens deep, but don't ever bother to archive it. And they don't call themselves artists.

The NastyNets ROM for sale becomes something entirely different. The group was called into existence purposefully by people calling themselves artists (at least two of whom I'm guessing have read de Certeau), it was intentionally archived, and its trace was packaged and sold as an art document. Seems like an overall strategy of production comprised of smaller tactics of consumption. "Commodify your consumption." But once these tactics (the individual posts) are archived and packaged (curated) as such, they seem to lose their agency as tactics. They become something in between.

Cory Arcangel surfs/derives, and then bookmarks the sites he visits (he leaves a trace) publicly at delicious. This act of surfing (the subjective absorptions and connections happening in Cory's mind) constitute a tactic, something akin to what de Certeau would call "reading as poaching." But Cory's bookmarks themselves don't represent a tactic any more than the shopping list above does. His bookmarks are then followed and reblogged by others. His personal tactics become a public commodity. He becomes a kind of uber-filter – an art start because of his production of an interesting tactical/consumptive trace. "I am a DJ, I am what I play. I've got [believers/the levers]."

These projects are related:
http://www.deepyoung.org/current/blank/bake.html (2005)
http://www.lab404.com/data/ (2002)
http://www.xanadu.net (1960-present)
http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/194507/bush (1945)

Vijay Pattisapu Jan. 8 2009 17:54Reply

Thanks for the thoughts and thoughtful links, Curt.

Yeah, archiving can give things a different edge. When I discovered Nasty Nets, it was shut down & archived, like looking through someone's online photo album of the coolest party around, which, of course, you weren't at (it was for artists). The chans do have their own sort of archive, though, as meme-by-meme people maintain bloggy shrines for lolcatz, pedobear, or whatever. Archivelessness is a blessing and a curse, for all the racism, homophobia, pedophilia, ugliness, and hate people find in and emit from themselves. Lord of the Flies happens on an island. We've discussed this.

Yet archiving and discrete individuality don't necessarily add up to strategy. Art on CPAN seems pretty tactical.

Calling yourself an artist may be strategic, but it's a compartmentalizable speech act. Picasa: I'm a photographer. deviantART: I'm an artist. Rhizome: I'm a net artist. Last.FM: I'm a DJ. Blogger: I'm a writer. Delicious: I'm a quidnunc connoisseur. MySpace: I'm a musician. YouTube: I'm a filmmaker. Huffington Post: I am a journalist. The Well: I am a real human being. Are these tacticalized (?) strategies?


curt cloninger Jan. 9 2009 17:08Reply

I know a colleague with degrees in architecture and philosophy who teaches and practices art. He says the title of artist allows him more investigative freedom across all disciplines. In this sense I think the title of artist has a liberating effect. The artists I have always been most interested in are those who use art as a unique material fulcrum to examine and modulate culture in ways that philosophy and science cannot (cf: Deleuze's "What Is Philosophy?").

So it just seems ass-backwards to pilfer net culture (a broad arena that matters) simply to make a novel statement in white cube gallery culture (a legitimate but much more parochial, self-referential arena that matters less broadly). It's even more strange to pilfer 1970s gallery culture in order to make a novel statement in uber-parochial net art culture. The larger challenge is to take the whole lot (networks, galleries, art, capitalist systems, theory, philosophy, art history, cooking, museology) and use it all to make something that matters at large. Rather than saying, "It's novel net art. It's novel gallery art. It's novel new media art. It's novel new media theory. It's a novel new media genre;" what about saying, "It matters in the world at large?" Might we then begin to respect and recognize new tactics, practices, and forms previously ignored? Not that all work would have to be "political" (per se), since lots of "politics" don't matter. Not that all work would have to be deadpan earnest. It would just have to matter at large.

Of course there are obvious questions. How large is "at large?" To whom must it matter? How much must it matter? In what ways must it matter? By whose criteria must it matter? These are ethical questions, but they are also intrinsically artistic questions. Perhaps such questions would lead artists away from the easy conceptual one-liner (however superficially earnest) and on toward pan-disciplinary wild nights a la Leigh Bowery (however superficially "pop").

Vijay wrote:
Calling yourself an artist may be strategic, but it's a compartmentalizable speech act. Picasa: I'm a photographer. deviantART: I'm an artist. Rhizome: I'm a net artist. Last.FM: I'm a DJ. Blogger: I'm a writer. Delicious: I'm a quidnunc connoisseur. MySpace: I'm a musician. YouTube: I'm a filmmaker. Huffington Post: I am a journalist. The Well: I am a real human being. Are these tacticalized (?) strategies?

Daniel Leslie Jan. 8 2009 12:01Reply

What's Ramsay Sterling been smoking? The premise of this message, if it's to be taken literally, is just false.

Curt Cloninger points out above that the Serra piece is based on the one-to-many model of television. That analogy just doesn't apply to the web for a variety of reasons. It's not commercially owned, it's barely regulated, anyone can reach an enormous audience with little more than their ideas and a blogger account.

The internet is a *decentralizing* medium. It's the most democratic, egalitarian form of communication that exists on a large scale. Exposure via social media and even commercial search engines like Google is largely based on quality and relevance of content. It has its flaws, but the web is a meritocracy.

Look at online ad revenue and the finances of old media and you'll see that the internet has done more to undermine "commercial" media than anything.

Dan Leslie

Tom Moody Jan. 12 2009 19:44Reply

I didn't defend the surf clubs in terms of semiotics. You are probably thinking of Marcin Ramocki's essay.

curt cloninger Jan. 13 2009 00:08Reply

I thought it was during on of those threads awhile back, but I searched for it and couldn't find it. My mistake. I know you made the analogy with found objects, which I think I get.