Gizmodo is looking at a lot of net art these days, but you’ll have to scan further than Google Arts and Culture to find it, so we asked net artists for help. Today, Anthony Antonellis tells us about his long slog to convince gatekeepers that internet art is more than an unprofitable career path.
“The art world…just felt like the art market”
Anthony Antonellis conjures mirages of wealth out of websites, often as though revolting against the imposters who can’t appreciate work unless it comes with a big price tag. In an early website, putitonapedestal.com, visitors can drag little pedestal icons into a gallery space and then place gifs on top of them. In the sardonic “Document,” he forces a prospective collector to spend money by spewing colourful paper out of a printer until it runs out of ink. The corresponding text notes:
When performed, Document is an expensive commodity. With a cost averaging €3800/Litre, consumer inkjet ink is one of the most valuable substances in the world. 8 litres worth of cartridge ink costs the same as 2012 Audi A4.
“Document” was made the same year “The Scream” broke auction records at a near-$US120 ($190) million sale, causing a lot of bleak reflection on the art world’s function as a place for rich people to stash their money.
Others reflect more on the average person’s superficial wishes, teasing us with digital counterfeits of hundred dollar bills and selling a Poland Spring bottle “infused” with a Power Balance bracelet. A Facebook “bliss” button allows popularity seekers to click endlessly to see more Facebook notifications. A narrated montage of inspiring stock footage, “Closer.mp4,” tells the story of an alien assimilating to corporate America, yet finding true fulfillment impossible.
Unsurprisingly, Antonellis has been fighting for the validity of net art before he knew net art existed and wanting to make artist Lorna Mills “swear in excitement” over a gif.
Prior to my entry into internet art, I had been discouraged from ever mixing digital technology and fine art, unless it was a formalist new media exploration. As a kid in the 90s, I loved programming, web design, making gifs, and I loved making artwork. In high school, I founded our school’s art club with my artist friends. When we tried to fundraise for the art club, I made a series of animated GIF posters to get students to join, but they wouldn’t allow me to put them on the website. We were told they would only promote student clubs with “profitable career paths.”
Even in undergrad, there was no mixing Ps and Qs. They wouldn’t allow digital images in your portfolio, because it could have been manipulated. I remember a painting professor railing on me, saying that there is no way to prove authorship or attribution with digital work, as a way of devaluing it. I enrolled as a computer art major [at SCAD], but never took a single computer art class. It was all geared toward pumping out Pixar animators, or making graphics for sports shows.
I didn’t make the leap until grad school, when I was studying public art. And I was really turned off by the prevalent format for showing work online, which was flat, dead, sad recreation of a museum wall, like Google’s Arts and Culture site, or nearly all museum websites. I had to do a lot of convincing to get my German thesis advisors to see the internet as a valid medium for experiencing work.
I first began by communicating with GIFs back in the good old days of Google+, where I met so many great artists like Lorna Mills. We actually spoke for months only communicating with GIFs and pluses. I just remember trying to make posts that made her swear in excitement. There was a big Gli.tc/h movement back then—Rosa Menkman, Jon Satrom, and Nick Briz. Theoretically, they were a huge influence. Glitch was about exploiting, exposing, and embracing technological malfunction as a means to better understand how a technology worked. So ignoring intended purposes, or doing-it-wrong-on purpose, breaking through the fourth wall.
I met the first group of artists offline by participating in one of Aram Bartholl’s internet cafe Speed Shows, exhibitions where the curator would rent every station in an internet cafe and display a different artwork on each computer. They were particularly popular because those cafes also sold beer and alcohol so you could have an opening that felt like a gallery opening. putitonapedestal.com was for one of those speed shows. That was the idea that the only way to elevate GIFs was to make institutions see something they were used to seeing.
I began archiving [internet] exhibition data on netartnet.net, a press release archive and link hub, in 2011. But institutions propagated the problem by limiting access to many net artists and new media artists—the second they got gallery representation, they’d pull their work offline. Some even wrote me telling me to take their names and work off netartnet.net.
Once I made putitonapedestal.com, I could see the view counts, and could engage with an audience. Hanging a painting in a gallery, I could only engage while I was there. Over the course of an exhibition, maybe a few hundred saw my work at most. Online, I’d see all the web traffic—so many people it’d knock my server offline. And it was immediate, you could make something in your studio and have eyes on it the second you were finished. So that was the hook. And then I positioned my practice toward the internet, and tuned in the same way as before, just with that new audience and engagement. It went from “look what I can do” to “look what I can do, consciously.”
I worked for an amazing gallery right out of undergrad, was privileged to be around great works and exhibitions. But I also saw the other side of things, the cash side, art fairs and brokering; lots of discouraging stuff an artist probably shouldn’t see, but needs to understand if they plan to be a gallery artist. I get angry when I think about it. I have too many rants about it, institutions in general. The “art world” didn’t feel like it was about artists and audience, it just felt like the art market. Maybe it’s a survival technique for museums and galleries, but I felt, and still feel, that there is little interest in works that can’t also turn a buck.
I think it’s been a slow and steady road forward. Collectors, museums, and academics aren’t real risk-takers; once something in their rear window proves viable they can safely place their bets. I think the movement, and artwork that has been acknowledged over the last decade or so, is already providing validation. Net art is discussed in art school curriculums, it’s not relegated solely to a special topics course. Eventually, if it hasn’t already, it will trickle down into other realms of art education—high schools, et cetera. And hopefully young artists will be exposed to the entirety of what’s out there, and won’t have to discover it on their own later, or have to argue for its validity.
Previous editions of Net Art of the Day: