If by some chance you should have missed it, dear reader, the hottest property on the globalised art scene right now is “Post-Internet Art”. Also, just to make sure you don’t get the wrong end of the stick, this is not about art that has given up on the Internet and moved on, but about art which reflects the fact that the Internet is now an integral part of our everyday lives, of how we sense, think and create. Art that works on the basis of the premise that the Internet has become a natural part of our media ecology – just as Marshall McLuhan predicted that computers would be back in the 1960s.
The concept was introduced by the artist Marissa Olson in a 2008 interview and was further developed on Gene McHugh’s Post Internet blog, but the concept only really got traction in 2014, bursting the dams of the art world, flooding it and leaving a pile of articles and exhibitions in its wake – plus one book. Now, a couple of months into 2015, interest in the concept continues to grow. It is everywhere. From features in fashion magazines such as i-D to pages upon pages in leading international art magazines.
Alright, alright, alright – of course you haven’t missed the “Post-Internet Art” trend. I realise that, and I must apologise for bothering you with something you already know about. Not only are you entirely on top of the subject, you also know that Post-Internet Art faces its real baptism on the institution scene with this year’s New Museum Triennial, curated by Ryan Trecartin and Lauren Cornell, and at next year’s Berlin biennial as conducted by DIS Magazine. Hey, you may even have booked your ticket to New York (if you weren’t at the official opening with the rest of the in-crowd), and you probably live in Berlin.
But did you also know that once there was something called “Internet Art”? No? Not really, anyway; you may have heard about it, but not been bothered to spend a lot of time on it. It seemed dated, somehow. It was something about modem speeds, domain names, telecommunications and the World Wide Web. That sort of thing. Things you don’t think about at all in your everyday life with its mobile apps, clouds, social networking and media streaming. If that is the case, it is quite clear why you never really got interested in Internet Art. You are a digital native, born after the arrival of the Internet, and therefore its true user.
So before I proceed, allow me to offer a quick Internet Art 101. Internet Art – or “net art”, as it is often known – is art that explores the Internet as a new social space and creative medium. It criticises the trends towards uniformity and control inherent in the development of the Internet, and engages in visionary ideas about what the Internet might some day become. All this happened back in the 1990s, and at that point it was surrounded by plenty of hype. Scores of mailing lists, countless articles, several books, conferences, festivals and being part of Catherine David’s Documenta X. Internet Art was all the rage.
All self-respecting institutions dabbled in it. But towards the end of the first decade of our new millennium it seemed as if this new art form had lost its impetus, and in recent years it has been largely forgotten. The interest in Post-Internet Art has not prompted any newfound interest in revisiting this older relative from the heydays of the Internet. Quite the contrary: it seems as if all the hype about this new form of art has made Internet Art an anachronism; as outmoded as the technology it employed.
Indeed, the differences between Internet Art and Post-Internet Art are striking, and many artists and theorists working with current Internet-based art forms quite naturally distinguish themselves by separating themselves from past artistic approaches to the Internet. Whereas Internet Art was explicitly critical of the art institution, Post-Internet Art juggles the art institution as one of several platforms in a much more free and unfettered manner. Internet Art deliberately obstructed the commercial art world, but Post-Internet Art explores the opportunities for producing objects that lend themselves to being sold, which means that several of its artists have gallery representation (only a handful of the artists working with Internet Art do). Whereas Internet Art endeavoured to change the infrastructure of the Internet, producing its own tools towards this end, Post-Internet Art works with a range of online tools that are already available. And whereas Internet Art sought to escape the mainstream, Post-Internet Art unfolds itself creatively within this mainstream.
Pointing towards these differences is a well-known position today. While it is certainly relevant, it is also rather predictable, very tried-and-tested.
Today, it seems every bit as relevant to consider the connections and similarities between Internet Art and Post-Internet Art. From an artistic perspective rather than a technological one. Not to abolish the differences between the two, but to prompt exchanges between them. To their mutual benefit. Internet Art will earn well-deserved street cred for its early experiments and visions, whereas the clever, inventive use of the medium found in Post-Internet Art will be more directly linked to conceptual media art traditions. Just to mention an example.
The idea is not simply conjured out of the blue(screen). Obvious links between artists and works from the two genres are legion. One example might be VNS Matrix’s Cyber Feminist Manifesto for the 21st Century (1991) and the cyber twee manifesto (2014), but we might also point to how artists have addressed online identity, the Internet as a performative space, social hacking, generative visual aesthetics and marketing strategies. What is more, a number of artists have progressed from Internet Art to Post-Internet Art, including UBERMORGEN.COM, Eva and Franco Mattes, jodi, Alexei Shulgin, and Daniel Garcia Andujar, who is currently showing a major solo exhibition at the Reina Sofia in Madrid (the first exhibition to feature an artist from the first generation of Internet Art).
Ultimately, however, the most obvious reason for engaging in such a study would seem to be that Internet Art and Post-Internet Art both address how the Internet is no longer a technological anomaly or niche interest, but a basic, fundamental aspect of society whose effects we are still in the process of understanding. One of McLuhan’s main points is that we are blind to the effects that technological changes have on our “sense apparatus”, quite simply because these changes are so violent, so all-encompassing that we become anaesthetised by them. For McLuhan it was then up to art to make us aware of these changes through a kind of shock treatment of our sense apparatus – a wake-up call that would allow us to affect the changes, not just be affected by them. This point seems more relevant than ever now that the Internet has become our reality, and it also seems to point to those fundamental aspects that Internet Art and Post-Internet Art have in common.