Marisa Olson
Since the beginning
Works in Brooklyn, New York United States of America

Marisa Olson is an artist, writer, and media theorist. Her interdisciplinary work has been exhibited at the Venice Biennale, Centre Pompidou, Tate(s) Modern + Liverpool, the Nam June Paik Art Center, British Film Institute, Sundance Film Festival, PERFORMA Biennial; commissioned and collected by the Whitney Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Houston Center for Photography, Experimental Television Center, and PS122; and reviewed in Artforum, Art21, the NY Times, Liberation, Folha de Sao Paolo, the Village Voice, and elsewhere.

Olson has served as Editor & Curator at Rhizome, the inaugural curator at Zero1, and Associate Director at SF Camerawork. She's contributed to many major journals & books and this year Cocom Press published Arte Postinternet, a Spanish translation of her texts on Postinternet Art, a movement she framed in 2006. In 2015 LINK Editions will publish a retrospective anthology of over a decade of her writings on contemporary art which have helped establish a vocabulary for the criticism of new media. Meanwhile, she has also curated programs at the Guggenheim, New Museum, SFMOMA, White Columns, Artists Space, and Bitforms Gallery. She has served on Advisory Boards for Ars Electronica, Transmediale, ISEA, the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences, Creative Capital, the Getty Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Kennedy Center, and the Tribeca Film Festival.

Olson studied Fine Art at Goldsmiths, History of Consciousness at UC Santa Cruz, and Rhetoric & Film Studies at UC Berkeley. She has recently been a visiting artist at Yale, SAIC, Oberlin, and VCU; a Visiting Critic at Brown; and Visiting Faculty at Bard College's Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts and Ox-Bow. She previously taught at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts' new media graduate program (ITP) and was Assistant Professor of New Media at SUNY-Purchase's School of Film & Media Studies. She was recently an Artist-in-Residence at Eyebeam & is currently Visiting Critic at RISD.

Collectible After All: Christiane Paul on net art at the Whitney Museum

The Whitney Museum artport has been an important institutional presence in net art and new media since its launch in 2002. Created and curated by Christiane Paul, artport features online commissions as well as documentation of new media artworks from the museum's exhibitions and collections. This year, artport as a whole was made an official part of the Whitney Museum collection; to mark this occasion, participating artist Marisa Olson interviewed Paul about the program's history and evolution over thirteen years.

 Douglas Davis, image from The World's First Collaborative Sentence (1994).

Collections like artport are a rare and valuable window onto a field of practice that, in some senses, was borne out of not being taken seriously. From mid-80s Eastern European game crackers to late-90s net artists, the first people working online were often isolated, by default or design, and were certainly marginalized by the art world, where few curators knew of their existence and fewer took them seriously, advocated for them, or worked to theorize and articulate the art historical precedents and currents flowing through the work. Help me fast-forward to the beginning of this century at one of the most important international art museums. Many of the US museums that funded new media projects did so with dot-com infusions that dried-up after 2000. Artport officially launched in 2001; the same year, you curated a section devoted to net art in the Whitney Biennial. What was the behind-the-scenes sequence of events that led to artport's founding?

I think artport's inception was emblematic of a wave of interest in net art in the US around the turn of the century and in the early 2000s. This more committed involvement with the art form interestingly coincided with or came shortly after the dot com bubble, which inflated from 1997–2000, had its climax on March 10, 2000 when NASDAQ peaked, and burst pretty much the next day. Net art, however, remained a very active practice and started appearing on the radar of more US art institutions. To some extent, their interest may have been sparked by European exhibitions that had begun to respond to the effects of the web on artistic practice earlier on. In 1997, Documenta X had already included web projects (that year the Documenta website was also famously "stolen"—that is, copied and archived—by Vuk Cosic in the project Documenta: done) and Net Condition, which took place at ZKM in 1999/2000, further acknowledged the importance of art on the web.

