rene abythe on hacking vs defaults

Taking a second, up-to-date look at Guthrie Lonergan's 2006 Hacking vs Defaults chart (screenshotted in the previous post), Rene Abythe notes that these days tumblr will let you pick a preset style theme that resembles the chart's example of 'hacking':


Abythe also says:

This reminds me of something I thought about when I first saw Petra Cortright's work, that she fell into a category that I considered "hacking defaults" e.g. using the preset settings in everyday software to make something that appeared to be the result of "hacking'" (which is a testament to her creative talent). On the flipside, what is commonplace on the web today is "default hacking" ... a person who solely relies on glitch software presets, themes, etc to do all the tedious investigative hacker work for you: the end result becomes practically what once was [Lonergan's] "12 point times new roman."

Good points. Here's one of those Cortrights; as I recall she did these pixel by pixel in MSPaint:


And for an example of effortless "cartridge hacking," here's a bearded celebrity, run through ImageGlitcher:


Domenico Quaranta on surf clubs

In a recent interview curator Domenico Quaranta gives his take on the "so-called surfing clubs generation" and places Nasty Nets, one of the so-called clubs, into a comfortable academic narrative that is about fifty percent fantasy.
As an actual, prolific participant in Nasty Nets, and a continuing, prolific participant in its real time chat descendant, (which Quaranta seems not to have heard of), and as an early adopter addressing "internet in the gallery" problems (mine was the first show at And/Or Gallery in 2006), I've had a fun time combatting misinformation about these cultural moments (see, e.g., this Q&A).
Below is a chunk of the Quaranta interview with some impertinent interruptions. The questions (by Melanie Bühler) are in bold and my comments are italicized.

...In what sense has appropriating content as part of artistic production shifted with the rise of the internet when compared to earlier artistic strategies connected to appropriation?

...Early surfing clubs like Nasty Nets mark the turning point in which artists active online realized that filtering and recontextualizing general web content was more interesting, and more topical, than designing the web. Artists built relationships looking at each other’s delicious account, and were deeply aware of how a simple blog post can be a powerful act of re-framing, as texts such as Kevin Bewersdorf’s “Spirit Surfing” prove.

TM: "How a simple blog post can be a powerful act of re-framing" was an issue I'd been dealing with for a few years, as an artist-with-blog, before Bewersdorf's (I felt) overdetermined manifesto. A few simple cues, such as a mildly authorative-looking white page, were sufficient to effect this transformation. I didn't see the need to dress it up with loopy theories about "spirit surfing."

What was the context in which Nasty Nets emerged? How does it relate to earlier internet art and is there a relation to what later emerged as post-internet art?

The so-called surfing clubs generation shows elements of continuity with and resistance against the former “” generation.

TM: Resistance yes, continuity, not so much. Quaranta attempts to normalize Nasty Nets as some kind of bridge or synthesizing movement.

Resistance is made explicit in Guthrie Lonergan’s famous “Hacking vs Defaults” diagram, and is related to the broader shift from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0, from html to blogging platforms, and to the artist’s shift from the position of internet pioneer to amateur user among many others.

TM: See the famous diagram and my discussion of it below.

Continuity is related to the participation of artists of the former generation, like Olia Lialina, and younger artists grown up in the cult of early, like Cory Arcangel, in surfing clubs; but also to the ability of the former generation to anticipate tastes and topics of the new.

TM: Cory Arcangel was never a surf club participant, that's inaccurate. Lialina was invited to join NN seven months after it started. She adapted well to the blog format but was not an innovator of blog-based art, in the sense that, say jimpunk had been with the 544x378 WebTV.

There is a lot of interest in defaults in early, too. Many early works deal with appropriation, reframing and the absence of the digital original, and some artists have always been attracted by digital folklore.

TM: Unfortunately didn't find a dynamic way to engage an audience with these issues, such as a group blog, but instead relied on links from institutions that told you what you would be consuming and what to expect.

Despite Lonergan’s diagram, early net art is not all about “sophisticated breaking of technology” and glitch aesthetics.

