Internet Art, where's the catch?

Tonight I joined a copious amount of art students at the Michigan Theater to hear Rachel Greene speak about her new book Internet Art, and about the subject in general.

The first large part of her talk brought the audience from Duchamps work on "Readymade" art (urinal as a sculpture), through Pollock and other luminaries (though no hat-tipping to Warhol, hrm) of Contemporary Art. I find it interesting to see how art movements progress from one crazy idea, that may or may not really be crazy, but have a really cool, new, explanation for "why" it's crazy. I mean, Pollock, paint splatters. But no, it's about his wanting to "express his emotions rather than illustrate them."

Anyways, Rachel finally progressed up to what she considered the initial period of internet art, 1994-1997. The art was relegated to ASCII, lots of text, and forum communications from people around the world. The 'middle period' was a eternal two years, 1998-2000, and saw the rise of people representing what the desktop and computer meant to them, anonymity, etc.

What's been interesting is the switch from what people thought the internet would mean to personalities, namely Anonymity and imposters, to the modern reality of blogs and people being known and sharing more of their personal lives. It's become a way to connect people in their lives, thoughts, and feelings (well, at least how they feel about dirty laundry or their friends at school or something inane).

However, as art does, it has moved past the people and beyond the web being interesting because it's the web, and more about the web as a tool for communications, strategy and sharing the world and art in the world. To illustrate, she showed BorderXing which was a project where the artists learned how, and documented, crossing several dozen borders without a passport. Their project included details explanations of how they did this (like learning how to live on plants, throw off their scent, cross streams, etc).

I must say I'm a little baffled by the thin line between the 'art' and the 'reality'. What makes one website, or web project art, and another one a tool? It seemed that art is primarily made for artists. It is through their own community that they define, produce, and digest their entire culture. Like a form of cannibilism. Every once in awhile an outsider is allowed to take a guided tour and told why something is really cool and cutting edge

Art does wind its way down through these many filters to the masses. At some point on our daily lives we can pause to wonder about "what does a border mean?", or "why is a car beautiful". However, I don't think art has made a complete connection back to the people.

For more information and to check out some cool (and not so cool) art projects, see the Index of Internet Art, CODeDOC, and
Ars Electronica: CODeDOC II.

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Andrew Turner is an advocate of open standards and open data. He is actively involved in many organizations developing and supporting open standards, including OpenStreetMap, Open Geospatial Consortium, Open Web Foundation, OSGeo, and the World Wide Web Consortium. He co-founded CrisisCommons, a community of volunteers that, in coordination with government agencies and disaster response groups, build technology tools to help people in need during and after a crisis such as an earthquake, tsunami, tornado, hurricane, flood, or wildfire.