Teh Interwebs Will Not Save Us

Continuation at AFC of the discussion of Ben Davis's unfrozen caveman essay about the politics of the institutional art world (edited for length):

...So Tom, if you feel that Davis’s political read is outdated, perhaps you could offer us a more current one. Just don’t rely on the old “teh interwebs elected Obama” thing, because as we’ve seen in the last year and half, the President’s abilities to act, while not completely unsuccessful, have certainly been hemmed in by the entrenched power structure as it exist on that patch of Planet Reality called Washington, D.C. And this despite the web-enabled tidal wave that sent him to the White House...
Howard Halle // 23 May 2010, 10:39 am

A while back Paddy, I, and various commenters hashed over a lecture by Boris Groys at SVA called “Everyone is an Artist.” The title annoyed me but it turned out to be something I really liked. I present this as my own possible misreading of Groys. Rome, city-states, etc don’t fall because armies storm the barricades, they fall because people get interested in other things and drift away from the permanent siege of the city gates. The most interesting thing happening at the NewMu isn’t the latest Gavin Brown offering to curators incapable of doing their own homework, it’s Rhizome.org, the homely stepchild no one at the museum knows what to do with. And not just Rhizome per se, but the hundreds of artists and sites and projects they link to and discuss. There is a hardy band of commenters at Rhizome who still struggle to fold their work into the “discourse” that Ben Davis describes in such detail and that has as its apex Urs Fischer. Many, more have walked away from the whole schmear because it’s rigged, incomprehensible, boring, and slow. As an artist and recovering critic, I have had a much better time investigating the 1s and 0s realm and the problems of how it might be represented in public space (including gallery space) than I was having writing for the slicks covering the New York scene in the ’90s. In the Amy Sillman discussion I noted that you opposed painting to Skin Fruit rather than a NewMu show with a cyber/internet/media component such as Unmonumental or YTJ–-the latter would require the hard work of finding points of comparison between what are really completely different ways of thinking and working. Easier to just say “the net’s not there yet” and put it out of mind. Meanwhile artists drift away from the gladiatorial contest that you are professionally forced to cover.
tom moody // 23 May 2010, 12:20 pm

Davis’ article is excellent in how it reassesses a particular brand of theory, and how the failings of this brand are due largely to how postmodernist strategies to re(con)figure politics/power-structures have been co-opted by those systems. Or, the revolutionary idealism of postmodernist thought has always been just another symptom (an academic side-effect)of the very systems it intended to critique in the first place.
Ultimately, Davis is proposing the need for a new operational logic (operating system?). Again, for him to not refer to the internet at all (though the manner in which he discusses Josephine Meckseper becomes a conversation about net artists, if you squint a little) reads as a telling omission, particularly given the forum/format his article appears under. Davis’ blind spot – intentional or otherwise – does reflect the trend for prominent (arts) print writers to give far more credence to the “schmear” than to other, new, and potentially more vital practices (like those occurring on “teh interwebs”). And to meaningfully engage with these migratory “energies” requires more than just a cursory glance into their thresholds. New-media artists/writers should be held to that same challenge, too, rather than just abandoning any obligation of engaging with a “gladiatorial contest” that they’ve deemed irrelevant.
Jesse P. Martin // 23 May 2010, 4:13 pm

I don’t doubt what you say about there being artists who’ve checked out of the game as it’s currently played, and that some of them are concentrating their efforts on the web. But in waving the flag for the internet, and being so quick to dismiss Davis’s analysis, I believe you’re choosing the trees over the forest.
What I’d like to see, personally, is a revolution in cultural values, not a decanting of old wine into new bottles. Furthermore, to the extent that it’s possible, I don’t see why old-media artists couldn’t be as effective in addressing that change as new-media acolytes. For every cyber-artist drifting away from the siege, there’s probably a painter or some such doing likewise. But as the whole discussion over Sillman suggests, you seem to foreclose anything that doesn’t involve technological innovation. I’d say the whole emphasis on means as opposed to ends is what’s gotten us into the place we’re in.
Heron of Alexandria created a steam engine in the First Century, but it went nowhere because slavery was still accepted as the norm; manpower was cheap and widely available. Rome itself wouldn’t fall for another 300 years, and Heron’s innovation wouldn’t take root until the end of the 18th century, after a period during which the empirical method supplanted the teachings of the Church. Values have to change before technology can do its work. That goes for today.
As far as covering the gladitorial contest, as you put it, yeah that’s right; it’s how I make a living. But that doesn’t mean I don’t get the bigger picture.
Howard Halle // 23 May 2010, 4:42 pm

Somehow my statement on the Amy Sillman threads– “you’d think there would be more curiosity about the new tools, content, and problems-to-solve presented by omnipresent technology”–keeps getting translated into “You seem to foreclose anything that doesn’t involve technological innovation.” The statement I’ve had accompanying my blog since 2001 reads: “I’m amused by the lingering rhetoric of futurism–-the Buck Rogers, ‘machines-will-change-our-lives’ spieling–-that continues to surround digital production in our society. The computer is a tool, not magic, and possesses its own tragicomic limitations as well as offering new means of expression and communication…” It would be nice if someone would check out my writing before calling me a techno-booster.
tom moody // 23 May 2010, 10:57 pm