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Immaterial Incoherence


Collective JOGGING

By Jacob Gaboury


If we consider Internet art to be a distinct category of art making that uses the Internet as its primary medium or platform, we necessarily distinguish it from other forms in which the Internet does not play a primary role. The objects of Internet art are necessarily immaterial, and it is this immaterial quality that makes them so notoriously difficult to exhibit and archive. For some artists this has led to a kind of hybridization of Internet aesthetics and real world objects, such that they might be purchased or viewed in a real-world setting such as a museum or gallery space. For others it becomes a matter of the careful curation of digital images and documentation in an effort to brand oneself and build cultural capital where there is little possibility for financial compensation. After all, how do you monetize an object whose natural setting is a networked space that encourages many-to-many distribution practices? How do you sell a website, a .jpeg? These are responses to a crisis in image making and distribution in which older curatorial models that rely on the limitations of physical space and the exchange of physical objects are increasingly undermined by distanced, virtual, and distributed viewership online.

For art collective JOGGING - artists Brad Troemel and Lauren Christiansen - this crisis is not limited to Internet art, but has instead become the normative condition under which art is produced and viewed today. In an essay on "Redefining Exhibition in the Digital Age," JOGGING notes that:

Art cannot exist without an audience, as it relies on media for its existence as art. With today’s burgeoning potential for digital mass viewership, transmission becomes as important as creation. Contemporary online artists are aware of this fact and seek to actively make use of its potential. Dematerialization is not an oppressive suffocation of art but a possibility for art to flourish in disparate and progressive discourses. The web offers infinite room for expansion and participation unlimited by the more severe constraints of space and finance.

For the vast majority of young artists, regardless of their medium, the work they produce is viewed primarily online as images or video uploaded onto artist's sites and blogs. Even when artists participate in small shows, the majority of publication and viewership takes place in the form of documentation. The museum and gallery space serves a resume building function for art that is largely produced and distributed online. It no longer functions primarily as a space that draws potential viewers or buyers, but is instead a formality, something to be put on a CV.

THE MOOK, 2010

JOGGING uses the microblogging platform Tumblr as a stage for immaterial works of art both real and digitally manipulated. The site functions as an evolving sketchbook in which ideas are conceived and executed with a speed and immediacy unconstrained by physical or institutional limitations, with as many as twenty pieces of work posted per day. This is in deliberate contrast to personal websites and curated portfolios in which an artist limits his or her production in an attempt to carve out an identifiable brand. Instead, JOGGING sees itself as both artist and art object, composed of multiple pieces or individual works but functioning as a single schizophrenic body, an abstract machine. For this very reason, it is difficult to categorize the large body of work accumulated on the site. The use of Tumblr as distribution platform seems a natural fit to the image dump distribution of works on JOGGING, as the use of Tumblr's dashboard decontexualizes each image from the site and allows it to spread virally from Tumblr to Tumblr (to FFFFound, to dump.fm, etc.). While the reblog function of the site attempts to maintain a chain of attribution, images are frequently stripped and reposted to begin new chains with new "authors," such that image producers knowingly lose control of their work upon posting it to the site. Thus the labor of production that goes into each work is given up, distributed, and open sourced with the tacit knowledge that it may become incorporated into the Tumblrs of others, to become part of their personal brand, to be reproduced by viewers through "theft" or decontextualization.

