Dieter Daniels / Gunther Reisinger
© Dieter Daniels / Gunther Reisinger, Sternberg Press
Net art is seen as an archaeology of the future, drawing on the past (especially
of modernism) and producing a complex interaction of unrealized past
potential and Utopian futures... (01)
This is a book about media art history, and against that background it takes
a new, interdisciplinary look at the historical, social, and economic dynamics
of our contemporary, networked society.
Giving a potted history of Net-based art may seem to present no diffi culty:
The hype around Net-based art began in the early 1990s, before the Internet
had become a commodity. It developed in skeptical parallel to the rise and
decline of the new economy. In 1997, documenta X featured Net art.
Around the same time, major museums in the US started online art commissions
or virtual showcases. (02)
The fi rst (and last) retrospective exhibition,
“netconditon,” was held in 1999. (03)
Several books published in the fi rst years
of the new millennium give overviews of the practice and theory of this
But since then, this particular chapter of art history appears to have
closed. The fi nal indication that Net-based art was not to become another
genre in the contemporary art canon was perhaps the discontinuance of the
“Net vision” category in the Prix Ars Electronica 2007. (05)
But why does this chapter of art history appear to end so suddenly? Is it that
the idea of Net-based art (also known as Internet art, Net art, Net.art, and
Web-based art) involving itself in a revolutionary spirit in a networked society
failed? One might equally well argue that it was far too successful simply to
become another media-art genre. Looking today at the social, aesthetic, and
conceptual approaches of the early 1990s presented in this book, it is clear
that most of them have in fact come true, if in ways other than intended.
They materialized, but without establishing a new art genre, and they
resisted the typical process of commodifi cation met with in art institutions.
What happened instead was that some of the initial ideas took shape in
everyday socio-technological living conditions. The two major utopias of the
modernist avant-garde of the 1920s and the 1960s are that art anticipates
the future and that art transforms, or is transformed, into life. The history
of Net-based art would seem to indicate that it fulfi lled both of these
utopias and, as an artistic exercise confi ned to the art world, rendered itself
Early Net-based art, however, is significant mostly from the viewpoint of
the history of ideas. For the most part, the fi gures and artworks of the time
have been eclipsed. Current public awareness does not extend to the “Net
pioneers” themselves, who entered neither the narrative of an emerging
network society nor the canon of art history. Not just fame is at stake here,
but also the material (and digital) evidence of one of the most exciting artistic
phenomena of the fi nal decade of the twentieth century. Even if future art
historians change their minds and, as with Dada or Marcel Duchamp, decide
to rediscover this art fi fty years after the event, there will not be much of it
left. Neither museums, universities, libraries, nor media archives consider
themselves responsible for or capable of caring for this part of the cultural
digital heritage by archiving, documenting, or maintaining Net-based art and
its contexts. The constantly changing online technology and socio-economic
environment ensure that it is as diffi cult to develop a methodology of
preservation as for all of digital art. That these early instances of Net-based
art never entered the art market (and in fact successfully opposed it) is also
partially responsible for the lack of research in the fi eld: their apparent lack
of monetary value does not argue for the necessity of these works' survival.
The historical importance of the early Net-based artworks presented here as
evidence of a pivotal moment in digital culture, and of a paradigm shift in
media society in general, goes far beyond art history. Yet the framework of
art history alone can provide the basis for understanding the context, ideas,
and concepts behind the works. They were created in response to a specifi c
setting in the art world of the early 1990s. A historical view must therefore
maintain this context, although the works are also signifi cant in that they
simultaneously testify to the development of the socio-technical media. The
research approach developed at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute Media.Art.
Research over a period of three years has focused on developing a documentary
archive and contextualization methodology, for which a range of
case studies was selected. While this does not solve the problem of the
survival of Net-based art, it does aspire to set an example and to instill a
consciousness of the responsibility we owe these fragile and ephemeral
“monuments” of our media society.
This book is thus a part of the art-historical research project titled “netpioneers
1.0.” The essays published here are in part the result of a conference
organized by the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute Media.Art.Research Linz on
the occasion of Ars Electronica 2007, and in part refl ect new approaches that
have since been developed. The contributions cover a wide variety of topics,
ranging from art-scholarly methodological debate (Bentkowska-Kafel, Kuni);
source-critical analysis (Reisinger); archiving, exhibition, and analytical
, London, Paul, Sakrowski) to media-philosophical aspects
(Ries) and technical and artistic innovations (Daniels).
To begin with, the signifi cance of art-based or media-critical Internet platforms
(THE THING New York, THE THING Vienna and Public Netbase) that
were instrumental in facilitating the establishment and media-immanent
discussion of early Net artworks are addressed. In line with the genuinely
archival character of these frameworks, a predominantly source-based
scientifi c approach was chosen. For research purposes and for the textual
contributions, both primary and secondary sources were fi rst made digitally
accessible, thus facilitating an overview of hitherto scattered archival
01 Julian Stallabrass, Internet Art: The Online Clash of Culture and Commerce
(London: Tate Publishing,
02 See the text by Christiane Paul in this volume.
03 The exhibition “net_condition” was a distributed exhibition in Graz, Barcelona, Tokyo, and Karlsruhe.
See net_condition: art and global media
, ed. Timothey Druckrey and Peter Weibel (Cambridge, MA:
MIT Press, 2001).
04 e.g. Julian Stallabrass, see n. 1; Rachel Greene, Internet Art
(London: Thames & Hudson, 2004); Tilman
Baumgärtel, [net.art]: Materialien zur Netzkunst
(Nürnberg: Verlag für Moderne Kunst, 1999), and [net.art 2.0]: Neue Materialien zur Netzkunst
(Nürnberg: Verlag für Moderne Kunst, 2001).
05 The defi nition-shifts in the Prix Ars Electronica category of Net-based art are a short history in their
own right: 1995 –1996 World WideWeb, 1997–2000.net, 2001–2003 Net Vision / Net Excellence, 2004 –2006 Net Vision.