US museums increasingly began to take notice. Steve Dietz, who had started the Walker Art Center's New Media Initiatives early on, in 1996, was curating the online art Gallery 9 and digital art study collection. Jon Ippolito, in his role as Associate Curator of Media Arts at the Guggenheim, was commissioning net art in the early 2000s and in 2002, Benjamin Weil, with Joseph Rosa, unveiled a new version of SFMOMA's E-space, which had been created in 2000. This was the institutional netscape in which I created artport in 2001, since I felt that the Whitney, which had for the first time included net art in its 2000 Biennial, also needed a portal to online art. The original artport was much more of a satellite site and less integrated into than it is now. Artist Yael Kanarek redesigned the site not too long after its initial launch and created version 1.1. Artport in its early days was sponsored by a backend storage company in New Jersey, which was then bought by HP, so HP appeared as the official sponsor. I think it is notable that sponsorship at that point did not come from a new tech company but a brand name that presumably wanted to appear more cutting edge.

booomerrranganggboobooomerranrang: Nancy Holt's networked video

Nancy Holt, Boomerang (1974), still from video.

In her time on this planet, Nancy Holt came to be known as a great American Land Artist, and certainly her brilliant installations, like Utah's Sun Tunnels and collaborations with her partner Robert Smithson and their peers, are profoundly significant, but it was her work in film & video that has had the greatest personal impact on me.

I somehow didn't see Boomerang, her 1974 video performance usually credited to her collaborator Richard Serra, until I was a Ph.D. student in Linda Williams's Phenomenology of Film seminar at UC Berkeley's Rhetoric program, but the time delay was more than made up for by the work's formative resonance. In the video, made during Serra's residency at a Texas television station, a young Holt is seen sitting in an anchor's chair before a staid blue background. Despite brief station ID graphic overlays and one minute of silence in the midst of the ten-minute piece (announced as audio trouble and reminding viewers of the work's live TV origin), the work is in many ways sound-centric.

Sound and Image in Electronic Harmony

Image: Semiconductor: Ruth Jarman and Joseph Gerhardt, 200 Nanowebbers, 2005

On Saturday, April 11th, New York's School of Visual Arts will co-present the 2009 Visual Music Marathon with the New York Digital Salon and Northeastern University. Promising genre-bending work from fifteen countries, the lineup crams 120 works by new media artists and digital composers into 12 hours. If it's true, as is often said, that MTV killed the attention spans of Generations X and Y, this six-minute-per-piece average ought to suit most festivalgoers' minds, and the resultant shuffling on and off stage will surely be a spectacle in its own rite. In all seriousness, this annual event is a highlight of New York's already thriving electronic music scene and promises many a treat for your eyes and ears. The illustrious organizers behind the marathon know their visual music history and want to remind readers that, "The roots of the genre date back more than two hundred years to the ocular harpsichords and color-music scales of the 18th century," and "the current art form came to fruition following the emergence of film and video in the 20th century." The remarkable ten dozen artists participating in this one-day event will bring us work incorporating such diverse materials as hand-processed film, algorithmically-generated video, visual interpretations of music, and some good old fashioned music-music. From luminaries like Oskar Fischinger, Hans Richter, and Steina Vasulka to emerging artists Joe Tekippe and Chiaki Watanabe, the program will be another star on the map that claims NYC as fertile territory for sonic exploration. - Marisa Olson




The National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST) in Athens, Greece, has committed itself to curating a number of recent exhibitions of internet art. Their current show, "Tag Ties and Affective Spies," features contributions from both net vets and emerging surfers, including Christophe Bruno, Gregory Chatonsky, Paolo Cirio, JODI, Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar, Les Liens Invisibles, Personal Cinema and The Erasers, Ramsay Stirling, and Wayne Clements. The online exhibition takes an antagonistic approach to Web 2.0, citing a constant balance "between order and chaos, democracy and adhocracy." Curator Daphne Dragona raises the question of whether the social web is a preexisting platform on which people connect, or whether it is indeed constructed in the act of uploading, tagging, and disclosing previously private information about ourselves on sites like Flickr, YouTube, and Facebook. Dragona asks whether we are truly connecting and interacting, or merely broadcasting. While her curatorial statement doesn't address the issue directly, the show's title hints at the level of self-surveillance in play on these sites. Accordingly, many of the selected works take a critical, if not DIY, approach to the internet. The collective Les Liens Invisibles tends to create works that make an ironic mash-up of the often divergent mantras of tactical media, culture jamming, surrealism, and situationism. In their Subvertr, they encourage Flickr users to "subverTag" their posted images, creating an intentional disassociation between an image's content and its interpretion, with the aim of "breaking the strict rules of significance that characterize the mainstream collective imaginary..." JODI's work, winning information (2008) exploits the limited stylistic parameters of the social bookmarking site. Using ASCII and Unicode page titles to form visual marks, a cryptic tag vocabulary, and a recursive taxonomy, their fun-to-follow site critiques the broader content of the web ...


