WikiPedia as Art?

On WIKI as Art

On Valentine's Day 2009, Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern launched the Wikipedia art page, which resonated with the history of media art, authorship, and media formalism on many levels. Has this particular piece updated Beuys' admonition of the openness of art? Not only that, does art based on open Web 2.0 standards like the Wiki define art that is a palimpsest by definition? What is interesting yet disturbing about this is not only the obliteration of discrete authorship, but the total indeterminacy of intellectual ownership whatsoever.

For example, what happens when the conceptual work of art is left open, such as Douglas Davis “World's First Collaborative Sentence”, but is allowed to be opened to anyone, without “gatekeeping”, and the work is open to repetitive writing and re-writing to the point where it is possible that the only remnant is the gesture itself. I'm sure that Kildall & Stern, and their initial collaborators will be documented as the progenitor of the form, but the destination of the vector is by no means assured.

This is very similar to Andrew Keen's complaints of Wikipedia as being an unreasonable request upon internet society to create cultural foundations (encyclopedias, art media, etc) without compensation, thus devaluing production. However, is this devaluing of production an Achilles' Heel of cultural production and economics in the digital age including the proposed “Web 3.0” in which producers meet and produce for one another for free under the aegis of the provider, signifying the ongoing “race to the bottom” or concentration of wealth? Is it a byproduct of the hypercapitalistic devaluation of goods and services, or an updating of the conceptual work of art? In the online work of art, there is a gravity that remains with the author, even in the piece of net art, but in Wikimedia/Wikipedia art, the work becomes solely a locus initiated by agents, and left for intervention.

But again, left as a discursive Web 2.0 Exquisite Corpse, each visitor invited to complete the work, what becomes of it? I have recently been considering in terms of threads and moment of translation, such as my text on Duchamp->Hamilton->Ascott (Dada to Pop to New Media), and links involving Abramovic->Abramovic 2005-> Mattes ->Second Front (disembodiment/decontextualization of performance art), Wikipedia art creates its own arc of representation. One could say it roots on elements of chance, also with the free association fo the Surrealists, but with the dematerialization of Conceptualism, and the anonymity of elements of Web 2.0. We could possibly draw the epistemic arc of Wikipedia Art as Breton ->Klein/Manzoni or Debord or Cage/Fluxus->Davis->Kildall/Stern. However, as the inception of the genre is minutes old at time of this writing, my speculation is of the highest order.

Therefore I ask, whether Wiki can be made as art… However, as a writer who is about to write a chapter in a book on distributed narratives, my position is that it can, but its indeterminacy makes it largely conceptual, and slippery at best, making it a strong relative of networked conceptualism or highly formal online media art. It will be interesting to see if it does, in fact become a genre, and what form it will take. But I hope this winds up in the Wiki, and you can have your way with it as you will.


, curt cloninger

Hi Patrick,

I'd add Douglas Rushkoff to the wiki-art canon:

Below are some thoughts from a recent interview I gave that seem relevant, particularly regarding the "discreteness" of the art object. Benjamin pinpointed the decay of the "original" auratic art object. Fluxus, Cage, and Kaprow challenged the primacy of any single instantiation of the art object, replacing it with open-ended instructions that led to an infinite number of variable instantiations. (Theater and "classical" western musical notation had already done this, they just didn't realize it. No two performances of "The Tempest" are ever exactly alike.) My practice has led me to question the "discreteness" of an art "work." Perhaps "canonizability" or "recognizability" or "attributability" are better terms.


I am currently interested (from a critical and artistic perspective) in online meme dispersal, microcosmic and macrocosmic ways of modulating culture, hijacking specific google search terms, web surfing as a form of subjective narration, marketing/mind-control, and invisibility via hyper-saturation. Alex Galloway suggests that the destruction of the network is already inherent and dormant in its own architecture. The way to achieve this collapse is via hypertrophy – pushing the network beyond what it is capable of sustaining. To me, this suggests establishing thousands of mySpace, Twitter, youTube, and delicious accounts, and pummeling the network with rigorously purposeful, (de/re)contextualized media – to play the entire network as one huge, nefarious instrument. What is sacrificed in the ability to subtly control any single piece of media is made up for by the accumulation of massive agency. This is a dangerous proposition.

I'm proposing a form of resistant/tactical media, but one not afraid to co-opt and implement corporate consumer strategies. It is simultaneously subversive and overt. It is fluid enough to have discrete manifestations in offline galleries, to take on non-"new media" forms, to assume the form of critical essays, books, and talks. It is basically a project of ongoing, widely-dispersed, inflected language…

If, as an artist, I "play" the entire network as my instrument, then I don't have to wait for some art organization to curate my "work," because my work is an ongoing performance of the network. If I can hijack google and cause it to display the images and links I want for the key words that I choose to appropriate, then I blur the line between performance, marketing, and mind-control. I am no longer trying to drive people to my discrete piece of online art work, as contextualized and labeled by an online arts organization. The search results that people get when they do a key word search at google is itself my art performance…

It gets even more interesting from the perspective of an academic researcher and writer. What is the value of online listserv and bulletin board dialogue compared to having a peer-reviewed article published in an offline academic journal? What is the value of talking to a bunch of commercial web designers about web design praxis compared to talking to a few academics and curators about net art theory? For that matter, what is the value of teaching a bunch of students how to make art compared to making art myself? The good news is, I don't have to commit to just one approach.