TM: Quaranta is arguing with Lonergan now! This is partisanship masquerading as an objective curatorial point of view. Lonergan embodies his comparison in the contrast between my blog and JODI's "blogs," a topic Quaranta is completely unwilling or unable to tackle.


Also, the surfing club generation, at least at the beginning, shared with net art the interest in the internet as a way to exist as an artist outside of the art world, away from its rules and its contexts.

TM: That's not true, you find art references throughout Nasty Nets posts. Several of the members were artists or art school trained.

At the same time, the surfing club generation created the conditions for the later shift toward post-internet.

TM: Possibly the surfing club generation WAS post-internet.

Two of the core features of post-internet — namely, the creation of works that can fit the exhibition space while simultaneously addressing the artist’s experience of the internet, and the importance given to documentation and mediated experience of art — find their roots here.

TM: It wasn't a "root" -- we were talking about these issues. It's just that the more interesting, urgent question was "what would a blog-based art look like?" An actual schism over a shift from blog-based art to gallery based art happened later, with, which broke up over this issue, as Michael Manning noted in a recent panel. I don't know if I'd call that progress.

When your practice manifests itself mainly in collecting or making images, collecting or making videos, what prevents you from getting into the white cube? Pictures and videos are totally gallery-friendly; the audience that you can find in the gallery is now familiar with the internet jokes, stories and aesthetics, as Lialina acutely pointed out;

TM: This wasn't always so true. The response to my 2006 show in Brooklyn, "Room-Sized Animated GIFs," was like, "what's a GIF?"

and if you want to resist commodification you can always make fun of the “art object,” e.g. by choosing some cheap print on demand service to materialize a digital file. Artists like Kevin Bewersdorf and Guthrie Lonergan stopped being active as artists when they realized that their practice was, like it or not, bringing them straight into the gallery.

TM: Bewersdorf and Lonergan both took hiatuses but are back, with coverage in Rhizome and ArtNews, respectively. Did they pause because "their practice was bringing them straight into the gallery"? We don't know, but it's a good story.

The importance given to online documentation of art was pioneered by surfing clubs like VVORK, a blog run by a group of artists (including Oliver Laric and Aleksandra Domanovic) and featuring mostly pictures of artworks displayed on a white background with an essential reference (anticipating a trend in art blogging in which the flow of images and their arrangement prevail over text);

TM: One could say that Vvork was a conservative step backward, shifting the focus of a group blog from "the whole world" or at least "the whole internet" to obsession with the narrow confines of gallery-based practice. Some of us noted this at the time.

and is related to this generation’s perception of the networked computer as their natural environment, and thus as their main context for any kind of experience, included the experience of art. We could update Picasso’s famous statement saying that, for them, a found online image is better than the Nika; and an online image of the Nika is better than the Nika itself, because it’s ubiquitous, free, easy to share and use, spreadable and loaded with information (tags, metadata etc.). I’m wondering if Brian Droitcour [5] is aware of how conservative his criticism of post-internet—an art, in his own words, that looks crappy in the gallery and great online—may appear from this perspective. Making an expensive artwork and placing it in a respected white cube for the sole purpose of generating a good JPG may actually be the most corrosive challenge brought by netizen artists to the art world and its values. The gallery is not openly criticized, but subtly abused by turning it into a stage, and insulted by treating it not as a point of arrival, but of departure in an endless process of redistribution.

TM: This is a rehash of whether Guthrie Lonergan's phrase "internet aware art" meant art based on the internet or art made ready for the internet, which has been covered extensively here and on Rhizome.

Joel Holmberg mentions that many artists whose practices were connected to the internet and surfing clubs like Nasty Nets have moved towards more painterly, visual practices. Would you agree with this and how does this again relate to the label post-internet?

As said above, the surfing clubs participants were more interested in images than in codes. While the first generation was, to some extent (and with some exceptions) iconoclastic, the second is, no exceptions, iconophiliac when not even iconolatric. Also, most of them were attracted, since the early days, by the practice of computer drawing, and by the way in which postproduction tools like Photoshop implemented metaphors and gestures taken from reality and from the field of painting. So, no surprise if they kept working on this. But it would be wrong to think that the main motivation behind this move was the will to get in the art market with an easy to get, easy to sell art form. The market success of artists like Petra Cortright, Michael Manning, Jon Rafman and Parker Ito is just the top of an iceberg made of thousands of GIFs, PNGs and JPGs circulated for free online.

