Resistance and Rebellion : Net Art
Review by Natasha P.
Breitbard

Said to be the last avant-garde medium of the 20th century, netart/net.art/net art, since its beginnings in the late 80s, has become a creative tool in conveying disobedience. Concurrent with the emergence and strengthening of cyberculture in the last three decades, there has been a rise in popularity in this form of media. With the ability to circumvent the need for a physical display as per the traditional means of consuming art by way of gallery and museum exhibitions, its universality has been used as an instrument by artists worldwide to share, express, reach and defy in ways that weren’t possible to artists before their time.

From 21 November 2020 to 23 May 2021, the Chronus Art Centre (CAC) Shanghai, along with the CAFA Art Museum, are presenting a group exhibition titled We=Link:Sideways featuring 22 works by 28 net artists and collectives. The displayed works both onsite and online feature net art from 1991, at the advent of the practice, to the most current work, and will be progressively tweaked for the duration of the six-month exhibition.

In response to the disarray caused by Covid, the exhibition was created as a means to make social and political statements against matters like neoliberalism, the surveillance state and “to intercept or re-appropriate commercial or institutional modus operandi”. It also serves as commentary against the capitalist agenda behind the homogeneity of the social networks the average person is subscribed to today. Algorithms catered to your tastes merely mean that you have been adequately understood by the calculations of artificial intelligence.


Domestic Tension

Upon my visit to the page of the online exhibition, I was immediately greeted by a very glitchy 1990s cybercore web setup - striking me with immediate nostalgia and curiosity. It wasn’t like any web exhibition I had come across before. However, do note that my entrypoint into net art is via my avid consumption of net art-influenced music – genres like vaporwave, glitchcore and chiptune, and artists like Grimes whose entire discography can be described as post-internet.

There were a few works that particularly stood out to me, the first being BREITBARD RED by UBERMORGEN,an artist duo founded in 1995. Their work, which is an interactive website made up of three separate pages called “ASMR”, “SUPERDRY” and “VAPORWAVE”, brings together the chaotic amalgamation of what looks like the cyber sleep paralysis demon of a 4Chan addict. Their use of visual digital collaging and electronic music that distorts as you move the mouse proves to be a highly engaging experience.

On the website, they state that “this promise of ethnopluralism is an alternate reality made from transhumanists, fashionable fascists, anti-vaxxers, incels, and Silicon Valley supremacists. In rapid parallel networks, you quickly self-optimize, consume ASMR and build global community action via K-Pop. BREITBART RED is made to comfort and inspire you.” And that it did, because I was left not only amused, but also wildly entertained. SUPERDRY was my favourite as it contained old Harajuku fashion snaps, much like the ones I would ogle at in magazines as a pre-teen.


We=Link

The next artist that piqued my interest is Paolo Cirio with his featured work, “Derivatives”, a website of a series of over a hundred thousand reappropriated artworks from Sotheby’s ridiculous auctions. He overlays the auction prices onto the images and sells them online as digital artworks on Art-Derivatives.com for a mere fraction of the price they are being auctioned for. “By betting against future prices of derivative works, everyday investors can ironically participate in the financialization of art. In doing so the project aims to subvert the art market with its own logic,” says the artist. I love this project because I am a firm believer that art should be accessible and readily enjoyed by every member of society. It’s not news that only the wealthy have the means of possessing art - not even for visual value but for the ownership of rare art - as it has become a symbol of status. I think Cirio’s work is important for its comedic value as much as it is for highlighting inequality in the arts.

“Domestic Tension” by Iraqi performance artist Wafaa Bilal struck a chord with me. He presents an entire collection of his interactive daily online performances from over the course of a month. The videos feature Bilal’s self-imposed confinement in a gallery space, in which viewers had virtual access to him for 24-hours a day, and could communicate with him. Viewers had the option of shooting him with a paintball gun, transforming the experience from strictly visual to also physical. The artist’s self-imposed confinement highlights the reality of the Iraqi population victimised by hatred and war. The videos, all in 480p, brought a sense of warmth, and didn’t feel like a piece of performance art in the traditional sense. His goal was to create dialogue around politics with people who might’ve been unwilling to do so in a more serious setting. While light and fun, I found myself feeling a little bit saddened by the fact that he had to approach the harrowing topics of war and famine in a “fun and palatable” way, just so a “western” audience would finally put themselves through the discomfort of learning about others’ experiences.

The future of net art is uncertain but one thing is for sure - it will continuously evolve. And rapidly, too. Net art will always be a means to bend the rules and question systems of authority. Its ability to stimulate the viewer in ways traditional art cannot manage to has drawn an audience of religious followers and will probably continue to do so. With post-internet artists on the rise, one can only infer that net art will take on many forms, but will never truly disappear, in the transhumanist dystopia that we live in.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the author's own and do not reflect those of CENDANA. CENDANA reserves the right to be excluded from any liabilities, losses, damages, defaults, and/or intellectual property infringements caused by the views and opinions expressed by the author in this article at all times, during or after publication, whether on this website or any other platforms hosted by CENDANA or if said opinions/views are republished on third party platforms.

Natasha P. is a participant of the CENDANA - ASWARA Arts Writing Mentorship Programme 2020-2021.

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