Defining Net Art

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The following is from Josephine Bosma's Nettitudes: Let's Talk Net Art

So what is net art? The most compressed definition is that:

net art is based in or on net cultures.

These are in constant flux. Net art's basis in Internet cultures means that a physical (hard-wired or wireless) connection to the Internet is not necessary in individual net art works. A net art work can exist completely outside of the Net, and it may be superfluous to say, but it doesn't not always include a web page. The 'net' in net art is both a social and a technological reference (the network), which is why the term net art is highly flexible, more so than for example 'system' or 'relation' (as in Systems Esthetics or Relational Aesthetics, two art theories I discuss later). An emphasis on technology through the 'net' in net art is both necessary and deceptive, or in other words, relative. One reason that I keep using the term net art is that there remains a huge black hole when it comes to knowledge and insight concerning important aspects of art in the context of Net cultures.

In this definition of net art, the term 'culture' is used in the broadest sense and includes how culture is reflected, actively and inherently in and through technology, as described by the French philosopher Gilbert Simondon, for instance, Culture and technology cannot be separated, but this approach cannot be identified in terms of 'pure' materialism. In Simondon's 1958 book On the Mode of Existence of the Technical Object, he explains how our present day sociotechnological environment has the strong, intrinsic potential to become a thriving cultural space. He believes that, where machines were once perceived as enemies or the tools of humans, their position changes when both humans and machines interact via a much larger 'meta-machine', or what Simondon refers to as 'an ensemble'. He describes how 'the machine' became an 'individual' in the 'technical ensembles' of the late twentieth century. Simondon's book is a plea for a view of technology and society that avoids and overcomes the duality that exists between humanist and materialist approaches. Internet cultures are a manifestation of a merging of the cultural and technical spheres, an evolution that Simondon had predicted 50 years earlier. The various overlapping histories of Internet cultures reach back to the earliest conception of the Internet in the 1960s. But it was rooted in 'the real', and thy also have older and non-technological historical connections that unfold through the various practices within the different cultures involved.

To put it very simply; the world and technology fuse in Internet cultures.

Net art involves practitioners who have discovered, internalized and used the Net. Net cultures are the basis, the means and the source of net art. they are not predominantly technological. They involve various academic communities, news sites, financial trading, gaming communities, hacker groups, online shops, web logs (blogs), software and hardware developers, social network sites, dating sites, porn producers and porn audiences, media activists, institutional and independent cultural platforms and anything else happening that could be disseminated via the Net. Net art is art that is created from an awareness of, or deep involvement, in a world transformed and affected by elaborate technical ensembles, which are, in turn, established or enhanced through the Net. The Internet itself is the ultimate ensemble, even if it will eventually transform into something even bigger and more pervasive. Net art is the art of this environment. The Internet acts as a vector in a worldwide, unstable complex of technological and cultural tendencies, and the art produced through or for it is heterogeneous, not uniform.

Net art can be described as an expansion of the entire field of the arts. Net art is, therefore, not a discipline, because it contains and even connects numerous disciplines. In the past, I have jokingly called net art the missing link between media art and a broader contemporary art world, but referring to it as some kind of evolutionary timeline is really in appropriate.