It is this fascination with these questions of production and materiality that seems most tangible in JOGGING's work. While some pieces are simple photo documentation of sculptures and events, many are purely digital objects pulled from Google image search and re-composited in Photoshop or otherwise digitally manipulated. Each piece functions as a kind of purposeful simulacra, as documentation of an object, installation, or performance that does not exist and never took place. In adopting this language of deliberate exhibition and co-presence, JOGGING calls into question the condition that art take place in a predetermined space, be planned in advance, or even produced by the artist themselves. A .jpeg documenting the illegally downloaded contents of a .rar full of Earth, Wind and Fire's greatest hits accidentally in .wma format is labeled as "Performance," and a photo of a polo shirt pulled over a shrub is marked as "Installation." While each piece may seem unimportant on its own, when viewed as part of a growing collection of work unconcerned with the materiality, permanence, or the importance of the individual piece, any insistence on the auratic quality of the object itself falls away. Indeed the content of each piece is doubly immaterial. Not only do they exist in passing, as documentation, or not at all, they are also unconcerned with the question of quality or importance, and are relevant as process rather than as product. This immaterial ethos was perhaps most exemplary in the recent group show An Immaterial Survey of Our Peers, in which 49 young artists selected by JOGGING submitted work to be digitally composited onto images of the empty gallery space, which were then projected in the gallery as documentation of an event which never took place.


In a conversation with Maciek Pozoga in June of 2009, Troemel explains that:

Everything we do is about trying to achieve the greatest amount of relevant multiplicity possible (with a disdain for craftsmanship). This isn’t the result of some kind of rule we’ve made for ourselves (i.e. Note to self: make 1 sculpture, 2 installations and 3 videos by the end of the day). It’s what we think happens when people are honest with themselves and acknowledge a variety of interests and intents instead of going down the [route of] pigeonholed self-curation...

This refusal of a coherent identity, both online and off, is most tangible in JOGGING's work Perfor Manceart, a Facebook avatar that acts directly on the public interfaces of other profiles. The project/avatar seeks to explore the limits of acceptable conduct on Facebook as a means of revealing the underlying communicative restrictions of the platform. Through behavior that can only be likened to trolling, Perfo Rmanceart explores the protocological limits of what may appear to be an open communicative platform. In DEFINE A STRANGER BLANKLY, 2010, a "friend" is repeatedly tagged in images of blank space, such that their default photo page is emptied of the user's image. For the performance UNTITLED (AFTER MARINA ABRAMOVIC), 2010

Perfo Rmanceart’s Facebook account log in and password were made open to public use through an image that was its Profile Picture. Over the course of the next 6 hours, anonymous people (or person, singular) proceeded to post status updates, start instant message conversations, create events, join groups and post on other people's walls using the Perfo Rmanceart profile. The information transmitted by the anonymous entity(ies) was sexually aggressive and personally insulting, similar to the physical acts committed upon Marina Abramovic during her 1974 performance of Rhythm 0. The performance was ended when artist changed the password without telling the public out of sympathy.

As one might imagine, one of the goals of Perfo Rmanceart is to be repeatedly administratively deleted and reborn, exploring the possibility of death and disappearance in virtual environments, and trying to find the limit point at which the avatar might truly cease to exist. This performative binary of appearance/disappearance is made particularly poignant in an environment in which users are so carefully tracked and profiled such that they may be better served and sold to advertisers.

Perfo Rmanceart.jpg

Perhaps the most large scale intervention initiated by Perfo Rmanceart was the READY OR NOT IT'S 2010 group show on the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Facebook wall. In an open call initiated by Perfo Rmanceart, artists were encouraged to share images, videos, and links of their work (or the work of others) on LACMA's wall, effectively initiating a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack in which the profile was bombed with hundreds of posts. For the artists, the performance was an attempt to seize curatorial control of institutions that do not publicize and contextualize art online, choosing instead to use the medium as a platform for advertisement, and as a means of enticing viewers to visit real-world institutions. The piece was framed less as an attempt to gain the notoriety of having "exhibited" at LACMA than an attempt to bring LAMCA into the contemporary, networked world of art making and distribution; it was an inclusionary gesture in the form art-as-spam. While these performances may not always function as radically political interventions, they serve to expose the frame of acceptable behavior in what is a highly controlled networked space through self-reflexive appropriation. Thus it is less a question of whether the artists succeed in claiming the curatorial power of the museum as institution, a gesture that would imply a desire for and reification of that power, than it is about the making incoherent of the institutional façade. It is this playful incoherence that makes JOGGING equally frustrating and fascinating.

