Can art be created through Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram or Vine? Where do we find the fine line between virtual and physical artworks? Art and technology have always been elusive lovers, and now, there is a place where they can cohabit in perfect harmony: the Internet.
Several years ago, the British artist Ed Fornieles created a milestone in the use of social networks as an art platform. The result was a performance piece titled Dorm Daze, where the fictional characters of this virtual comedy, which ran for months on the web, acted on different narratives. Fornieles played the role of a wise guy having an affair with the most attractive and popular girl at the university they both attended. Friends and acquaintances of the young artist played the other roles. The improvised scenes were developed as viewers uploaded and updated the story.
“What interests me as an artist is the moment when a play just takes off and changes in ways you could never imagine,” says Fornieles. In that sense, Dorm Daze challenges the perception of the Internet as a compelling platform for art.
In its early stages, at the dawn of the 1990´s, Net Art was something unique to the architecture of the world wide web (www). During those years, the German artist Wolfgang Staehle created The Thing, an online bulletin board (BBS), which led to a discussion forum for the dissemination of what is known as Net Art. In 1998, the British artist Heath Bunting designed a website titled _readme, in which each word was linked to a website that used the same word in its URL. Much has happened since those early days but today Net Art could be defined— though many consider it a work in progress — as works of art created for the Internet that fully exploit the specificity of the medium.
Net Art is interested in communicating and interacting with the user, and the ability to create content from complex structures that link images, texts and sounds. In addition to using the web as an exhibition space, it uses it as a creative medium.
As the web evolved, so did the idea of what could be considered online art. “I think it’s much harder to define it now than it was in the mid-1990s,” says Christiane Paul, curator of new media art at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
Even artists who are not known for their work on the Internet and established art centers have contributed to this phenomenon. Recently, Brooklyn’s Transfer Gallery opened a space for artists associated with the digital world. Meanwhile, Moving Image, also in New York, presented a sample of 22 very short films (only six seconds each) created by various artists for Vine, Twitter’s video application. Curators Marina Galperina and Kyle Chayka were in charge of the project. The Whitney Museum in New York has also commissioned pieces of Net Art for their website for more than 10 years.
This brave new world presents some challenges for copyright and ownership of the artworks created on the Internet: how to convince a collector to pay for a piece that is “electronically” shared thousands, even millions of times. This certainly makes it difficult to sell the product. At the institutional level, to mention one example, the always-novel Whitney Museum has only one piece of Net Art in its collection: The World’s First Collaborative Sentence, by Douglas Davis, which dates from 1994.
With new challenges, new trials, new languages and new looks, artists and users dare to create and watch for and from the new platforms. Once again, art spreads like a healthy virus … at full speed and in any medium. ■