Olia Lialina

Making 'Agatha Appears' at Budapest c3, I recalled Metaforum III (Budapest,October, 1996). At that time I spoke of the Internet being open for artistic self-expression, that the time had come to create Net films, Net stories and so on, to develop a Net language instead of using the web simply as a broadcast channel. And, of course, the sale of 'My Boyfriend
Came Back From the War' to Telepolice On-Line.

What is happening now, more than a year later?

First: I still get messages saying: "Look at my new web movie". Following the link, I find Quicktime or Shokwave moving images whose only value is to prove that plug-ins become more and more perfect and bring us closer and closer to home cinema.

Second: Net art is still as cheap as a floppy. For me, the intercoupling of these things is obvious.

Another thing is quite clear. Questions of what Net art is and 'does it actually exist' appeared in 1996. Today, almost every article devoted to this subject still starts with the same sentences. They have become more ornamental than anything really looking for an answer. They are following a fashion, not real interest.

All media festivals, exhibitions and conferences are now well decorated too: there are Net art sections on event sites, some Net artists and some beautiful games with the term 'Net art' itself. They are attractive and not expensive at all.

It was a year of Net art sales. And important to stress that artworks were much cheaper than ideas. Variations on the
theme "Net artists don't need institutions" or "Net art can exist without galleries or curators" were mostly welcomed by real galleries and institutions.

What else? A year ago 'Net art' as altavista understood it, was all these sites devoted to art (galleries of painters, photo artists...archives of film and video, museums representing their collections on the Net). Now Net art is supposed to be the same, plus net.art, that is to say: on-line galleries of off-line stuff plus a small group of artists close to nettime or syndicate or 7-11 mailing lists, and to each other.

That's what one can see on the surface. What was going on inside?

Nothing that could make anyone feel that net artists' existence means something in the world they create.

A year ago it was so sweet to announce that art theory, the art system, art commerce - all these are relics of the real art world system, a heritage to forget, but in fact this statement only brought some variety to off-line art institutions, not an alternative.


Developing a theory of its own could enhance the value of Net art. At the moment it is understood in the context of media art, of computer art, of video art, of contemporary art, but not in the context of the Internet: its aesthetic, its structure, its culture. Works of Net artists are not analysed in comparison with one another. We are always viewed from an external perspective, a perspective which tries to place native on-line art works in a chain of arts with a long off-line history and theory. And this remains the interest: to place us, to phenomenalise us, in the social sense of the word. Definitely, you meet more interest to the phrase The Internet Project than to its inner being, to the fact of on-line
collaboration of artists from different countries than to their actual work.

Again and again: "What is Net art?" instead of (for example): "Browser interface in the structure of Net art" or "Downloading time as a means of expression in the works of Eastern European net artists" or "Frames and new windows in Net narration" or "Different approaches to finding footage or servers" or "Domain names and 'under-construction' signs from 1995 to 1997".

With pleasure i'll take my words back if i'm wrong and with great pleasure i'd participate in such researches as a critic.

In brief: with no theoretical support inside, Net art meets only vulgar one-season interest from the outside world. This wouldn't be a problem if it didn't make things cheaper and that in some months all innovative experiments, new art forms and language will be buried as a last-season fashion. And this will happen already internally. (Net art was born in the Net and will definitely come back to die.)


In fact, while I was thinking what to write about Internet art structures, several Net galleries appeared and some on-line festivals gave prizes to some artists. This looks like the birth of a new world; maybe it is and the time to judge has not yet come, but it's not difficult to see destructive tendencies in these foundations. On-line galleries and exhibitions are nothing more than lists, collections of links. On one hand, it fits the nature of many-to-many communication; the Internet
itself is also only a collection of a lot of computers, and it works. On the other hand, list by list compilation brings us to an archive situation, to the story about keeping and retrieving information. On-line galleries only store facts and demonstrate that a phenomenon exists. They neither create a space, nor really serve it.

The same applies to festivals and competitions. Even if they are intelligently organised they are not events in net life. Mostly they are not events at all but just the easiest and trendiest way to save money given for media events by funds or whatever. Now that everybody knows the Internet is our paradise on earth, the long-awaited world without borders, visas, flights or hotels, it is the best way to make your event international.

From my point of view the most perceptive and valuable creative structures around ARE Net artists co-projects and curated initiatives. Or they COULD BE, if they were not so closed and didnt provide an ironic distance to the idea of creating a system.

In fact every Net artist or group in the process of creating a work builds their own (and at the same time common, for everybody) system of self-presentation and promotion, invents exhibiting spaces and events. After all, it is in the nature of Net art to build the Net. But again and again the worlds you create easily become an exhibiting object at media art
venues. Something that could be invaluable tomorrow is sold for nothing today.


It is not only a problem of misunderstanding and misapprehension: I was told by art-sale-experienced Net artists that since web space is physically cheaper than canvas or videotape and since web pages are something that every schoolgirl can make on her school computer, pieces created and stored in the Net will be cheaper than whatever made with the
aid of more complicated techniques and knowledge. Sounds logical. Logical, yet until Net art is an export product, not a point of prestige in the system of Internet values, not an item of commerce for those who invest money in the Internet, for example.

Banks, big companies or simply rich guys have always bought pieces of art for their collections or found it prestigious to sponsor artists. Now they or their younger brothers spend enough money (at least in Russia) to be well represented in the Net. Why not harness their desires? Why not advise them to collect, to buy and help develop the art of the next
century? ;)

Details and demo next time.

It's not only about money. And generally, the question of being paid for net art is no different to the question of payment on the net. Publishers, companies, advertisers and everyone else in the world is scratching their heads about it. I talk about going further, exploring the Net, not beeing prisoners of last year off line fashion. It's not really my dream, but I'd prefer if tomorrow new net artists would come and say: she made pieces good only for virtual offices, what we do is real net art, underground, new wave, what ever. Its better than nobody will come (because where?) and only media critics will mention that once there was a period in media art, when some media artists experimented with computer nets.

First appeared on nettime on January 19, 1998.

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