Jacob Gaboury is Rhizome's Editorial Fellow

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Ry David Bradley 5 years, 7 months agoReply

I really value this discourse, and the projects by Jogging have addressed some key issues for a new generation of artists who use web publishing as their primary medium. But I am struggling to understand something fundamental about it's tenets (ie/ immateriality). Is a computer not physical, a server, even a jpeg is something that lives somewhere as a string physically written to a drive. If you take the physical world away, the virtual goes with it. If you keep the physical world, but you turn the power out, the virtual world is stored, it is written. Therefore, the virtual world is not purely virtual, or immaterial, but physical by extension, a different type of physical. Consider it offshore. But ultimately, fundamentally physical nonetheless. When online art is spoken of in terms of immateriality, I can't help but feel it is somehow ignoring this fundamental quality which anchors it to the world, to history, to it's true disposition. In this way the ideas of immateriality in art appear overly idealistic perhaps, harbingers for a failed democracy. Just like the physical world it suggests to differ from, online space is itself a gated western community that costs to access in many ways, the computer and the monthly bill are not the free democracy they are touted as being. Someone is always paying, even for 'free wifi'. Very few art galleries in the physical world cost to access, are they not free and for everybody in much the same manner of contradiction? Of course this is all problematic and needing to be further explored.

What this sense of 'immateriality' does address though is the cost of producing work as an artist, and that what has happened in an art world awash with magazines and the like full of documentation and installation shots, increasingly primary experiences, artists have become so influenced by these 'primary secondary' formats, a perceived 'establishment' in the language of gallery installation views, that they recreate their own novel versions with the use of contemporary software collage and montage effects, a kind of hi-culture photobomb. This may be in response to the economy of such a model, what cannot be afforded in the material world, can be created as an effect in the virtual world to mimic and convey, very similarly for little cost (assuming the artist has purchased a computer, software, peripherals, internet connection, camera etc). The carry on effect is a doubling trompe l'oeil. As much as it speaks of getting things done without the prohibitive expense to produce a very similar end, it also expresses a desire to assimilate, on easy terms. A desire that is very much based on photography and contemporary photographic effects. This visual double is a classic component of the fantasy space that has always marked the virtual, it's resonance is always an altered form of the physical in both senses of the term and without doubt a key feature of the present day artist. It may appear to be weightless and cost nothing and be openly accessible, but it is not. It is very reliant on an underlying architecture not only in the physical world but in the privilege of the developed world. The search for truth, the subjective lie bound within the camera in documentary photography is steeped in it's own tradition and discourse. All of which are currently being addressed in a form that is distinctly computer centric and for that reason, vital. Could it be possible that it is not immateriality that is being addressed, as this implies denial of a physical world it clearly cannot exist without, but an abstracted material phenomenon. One which has enabled among other things, increased artistic output. Critical system feedback. More material, and faster. Altered terms. Collision. Collusion. Decision. Illusion. Confusion. Fusion.


Brian Droitcour 5 years, 6 months agoReply

Here are some thoughts related to this post. I couldn't manage to string them into one coherent statement, so, numbered paragraphs instead.


Are the art world's power structures the most – only – important thing about art? Media fascination with the expense of fine art ("art journalism") and the ready dismissal of commercial art ("art criticism") have made it almost impossible to avoid. Which is too bad, because it's far from the most interesting thing about art.

Jogging's insistence on "immateriality" makes it seem like the artists' primary concern is rebuking the market. That impression is affirmed in Jacob's exposition here, and confirmed beyond any doubt in Free Art, the manifesto that Jogging posted last week.

I'm interested in how visual art has become more like poetry or music in the way it's circulated and appreciated. I'm interested in art that belongs to this process. But I'm not fond of art that makes this process its subject. More often that not, artists who obsessively make work about art's institutions and systems are obsessed with their own positions in them, which means their work is self-concerned, narcissistic.

