Media, Internet and Spirituality

Net Art: The Pioneers of the Net

Michael A Rizzotti

The National Museum of Art of the 21st Century in Rome (Museo Nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo─MAXXI─) is hosting an exhibit displaying the works of six artists described as “pioneers of the net”: Antoni Muntadas, Natalie Bookchin, Heath Bunting, Alexei Shulgin, Francis Alÿs and Vuk Cosic. The MAXXI, one of Italy’s most popular museum of contemporary art, is inaugurating with this event the first of a series of exhibitions dedicated to “net/web art”.

The goal of the exhibition is to initiate an interactive play between the visitor and the web-art. Inviting the visitor to continue the experience of the museum on his home computer. Linking the art of the past with the online world of today. The show was made unexpectedly popular by the Italian press’ reports about the exhibit ─both print & online versions─ with their links to the museum.

Some of these web pages may be considered ancient by Internet standards. However, the exhibit is entitled “pioneers of the net”. These artists have been chosen because they are the innovators of this art form. The era between 1997-1999 is considered the golden years of the World-Wide-Web. The Net had not reached critical mass and was going through a period of elitist anarchy. Cyberspace was full of creative endeavor.

On Translation (1997)

I was surprised to receive an email from my cousin Roberto who lives in Torino, Italy, asking me to comment Antoni Muntadas’ “On Translation” web page. As it happens, i was working on this piece about the MAXXI exhibit when i received his email. It felt uncanny, since my cousin had written to me only on two occasions in the last two years. I couldn’t help thinking that the Net is working in mysterious ways. He sent me his email to ask if i could translate the meaning of the English web page. Somehow, my cousin’s email confirms Muntadas’ premise that the we encounter communication hurdles when we surf the net but these gaps are quickly transcended by interactive means (a quick email to a cousin in LA who speaks English). Muntadas also dwells on the difficulty of loosing the original significance of a message in the translation of one language into another. I hope the reply i sent to my cousin was helpful. Since then, Muntadas has updated his web page to included many other languages.

The Intruder (1999-2000)

With The Intruder  Natalie Bookchin is adapting Jorges Luis Borges’ short story La Intrusa into an interactive mind game. Borges’ story is about un ménage à trois with misogynistic overtones and a tragic ending: “an analogy for basic game narratives-invasion by an other/an alien (in this case a woman) who must be eliminated to bring about resolution and closure.” The love triangle here could be seen as an interruption between self and the intimacy with the text and the incursion of a videogame as an “other” presence. The “alien’s” intrusion by the videogame disrupts an idyllic interaction between self and the word.

Imaging Natalie (1998)

To get the best view of Imaging Natalie one must take few steps back (12-15 ft or 4-5 meters). Move around until the right perspective reveals the best view of the portrait. This technique is similar in many respects to what we do when we observe a modern painting at a museum. Heath Bunting in his page uses the keyboard to paint the portrait of Natalie Bookchin who was the subject of the previous paragraph. The sequence of the typos are in themselves meaningless but with a proper juxtaposition they reveal the image of Natalie. In the process Bunting links the symbols of the keyboard and the screen to web art as well as a tribute to a peer.

Desktop Is (1997)

For Alex Shulgin Net art is about oneself. The way you set up your desktop reveals your personality. The choice of icons, how they are displayed on your desktop, your screensaver, your background, reflects your order of things. Your bookmarks and your links reveals your interests and your openness to the world. Your email address book discloses who you know. The Desktop Is…who you are. Like Shulgin’s page we live by a myriad of personal connections and links to web pages who contribute to our own expansive being.

The Thief (1999)

Francis Alÿs web-art describe how the image of the window throughout the History of Art has been used to represent the visual observer inside looking out into space. His web/art reveals how the advent of Windows 95 somewhat became a virtual extension of this representation. “Unlike the front door, the window does not only connect the inside and the outside; it embodies the architectonic project of having the outside inside, of pulling the landscape into the living room. We could say that computers are similar to landscape paintings in being architectonic devices.” What is exposed is a virtual window onto the world.

History of Art for Airports (1997)

Despite the odd title of Vuk Cosic’s web art, he succeeds in confirming the themes already proposed by the previous artists on this page. Cosic in his own way bridges the gap between such classics as la Pieta and a semiotic representation. He graphically links a famous piece of art of the past to a modern signpost: Signs that are omnipresent in the visual landscape of our daily life. Markers, pointer, road signs, classic images of art that have mutated into a novel visual mix.

Hacker-Art

Michael A Rizzotti

Hacker-art refers to a combination of recycled, appropriated or replicated art and sites available in cyberspace. Among the more famous hacktivists are two Italians by the name of Eva and Franco Mattes of 0100101110101101.org. They have been the center of attention ever since their infamous First Internet Coup with Vaticano.org. The site is a replica of Vatican.va, the official website of the Holy See. The duo appropriated the site and inserted some heretical content of their own. Fooling the visitors that they had reached the Vatican. The impostors wanted to benefit from the increasing popularity of the Internet by re-directing the flood of duped believers from around the world to their forged website. In less than a year the replicate site got 4 million hits.