I would add that un-canonizability is not limited to wikimeda. The person who first rickrolled, or the person who posted the first screenshots that eventually led to "all your base are belong to us," – these people are not simply anonymous by preference; they are historically undocumented and journalistically unknown. These moves could be considered "The Practice of Everyday Life" Online. They already have their own agency. To classify them as "art" arguably limits their original agency by sequestering and quarantining them.

I am interested in where your research leads on this topic. I'm particularly interested in the (pre-net) historical precedences you choose to track. de Certeau, Debord, and even McLuhan seem useful in this regard. Was May '68 the most (un)spectacular art performance of the 20th Century? Is it Debord's "piece?" Does it matter?


, Pall Thayer

The entry has been removed but there is still a lot of discussion going on regarding its removal. Wikipedia Art was an interesting experiment but doomed from the start. It's funny to read through the discussion page and see the various arguments people post for keeping or removing the entry. One of the main points made by the "deleters" is that the entry is self-referential. I'm sure that they're entirely oblivious to the fact that art is historically self-referential, especially conceptual art such as Wikipedia Art is. However, there is one argument made for deletion that I don't think anyone can argue with and that is that the entry is not encyclopedic. Being a sample of this type of work doesn't make it informative. They are entirely correct in arguing that Wikipedia is not the right venue for such an entry. However, as Patrick points out on the discussion page, it has now become a significant event that warrants a Wikipedia write up (this is questionable but for the sake of commentary, let's say it has). But this is not by any means an acceptable argument for keeping the entry. It proposes an entirely new and different entry that would be encyclopedic and non self-referential. We would also have to ask ourselves whether all Wikipedia discussions that involve the removal of an entry warrant a write-up about the deletion. What makes this one so special?



Took a romantic holiday yesterday and missed the entire thing…

Where can one find the discussion? It looks like it's gone for good? I'm looking here:



answering my own question:


I find it interesting that the Wikipedians can't seem to understand that doing it *on* Wikipedia is just as much part of the project as the 'wiki art' part of the project. Making a collaborative artwork on a wiki isn't very interesting. But doing an intervention on Wikipedia becomes interesting as the archived debate becomes the artwork.

But I can sympathize with the Wikipedians. If these Wikipedia art interventions became a popular game it would become vandalism (the resources to clean them up would become burdensome to the volunteers). But just this one is fun.

, Vijay Pattisapu

Pall Thayer: 'One of the main points made by the "deleters" is that the entry is self-referential. I'm sure that they're entirely oblivious to the fact that art is historically self-referential, especially conceptual art such as Wikipedia Art is. However, there is one argument made for deletion that I don't think anyone can argue with and that is that the entry is not encyclopedic. Being a sample of this type of work doesn't make it informative. They are entirely correct in arguing that Wikipedia is not the right venue for such an entry.


What makes this one so special?'

Behind the encyclopedia is a notion of human knowledge as a totality (Aristotle). Such a self-referential article, then, calls attention to Wikipedia as a thing among others, breaking that totality. An encyclopedia needs a sacred space from which to look (describe) and to be looked at (peer review). (Celibate machine? As in science, observer ain't observed. Freud does not himself pen the article about him.)

To some extent the encyclopedia inherits something of the epic, in that requirement of sacred space. Homer's litanies served as an encyclopedic reference for Greek historians. The Puranas likewise did for Indians. The Bible is an obvious case. Yet these and other epics have shown themselves quite capable of self-reference, recursive narrative time, parrhesia, and the artist's speech act (see Curt Cloninger on this somewhere in the middle of These don't break the epic's sacred space, but they appear to break the encyclopedia's. Probably because the encyclopedist's speech act is more like the scientist's.

Sigh, I'm about to get C. P. Snow-balled. Or epic p0wned.

