Based on an interview with the Thoma Foundation in 2017.
There’s an interesting parallel between utopian vision of the Internet and dematerialization of art between the 60’s to 90’s
In this period, there was a sense of hope in technology as a vehicle of progress and positivity. The general public started to identify with technology as a form of self-expression, notably through consumption of lifestyle electronic gadgets such as walkmen. Artists used electronic and digital technology to create aesthetic experiences. Sometimes artists forecasted the vision for technology before it’s arrival, such as Paik’s Electronic Superhighway. Critical engineers and hackers used technology against itself to subvert the control of power and flow of finance. On the other hand, one of the most notable outputs of conceptualism is a widespread appreciation of social practice (art). Art was no longer just about the object, rather a set of relations and the significances generated by encounters of people, community and space.
Fast forward to 2018. Social network services became immensely popular over the past decade, altering the idea of being and presence. Wireless connectivity is challenging us to rethink how our bodies exist in physical space at the moment. We live in fear and doubt of false information. We are learning to be cautious of naive notion that “Technology can save us.” We know technology is never neutral, it’s always a form of control of power. Digital art is in a unique position in this diagram. One particular subset, Net Art, is accessible through everyday technologies of laptops and smartphones, but at the same time, they are not accessible to those who don’t have access to those tools. Also, they perish with system updates and the rise and fall of platforms, servers, and interest.
How can we think about other forms of distribution to create counter-narratives to mainstream media technologies? What would be the counterexample to the web 2.0 which exists today? Where is space which can exist as the alternative to the capitalist means of control and production online?
As artists, we need to ask - How can art exist outside of the given network, or the internet that we know today? How can art redefine the notion of the network as the centralized web of commerce in the attention economy? The net is no longer neutral, but how can we keep it free (as in free access and free speech) and away from hyper-commodification?
Can we learn something from the radical software zine from 60’s and 70’s? Can we learn from conceptualism and social practice art, to nurture alternate sources of production and appreciate such forms of work?