Amerika Online

On Being Retro In The Zeroes

Mark Amerika


"And yet, and yet . . . Denying temporal succession, denying the self, denying the astronomical universe, are apparent desperations and secret consolations. Our destiny is not frightful by being unreal; it is frightful because it is irreversible and iron-clad. Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire."

Jorge Luis Borges, from "A New Refutation of Time"

To paraphrase Barbara Kruger, "everytime I hear the word 'retrospective,' I reach for my checkbook." What could an Internet art retrospective possibly mean when the work already co-exists with everything else that is easily accessible on the web? Does viewing GRAMMATRON, my large-scale digital narrative created between 1993-1997, take on different meaning, different value, when it appears (virtually re-appears) on a Japanese musuem website that contextualizes its presentation as a retrospective?

On the net, space is cheap, ever-expandable, ready for mark-up. Compared to major museum shows, the resources needed to produce a full-on Internet art retrospective are relatively minimal. What is most important is that there exists the will, and maybe the power. Will power. And the passage of a certain amount of Time to justify its retroness.

In our accelerated blur culture, The Eighties were retro in the Nineties. So the mid-Nineties can be retro in early Zeroes, no? It's a fine feeling to be retro in the zeroes, to be a real, commodified "thing-in-itself" even as "the work itself" still, somehow, seems unreal.

You still cannot touch it. You still cannot sequester it. You still cannot stop it from generating the audience it will inevitably generate.

You can associate yourself with it. You can network with it. You can link to it. You can even purchase it and say that it's part of your collection as long as it remains accessible to the distributed net community that gives it its ultimate value.

For that matter, you can co-market your own historical persona with its aura.

Which reminds me: what would have happened if Benjamin had seen the emergence of the Net? Would it have reaffirmed his position on art objects losing their aura in lieu of an increased network-value for the avant-pop celebrity that composed the work?

The fact is, works of net art maintain their aura in ways beyond mere objecthood. Their so-called "immateriality" confers upon them a radically different kind of marketplace value, one that grows with every new person that visits the site (over a million served). The value of net art plays with the notion of scarcity in a serious way, essentially saying to the mainstream art institution and/or adventurous collector, "the more I attention I get, the higher my market value, and the more time I put into the work's creation, the more you will have to pay to have the privilege of calling me yours, of collecting me the way you would collect the rarest of dead sea scrolls."

A work like my GRAMMATRON has, after four long years of web notoriety, recently been referred to as "ancient" and "a relic," and looks every bit like 1993-1997. As new media art curator Christiane Paul might say, that's a kind of aura in and of itself. The truth is, GRAMMATRON is now part of art history, not just net art history. All one has to do is experience it, see it for what it is, and become educated about its historical and cultural context as well as its position in the attention economy.

New media curator Steve Dietz, who nurtured my second major net art work, PHON:E:ME, into existence, once noted (while remixing the concepts of many others into a succinct phraseology, as he often does): "This new millennium is a zero moment, a moment of profound renewal, when everything we thought we knew is wrong..."

If you thought net art had no major-league market value, you were wrong. If you thought that there was no difference between an internationally-renowned net art work that took four years to develop and a provocative one-liner that took a half a day to put on the web, you were wrong. If you thought that an Internet art retrospective was light years away, you were wrong.

Speed is a function of time and to be is to blur.

Living here in Boulder, Colorado, I may operate on Mountain Standard Time, but it still feels like 43 a.m. to me.

"The world runs on Internet time," says Andy Grove, CEO of Intel. This Internet Art retrospective is, like so many other conceptual net art works, ahead of its time. But for how long? As Baudrillard reminds us, "[t]he image is no longer given the time to become an image."

In this regard, it can also be said that net art was never given enough time to become net art.

How To Be An Internet Artist: a net art retrospective covering the years 1993-2001