Amerika Online


Blurring Practices: The Work of Art As Public Offering

Mark Amerika


1. As someone who is heavily invested in the Internet, I always check the "viability" of my day by turning on the computer and engaging it in live performance, economic exchange, emotional dialogue, individual search, whatever. How is it feeling today, I wonder, as I click on the word connect and see if the world (the market) is still alive with its own metafictional energy. If it is, if the Net is here for me, then I am here for it, and I can feel human again. It is a marraige of economic convenience. Til death do I part.

2. I love titling. Sometimes an art work has a title that makes it worth the high price someone is willing to pay for it. In fact, if a work of art, whether material or digital, has a bad title, then I am not interested in it. The tentative title to this cyborg performance, this theoretical proposition, this pyschoacoustical transmission (pretend you hear me talking), this hyperrhetorical sequence of gestures, is:

Blurring Practices: The Work of Art As Public Offering

3. Well, that's the default title. The title could also be:

The Primordial Affinity Between Words and Digital Objects: In Search of the Perfect Language

or

The War Against Time: Dying Bit by Bit in the New Media Ecology

or

Sonic Grammatology: Letting the Language Speak Itself

or how about

The Reconfigured Author: Media Landscape With Brand-Name Identity

4. The list goes on. I just now realize that all of my language investigations, particularly as they pertain to the Net, are works of conceptual art (look at those beautiful titles in #3!). Joseph Kosuth eat your heart out. You were 30 years too early and I am glad I didn't even know about so-called Conceptual Art until I met you last year when we both were invited to the Telstra Adelaide Arts Festival. Not that placing your dictionary definitions of a chair next to both a real chair and a photograph of a chair inside a gallery space was totally irrelevant. Of course not: we've got to think historical context, always. And Art (capital A) should definitely promote an anti-consumer thought process, one that thinks through issues of "representation" and what it means for artists to make art (little a). And, yes, I really dig those magazine and newspaper art-ads you and others like Dan Graham put out decades before the Internet had altered the global capital markets with such fierce force that even Soros-funded East Europeans could make an immediate impact on an otherwise dead art scene. Not to mention those overintellectualized billboards that you put up in Europe all those years ago, before we even knew what a GUI was, or a web-browser. Whether we like it or not, pre-WWW Conceptual Art is having more influence on the art market than ever before.

But in the end, my friend, your brand of "art after philosophy after art" is too elitist for its own good. And this is the same trap I see so-called net or web artists falling into as well. It is already becoming too isolated from the real world, the real world that exists on the Net itself, the world of Amazon.com and E*TRADE, of eBay and YAHOO. Forget California ideology. Or the gutless wonders dropping their pseudo-academic wordbombs on moderated mailing lists. Face it: the Next Five Minutes of Infowars and Revolution and Defamiliarization will be happening at cnn.com, and you know it. So tune in and find out what you're worth.

5. Digression: is MP3.COM the only site on the Net that will be able to profit from this monumental shift in music compression/distribution? No. They have a small market, one that, once the technology becomes more and more accessible to individuals, will make their "mediating" role as a clearinghouse for mp3 delivery less attractive (let's not forget that the Net, if it's about anything, is about disintermediation). What MP3.COM has going for it more than anything else, is a name. MP3, it ends up, is the most searched for word in the big search engines. More than the word SEX. One wonders what kind of market value a business called MP3SEXSEXSEX.COM would be worth. You would not even need a business plan, just a cool MP3SEXSEXSEX.COM logo, a website with endless links to pornographic audio tracks, and a compression technology that makes it easy to deliver the data over bandwidth-friendly pipes. Ready to invest in the future?

6. And now that I just got back from a gig in Australia and the jet-lag is almost behind me, I want to go back to sleep ("...inside there was sleep, quick and dark, a numbing narcotic that began to take effect even before my soft cheeks kissed the warm buttocks of my fluffy pillow causing instantaneous dreaming of nothing but sleep itself"). But one cannot use sleep as an escape mechanism. Not unless one intends on sleeping forever. No, one must deal with it all. Overproduced Infowars, Internet Online Trading, Albania, High School Massacres, Presidential Penises, Conceptual Art. It is ONE BIG BLUR.

