Case Studies in Web Art and Design

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Introduction to Net Works

By xtine burrough:

This introductory book was written for new media practitioners, artists, and students of communications technologies and media art. As a new media educator who teaches art in a department labeled “communications,” I wanted to create a book that I could use in a variety of classroom situations—one that would bridge the gap between theory and practice in a way that satisfies the curiosities of students interested in either or both disciplines. In so many practice-based art texts and classrooms, the technology is divorced from the socio-political concerns of those using it. Meanwhile, there are excellent resources for media theorists, but practice-based students sometimes find it difficult to engage with a text that fails to relate theoretical concerns to the act of creating. In my own classroom, I rely on lectures, discussions, demonstrations, and critiques; but I also use my personal experience both in the commercial industry (albeit, that was long ago) and as a practicing artist. Through dialogue with my colleagues and peers, I realized that many of us tell personal stories in the classroom to help students relate to new technologies. This first-person narrative was something I wanted to capture here. So, remaining true to the spirit of Net Works, here is the story of its making:

I first wrote my chapter for this book, “Mechanical Olympics,” as a submission to an entirely different edited collection. Had the chapter been rejected, I probably would have put it away until enough time passed that I could regain some sense of confidence with the material. Instead, the editors reported that they had lost my submission. When I mentioned my disappointment in not even being seen to my husband Paul, he suggested that I edit my own collection, using the structure of the chapter I had already completed. Even though it seems like an obvious path now, I never would have thought about organizing this collection if Paul had not suggested it. Thank you, Paul Martin Lester.

In the summer of 2009 I proposed the book to Michael Byrnie at Routledge and by the end of December we agreed on a contract. I spent the first quarter of 2010 asking artists to write chapters for this book. I did not open a call for submissions because I already had a conceptual map of the book outlined, including the artists whom I had hoped would be willing to participate. In retrospect, I may have opened this to a public call for submissions, but I wanted to complete the manuscript within the year and I knew that the sooner I could confirm each author, the more likely I would meet my deadline. For each of the ten themes governing the chapters in this book, I am well aware that hundreds of other artists have created suitable projects. However, I wanted to keep in mind the technical learning trajectory that a student might be taking. The earliest chapters in this book are about works that are not terribly complicated from a technical perspective, and remain true to themes I tend to address in the first few meetings of an introductory course. I selected the ten themes based on topics I have been teaching in the new media classroom for a decade. This likely ensures that some of the themes will continue to be relevant in future years, while others will surely become outdated. Similarly to the 20 chapter contributions, there are many other themes that perhaps should have been included. For instance, one contributor asked why I did not include a section about mobile media. Since I never have enough time to reach this topic (or many others) in an introductory practice-based course, it is not surprising that I ran out of page-count for this important topic. In the classroom, mobile media is simply too advanced (we spend the first few weeks writing HTML code by hand) at the time of this writing. In the future, it may be as simple to create applications and projects for mobile media as it is to produce “hello world” in a web browser, but the technology currently requires a steep learning curve for beginners. So, I believe that even if, as Wired Magazine declared on the cover of their August 2010 issue, “the web is dead,” students will continue to learn how to create interactive, networked-based projects using the methods outlined by artists in the chapters that follow.

Finally, the scope and depth of so many of the chapters included in this book push against the boundaries set by the themes of each section. Creating themes is helpful for outlining course material, while simultaneously preventative for those wishing to cross boundaries. One contributor wrote that while she was happy to fulfill the “assignment” I had given, asking her to write about her project with a specific theme in mind, she became aware that her project actually fit several of the section topics in the book. I agreed. My own chapter, which I placed in the “crowdsourcing and participation” section could just as easily fit the themes of “collections and communities” or even “performance.” I encourage readers to consider thematizing new media projects as they encounter them, to propose new themes that could-have-would-have-should-have been included in a book such as this, and to rethink the order of the projects in this book, as most fit multiple themes.