Reappearance of the Undead


In 1997, internet art hall-of-famer Olia Lialina made a "net drama" called Agatha Appears that was written for Netscape 3 and 4 in HTML 3.2. One of the main features of the interactive narrative was the travel of the eponymous avatar across the internet. Let's just say the girl got around. But the magical illusion of the piece was that she appeared to stay still, even when links in the narrative were clicked and the viewer's address bar indicated movement to another server. But in time, both the browser and code in which the story was written became defunct and the piece unraveled as the sites previously hosting the links and files upon which Agatha was dependent disappeared or cleaned house. Such a scenario is common to early internet art (and will no doubt continue to plague the field), as ours is an upgrade culture constantly driving towards new tools, platforms, and codes. Many have debated whether to let older works whither or how it might be possible to update these works, making them compatible with new systems. For those who are interested, some of the best research on the subject has been performed by the folks affiliated with the Variable Media Initiative. Meanwhile, luddites and neophiles alike are now in luck because Agatha Appears has just undergone rejuvenation. Ela Wysocka, a restorer working at Budapest's Center for Culture & Communication Foundation has worked to overcome the sound problems, code incompatibilities, and file corruption and disappearance issues, and she's written a fascinating report about the process, here. And new collaborating hosts have jumped in line to bring the piece back to life, so that like a black and white boyfriend coming home from war, Agatha now offers us a shiny new webring as a token of ...


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question loosely related to new media

what photographers, or artists working with photography, do rhizomers
find UNDER-rated? just curious... marisa

Marisa S. Olson
Associate Director
SF Camerawork
415. 863. 1001


"digital poetry" & network conditions

an extension of the {"digital poetry" vs. net art} thread:

Lewis (et al),

Though I, too, called for "net art" to be specific to the net, I
think that we may be over-glamorizing and under estimating certain
network conditions. Lewis, in your critique of [digital poetry] you
say, "it operates with a totalitarian's closed, no-one
can walk inside it really, no one can move anything in it..." This
point implies that a linguistic act (poetry) can escape closed
systemiticity, which seems impossible to me. (along the same lines,
when you say "one can't translate Finnegan's Wake into cinema because
it's a linguistic experience," I want to insist on remembering the
difference between "linguistic" and "written.) But *more* important
to me, in your critique, is the assumption that the very dynamics of
reading must be somehow different on the internet; that an art work
or artist is not living up to its/her mandate if it does not
illustrate this difference. (ie you refer to "the ones that are just

I see a sort of slippage, here, in that we have all been insisting on
the way in which a text (visual, verbal, written, aural, etc) is
changed/completed/authored by the reader in her interpretation or
performative enunciation of the text. (you described your own net
work, saying, "the work itself ends up being authored mostly by the
user and the machine-though I would urge us to think about how
"language" might be used in place of "machine," both as a catch-all
for analog and digital work, and because I think you mean more the
system than the machine-the machine cannot drive itself, can it? It
needs a language and instructions written in that languageS)

If we are to insist on this, however, we cannot say that the act of
reading is "actionless" in one medium or platform over another. This
needs to refer to reading at large, though we'd be remiss not to
notice the different reading conditions (in this case, network
conditions) at play, effecting the construction, dissemination,
accessibility, physical and intellectual labor of reading, and
interpretation of the work. But this just recalls the age old
story|discourse distinctionS

