The Net.Art Movement

by | April 15, 2021

Net.Art emerged in the early 1990s, when a group of artists began to explore the possibilities offered by the internet: from promoting their work to using software and browsers to to create new works. These artists quickly realized the importance of the internet as a tool to rediscover the intrinsic value of art, disconnected from the mechanisms of the art market, shifting the focus from the object to the process.

The works carried out during this period illustrate the dynamic and collaborative spirit of the internet within the creative process. The internet was a new territory in which artists could explore possibilities for novelty that existed beyond physical spaces. This total freedom of intermediaries placed by art institutions on the artist's work and the versatility of the internet as a medium, transformed the movement into a revolution. It challenged the way art was made, exchanged, promoted and displayed.


We've gathered three notable artists linked to the movement, highlighting the importance of their work.

Olia Lialina

A pioneer in the movement, Lialina is best known for her 1996 browser artwork “My Boyfriend Came Back From The War”. can navigate by clicking on different parts of the screen while a narrative is developed. The story is about a couple who are reunited after the war and their difficulty in emotionally reconnecting. She confesses an affair with the neighbor while a marriage proposal comes up. This cinematic, grainy, GIF-like piece influenced many later artists who experimented with browsers and software. visit the work here.


Mouchette is the work first laid down in 1996 by Amsterdam-based artist Martine Neddam. She invites the viewer to navigate through a labyrinth of HTML websites of the turbulent life of a teenager struggling with suicide and trauma. The play is dark but humorous and fun, keeping us guessing what might happen next. At the time the work was created, users found instructions on where to find it through an interactive bot, quizzes and email. Public participation was a central part of the work, creating a space where we could all be a part of. Users were also able to submit their own net art works via Mouchette's website. visit the work here.

Alexei Shulgin

Shulgin's 1997 “Form Art” is another important archive of the era. He used HTML buttons and boxes to create monochrome compositions that served as a study in the mechanics of HTML itself. However, “Form Art” became a more lyrical and abstract work of art, exposing the skeleton of the internet in a way never seen before. Shulgin said: "Bringing them into focus was a statement of the fact that a computer is not an invisible 'transparent' layer to be taken for granted, but something that defines the way we are forced to work and even think." visit the work here.

During that time, artists were able to design a new emotional universe, existing alongside the physical emotional spaces we inhabit, eventually becoming the digital infrastructure we navigate today. The hybrid nature of the internet, where all art forms have a place to live side by side – images, text, video, sound, etc – impacted the core of the creation process. There was no longer a separation between where you create, collaborate, design and promote; everything happened on the internet. The idea that the internet could accommodate all aspects of the creative process influenced both the works themselves and the public's response to them.

desktop is, Alexei Shulgin, 1997

Josephine Bosma, critic and theorist specializing in art in the context of the internet said:

“To put in the right perspective, art history must be partially rewritten. Much emphasis was placed on the commodity status of works of art during this century. Inevitably, this trend has excluded certain arts and artists who do not meet related criteria. Perhaps offers us the opportunity to rethink the criteria by which art is valued. Of course, is not an easily noticeable object. Much art on the internet appears very dispersed due to the use of multiple media and transience. To experience it, one must be an avid follower of net.culture.”

Bosma's vision of the impact of the quality of the internet space on the arts is still incredibly valuable today. What she called net.culture in 1998 resonates with all of us – artists and consumers of art – perhaps more than ever. As we weave through this thick blanket of media across social platforms and the web as a whole, it's inevitable that we'll wonder where we're going next. Perhaps we should follow Bosma's advice and rewrite art history.

How do we categorize art in the context of the internet? Is there still a need to categorize different forms of art? has made it almost irrelevant to distinguish what is art and what is not. Therefore, Bosma concluded that artists who do not wish to describe their work as art can avoid limiting discussions about the relevance and value of their work within an “art market”. As many artists preferred to remain invisible, dissolving in their ephemeral and temporary works on the internet, Bosma left us with an important reflection: after all, does art only profit from this obscurity?

Cyberfeminist Manifesto for the 21st Century, VNS Matrix, 1991

brandon, Shu Lea Cheang, 1998

mobile image, Kit Galloway, Sherrie Rabinowitz and collaborators, 1975

summer, Olia Lialina, 2013

A lot has changed since 1998, but the internet remains a place where walls are constantly being knocked down and built again. New visual languages are written every day, adding fuel to our dizzying shared digital experience, revealing more about ourselves through edited and impermanent layers. How can art help us understand the ever-changing mechanisms of creative expression?

After all, is the internet our greatest ally when it comes to making art?