Michael Connor
Since 2002
Works in Brooklyn, New York United States of America

Notes on a definition of Net Art based on what I remember from a borrowed copy of Nettitudes



Lately, I've been feeling a sense of inhibition relating to Josephine Bosma's book Nettitudes, which I've had checked out from the library for the past six months. I started getting emails a few weeks ago that the book had to be returned, each one charting a steadily increasing overdue fine. (Update: the book is now being billed as lost.) The idea of returning the book became a source of anxiety, because even though I could make a copy or buy another one, I've become attached to it. Also, I don't quite remember where I put it.

This is relevant to my job because the Prix Net Art announcement, which went up earlier this week, had to of course include a definition of net art. And as with last year, this definition was something Chronus and TASML curator and Prix instigator and co-organizer Zhang Ga and I discussed intently. As Zhang has argued from the beginning, one signficant motivation for this prize was to publicly discuss and debate the definition of net art.

The One Hour Photo Lab as Exhibition Venue

One summer during college, I worked in a one-hour photo lab in a mall near my hometown. A big part of the job involved squinting at 35mm negatives and assessing the necessary color balance and exposure. I've always been bad at colors, and when a shift got slow I would make lots and lots of reprints and compare the results, trying to hone my eye. "You generate a lot of waste prints," my boss said one day. "Yes," my 19-year old self agreed placidly, without a thought for the store's bottom line, "that's true."

This week, I went to a CVS near my house to pick up an envelope of photo prints. The occasion was David Horvitz's project "An Impossible Distance," a "distributed exhibition" of works by 24 artists. To receive the "exhibition," you simply send an email to the organizers with your name and whereabouts, and they order the prints for you online, for delivery to a local photo Walgreens or CVS. When I went to CVS to collect my prints seven hours after the allotted time, they weren't ready; the cashier rang me up and started printing them. "It'll just be a few minutes," she said, and turned to the next customer, while a robot performed my old job.

Why is Deep Dream turning the world into a doggy monster hellscape?

Raphaël Bastide, Handmade Deep Dream (2015). If this were a real Deep Dream image these would be dogs probably.

Participants in social media will by now be well aware of the artistic renaissance that has been underway since the release of Google's Deep Dream visualization tool last week. Antony Antonellis' A-Ha Deep Dream captures well the experience of encountering these unsettling images on the internet:

Antony Antonellis, A-ha Deep Dream (2015).

By way of recap: Deep Dream uses a machine vision system typically used to classify images that is tweaked so that it over-analyzes images until it sees objects that aren't "really there." The project was developed by researchers at Google who were interested in the question, how do machines see? Thanks to Deep Dream, we now know that machines see things through a kind of fractal prism that puts doggy faces everywhere. 

It seems strange that Google researchers would even need to ask this question, but that's the nature of image classification systems, which generally "learn" through a process of trial and error. As the researchers described it,

we train networks by simply showing them many examples of what we want them to learn, hoping they extract the essence of the matter at hand (e.g., a fork needs a handle and 2-4 tines), and learn to ignore what doesn't matter (a fork can be any shape, size, color or orientation). But how do you check that the network has correctly learned the right features? It can help to visualize the network's representation of a fork.

Caitlyn Jenner and the Facebook Real Name Policy


Protesters in Menlo Park yesterday. (Photo by Gareth Gooch).

Yesterday, Caitlyn Jenner introduced herself to an eager public via a magazine cover, a Twitter account, and a Facebook page. The Twitter account gained a million followers faster than the previous record-holder, Barack Obama, and the Facebook page garnered hundreds of thousands of likes in its first day. Coming a week after the news that IMG had signed Hari Nef (onetime host of Ed Fornieles's NY NY HP HP for Rhizome), the news heralded a new level of public visibility and acceptance for transgender people.

The irony of Caitlyn Jenner's Facebook popularity is that the social media site has such an unsupportive official stance toward name changes in general. The policy not only forbids creating profiles under stage names or personas or alter egos, it forbids profiles under any name that can't be backed up by a legal document, such as identification or a piece of mail. (The rules are different for Pages, such as Jenner's). Facebook is like the right-wing uncle who deliberately misgenders you, on principle. 

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Notes on a definition of Net Art based on what I remember from a borrowed copy of Nettitudes

I think it's an excellent point that "the internet" is not a fixed entity, but changes over time.

Bosma has pointed out on various Facebook threads that all of the traits associated with postinternet art of the past few years were already present in net art. I agree with this, but I still think the term has validity, for the reason you point out: there were massive changes in the uses of the internet around the time of the iPhone's release and widespread adoption. I think it's perfectly valid to argue that this field effect wrought important enough changes to contemporary art to warrant a new term--although I'd suggest that postinternet should be considered a strain of/period in net art rather than an alternative to it.

Also, this shifting definition of "internet" is one reason why we are sticking more closely to the fuzzier, more informal term "net art" rather than the more formal one "internet art," another distinction Bosma analyzes in Nettitudes. It's also kind of why we say "computer networks" in the definition, rather than internet--this part is about something concrete and material, but it is meant to imply a much more open-ended relationship between the artwork and the network than the word "medium" allows.

The word "internet" is expansive and muddy, but it sounds specific and concrete, so most people insist on capitalizing it even when it's clear that they're actually are talking about social or economic practices rather than a specific, proper-noun technical infrastructure.


Notes on a definition of Net Art based on what I remember from a borrowed copy of Nettitudes

OK I just looked at the link again and some of it is embarrassing, but I do like the French revolution stuff.


Notes on a definition of Net Art based on what I remember from a borrowed copy of Nettitudes

Yeah, I think the definition we offered is the opposite of media specific. A human body can act on a network, or a script can, or anything.

My thoughts on gatekeepers have evolved a little since writing this paper on the topic a few years ago, but I think it's relevant to share:

TLDR: crowd curation is not so interesting, because the value of curating is in someone staking out a position or performing a subjectivity, while also listening and being open to new things and the interests of an audience.

As far as things to cover, these are all good topics. Thanks!

Btw, Post Internet is here: http://www.linkartcenter.eu/public/editions/Gene_McHugh_Post_Internet_Link_Editions_2011.pdf


Notes on a definition of Net Art based on what I remember from a borrowed copy of Nettitudes

Hi Nicholas, Nice to hear from you.

I like the way Hansen bases his definition of new media on the body and affect, but he approaches these concepts in slightly asocial, even mechanistic ways--only the Massumi version of affect, never the Sedgwick version. Partly due to its timing, no doubt.

Also, given the gymnastics Bosma and Hansen both do to deal with the word "media," I can't help but feel like we'd be better off jettisoning the term entirely in our discussions of net art. It seems to obfuscate more than it clarifies.

To add a bit more to our theory salad here, I especially like Kirschenbaum's discussion of the "medial ideology" in "Mechanisms," which I think highlights the fact that the word media itself makes people think of some kind of spiritual process. Hansen responds to this lamentable state of affairs by trying to make the term seem like it describes something real and concrete, but I prefer just to say that "new media" is a term mainly used by wizard people for their wizarding.

As far as your second question, it seems unlikely that an artist who hasn't had any writing about their work would be able to make a strong case to any bureaucratic gatekeeper/funder/selection panel, not only the Prix Net Art jury. It seems like the bigger need isn't to change the selection guidelines but to broaden our critical coverage. Since we had to pull the plug on the fun and valuable but basically unsustainable Rhizome Today experiment, our focus has skewed heavily toward long form articles--for a while, I've been feeling like we need more short form writing to ensure a better representation of a diverse field of activity. I'm curious, what kinds of work would you like to see covered more often on Rhizome?