This concern carries over to my understanding of your statement, "i
want a new art form, a new form of digital poetry that's less
cinematic..." Are you saying that you want something read more
actively than a "passive" cinematic text? (this was a common
critique of Heavy Industries' Flash movies) I am well-aware of
important readings of cinema's cultural context, in relation to
leisure/class, passivity, spectacle, and (easy)identification;
however, I would again underscore my point that there is an action
happening in these readings. Let's think about how a cinematic
narrative is read, in relation to a written one. (and while I
understand the coding of the word narrative, I think that my comments
here could also refer to "non-narrative" texts that are read
spatially, as in poetry-of course, what's not read spatially?!) We
read words/images in a specific order, whether or not that order is
traditionally "linear," or more what I call "curvilinear" (in the
sense that the order may change, but all of the
pieces/words/signifiers are still linked in a distinct way); this
reading-order is a product of our (linguistic) enculturation, of
course, but we must first agree that some process is in place. No
matter what this process is, the text is subject to secondary (and
tertiary, etc) revisions, as we retroactively make sense of the
pieces, in relation to each other, new information, etc. So, when mez


"u" is qualified by "do.NT." This much is obvious. What it should
also make obvious is that I, as a reader, am performing an action.
Bracketing "death of the author" arguments, this action is roughly
the same whether I perform it in response to an e-mail, Flash site,
piece of paper, metal engraving, or filmS. I would, however, be
interested in hearing more on how/why you think that a work becomes
"damaged" when it is translated into another media. Are you referring
more to an artist's intent or the aesthetic value of the work?


Marisa S. Olson
Associate Director
SF Camerawork
415. 863. 1001


Re: "digital poetry" vs net art

>Are "digital poetry" and net art two distinct genres? And, perhaps
>more importantly, should they be?


an interesting question, though i do wonder if "digital poetry" isn't
a romanticization of work (text-based or otherwise) constructed
and/or experienced in/with digital media.

of course you know that your question involves defining the
"products" of two practices that tend to defy
definition--particularly among these object-oriented lines. however,
i would most certainly say that there is a "poetics" of "net art," in
the sense that there are specific rhetorical, narratological,
structural conditions under which the work is made, represented,
distributed, accessed, interpreted, etc.. the means, modes, and
vehicles by which it signifies....


Marisa S. Olson
Associate Director
SF Camerawork
415. 863. 1001


americans & sms?

I'm doing some research on Americans using SMS in art
projects--performances, installations, narratives, whatever...

If you are doing/have done such a project, I'd love to know about it...

(And please don't hate-mail me for only asking about Americans. I
know that this practice is much more established/common in the UK &
elsewhere; but I've seen less of this work over here because the
technology is behind on this side of the pond...)


Marisa S. Olson
Associate Director
SF Camerawork
415. 863. 1001


Re: "digital poetry" vs net art

>the original poem also exists in it's own right

this is actually a really interesting point. i have been concerned
that so much recent "net art" is only "net" art because it is on the
net, but is really more design (or whatever else) thrown up there and
not something that references its context, its site-specificity, or
network conditions in any way. somehow i want to insist on this
self-reflexivity, despite the fact that i don't ask a photo to
reference its conditions as such.. i just happen to like it when it

it's also interesting to think about the concealed form or life of an
"object" prior to its final incarnation in its destined media.
remember that the VGIK filmmakers made "films" on paper in meager
times... the whole ephemeral media debate re-raises this issue with
regard to the life_span_ (and archival properties) of a new media

with poetry, i wonder how, as you say, it exists "in its own right."
do you mean that it is a poem first and then becomes digitized? in
what form does the "digital poem," as lewis put it, exist? are you
referring to something jotted down on paper prior to its digitization
or something that exists as an intellectual entity? my hunch is that
you may mean that poetry exists as poetry before (or above) its
existence in any specific media, but i find it hard to divorce the
creative form from its medium if only because it will inevitably be
schematized in relation to its medium--it is, afterall, something
expressed and defined in relation to its interpretation, as you say

>but your visit creates a unique iteration

and that interpretation (or "visit") is always-already predetermined
by the material conditions of its iteration, insofar as (a) that is
the dimension by which it can be actualized or read, and (more so--b)
the base-matter that comprises that materiality will always be
constitutively comprised of cultural precursors; the cultural
conditions for representing and interprteting (and all in
between--protocol, etc) are bound up in the formula of the poem's (or
image's, or treatise's, or code's, or network's, etc.) medium.


Marisa S. Olson
Associate Director
SF Camerawork
415. 863. 1001