THE NET.ART MOVEMENT
Net.Art emerged in the early 1990's when a group of artists started to explore the possibilities that the internet offered: from promoting their work to using softwares and browsers to create new work. These artists quickly realized the importance of the internet as a tool to rediscover the intrinsic value of art, detached from the mechanisms of the art market, shifting the focus from the object to the process.
The works made during this time illustrate the dynamic and collaborative spirit of the internet within the creative process. The internet was a new territory in which artists were allowed to explore its novelty-like possibilities that existed beyond physical spaces. This total freedom from the intermediaries placed by art institutions upon the artist's work and the versatility of the internet as a medium, turned the net.art movement into a revolution. It challenged the way that art was made, exchanged, promoted and exhibited.
We gathered three notable artists associated with the net.art movement, highlighting the importance of their work.
A pioneer in the net.art movement, Lialina is best known for her browser-art piece "My Boyfriend Came Back From The War" from 1996. It consists of multiple hyperlinks of images and text, all in black and white, in which viewers can navigate through, clicking on different parts of the screen as a narrative is developed. The story is about a couple that is reunited after the war and their difficulty in reconnecting emotionally. She confesses an affair with the neighbor while a marriage proposal emerges. This cinematic, grainy and GIF-like piece influenced many artists later on who experimented with browsers and softwares. Visit the work here.
Mouchette is the work first established in 1996 by the Amsterdam-based artist Martine Neddam. She invites the viewer to navigate through an HTML site-maze of the turbulent life of a teenager girl struggling with suicide and trauma. The piece is dark yet humorous and playful, keeping us guessing what could pop up next. At the time the work was created, users found instructions on where to find her through an interactive bot, quizzes and email. Participation from the public was a central part of the work, creating a space where we could all be part of. Users were also able to submit their own net art works through the Mouchette website. Visit the work here.
Shulgin's work "Form Art" from 1997 is another important archive from the net.art era. He used HTML buttons and boxes to create monochromatic compositions which served as a study of the mechanisms 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 in focus was a declaration of the fact that a computer is not a "transparent" invisible 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 this time, net.art artists were able to design a new emotional universe, parallelly existing to the physical emotional spaces we inhabit, eventually becoming the digital infrastructure we navigate today. The hybrid nature of the internet where all forms of art have a place to live side by side - images, text, video, sound, etc - impacted the core of the making process. There was no separation anymore between where you create, collaborate, design and promote; it all happened on the internet. The idea that the internet could accommodate all the aspects of the creative process both influenced the works themselves but also the public's response to them.
Alexei Shulgin, "Desktop Is", 1997
Josephine Bosma, a critic and theorist specialized in art in the context of the internet said:
"To place net.art in the right perspective, art history must be partly rewritten. Too much emphasis has been placed on the commodity status of artworks during this century. Inevitably, this tendency has excluded certain art and artists who do not satisfy related criteria. Maybe net.art offers us the opportunity to rethink the criteria by which art is valued. Of course, net.art is not an easily perceivable object. A lot of art on the internet appears very scattered due to its use of multiple media and transience. In order to experience it, one has to be an avid follower of net.culture."
Bosma's view on the impact of the space quality of the internet in the arts still holds incredible value today. What she called net.culture in 1998 resonates to all of us - artists and art consumers - perhaps more than ever. As we circulate through this thick fog blanket of media across social platforms and on the web as a whole, it's inevitable to wonder where we are headed next. Perhaps we should take Bosma's advice and rewrite art history.
How do we categorize art in the context of the internet? Is there even a need anymore to categorize different artforms? Net.art made it nearly irrelevant to distinguish what is art and what is not. Because of that, Bosma concluded that artists who do not wish to describe their work as art could avoid the limiting discussions about the relevance and value of their work within an "art market". As many net.art artists preferred to remain invisible, dissolving into their ephemeral and temporary internet works, Bosma left us with an important consideration: afterall, does art only profit from this obscurity?
VNS Matrix, "Cyberfeminist Manifesto for the 21st Century", 1991
Shu Lea Cheang, "Brandon", 1998
Kit Galloway, Sherrie Rabinowitz and collaborators, "Mobile Image" , 1975.
Olia Lialina "Summer" 2013
Much has changed since 1998 yet the internet remains a place where the walls are constantly being torn down and built up again. New visual languages are written everyday adding fuel to our shared dizzying digital experience, revealing more about ourselves through edited and impermanent layers. How can art help us understand the ever changing engines of creative expression?
Is the internet, after all, our biggest ally when it comes to art making?
Next: Post-Internet, NFT's, Instagram.
Art Term: Internet Art
Josephine Bosma: It is net art!