7. This blurring is due, in part, to what Stan Davis and Christopher Meyer, in their BLUR book, call "the speed of change in the connected economy." They explain how three contemporary forces, Speed, Connectivity and Intangibles, are converging in way that challenge the way we do business.

In their book, they see a melting of basic distinctions. Buyer/seller. Product/service. Employee/entrepreneur. It sounds like all of the hyperrhetoric around hypertextual narrative: the reader becomes a writer, or, if you will, a "wreader." An Interactive Co-participant. What Julio Cortazar, in his prototypical postmodern narrative published in 1963, a novel called Hopscotch, referred to as a "co-conspirator."

8. In fact, much of the hype around digital art and some of the more experimental postmodern metafiction of the post-War period, particularly the hype that proclaims hypertext narrative as "a revolutionary mode of publication" that changes readers into "wreaders," is consistent with much of the new age corpo-speak one reads in BLUR, except in BLUR we hear more about revolutionary business models, about offers, desires and financial webs. For example, take the following passage:

"The difference between buyers and sellers blurs to the point where both are in a web of economic, information and emotional exchange...the real news in the BLUR economy is that other things -- especially information and emotional engagement -- make up a growing proportion of the value being exchanged in both directions. We have reached a point in our story where the Intangibles get serious."

With this in mind, net artists need to follow in the footsteps of their theoretical alter-egos and start envisioning a parallel consulting practice that can be easily integrated into their ongoing networking practice. Forget the boring festival scene that wants to exploit your name and value for their own inane uses. Go where your skills, talents and insights have more value as emerging artists than ever before: go to market.

9. In fact, net artists, particularly those in Europe who are desperately trying to move the online art community's dialogue toward some measure of serious consideration of purchasing web-specific art for competitive prices, would be well-advised to read BLUR and other ancillary texts about "the connected economy." The Internet, as an economic web of activity, is having its all-consuming effect on the way the capital markets exchange their security and commodity holdings, and soon this will include their art holdings as well, their net-based art holdings.

The first thing net artists must get over, is that their work, as commodity, or product, has value in and of itself. Sure, it has some, but to buy into that way of thinking is to take their "network life-practice " and apply it to industrial-era economic thinking, the thinking that says "I made this work of art, I am a genius, therefore this work of art has been created by a genius who should be compensated as such, so, here it is, this is how much it costs, now you can buy it." Why try and squeeze a paradigm-shifting "network life-practice" into an outmoded industrial economic model that, we all know, really no longer exists?

Web artists who are seriously considering offering their work to the public so as to ignite a speculative market on web-based art, should first acquaint themselves with the Internet economy they hope will support them. If they are serious about opening up a new kind of speculative art market for their kind of net-distributed work (and they are all-too-serious, this much is obvious), they must focus their attention on how the Internet economy acts like a chaotic, yet self-correcting, financial market. Like it or not, the old-fashioned marketplace for goods and services, behaving like a financial market, is in constant adaptation-mode, seeking out the next area of speculative market growth, ready to immerse itself in a continuous exchange of speculative knowledge or, what I like to call, seductive knowledge.

In order for seductive knowledge about your work to have its desired effect in the Internet economy (to create wealth), you must first understand the business of offering yourself to clients, collectors, suitors, johns (assuming you consider this a form of prostitution).

The reason why nobody is buying your net.art is because in networked economies the savvy investor either already has enough knowledge to know that your work is not worth investing in or, worse yet, you as a network artist have yet to use the skills you have at your disposal to offer enough seductive knowledge of your own to convince the buyer that your work is worth investing in.

Seductive knowledge, whether it originates in the film houses of Moscow or the hiking trails of Colorado, is what drives the new media art economy just as it does all other sectors of the Net economy, an economy that is always ready to take into account the Intangibles that go with being human.

10. When I went to the BLUR website today, the home page had a Java applet called "For Love Or Money", read:

"In BLUR, we say emotional value flows back and forth between buyers and sellers, just as economic and informational forms of value do. But we need to do more thinking about this. It's clear enough that the traditional buyer of a product or service pays a premium for emotional value... But when and how do sellers take their payment in emotion? Here's one idea: by doing pro bono or discounted work for organizations and people they feel good about adding to their client list."