In 2003 the pair were involved in another Internet Coup with Nike Ground. A fake marketing campaign exposing Nike’s fictitious intention to buy public freeways and squares in major capitals of Europe and branding the newly acquired property with the company’s logo. Nike sued for trademark infringement. In a surprising verdict the judge sided with the duo upholding their artistic freedom of expression. The most recent Internet Coup involves Hollywood. It is based on a mock advertising campaign for a blockbuster movie that will never be made. The film is satirically entitled United We Stand. Once again the pair of hacktivists caught many by surprise. Major cities like Berlin, Brussels, Barcelona, Vienna and New York were the target of an advertising campaign and streets were wallpapered with posters. Fooling the observers about the upcoming blockbuster movie staring Ewan McGregor and Penelope Cruz.

The story set in 2020, is about an European military mission to save the world from an apocalyptic war between the United States and China. The title is an appropriation of  the United We Stand slogan used during the 1940s to promote American patriotism in a time of war. The trailer portrays Europe as a military super-power equal in stature to the US and China in a heroic mission to save the world from impending destruction. Hacker-art succeeds in showing the ambivalent and subversive power of propaganda by juxtaposing political roles. In an interview with Libération the creators of 01.org revealed that the purpose of the advertising sham is not directed specifically at Hollywood but at movies like Saving Private Ryan or Black Hawk Down. The message is to instill a critical analysis about the subversive nature of propaganda and about how the medium is used to promote political and cultural supremacy.

Original story: UnitaOnline.it

Bottom’s up

Michael A Rizzotti

When i first read Albert-Lászlo Barabási’s Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life, i had a hard time understanding the premise of the book. When i read Linked a second time i realized why. In his book the author continuously refers to links, nods and hubs. What he is referring to, is the physical aspect of these links, whereas i was thinking about the metaphysical binding between these links. Barabási was talking hardware i was thinking software.

Shortly after reading Linked i read Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software by Steven Johnson. In his book Johnson describes self-organizing systems. He reveals how complex organisms assemble and develop without any master planner. A good example of these emergence or bottom-up systems is the ant colony.

Self Organizing Systems

It is wrongly believed that the queen ant is the ruler of its colony. The queen’s sole function is the laying of eggs to populate the colony. An ant colony has no ruler to speak of. It relies instead on a complex form of decentralized intelligence. The ants communicate between each other by recognizing patterns of pheromone trails left behind by other fellow ants. Hence, pheromones play the central role in the organization of the colony. Somehow, each ant self-assigns its own role in the colony without sign of anarchy. Each position of every single ant is accounted for by the pheromone trail each of them leaves behind. This emergence system works harmoniously without the help of a ruler.

Net-Mind

Johnson describes how the brain is also a self organizing system. The important thing to remember here is the significance of the unifying and binding principle. What makes the brain work is the bursts of electric fields that connect cells to each other. These electric fields link the physical neurons into a unifying vitality. Binding the physical principle of the brain with all other organs in the body to work harmoniously together to promote life.

Each one of us connected to the Internet acts like a brain neuron. Each neuron is linked with other neurons through a web of electrical impulses on the Internet. All the net-lings on the planet become a mass of neurons that could act as a planetary brain. The unfathomable activity of this brain is tentatively called the Net-mind. It is omnipresent (omni meaning universal) and perhaps even omnificent (with unlimited creative powers). Even though a single self-neuron does not fathom or understand what the Net-mind does or thinks, this bottom-up form of planetary interconnected activity is alive must to be reckoned with.

This bottom-up system is very different from the top-down hierarchies we have been accustomed to for eons. Top-down systems are based on secrecy, control, chauvinism, surveillance and trickle down oppression. Pyramid systems have supplanted any other form of governance since the dawn of our civilization. The main reason is that when an individual or a small group accumulates a greater amount of power than the norm they automatically revert to a top-down hierarchy to maintain, control and expand their authority.

The recent emergence of the Net-mind is unprecedented in our planetary history. It remains to be seen how this bottom-up activity will affect the top-down powers of the world. It is apparent that Internet propagated news are currently setting the agenda in our current geo-political world. Corporate news and government press conferences not only lag behind but must respond to Net induced lead stories. This is only the beginning of a notable shift in the power systems as we enter the new millennium.

Hypertext

Michael A Rizzotti

The term hypertext was introduced by Theodore H. Nelson in the 1960’s. He defined it as “non-sequential writing ─text that branches and allows choices to the reader, best read at an interactive screen. As popularly conceived, this is a series of text chunks connected by links which offer the reader different pathways” (Literary Machine).

