History of Internet Art, review by Matthew Turlington

History of Internet Art is a place that belongs to works of art that exist and existed in Cyberspace only. Most of these works are still found online and through sites that curate them to help the progression of this new art space and its artists. Here I am presenting four different works that I enjoy and feel play an important part of the development of this internet art space, dating from 1996 to 1998.

First of all there are all kinds of sites out there with multiple degrees of intent, ideals, directions, styles, techniques, and ultimately aesthetics. The History of Internet Art is very young, only a decade old. The reason for this is the internet itself is very young, thus the net art space is even younger, but not by much. In this space artists from all walks and mediums have embraced it and have had to deal with a limited amount of technical capabilities in forging forward in their quest to create something unique. In all of these sites one will find various techniques in the works, but one consistency is digital narrative (story telling, or using some sort of traditional story telling to aid or lead their aesthetic). Why is this, is it because writers embraced this medium first, or is it because this medium lends itself well to writers, or just needs narrative in general to succeed? Another question comes to mind; do other art mediums before net art tell stories and do they embrace narrative? I think so. In any successful art piece there is a message that comes from the play of content, thus a narrative. It's just not so obvious, meaning the written word is seldom used in aiding the work in its message to the viewer, but still narrative is there in one way or another. If you look at video or film, one will always see an obvious narrative. Does this net art space demand this same attention?

So we go back to cyber space, why so much traditional narrative? Is it because up until now the artists themselves had limited technical resources; using text in the web space was easy compared to adding sound, animation, etc. in the early days of web art. Could this be the reason, or does the medium have the same attributes as film and video and demand the same attention. Maybe there is another reason, like all other mediums they too embrace narrative, not just so traditionally. So maybe this new medium presents an opening for artist that have always been around but not always considered artists in the traditional since, visual arts. After all writers have always been considered artists and they are one group that has taken to this new space and have made it their own, but they are not the only ones moving into this new medium.

Practically any one from any medium can use this space to cultivate their aesthetic; it is for all to use. If you look at today's current web art space one will still find the narrative alive and well, but now is has developed and grown with the new technical successes that have grown with this space and new ideas and aesthetics have grown with them. You have more imagery, sound, animation, and yes text, but more enhanced text. The web art space today is a Petri dish of where all art mediums have come together, growing and cultivating a collective consciousness. Now that the net art space is getting attention from all kinds of artist, and the technical capabilities are reaching an unlimited level, the narrative is becoming just one main resource with many others to pull from.

Now let's talk about what I like in a web art piece. I enjoy the sites that have a noticeable narrative going on in them, they seem to have better direction and focus than a lot of the new sites I see out there. Many are too wide open, no focus, which leaves the viewer without direction, lost and aggravated. I don't mean so much direction and focus to the point the piece becomes too predictable and boring. I mean it is nice to be taken on a journey and seeing inside the artist mind, not just left wondering around not knowing which way to turn, and in the net art space that is easy to do. Interactivity is nice, but too much irritates me, I want to be lured, driven through a piece. Imagery is also a must, words only reminds me I am reading a book. I want to be in a space I am unfamiliar with, but familiar with at the same time. Arguably creating something that hasn't been done before is impossible, but experiencing something I am somewhat familiar with is nice, as long as it is presented in a new or different way. Sound is one of the best elements in this new art space, if text, imagery, animation, etc. is going well, sound just drives it home, takes the viewer by surprise and wraps you up in the aesthetic; sound will enable the piece to literally extend itself outward, that's when you forget you are on a computer and find yourself inside of a piece of art.

Now that I have described what I like and don't like in web art, let's talk about a few works directly. I have explored several works all-dating before the year 1999, just dealing with the early development of net art. A lot of what I like in net art one will find in the earlier works, but not always in a large scale. But each one is working in these directions and capacity.

My Boyfriend Came Back From the War, by Elia Lialina in 1996, relies on narrative in a big way, but not so traditionally. In an era of primitive technical abilities on the web, Lialina dose a wonderful job of telling a story that really takes on a new approach. This piece goes way beyond separating itself from being linear; it forges ahead and creates a nonlinear experience that is unique to each and every viewer. She creates a space where the viewer gets multiple choices, finding their way through a maze of words and images that tell a story of past, present, and future. We aren't lead down a path of a familiar story telling style, this is it's unpredictability, but we are feed bits and pieces that makes up these characters lives, and this is it's focus, but we all end up in the same place, the end. The story is feed to us through interactive imagery coupled with mixed conversation (text), they don't always go together exactly, but they do fill pieces of a puzzle you begin to form in your mind. In the end, you find yourself knowing these characters, somehow comparing your own life to theirs. Dealing with the characters conversations and thoughts from their past, present, and future really presents the power of this piece and its ability to perform in this art space, giving it a device that thrives in this new medium. (Elia Lialina Biography)

Annette Weinstran's Pedestrian takes the narrative in a different direction. She incorporates more of a traditional style of writing but brings in more visuals. She is describing space and object through collage background images, foreground images, and floating text. There is no obvious overall narrative here except for describing a space or object, thus the viewer experiences a subjective aesthetic. This is the piece's strength, nice surprises, but when you put all the elements together you experience just what the artist intended.