In other words, why not spread it around?

One question net artists and new media theorists need to ask themselves, is:

"What emotional investments have I made and who is supporting my work as a result of these emotional investments?"

A lot of times these people are family, close friends, trustworthy business associates. I know that I, for one, am on the verge of buying a few important pieces of web-art created by artists (or artist teams) just because of the successful emotional exchanges I've had with these artists over the years.

What about lovers? Does continuous nourishment feeding your emotional needs at home count as support? Why not give a net-art project as a gift to the one you're with?

11. For artists looking for ways to increase the value of their online work, they too, like budding entrepreneurs caught in the heat of IPO fever, must focus more on the value-added Intangibles that will increase their visibility in the network-economy and, as such, enable them to build brand-name identities that will foster their own economic growth.

IPO or, Initial Public Offering, is usually used to describe the process involved when a business entity goes public, issuing x amount of stock in their company to the general public as a buying opportunity, but also as a way to raise capital. That's pretty straightforward. But what about web artists? Have they ever considered making public offerings themselves? IPO is just a new phrase that artists can translate into "going public" with their work, like what we used to call an "artist's show." The difference now is that you can, for example, do what The Thing has recently done, that is, hold an online auction at eBay. Fuck Sotheby's or Christies. They don't get it. But eBay does. For less than five dollars you can put your net art work on the market and see what it brings in.

Why not? Are you afraid it won't sell for enough? Well, then that says a lot about why nobody's paying for your work. The market doesn't lie about these things. It speculates. It sees your value for what it is. If the value of your net-poem is $5, then sell one per day and buy some pasta. Cook it for you and your lover and then write a net-poem for your lover too, for free.

11. In a previous Amerika Online column, I wrote (in a slightly different version):

What if the artist(s) responsible for the development of the [web art work] were to constantly use the fluidity of the digital medium to build-on, subtract-from or otherwise alter the [web art] site whenever they wanted to? What does this do to our 'fixed' conception of what a narrative is? A writer? A publisher? And for those of us who see the [web art] environment as not only an online publishing site but as an internationally-accessible 'network installation' that challenges the dominant exhibition model we associate with the physically-locatable museum and gallery scenes, what does this do to our conception of what an installation artist is? A curator? Is there now a potential for all artists, focused on distributing their works-in-progress via the Web in the same D-I-Y (do-it-yourself) style associated with the indie music scene, to collectively decentralize the establishment culture's 'taste-control' mechanism and consequently build their own niche audiences of feedback and support, simultaneously wearing the hat of writer, sound-artist, new media theorist, publisher, curator, networker, programmer, multi-media director? How about Network Conductor?

Why, one must ask, are online artists all of a sudden so obsessed with selling their online art work? Is it really time to cash in? If it is, then, as a collector myself (see Alt-X), I want to see a body of work that has seductive knowledge, work whose network-value has the kind of emotional investment I can look back on and love.

12. My friend, a former Conceptual Artist turned New Media Entrepreneur, told me in a recent email that "only by turning the speculative knowledge market into a fictional enterprise can we even begin to process the constant coming-to-market of a series of public offerings like those we have recently witnessed, from the YAHOO fiction to the AMAZON fiction to the LYCOS fiction. Anyone who is not clued in to how this market is being narrativized is out of touch with the world that is now taking shape in cyberspace. As a well known online artist, your going public with your work, making the right offers, creating the right emotional environments for all kinds of cross-cultural exchange, is part of your economic imperative. You owe this to yourself as both a person and a commodity."

It got me to thinking about what it means to "go public" -- how the IPO (initial public offering) craze associated with Internet stocks is driving the new media economy and, with it, the new media arts, and how writing space is narrative/rhetorical space and the digital domain names most of us are in the process of taking on, to contain our virtual subjectivties (ourselves), are blurring with this notion of offers.

Lickmywriting.com / Nurturemynarrative.org / Feelmyrhetoric.net

In a way, this column is part of an offer. It is an emotional investment that I am making with my readers, some of whom may one day see the value of my service and, as a consequence, purchase some of my work. But that is not why I write these columns. I write these columns to write out my BLUR.


Alt-X