By the summer of 2010 I had secured the media scholars and practitioners who agreed to write short introductions to each section. There is a noticeable difference between the scholarly voices of the theorists and the first-person narratives written by the artists/authors of each chapter. The reader is left to find relationships between the introductory texts and their following chapters. In many cases the scholars were able to read the artists’ chapters before writing an introduction, but in some instances it was not possible. Like so many books and projects, this one became “finished” about a day before the deadline. By the end of 2010, all of our materials were declared final, and you are reading a version of the text that is just one edit away from being something else entirely.

Finally, I was shy about using the term in the title of this book. Many of the artist/authors consider their projects works. However, I wanted this text to appeal to a wider audience. My own students are interested in professional communication industries, including (but not limited to) journalism, advertising, public relations, photography, interactive media design, and entertainment studies. Viral media, communities, collections, crowdsourcing, participation, error/noise, data visualization, surveillance, democracy, open source, hacking and remixing, and performance are topics or practices common to art and communication specialists."

Hacking and Remixing

By Stefan Sonvilla-Weiss:

"Current remix practices have evolved along with the popularization of computers and the corresponding communication technologies around the globe. Media convergence, the transformation of hitherto analog texts, pictures, photographs, music, movies, and artworks into universal encoded digital data, marked out a revolutionary shift in postindustrial modalities of production, communication, reception, and perception of audio- visual information.

From a historical standpoint, the appropriation, imitation, reuse and recombination of significant styles, materials, and artifacts pervade almost all cultural epochs in the process of creating something new. Each historical style (Greek, Roman Antiquity, the Renaissance, Modernity), for example, sees periods of transition where there is a proliferation of ambiguous stylistic elements that more allude to their historical examples than depict them. In postmodernist architecture, Philip Johnson’s Sony Building in New York became a landmark of “neo-eclectic” architecture, which borrows elements and references from the past, replacing the aggressively unornamented modern styles by reintroducing color and symbolism to architecture. In contemporary art, form and content are in permanent flux and tested in vast playgrounds of varying concepts, practices, manifestations, interpretations, and validations that unmask art as a social, cultural, political, and economic system. Coevally the word “art” invokes almost boundless permutations and combinations such as anti-art or anti-anti-art, accompanied by its random ramifications of pop art, concept art, electronic art, new media art, digital art, computer art, virtual art, and so forth.

Dada as a cultural movement in the early twentieth century signaled a new chapter in early modernism as an influential precursor of several avant-garde threads, ranging from Fluxus to Culture Jamming and Hacking. Key to a sound understanding of today’s remix practices are these early experimental forms of combining visual and literary art, sound and music, stage design, and performance that elicited novel art practices and techniques such as photomontage, collage, and readymades.

In succession the Situationist International movement in the 1950s and 1960s took up Dada’s anti-bourgeois and anarchistic position with a view to coalesce Surrealist art and Marxist politics against the first wave of mass media and advertising, which one of the main protagonists, Guy Debord, aptly dubbed The Society of the Spectacle in his book of the same title.

In Debord’s view, “the spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images”1 that can be interpreted as the inverted image of society in which relations between commodities have supplanted relations between people, in which passive identification with the spectacle supplants genuine activity. In response to this total occupation of social life by commodities, Situationists drew upon a series of experimental study fields in constructing a self-consciousness of existence within a particular environment or ambience, such as unitary urbanism and psychogeography, which were to propagate the union of play, freedom, and critical thinking.

Michel de Certeau, one of the most influential theorists of “the everyday” in the 1980s, brought into the discussion the ways in which people individualize mass culture, altering things from utilitarian objects to street plans to rituals, laws and language, in order to make them their own. The utility and potential of digital technologies had not yet emerged and is therefore not present in de Certeau’s work; however, his models of strategies and tactics put the “user” in the foreground. The concept of “consumption” is expanded in the phrase “procedures of consumption,” which then further transforms into the “tactics of consumption” that became seminal in the emerging realms of digital cultural production and participation."