[-empyre-] 'real' networked art

Kazys Varnelis kazys at varnelis.net
Fri Oct 16 01:44:22 EST 2009

Hi Simon,

Thanks for the comments. I wanted to make a couple of points of  
clarification, since it seems like you misunderstood what I was after.

First, when I write about early work in new media experiencing  
"marginalization by established art institutions," such  
marginalization works both ways.

Many of the early practitioners felt marginalized or excluded by a  
hierarchical and incestuous world of art in the academy and the market  
from day one. So yes, as you write, many of the artists sought  
alternate places to operate from as an alternative to the artworld,  
not just in pursuit of new media. But looking at the early history of  
networked art wasn't my goal, so I condensed.

A sociological history examining this phenomenon would be interesting  
for someone to take on, especially if it was compared to the condition  
in architecture. During the 1990s, due to its early embrace by leaders  
in the academy, digital architecture became precisely what many new  
media artists would have fled from, a playland for the élite. In my  
case, the result was that I stayed away from writing about  
architecture and digital media for a good decade out of dismay at what  
had happened to it. Critical or progressive practices in that field  
have only developed in the last decade, often drawing on the work  
being done in the art world more than on architecture.

Now, apart from my argument about immediated reality, my fundamental  
point in this essay is that we need to think hard about what writing  
about "networked" art or "new media" art means today and how useful  
such distinctions are anymore. Genealogies that look inward, are no  
longer adequate to explain contemporary work. Hayles's "Born Digital"  
needs to be revised for the present day. The current generation hardly  
knows a world that wasn't digital and work that is intentionally  
limited to digital media is often as backwards looking as work that is  
limited to traditional media. Take Hayles's writing about hypertext  
fiction. Ok, hypertext fiction is great, it's revolutionary. But how  
many works of hypertext fiction have you read lately? I'd venture that  
few of us have read any in the last decade. But how many works of  
fiction in the last decade have been written on networked computers?  
Is the latter simply inconsequential? Or is the latter evidence of a  
deeper form of being "born digital," that no longer thinks of the  
digital as somehow different or autonomous?

This is what I'm calling for when I suggest that we need to look at  
network culture in the broadest sense, as a cultural moment, not as a  
product of technology, but rather as the product of a host of social,  
economic, and cultural changes. Of course you can't get much more  
establishment in the UK than winning Turner Prize and that Leckey  
presented a video lecture on his work on the Tate site informed  
simultaneously by music videos and YouTube webcam videos is precisely  
why we need to expand the way we look at this material, rather than  
producing more internalized genealogies, which is what I you seem to  
be calling for.



Kazys Varnelis
kv2157 at columbia.edu

Director, Network Architecture Lab

Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation
Columbia University
Studio-X Research Facility
180 Varick St
Suite 1610
New York, NY 10014

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