TM: This is all fine, and I suppose we had to end by talking about someone's "market success."

proto-"post internet definition" art

In this recent interview I said that Nasty Nets wasn't concerned with gallery display issues (what is now being called -- ugh -- post internet) but forgot my own post on "gallery hardware."
The link was to a blog discussion at about a gallery-friendly brand of computer (which is quaint but still needed as most GIF display alternatives are so crappy) and what I was calling digital non-sites. This is all "post internet" by any current flaky definition of the term.
Continuing this theme of astonishing clairvoyance, I also had a post in 2006, "Showing new media work in the gallery": what's at stake." This was reblogged by Eyebeam and pronounced "self indulgent but useful," or words to that effect.
For that matter, this three part interview that Paddy Johnson did with Michael Bell-Smith and me, titled "Geeks in the Gallery," deals with some of these same issues.

excerpts from geert lovink interview on social media and education

Below are excerpts from Markus Palmén's recent interview with Netherlands-based writer Geert Lovink on the topic of "Social Media and Education." They're arranged as numbered bullet points, with boldface added for some phrases (sorry, these are my notes). It's refreshing to find a tech-savvy commentator who hasn't embraced the Stacks (see below).

1. I hope I do not disappoint if I say that social media (mainly Facebook and Twitter) have got nothing to do with education and learning. Social media provide people with ‘news’ and updates from their own social circles. They are huge distraction machines that create shareholder value through a very narrow corporate lens, dominated by US-American cultural values.

2. My advice would be to focus on the slow tools of knowledge production such as databases, archives, wikis and search engines. We need to un-hype social media, derail public conversations about them and focus on the incredible diversity of (collaborative) online tools that are already out there.

3. Inside the walled gardens of social media there is only real-time chatter (which is not even properly archived). You are right when you say that social media is important in people’s lives. After all, we’re social animals. The mood in the herd matters. Our peers and friends are vital, and so are family members, the people we work and play sports with. What we’re talking about here is education, learning, and how to organize that in the digital age. Which role are digital tools playing in the current setup? To limit that to social media is really annoying as these are noise generators, news pointers, dating sites, infotainment. That’s nice but makes me wonder why we are distracted. Why don’t we discuss ways of online learning, the politics of MOOCs [link added --tm], the current poverty of the online learning dashboards, the use of online video in the class rooms, the integration of videos in the next generation text books. We’re not talking about ‘alternatives to living in a digital world’. No one is advocating offline romanticism.

4. I am sorry to say that Web 2.0 no longer exists. The term came up in the aftermath of the dotcom crash when Silicon Valley had to forget the huge drama of the dotcom crash with its immense capital destruction and mass unemployment. The ‘blogosphere’, Second Life and early social networks such as Friendster, Hyves, Bibo, MySpace etc. were soon overrun by Google and Facebook. These days we speak of ‘the stacks’. This concept was introduced by Bruce Sterling in 2012. It adds up IT giants Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, Google and Facebook. It is indeed a conglomerate, known to make secret deals in Bay Area cafes where they set prices, discuss salary caps and take-overs. What unites these corporations is not just their wish to create monopolies (and eliminate markets) but also their inherent tendency to become invisible. Their aim is to colonize and administrate the techno unconscious. They do not want to be accountable. Let’s forget Google, that’s what they want. This is a very different strategy from all that’s being taught in PR and marketing classes. The general public should not openly talk about the stacks (that’s why Pando is doing such a great job)*. Their aim is to disappear in the background as quasi-public infrastructure. Venture capitalist Peter Thiel is their intellectual guru. He is the one who openly defends their status as monopolies and states that we should stop complaining. Leave our Valley alone!