, Pall Thayer

I was expecting to get snow-balled/p0wned for playing the devil's advocate but Rhizome just ain't what it used to be, eh? I would say that some of the points you make are valid in regards to the traditional, bound and published encyclopedia. Because of it's static nature, it becomes a snapshot of knowledge as it was understood at the time. It's interesting to flip through a set of encyclopedias from say, 1971, today. Germany is East and West, The Expo's are from Montreal and Pluto is a planet. In this sense, I can see how an encyclopedia might be like an ancient epic. Here in Iceland our history is based on the ancient Icelandic sagas. We can trace our ancestry back to the turn of the first millennium through them. They are a snapshot of what was known then and how that knowledge was disseminated. However, unlike the contemporary encyclopedia, each of them are written by a single person (as far as anyone can tell) and they don't worry about embellishing the truth every now and then. This sort of literature serves as an encyclopedic reference due to the lack of anything more precise. One of the interesting things about the Icelandic sagas is that there were so many of them and so few people. Frequently the same people and events are mentioned in separate sagas which has allowed scholars to cross-reference them back and forth in attempts to sift fact from fiction. The contemporary encyclopedia has decided to do away with poetic license in an effort to provide a reasonably reliable reference that doesn't require filtering fact from fiction. I see that as a reasonable goal. Now we have a new sort of encyclopedia that is dynamic and sheds information that was once believed to be true but has been shown to be false. For that very reason, that it is focussed on the current truth and not a snapshot of what once was, it is an unsuitable venue for art (which automatically makes it an interesting venue for art). Art is always strictly tied to the time and culture from whence it came. People speak of "timeless works of art" but there is no such thing as "timeless art". Perhaps, for that very reason, it was best that Wikipedia Art was deleted. That way it gets to live on as a reference point to the time and culture that created it. It has more potential to become a significant work of art as "that deleted Wikipedia piece from 2009" than "that Wikipedia piece that has become a big mess of nothing".

Regarding the "sacred space" you mention. Wikipedia has that. It's the discussion page for each entry.

, Vijay Pattisapu

Interesting idea, that the sagas function as encyclopedias only because there was nothing better. But isn’t that perspective rather biased toward the present? And anyway, the scholars or wikiers writing encyclopedic articles on Icelandic history at some point have to refer to the sagas as a source, much like Wikipedia harvests that Britannica from the 1920s, I think.

“Regarding the "sacred space" you mention. Wikipedia has that. It's the discussion page for each entry.”

I agree.

“I was expecting to get snow-balled/p0wned for playing the devil's advocate but Rhizome just ain't what it used to be, eh?”

Heheh, Rhizome has never been what it used to be, which makes it Rhizome, I guess!

I was just frustrated with what I had written in response to your post.

Snowball frustration since I start to draw a distinction between artistic and scientific epistemes that can slippery slope / snowball into C.P. Snow's old “Two Cultures” rant (why not a Wikipedia article!

Epic p0wn frustration since, well, I got epic p0wned over in that epic net art thread on various angles and beaten giving up on the idea of epic net art, but the idea dies hard. The saga continues. :-)

, Ceci Moss

For anyone interested in reading the discussion/debate surrounding the removal of the "Wikipedia Art" entry, go here:

, abre

i agree

, Jeff Sable

Kind of in response to Paul Thayer - but also in general:

Why is it special - It's not - any more than anything else - except for that it is happening, and in such a way that is is causing some degree of debate and discussion, some degree of questioning. You could argue that that is happening everywhere - we might as well include some debate on a celebrity blog as worthy and interesting art. How Silly! Or the old story everyone's heard - what make it art - of the person off the street going to the museum and seeing a big blue canvas ( or what ever artwork you like - insert) and saying why the heck is that art - I could do that - my kid could do that! ) but they didn't. The artist did. But some one else will come along and as '
Blue' & 'Square' ah yes - profound.

In this case what I find interesting is precisely the intervention on the notion of encyclopedic in general - as well as the current manifestation in our contemporary context of the virtual encyclopedic, collaboratively edited, by some but not all, ever changing yet static (by the rules of insertion and inclusion ) repository of what is - Wikipedia Truth. Just like the blue square painting suggest for some a meditation on basic visual parameters of general ocular experience truth - the wiki art pedic act seems to raise questions, among others, of the purpose and necessarily? dogmatic need for encyclopedic repositories, and/or how that repository is maintained, and by whom. What kinds of people do the work of maintaining this service to our collective society. Well in this case apparently some of them who have little patience for exercises in art (their prerogative in their given task - yes agreed), and in the interesting case of the finger that finally pulled the trigger on Wikipedia Art - an 18 year old kid who disdains democracy.

Thats interesting! If it makes people begin to dig, to question what are we preserving in our attempted encyclopedic knowledge and our organization of virtual repository projects of knowledge Data. For what purpose does Knowledge data serve if not to provide us with insight upon which to act more skillfully in the present moment. To reflect and then Act - 'More Better'

Does The Wikipedia Art project do that? For all of us? I don't know.. apparently for me yes.
But I guess in the end, for it to matter we have to have some consensus - in which case if we do it will be ART cause WE decided to make it matter, and then WE will include it in an Encyclopedia somewhere as a reference - How Fun!

, Tom Moody

This project is being mostly panned over at Paddy Johnson's blog:

, Paul Wehage

You might be interested in following the comments on an article on the blog which analyzes this project from the vantage point of view of Wikipedia. My own conclusion is that the only artistic expression which is possible on Wikipedia is through vandalism, role-playing and other performative strategies, because of the general atmosphere and policies of the site itself.

, J Archer

An interesting discussion, off to wiki…