openX zone at Ars Electronica in 1999. Photo: Sabine Starmayr.
A Zoo is a more expensive type of event that requires at least bringing the FNA to the location of the exhibition and accommodating her there. In the exhibition space, beside the usual computer with an inscription on the wall and an open browser, a chair is put down, and on that chair—oh, isn’t that great—sits the FNA in person. She whiles away her time checking her mail or debugging code for some RNA1. Just look at her, immersed in her mysterious work of creating net art. You can stand behind your idol’s back for a while, and if you’re brave enough, you can even ask her what net art is and if it’s true that it died last summer, as they say.
Big event organizers—Ars Electronica Center (AEC), for instance—really like setting up Zoos. I don’t really have any problems with it, other than considering it pointless.
Once, I witnessed an unexpected (or well-planned?) morphing of a Zoo into an Object. The computer that they gave me to spend my time around and showcase one of my projects was the first iMac imported into that particular country. As a result, everyone who entered the gallery instantly made a beeline for the computer, ignoring every other piece of art.
The observations on how net art fares in an alien territory that I have shared above aren’t very recent—they are two or three years old. Yet they remain current: little has changed in the relationship between online art pieces and the ways they are presented offline (the only difference is that the nonsensical attempts to demonstrate net projects on computers not connected to the internet have finally stopped). But since 1998, a certain boredom has set in.
RNA1s produced art projects, one more radical than the other, and went out to Conferences where they spoke about their independence from offline art institutions—while getting paid by them. Or, they sat in Zoos. Or, they made fun of Objects.
Back then, I wrote an article, in broken and angry English, that I named “Cheap.art”—its gist was that we should stop turning ourselves into a cheap commodity for old institutions. Rather than force ourselves to project enthusiasm, we should try coming out with a new infrastructure.
What if instead of exporting artworks and ideas into the offline world, we tried to import the artist-gallery-audience dynamic online, together with any monetary exchanges that might flow out of it?
That’s when the First Real Net Art Gallery, named Art.Teleportacia (art.teleportacia.org), came into being. It’s a place online (currently, one of several; two years ago, the principal one) where you can buy pieces of net art to decorate your electronic office or home page. Business people buy paintings to decorate their offices—why wouldn’t they consider embellishing their representative pages on the global network? Such was my logic back in July 1998.
I used the ambitious “First Real” prefix to once and forever separate this gallery from thousands of other Net Art Galleries, named this way ages ago but containing something completely opposite to true net art. Usually, these galleries feature official and private pages of painters, photographers, woodcutters, etc. They publish photographs of their art, using the web to the full extent as an electronic catalogue. I won’t be surprised to find out that some people out there still consider this kind of presentation material “net art.”
The gallery opened with an exhibition called “Miniatures of Heroic Period.” It featured small-scale artworks by five RNA1s, each accompanied by a specially commissioned article written by a net art critic. The critics, who were used to writing about how being not for sale was in the very nature of net art, had this time to explain why this or that piece could become a perfect investment and a source of collector’s pride.
To this day, Art.Teleportacia haven’t yet become the “money machine”. In a year after its opening, I’ve only managed to sell one piece of art—unfortunately, it was one of my own. And since it was bought by a friendly site, entropy8zuper.org, I took it (perhaps unjustly) as a purely artistic gesture.
When I started the gallery, I made an attempt to imitate an exhibition space online and combined it with a conventional interface of an internet store. Several weeks later, I found out that every section of the gallery site, including the “office,” the order form and the entrance page, have turned into a forum where visitors discuss net art sales, strategies and tactics of collecting, and the made-up issue of original vs. copied art.
With its commercial ambitions squashed, Art.Teleportacia has turned into a gallery-yet-to-be. It’s become a repository of discussions that take place before things finally settle and buying and selling net art turns into a boring, routine thing.
The years 1999-2000 have seen a surge of interest for net art online on the part of big museums. We’ve seen expensive online exhibitions, projects and grants. The $50,000 internet art award established by SFMOMA makes it very clear: the museums are now taking net artists as seriously as possible.
A web-based magazine, Rhizome, has started working on ArtBase, an archive of net art. For now, it looks pretty basic, but among media curators and art theoreticians on its advisory board, passions run high. They represent competing organizations, but finding a recipe for conserving net art and transforming it into museum objects is everyone’s top priority.
The Art.Teleportacia project caught the attention of modern art museum curators. They have a lot of experience storing slides, video art, and CDs in their archives. But what do you do with internet art? How do you own it? How do you make it part of your collection if you can’t put it on a shelf?
Things would have been much easier if net art could be reduced to web art—that is, nothing more than hypertext pages with funny animations and experiments exploring the technical capabilities of browser software (very few interesting projects can be actually described this way). If this were the case, the buyer could simply move the art to his server. But how do you treat art that explores the path that the user takes after viewing a certain page or pages (which don’t even have to be located on the same server), the journey that’s beyond the artist’s control?
Internet art resolutely defies any attempts to possess it. The old notions of property no longer apply here—in fact, none of the old notions apply. But new notions are starting to emerge, and it’s not too late to help shape them. Rather than deal with hypotheticals or draw analogies with existing practices, we should base our understanding on concrete examples, details, and practical cases.
I suggest that we start with secondary matters.
For instance, what do we do with a project’s feedback email address after the artist has sold it or after it’s been placed in an archive? This is a problem that we’re investigating right now on the gallery’s main page. It’s great how the different answers provoke new questions that reveal the nature of internet art pieces.