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Martina Kontošić

Selecting and framing by web address are limiting only at first glance. By establishing a virtual platform for representation and production of Internet works on a specific online location through communication with artists, programmers, hackers, theoreticians, online and offline audience, an impulse should be given to creation in cybernetic space, as well as the ambition to include people outside the often very closed off community of cyber enthusiasts.

The need to create a free environment for communication, research, cooperation, production and presentation of internet art and theory is equivalent to the need to create new urban public spaces (or re-possessing lost ones) with users as interested citizens, rather than an economic variable.

Seduced by a Project – Audience Development

Faced with the issue of the role of art whose audience is in the minority within the general population, cultural financiers offer contradictory suggestions. Economic sustainability is a requirement, but, at the same time, culture has to be brought to those with limited access to culture.

What is being overlooked is that the so-called, audience development, is based on a wide range of educated people who can be influenced to develop cultural education by encouraging curiosity, research, independent learning and conquering fear and adversity to theory. However, there is the question of how to extend the base within a system that has failed. Further, according to Milan Uzelac, “All states are bankrupt with independence long lost and they cannot influence the direction of educational development; something like that can only be influenced by those who own money...” [1]

Educational aspects of discursive programmes often seem like an act of seduction of those whose funds are used to induce a new futures promised by the project which, according to Boris Groys in Loneliness of the Project, is out of touch with reality, as it happens somewhere other than within the project’s discourse according to which a shift in awareness will occur and a better world created [2].

If we try to distance ourselves from the project’s discourse, which is not easy in a reality in which the idea of culture is often sustained exclusively by international foundations, states and local authorities, the issue of audience and users of internet art becomes one of the more interesting areas of theoretical and practical studies of new media whose equivalents can be identified much earlier, in the 1990’s, when new media art was starting to peak.

“Delayed” Audience – the Uninterrupted Gaze

While discussing the Gorgona group in Removed from the crowd: Unexpected encounters 1, the curators and theoreticians Ivana Bago and Antonija Majača describe the actions of the group as a space-time event that occurs regardless of its immediate impacts or range, and the truths it exposes are not necessarily loud or directed at a specific user, as is the case in hegemonic neoliberal understanding of public relations. On the contrary, its echo and new space-time configurations appear unexpectedly, the echo or delay whose sources and receivers are not always easily recognized [3].

Interestingly, the idea of a delayed audience when talking about internet art is just as credible as a completely different perception of an audience that is constantly present, as stated by Groys. He notices a radical subjectivation of the author through acute “self-exposure” [4]. Although Groys includes all artists regardless of their form of expression, it seems there is an imperative to exist and reveal art precisely on the Internet. Objectification of the author by the continuous gaze of others changes them inevitably, whether they are showcasing their work under their own name or as an anonymous artist-hacker.

The constant gaze is undeniably there, but the question of what that gaze is actually like is unavoidable. In recent years, web platforms for exchange of creative content have appeared, with the evolution of social media as a wide-reaching presentational mechanism. Therefore, more and more people are distancing themselves from image contemplation to active image production (Groys) [5]. Whether the same group of people also sees works of others, especially educated artists, as competition is worth looking into, as well as what happens to art works when faced with an ever growing number of creative people who use the Internet as an ideal decentralized presentational platform. (Is this a good time to mention the curator?)

There are forms of artistic expression which defy selection and documentation more than others. Peggy Phelan, a theoretician of performing arts, uses her book Unmarked. Politics of Performance from 1993, to talk about how the only life of a performance is in the present moment. This was also something that Laurie Anderson believed until she was faced with the “orange dog”, a wonderful synonym for the inconsistencies in the audience’s memory, also pointed out by the curators at the Kontejner collective on their website. Similar to the documentation of performing arts, transferring Internet art (whose essence can only shine through in cyberspace) to a gallery, leads to its “fetishization and commodification”[6]. However, a work of Internet art does not require re-enactment in an attempt to repeat the “now” of a performative piece. It can permanently exist online if technological development allows for it. Where is that exactly? Somewhere else. On the margin? How come something that exists solely within the bounds of something that has become integral to today’s world and has “reached deep into the social life of the whole planet as a facilitating and debilitating technology” is considered marginal? [7]

Misunderstanding and Media Literacy

Does the demand for technical knowledge alienate in a similar way as certain instances of hermetic contemporary art theory? It is all about misunderstanding: feeling displeased while standing in front of a piece of art or reading an undecipherable text, as well as the discomfort when faced with the specific language of new media – these are all similar phenomena. Many theoreticians of new media art hold that it requires a particular level of media literacy. Christiane Paul, a curator of new media art, often in a gallery, refers to the actual situation of curating new media and says that a visitor who is not well-versed in technology actually focuses all of their attention on technology, which may not be the artist’s intention. Paul also claims that new media cannot be understood only from art history’s point of view, and that the history of technology and media play an equally important role. [8]

The experience of collaboration with internet artists and other new media artists can help decide whether or not to subscribe to Christiane Paul’s view. Media literacy should really be part of general culture and primary school education. On the other hand, if we state that there has to be a high degree of technical knowledge in order to competently interact with Internet art, this could contribute to further marginalization and alienation of potential participants. Therefore, I would take the view of Domenico Quaranta, a theoretician of new media, who does not believe there should be a high degree of technical knowledge pointed out by Paul, but says that contemporary art (as well as art in cyberspace, I would add), requires a certain level of media literacy [9] so that the discomfort when facing the unknown would not disturb adopting a huge, complex, layered public space to which we are all entitled as future owners of knowledge and not just “money owners.”

[1] Uzelac, Milan, Smisao obrazovanja u kontekstu pitanja o kraju umetnosti.

[2] Groys, Boris, Loneliness of the Project.

[3] Bago, Ivana i Majača, Antonia, u suradnji s Vuković, Vesna (Ur.), REMOVED FROM THE CROWD: Unexpected Encounters I. [BLOK], DeLVe, Zagreb 2011.

[4] Groys, Boris, Introduction—Global Conceptualism Revisited.

[5] isto

[6] Narančasti pas i druge priče (još bolje od stvarnosti).

[7] Holmes, Brian. net.critique in autumn; nettime-l Digest, Vol 91, Issue 7.

[8] Paul, Christiane, New Media in the White Cube and Beyond, University of California Press, 2008, str. 5

[9] Quaranta, Domenico, Beyond New Media Art