*Tom here. Had somewhat given Bruce Sterling up for lost after his above-it-all response to the Manning/Wikipedia revelations a few years ago but this term the Stacks could be useful, for example, in identifying sites that have quit trying ("another Stacks-friendly article from"). By contrast, Pando, which Lovink mentions, delves deeply into the rhizomatic root rot of the current Silicon Valley: the "techtopus" wage fixing scandal, governmental backing of TOR, Omidyar partnering with government, etc. Mark Ames and Yasha Levine brought their muckraking skills to Pando from The Exile by way of the short-lived NSFW Corp.; unfortunately most of their Pando writing is behind a paywall ($10 a month, $100 a year, but worth it, I think).

5. In the last two decades I have witnessed myself how weird[ly] we have responded to the rise of ‘new media’. After much hype most of the sensibility and core competence in society is again fading away. New media course[s] have closed down and most cultural initiatives and festival[s] have disappeared (at least least in the Netherlands).** Computers and smart phones withdraw in the background. The democratization of computing has not lead to a deeper understanding, quite the opposite. It is ironic that in Western society people knew more about computers and programming 15-20 years ago. Web 2.0 has greatly contributed to this loss of literacy. Frank Pasquale calls it the ‘black box society’ we’re living in. We are ruled by algorithms but have no say about them.

**Tom here, again. We're not talking about "new media" so much anymore in the U.S., either. Now it's social media, on the one hand, and a few crazed nuts using Linux computers and chatting over IRC, on the other. "Understanding one's phone" or "hacking Facebook" feel like ludicrous topics for artists at this point. New York has a substantial scene of "net artists" who mainly use Facebook exactly the way it is intended.

6. I’d wish to see a move away from the centralized, manipulative and limiting possibilities of Facebook and Twitter, moving towards ‘federated’ collaborative tools that do not address us as ‘friends’ who are forced to ‘like’ the shocking image of the young Kobani boy who is washed ashore to show our rage about the current migration policies and to show our solidarity with refugees. There are so many ways to engage in self-organization. Retweeting the news is a nonsense gesture. Being tactical these days is about setting up groups, contacting locals, and getting involved in unpopular struggles. Responding to the agenda of the world news manufacturers is not something for activists. We need to look ahead and define tomorrow’s agenda. I understand that this will not give us much satisfaction as it is pretty unpopular to put yourself in an avant-garde position. Being avant-garde is considered something for losers.

7. Tactical media is a historical term from the early-mid nineties that tried to capture that opening possibilities at the time, from camcorders, fax, public access television, free radio to email and the early web. This was combined with a decline of the traditional left and a rise of NGOs and a growing involvement in media activism of artists and designers. Hackers were also part of the gang. The diversity sketched here no longer exists. We do not feel we’re part of a ‘smart phone spring’. Digital technologies and the internet are now the default. There is hardly anything outside of it. Young artists these days are fascinated by old analogue technologies but usually they are without any audience. They are truly ‘sovereign’, in the Adilkno definition [link added --tm] of being on their own, broadcasting to themselves, very much unlike the selfie you post on Facebook that receives 428 likes in a few minutes. Tactical media these days resist the logic of instant self-gratification. The question what tactical use of our digital tools is today is a really interesting one. In my understanding we need to look for direct connections, beyond the broadcasting and networking metaphors. The answer is, most likely, not to be found in our visual culture, which is already so rich and abundant. In the 2015 refugee crisis in Europe we see that the most impact is made by those groups and individuals that manage to create direct solidarity links with the refugees and migrants. The peer-to-peer philosophy has a lot to offer to us in this respect. Our future lies in offline digital networks. As we all know, the internet is broken and we will not be able to fix it any time soon if the circumstances do not radically change. With the stacks in charge, it is inevitable that the collective imagination will leave the internet context and migrate elsewhere. The education sector needs to be aware of this tendency. Sooner than later, the digital will become boring, if not repressive. This will inevitably put the ‘distraction’ controversy in another light.

Tom here, last comment: In the heady days of the blogosphere, legacy hacker-artists bullying each other with quotes from Jurgen Habermas in the Rhizome comments seemed terribly boring. Now the pendulum has swung the other way, with calls to join (or rather, not opt out of) Facebook or be forever on the margins, like that's bad. While still Habermas-bludgeoning! We need some of that hacker consciousness back, preferably without the academyspeak.