New Langton Arts
"... we live in a society that is increasingly shaped by events in cyberspace, and yet cyberspace remains, for all practical purposes, invisible... the most dynamic and innovative region of the modern world reveals itself to us only through the anonymous middlemen of interface design."
Steven Johnson (Interface Culture)
"... if network_art_activism begins to establish stronger ties with the previous generations of artists who have faced the dismantling of the political in art – both in the North and the South – so that this very immature form which is net.art can gain a sense of history about institutional critique, in order to develop both a deeper aesthetic and historical knowledge about what other artists have done before history was erased by the digital hype."
Ricardo Dominguez (interview with Coco Fusco, Mute Magazine)
"Day Jobs," the new show of networked art at San Fran's New Langton Arts, represents the work of four web-based artists in an attempt to contextualize current net.art production. This is accomplished (arguably) by contrasting and comparing these artists' works performed as employment against that done with artistic intentions. The stated goal is to define net.art as a definitive genre, one closely related to (dependent on?) the more overtly commercial applications of the Web. In "Day Jobs," the works are to be represented in a novel manner (sans the usual art historical lineage model)- in order "to shed light on the influences and conditions in which digital media art in created." The connections established between the two different aspects of new media production (art and industry), however, seem dependent on the same traditional personality-based readings familiar to art history. So, what we end up with is a strangely decontextualized reading of both the "commercial" and "artistic" products in question.
The works of Maya Kalogera and Jody Zellen seem to fit the curator's model most aptly, as their work has some of the traditional notions of separation between day and night jobs. Here, we're presented with the familiar story of the artist-craftsperson dichotomy, where the worker utilizes similar skills in the pursuit of different objectives. In this instance, the web designer adapts images, code, and style from one endeavor to assist in the creativity of the other. The artists' roles as both artist and craftsperson is narrated by "Day Jobs" with a biographical tone ( http://www.coyoteyip.com/bio.html ), speaking of the positive influence each part of their professional lives benefits from the other. I can't help but see the resemblance between this construction of new media workers (paint monkeys and programmers) and the older vision of the creative individual amongst the otherwise anonymous workforce. Bringing capitalism's (and the art world's) fetish for individualism and creativity as productive byproducts of competition into the digital age.
The other two artists in the show present a more problematic instance of net.workers for the exhibit, but still become consumed by the drive for normalization, and in some ways assist it. Valery Grancher is represented on the one hand by a project completed for UC Berkeley's Art Museum with student participation, and on the other by a project to archive lectures by Roland Barthes. Interestingly, much emphasis is placed on a contract developed by Grancher to sell the Berkeley project to the school. The person archiving some of Barthes work, the author of Death of the Author, is credited with developing a means for net.artists to be recognized as authors. Whatever the specifics are for Grancher's contract and its relationship to "community", this brings net.art closer to previous forms of art – that is, more like a tradable commodity with all the trappings ( http://www.archimuse.com/mw99/papers/rinehart/rinehart.html ).
Mark Tribe, the originator of Rhizome.org, is represented by that project as both instances in the artist's professional life. Referencing Joseph Beuys' practice of "social sculpture," Tribe makes the separation between work, play, and politics the subject of discussion. The "work" is both the concept and execution of Rhizome as artwork and as a functioning non-profit, with stakes being real for both. Not unlike other versions of social sculpture, Mierle Ukeles and the Christos comes to mind, the work is as much in the social network as in the tangible things produced. But there are some conceptual problems here, not just with Tribe's work, but with the concept and practice of social sculpture in general, at least the dominant versions of it. The notion that an artist can perform the same work done by many, while claiming notoriety and novelty seems a bit patriarchal – the artist becomes self-conscious CEO. In the least, it seems to overlook the status required for such a transformation of labor into something with both symbolic and exchange value. This is not to say that the practice can't be useful, only that it raises new problems in its attempt to deal with others, and is often cloaked in neo-utopian rhetoric.
The major question I have regarding "Day Jobs" is: "Why make the distinction between artwork and employment at all?" How new of an approach can it be to separate the work done by artists based on whether or not it's employment. How do commissions fit in, especially since more and more net.artists (at least the big names) produce in such a manner. And what about the growing shift in programming labor from the North/West to the recolonized South/East and the art reverberating in between that reality.
I must admit this line of questioning is highly rhetorical. No one should expect arts institutions to break from the ideological imperative to keep labor alienated while presenting the illusion of a possible, less alienated work ecology. But neither should we expect it to go by without critical discussion. If "Day Jobs" wanted to be a show about the current and historical necessity of wage labor in the production of leisure, there are plenty of examples to be found that make the connections between net.art and industry motives visible. It could even have been done with the artists' works chosen. But of course, "Day Jobs" doesn't want to be that. Why would it, when that might cause some unwelcome feedback within the network of arts institutions and high-tech sponsors.
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