net.dialogue.4--On Being Retro In The Zeroes

Mark Amerika with Abe Golam

"And yet, and yet . . . [d]enying temporal succession, denying the self,
denying the astronomical universe, are apparent desperations and secret
consolations. Our destiny is not frightful by being unreal; it is
frightful because it is irreversible and iron-clad. Time is the
substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am
the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a
fire which consumes me, but I am the fire."

Jorge Luis Borges, from "A New Refutation of Time"

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Mark Amerika: Well, I just read that FEED and SUCK magazines have pretty
much closed up shop. That's very sad. I enjoyed both, especially circa
1996-99. So, who's next? SALON?

Abe Golam: We should be so lucky.

MA: Not Rhizome?

AG: Hell no! And not Alt-X either, right?

MA: Right. In fact, there's quite a bit happening at Alt-X in the near
future, all of it pinned to our mission, to our net art meets literary
art meets conceptual art curatorial vision. We are just now releasing a
variety of free "conceptual net art" and net.fiction ebooks. It's part
of our strategy to help clean up the air a little bit. The net has been
so polluted, but it feels less so now that the dot.caps are vanishing in
a haze of woulda coulda shoulda. Mostly we have had a "wait and see"

AG: What's your "wait and see" attitude?

MA: Good question! We have been waiting for the dot.bomb to deploy
itself so that all of the air would pop out of the bubble, just like we
predicted it would. Now that we see our predictions coming true, we are
simultaneously analyzing what went wrong, how it relates to the net art
economy, and why now looks like a great time to not only launch a series
of new projects at Alt-X, but reassess the value of some of the major
works of Internet art.

AG: So?

MA: So, basically, we have been quietly designing our next projects: the
aforementioned new ebook/Palm series of titles, a print on-demand
series, an mp3 label, a new design and database-driven interface, a
"Histories of Internet Art" web site built by university students and
participating net artists to be used as a free resource for those
interested in what was.

AG: Was?

MA: Well, let's use "was" *for now*. Maybe we can come back to "is"
shortly, after yesterday's crash (to quote the Berlin Dadaists).

AG: OK. I guess it depends on what "is" means. But I'll ask again: what
was it?

MA: What?

AG: Net art.

MA: Oh, right! That! Well, that's what we're investigating. Actually,
what we are finding out is that we have come to a point in the history
of Internet art practice where researching its immediate past reveals
wonderful ironies.

AG: Such as?

MA: Too many to list here, but think of how many of the most notorious
artists were so clever at using the net to attract attention to their
projects, to simultaneously exhibit and publicize themselves. They were
so good at this that within a few years of launching their "initial
public offerings," we now see major works of net art exhibited in some
of the biggest shows coming out of mainstream institutions like the
Whitney, SFMOMA, the Tate, etc. It almost makes video art look as
anachronistic as painting.

But one of the ironies that has evolved is that, for the most part, the
value of this work has been underestimated by the artists themselves,
and that's a problem.

AG: It must have something to do with the gallery scene, with not being
able to sell the actual web sites at galleries and then, within months,
seeing those same web art sites resell for even higher dollar value.

MA: Yes, that's part of it. The revenge of the conventional art
marketplace. Galleries really have no use for net art. STILL. But some
of this work is already a major part of art history (not just net art
history), and the fact that it bypassed the gallery scene is an
indication of how net art is different than the other media arts.

AG: But there are artists who are starting to buckle under what they
perceive as "market pressures" and who are now using their net art as a
kind of marketing tool, a way to increase their visibility so that they
can then try and sell real objects that are somehow connected to their
net mpractice! Is that back-asswards or what?

MA: Ah, yes, a digital print of a certificate or share in the fake company, a little scribbled doodad that shows "the thought
process" the artist went through while cognitively mapping the site, a
mini-sculpture of the html code embedded in concrete for $500. Damn,
pretty soon we'll have abstract expressionistic video art paintings that
attempt to successfully "represent" the net reality! Like REAL artists!
Everything will be REAL again!

AG: And commodifiable. Is that a word, "commodifiable"?

MA: Probably. I mean if you say it, then it's a word. Don't trust your
Microsoft spell-check.

AG: So these real objects will once again bring AURA back to art
products, yes? This is a way to relocate the ever-elusive "lost aura"
Benjamin was writing about, right? The world will be safe again for art!

MA: Listen, the world is always safe again for art. That's what happens
with the passage of time. Net art is now part of art history. This
happened without its early practitioners having even really fought for
it. And yet it's something we must deal with. I'm dealing with it.

AG: Really? How so?

MA: First of all, I am doing what I have always done with my ongoing
ungoing life-practice: I am narrativizing it. You'll remember that with
GRAMMATRON I narrativized a near-future, net art culture that challenged
the institutional exhibition and publishing paradigms as they existed in

AG: And don't forget the love story – there was a love story too –
full of hot sex!

MA: Yes, well, I'm sure YOU liked that part the best. But then again,
you were the protagonist who benefited from it all. But there was more
to it then that. And don't forget that in HOLO-X, we explored 3-D
immersion, webcam voyeurism, and interactive eros.bots, narrativizing
the "come-on" mentality that had struck consumer cyberculture with a

AG: You mean with the dot.bomb economy.

MA: Yes, the dot.caps as I prefer to call them. But that's all over now.
And in PHON:E:ME, particularly in the hyper:liner:notes, the
fictionalized net artists seriously investigate the entrepreneurial
hustle they have so eagerly bought into and take a deep look inside.

AG: And what do they find?

MA: That their work as pioneers in the net art world is actually quite
valuable. That they can give it away for free and still increase the
actual value of the work. In fact, the more visible their name and their
art works, the more international shows they are in, the more media they
generate, the more ANCIENT their sites begin to look, the more AURA they
begin to take on. And you know what that means?

AG: What?

MA: Aura = collectible. And for large-scale net art projects with
tremendous intellectual heft and worldwide popularity, that means big

AG: OK! I'll buy that (figuratively, that is – I'm sure I can't afford
them). How will you narrativize this new phase of development in the
history of net art, this conscientious looking-back and re-evaluating?

MA: Well, what better way to narrativize the early history of net art
than in a major retrospective. And what better place than in Tokyo where
techno-dreams still abound, even though their economy continues to
sputter along and never really got caught up in the dot.bomb

AG: An Internet art retrospective?

MA: Yes. It's about time.

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Mark Amerika's Internet art retrospective, "Avant-Pop: The Stories of
Mark Amerika," opened at the Agency for Cultural Affairs' Media Arts
Plaza in Tokyo on July 1, 2001. The show runs through September 30,

Abe Golam is the legendary info-shaman who starred in the net love story