On his Post Internet blog, Gene McHugh responded to the Free Art manifesto by challenging the validity of the political and philosophical positions that Jogging set forth therein. His first argument was that the power relationships responsible for the availability of Tumblr and Facebook – and by extension, responsible for Jogging's activity – are just as besmirched by capitalism as the art world, and therefore Jogging can't claim to occupy a space that is more "pure" than the art world. I'm not going to refute that, but I think his second argument – that Jogging's description of their work as "immaterial" is unjustified – is less persuasive. Gene wrote:

2. Second of all, Jogging’s insistence on the so-called immaterial or de-materialized quality of the work is also rehearsing an old fallacy (one which, it should be noted, Jogging themselves acknowledge and grapple with in their text).
For the sake of argument (and it is debatable), let’s say that—yes—a virtual .jpeg of a sculpture is immaterial—free of the problems of aura and material commodification which the sculpture depicted in the .jpeg itself affords.
But, what about the hardware displaying this content?
The notion that the Web has accomplished some sort of Hegelian transcendence is precisely what, say, Steve Jobs wants consumers to believe:
Go on, keep chatting with your friends, watching videos, listening to music—it’s all fluid and immaterial now and that’s great—just so long as you do so through the iPad.
These devices which display the work which Jogging thinks of as lacking aura, are, in fact, highly susceptible to aura or, from a slightly different angle, fetishism.

[end quote]

While I'm skeptical about the value of immateriality as a subject of artwork for the reasons stated above, I'm not convinced by Gene's critique of immateriality as an aspect of Jogging. If you're talking about computer-made artwork being displayed in a gallery on a computer, then talk of fetishism might be relevant. But it's remote from the way I view Jogging on my dusty laptop.

Jogging can't be equated with Steve Jobs – I am sure the artists don't care about the makes and models of our viewing devices. The equivalence Gene draws between Jogging and the hardware environment for viewing Jogging is also dubious. The array of possible visual and physical surroundings for looking at Jogging – from the choice to access it through the Tumblr dashboard vs. an RSS feed aggregator to the type of device – excludes object fetishism as a relevant topic in discussions of Jogging.

(Can you reconcile Dziga Vertov's excitement about the mobility and speed of the movie camera with the static act of sitting in a dark room and watching his films? Does it matter?)

Gene tacitly acknowledged the problems of immateriality by choosing to make Post Internet text only. He uses the medium that can most easily be transferred from one vehicle to another, eschewing moving and still images (which browsers can be picky about displaying) as well as links, which can die.

Can I just say I don't like the idea of the material/immaterial binary but I'm just trying to stay within the terms of the discussion as they currently stand, because I'm not presently prepared to offer a better alternative. Thanks.

With Jogging, hardware doesn't matter, but software does. Susan Sontag: "Photographs may be more memorable than moving images, because they are a neat slice of time, not a flow . Television is a stream of underselected images, each of which cancels its predecessor. Each still photograph is a privileged moment, turned into a slim object that one can keep and look at again." Tumblr is between the two – a flow of discrete images. So is Google Image Search, and so is YouTube, which files moving images as discrete entities. I'd even say that the internet as a whole occupies the space between Sontag's poles of photography and television, but Tumblr is the most concentrated distillation of that quality*: the ongoing selection of memorable images that keep canceling each other out.

(*or maybe dump.fm is now, whatever.)

I think the value of Jogging is that its mixture of new and old, homemade and found images – and the semi-serious insistence on each image's importance (the "privileged moment" of it, to use Sontag's words) via museum labels like "Sculpture," "Installation," etc. – is a more pointed expression of Tumblr's essential features as a software service (as described in the preceding paragraph) than the run-of-the-mill Tumblr.

Jacob's post gives a good account of how Jogging operated in the framework of Facebook's software so I won't go through that again.

