"Cyber" meets "Soho"

With the simultaneous opening of the exhibition "alt.youth.media" at the
New Museum of Contemporary Art, and the "Mediascape" exhibition at the
Soho Guggenheim, inaugurating this museum's new commitment to new media
arts, the entire season-opening weekend in the New York Soho art world
seemed saturated by an interest in the "cyber" arts. The "Cyber-Soho" at
Space Untitled Gallery, part of this year's third annual "Soho Arts
Festival," was a forum specifically intended to present artists'
projects on CD-ROM, the internet and the world wide web, to exchange
information among artists who work in these media, and to introduce
digital media to conventional art world gallery-goers.

The art community and the new media community are clearly still
struggling to incorporate the two worlds effectively. The Guggenheim
and the New Museum shows provide us with two ends of the spectrum. The
Guggenheim show tends to ignore any meaningfully different or truly
radical aspect of new media and consigns it to the role of a sort of
high-tech paintbrush, simply a new tool in the hands of artists. The
New Museum, on the other hand, looks entirely outside the work of
"artists" to youth groups who produce videos and zines as well as
CD-ROMs and interactive computer projects. The projects at "Cyber-Soho"
were clearly wrestling with some of the complexities of trying to engage
the two together in a meaningful way. This, it turns out, is not an
easy thing to do. Projects at "Cyber-Soho," presented almost entirely
on conventional home computers, included those which consist primarily
of information about art on the web, and provide directories, indexes,
links, or distribution of real world art projects (for example,
Artnetweb at http://www.artnetweb.com, Plexus at http://www.plexus.org);
chat or community programs which provide bulletin boards, discussions,
and reading groups (for example, The Thing at
http://www.thing.net/thingnyc, RHIZOME INTERNET at
http://www.rhizome.org); as well as sites that host artists' projects
per se (for example, Postmasters at http://www.thing.net/~pomaga,
Floating Point Unit at http://www.thing.net/~floating, InfoART on
CD-ROM, and Pseudo Online Network).

Among the Soho gallery audience who went simply to "see" artworks using
new media, many were not prepared to invest the time or effort needed to
explore these sites. "Cyber-Soho" was more compelling for those who
were interested in exploring the web and seeing what it can do, both in
terms of creating interesting art projects and in disseminating existing
artworks and information. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of
"Cyber-Soho" was how it brought up the paradoxical need to meet in the
"real world" to introduce people to sites they will presumably go back
and visit online. The only way to find things of interest on the web is
still word-of-mouth which, as demonstrated by "Cyber-Soho" operates
right across real and virtual spaces.