The piece is a simple one as for its intent, "Walking as meditation and the lure of everyday objects", as this is part of the title. The aesthetic simply places you in an urban landscape, using its space and objects as metaphors in telling multiple short stories that fits the intent. Its use of objects, space, places in its imagery, and writing is wonderfully done. After you experience the pieces individuality, you leave with the full story.

Interactivity is stepped up here. You also get great multiple choice directions to go in, which heads up its significant qualities. But more so than anything else is itŐs planning in how everything fits together. Choreographing gives this piece lots of energy; its colors, concepts, images chosen, background usage, writing, it all comes together in a complete way. This is the cohesiveness that keeps focus in the work, giving the viewer clues into the artistsŐ visions. (Annette Weinstrans's Biography)

Lets step aside of the usage of obvious narrative and look at a work whose purpose might be conceived as unknown. When I mentioned net art having various styles I was including art taking on abstract meanings, abstract profiles. Some net art pushes the technical arena and employs its mediums strengths in a heavy-handed way. "Pedestrian" did this very well but still employed traditional formats to help the viewer along, but here in The Hootenenny Manifestation the viewer has no indication what is going on besides what the title and setup introduction gives them. The artist leaves a lot open to interpretation. Once inside you find sound, colorful graphics, multiple choices, and not much text to account for anything. It's like being inside of a carnival, as is the "Hootenenny" himself, as described in the written intro, "...he peddles music, books, movies, puppet shows and other forms of dissipation." Net art is a great vehicle to push this sort of aesthetic, anything goes, but be careful, let's not get lost. I feel the artist (Lord Knows Compost) saves itself by setting up the piece with an artist statement intro if you will. Without it this piece would still have been entertaining, but lost in direction, no focus. (www.turbulence.org/Works/hoot/index.html# - intro)

Once inside I really enjoy the playful atmosphere and multiple choices, giving the aesthetic different meanings to the individual participates. It is a one-stage arena much like "My Boyfriend Came Back from the War", but also with the complexities you find with "Pedestrian". Conceptually this piece is all over the place, but it stills drives the viewer through it's space leaving me with that nauseating curiosity I get after spending all evening at the county fair. Abstract it is and collectively it caries me to the unknown, but with purpose. I guess it is the objects we recognize and their inherent meanings that creates the narrative somehow, just enough to keep me in and satisfied.

Finally letŐs talk about using Synaesthesia, one of the most basic uses of objects and ideas known to art. Playing images off one another to get a response or emotion, Synaesthesia is usually not front and center in art, it just comes natural, not rushed or pushed. But in Dr. Hugo's Fuzzy Dreamz he pushed this concept to describe what might be our dreams. As one knows we can't control what we dream, and sometimes they take on weird and wonderful circumstances by what they entail. Fuzzy Dreamz crosses unrelated images and sounds that might represent ways in which we dream, creating this sensation in the viewer that is very personal. You get several of these all in a line which feels related somehow, a theme or narrative if you will. He has made several of these lineups and the viewer gets his choice on how he interacts with them. Abstract is a way you could describe the aesthetic, but in the end you feel like you have been through some sort of intended narrative space. There is no text, only sound coupled with moving images that seem to have their own story, and it is these sounds that really makes the piece complete, takes it to a new level not found in the pieces I mentioned before. It is very basic interactively speaking, but in whole it is bulging with content - some sort of poetic, performance narrative.

Fuzzy Dreamz is an "exploration of syntax montage"; precisely placing it's content in order to evoke a response. Fortunately the viewer gets the option to interact in any way he likes, again giving the viewer his own interpretation of the dreams, much like any dream would be, uncontrollable. (Dr. Hugo Biography)

Now that we've gone through four sites of my liking that I feel could belong in the Histories of Internet Art, there are some obvious consistencies and differences. The most consistent is the narrative space. Like I spoke before about art having some sort of narrative, these sites thrive on an obvious narrative that elaborates or guides their intent. Narrative gives it meaning and focus, the very threads that sets each one apart. Another commonality is the varied, multiple interactivity that drives the works to their individual styles, setting them apart and giving each viewer their own experience that may be different than any other viewer's experience. This is what sets net art apart from a normal narrative usually found in book form, or film. There are differences as well, the way the artists decide how much the viewer is feed with their intent. Each one of these works have different speeds or amount of content that is used, for example; the varied usages of text, imagery, sound, and interactivity.

It all comes down to the intent of the artist, what they want to say and how much they want to say. Too little and their intent or aesthetic gets lost, too much and it is too predictable, dry, boring. With the right balance of information, the narrative and its focus will give the piece its own identity and will be dynamic to its own beat. Just as these four pieces do, they have their own individual aesthetics that works, but they are similar in chemistry and design and that enables them to thrive in this space we call net art.

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