Institutional critique and art jokes are useful for artists as ways of formulating their attitudes toward the art system and understanding their position in it, but I'm skeptical about their value beyond that – even though there's a rapidly growing sympathetic audience for them (in the Free Art manifesto, Jogging cites a statistic that art schools in the U.S. produce 90,000 graduates annually). To rephrase what I've already said, I'm less interested in artists who make work about "immateriality" as a problem of making/displaying art than I am in artists who have accepted it as a part of both art and life and moved on. Shana Moulton, for instance, takes the subjective equivalence of images, things, and thoughts as a given of contemporary life and dramatizes its consequences. I just picked Shana because I posted about her here a month ago but there are many other artists with a similar outlook. Jogging is still hung up on the immateriality of the internet and its consequence for their careers, though their exploration of it seems sophisticated enough that it has the potential to eventually yield something more substantial. Pun intended, lol.

gene 5 years, 6 months agoReply

hello…to clarify–it's not that I think Jogging or Jogging's work, in particular, has a whole lot to do with the materiality of media devices, just that anything on the Web, be it Tumblr or whatever, is always going to be viewed through some sort of hardware.
That's always going to be part of the experience.
The whole idea of immateriality is fishy–be it in the context of Jogging or anything else.
I went overboard on the rhetoric for sure, but the point I'm trying to make is basically the same as yours, Brian, and Jacob, too, I think.
This work is getting somewhere, but the terms its being framed in–immateriality and economic freedom–are tripping it up, shifting the conversation too much in a direction that get tangled in semantics and theoretical navel-gazing.
I wanted to give examples of how sticky that road becomes.
Like, do you guys really want to spend your time debating this material/immaterial stuff?
What's interesting about it is something different, something fresher.

Ry David Bradley 5 years, 6 months agoReply

True we could just accept and move on, contemporary life is riddled with the internet, it's not revolutionary anymore, now it's just boring. But I still think the perception of the internet, and of computing, is false. Our understanding of the digital is also pretty juvenile. Still. To this day. It is addled by discourse from the 1990's, when the internet was effectively introduced. When it was a frontier. We don't need frontier language anymore, but at the same time, how dated does the word 'Virtual' now appear, and all of its ramifications. In a way to query the 'Immaterial' is to resurrect discourse of the 'Virtual'. Although I don't buy into the particulars, I can see why this terminology needs to be continually addressed. Even now there is no adequate relationship model. Rather than staking claims as producers on the electronic frontier, as has historically been the case, now something else has happened. So called 'Virtual' or 'Immaterial' or 'Metaphysical' space or whatever has embedded itself in our lives to the extent that we are already sick of it, and this has become the new mode. The sullied 'Wow'. Which basically means we are accepting it. So for me yeah I think, right, working out a position, a relationship to the physical world, to nature, that includes the internet and software is pretty much the most important thing right now. Not to rehash the 90's, or even the 00's, because even then the worlds were split, as if there were two distinct spheres. Now that it is clear that they are not, that everything is within the same one, we need to approach it in a different manner, without the ends of language, the frontiers of new worlds, utopias and dystopias. Rightly, the overlap can be suggested in dour performances like that of Moulton, but it also needs to be addressed in language. Haven't you noticed, all the terms never quite fit? Formulating a response, or an alternative to the material/immaterial binary is uneasy, a certain indication that it is in need of furthered evaluation. No word sticks mostly because all words are predicated upon polarity, it's this or it's that. We know it's both, but we don't know how to say it. Augmented reality and mixed reality are attempts but in their own way suffer from the great split just like their theoretical predecessors. This is why we still cannot properly speak about the internet, electronic art, and the physical world as if they are just parts of the same thing, because clearly it is more or less than that. The breakdown is in terminology, and as a carry on effect, in general understanding. Perhaps as is usually the case in these areas of crossover the only way to address these issues is through the creation of works, or the passage of time. I think a lot about children born now and their relationship to the world, I doubt it will be as marked by distinctions of 'physical' and 'non-physical', perhaps less inclined to notice the medium, and focus on the message.

Ry David Bradley 5 years, 6 months agoReply

Ps. But even then, it would be foolish to ignore the medium. One day we will do away with the medium, the message, and the aura. And move on, but not before being able to speak about it. I may have seen some adequate works that attempt to address this but I haven't seen it written about effectively, yet.