This first Diner Dogma concerns Net Art,
which is typically defined as work which "lives"
on the Internet. Not to be confused with digital art
in general, Net Art is usually dynamic, 
unfolding over time, and often interactive,
inviting user participation.

We join ArtLexis co-conspirators L and K
as they lunch at New York City's fabled
Washington Square Diner:
 
L: Do you think there’s Net Art out there that doesn’t suck? 
K: If there is I haven’t seen it. (pause) I think the thing that bothers me the most about Net Art is first of all this idea of interactivity which presupposes that the audience is interested in completing the work for the artist.

It rejects the idea of the “mastery” of the artist and takes the artist out of his position of looking down from on high, onto the audience, and puts them at the same level. Which I agree with to a certain extent, because I think there’s always this element of “reader response” with art, and there should be - the work should be open to as wide an array of interpretations as you could imagine.

But the problem with making the viewer’s response central to the actual production of the work is that - of necessity - you have to limit the choices for the person to make. How many Net Art pieces have you seen that gather up images or texts, either from the internet or whatever hard drive or server they’re sitting on, and pull the detritus of these gifs and jpegs together and, you know, perform some function that creates some abstract collage from them, adding and adding to it ad infinitum.

(The only interesting thing about that, and it’s almost never formally interesting, is the raw concept - but the problem with Conceptualism is that you always need a new trick, and so many, many pieces of Net Art perform the same tricks.)

And since you abdicated your responsibility as a “master” artist to complete the piece, you’ve abdicated your ability to edit. So since there’s no editing process it’s left up to the viewer to complete in the sense of how long will they watch it or, in the case of a piece I was shown yesterday on Rhizome, when will they stop it and hit the print button. And you know, my response to that work is I’m not interested in watching it or stopping it or hitting the print button or doing anything to it because it’s so boring.

L: I find the interactive element of Net Art dull because it tries to emulate gaming in a really uninteresting way. If I want to have an interactive experience with a computer generated “world” I would much rather pull out my Playstation.

K: Exactly! And to that extent Net Art resembles Political Art.

L: Yes.

K: In other words it’s adding a use value to itself. So the use value of Political Art is obviously the politics. The art sets out to accomplish a political goal and to that extent it’s less art and more something useful -politically useful. And Net Art, when it tries to resemble gaming has a value which is like... distraction. This is why they call them “games” - they’re distractions, wastes of intellect.

Somebody once said chess is the greatest waste of intellect in the world besides advertising. And it’s true! Games deliberately lead nowhere. What happens if you get to the end? What have you really done? You’re on the 10th level. You’re the highest scorer. So what? You’re still playing a game that someone else set up. It hasn’t changed the way you look at the world.

L: So the same holds true for Net Art that emulates gaming.

K: Exactly. A good work of art is like a virus. It’s this very simple little thing but then it unfolds in the viewer’s mind and problematizes everything they ever thought of. It forces them to confront the conventionality of their world view. It “makes strange”.

But interactive work takes what a good work of art could do and strips the guts out of it. It’s like, “You come to a door. Do you open the door and turn left or right? If you turn right, you meet a brown dwarf. If you turn left you meet a green dragon.” I’m not interested in the dwarf or the dragon! I’d rather just stand there and look at the door and think about what might be behind it. And believe me, my fantasies of what’s behind it are going to be a lot more interesting to me than a brown dwarf or a green dragon.

L: I’ve yet to encounter a piece of Net Art that made me question any sort of convention. They all seem to be based on conventions.

K: And it feeds in so perfectly into the existing academic system. Museums love it because they can make installation art out of it. They can buy this piece of Net Art and they have to have a substrate for it, which is a computer running a certain operating system, and a certain file format and certain software. They love that because it allows them to have all of this ephemera attached to the work that they can turn into an installation, and then it has to be in that unique space, which is what the museum wants.

The museum pays lip service to the so-called democracy of Net Art, but what they really want is something that they can force people to make a pilgrimage to. Whereas the sort of open dissemination that ArtLexis and POD does, which really is democratic and really is revolutionary in the sense of escaping that entire system, they wouldn’t have any interest in. And I hope they don’t! It would be like a museum collecting all the latest music CD’s - no point.

(self congratulatory chuckles)

Agree or disagree? Send your comments, inflammatory or otherwise to: mail@artlexis.com