A few years later Roland Barthes expanded Nelson’s definition and applied it to ideal textuality. He added to the definition of text as: a block of words or images that are linked electronically by multiple paths, in a non-linear and perpetually unfinished textuality, in terms of link, node, network, web, and path. Barthes explains:

“In this ideal text, the networks are many and interact, without any one of them being able to surpass the rest; this text is a galaxy of signifiers, not a structure of signifieds; it has no beginning; it is reversible; we gain access to it by several entrances, none of which can be authoritatively declared to be the main one; the codes it mobilizes extend as far as the eye can reach, they are indeterminable…”

Michel Foucault in The Archeology of Knowledge related how a book ─text─ must be conceived in terms of network and links. He explains that “borders of a book are never clear-cut” the text “is caught up in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences: it is a node within a…network of references”

Authority

Nelson, Barthes and Foucault, have introduced the idea that with hypertext we must abandon concepts like control-center, hierarchy, and linearity. Instead, we must now rely on ideas based on multi-linearity, nodes, links and networks.

The most striking implication of hypertext is the disintegration of authority and its underlying power. The author is no longer considered as the sole and original purveyor of ideas and truths. He is exposed as a link to an invisible web that relies on other sources and traditions that preceded him. Every author is linked to the past by a previous textuality. He is a contributor to the ongoing expansion of meaning and hypertext.

Scholars have established that the first five books of the Bible ─the Pentateuch or Torah─ are made up of patches of text written by several authors ─J, P, R─ that were weaved to form the Bible. These texts were put together by a single editor ─R. Furthermore, myths, codes of laws, and numerous stories of the Bible were taken from different cultures by the Jewish people who were living in exile prior to the compilation of the Torah.

Throughout the synoptic Gospels links are made to the Old Testament in order to show that Jesus-Christ fulfills the prophesies of the Bible and to prove he is the Messiah (Matt 2:5-7 cites Micah 5:2, Matthew 2:15 cites Hosea 11:1, Matthew 2:17-18 cites Jeremiah 31:15, etc… In retrospect, these texts also reveal a form of hypertext.

We have posted on our site an essay on Zuni mythology. We find the cosmic world of the Zuni to be a beautiful example of aboriginal mythology disclosing a cosmological web of links and networks. It reveals how a people, its language and its social interaction relate to each other to form a cohesive and dynamic interplay of symbols, links and locations. All reflecting an harmonious relation between the members of the Pueblo and their social and natural environment.

Fragmentation

Interactive hypertext has expanded the scope of authorship. Previously the reader ─also referred as the self─ became one with the text ─ or the author─ in a linear and forward experience propelled by the story. Self, text and writer were morphed into a unifying entity pulled in one direction by the narrative. Whereas with hypertext, the linear pull of the plot has been replaced by a multitude of paths and links. It signifies a rupture with authority and a fundamental tendency toward unpredictability, discontinuity, and disorientation.

The multitudes of paths and links may entice a form of disorientation and a fragmentation of the self. This leaves the door open for the possibility of a “positive disintegration”. This type of disintegration is mostly experienced by poets and artists in their creative process. In order to create, the artist must beforehand destroy or break the mold of previously established forms of symbolic representation. He must expand his artistic being with newer techniques. He is required to reach out to an original array of sources and create new links to form an ever expansive art form.

The original sense of the word “text” comes from the Latin, meaning: that which is woven, web or texture. It is fascinating to see how the development of the World Wide Web represents a natural propensity of humans to form new links and networks consistently over time.

Interactivism

Michael A Rizzotti

“Those who want to imitate an angel or God end up acting like asses.”

Old Middle-Eastern proverb

It’s been some time since our last update. As Orson Wells used to say “We will serve no wine before its time”. We also want to reassure our readers that we a the net age we are not concerned about “high net worth” but about high network.

The changes ushered by the Net in the last few years have been astounding. These changes might not be all that visible to the naked eye but they have mutated into novel forms of communication. Since our last posting, a lot of data and ideas have been fermenting the Web. Expanding its infinite memory. Easily accessible to the benefit of all. We repeat, the medium is the message and the message is interactivism.

Bye, bye to one way <- media misinformation & disinformation…

The more i ponder on the subject the more i see the Net as a subversive and subliminal tool. In the sense that the Internet acts beyond the threshold of consciousness. It is subversive in the way it interacts and works from within, from an invisible and undetectable sphere. Nevertheless, it IS “here, there and everywhere” to quote the Beatles.

Some pundits have called the Internet the “Second Super Power”. Nonsense, super power is a term that relates to the past second millennium. It implies a power that originates from “above”. A deist theocracy disguised as Judeo-Christianity. It points to the image of the all seeing eye on top of the pyramid as depicted on the US dollar. This hierarchical power source, we believe, is at crossroad and is faced with no sustainable made-up villain to justify its own power structure.

The Internet transcends hierarchy. It is a non-linear force to be reckoned with: Omnipotent, omniscient and omnificent. It is a power that is all pervasive, present everywhere, all knowing and with unlimited creative powers. These attributes were formally used to describe the divine. They are used here as an analogy to explain the linking forces pervasive in the Net.

Things are moving along nicely for the Net. The medium’s evolution is right on track. We foresee the greatest beneficiaries of “interactivism” to be the disaffected and the emerging economies. By disaffected we mean those who are alienated and estranged from the malignant corporate mentality that we call here the “Incorporated Body” and its political arm “desinformocracy”.

Shalom!