Lauren Cornell and Ed Halter recently published a large hardcover book on "art and the internet," called Mass Effect (New Museum/MIT Press).
Was curious to see how they handled the term "internet aware art," attributed to artist Guthrie Lonergan, since there had been some disagreement in the Rhizome.org comments about what Lonergan actually meant. As you can see in the book excerpt below, Rhizome editor Ceci Moss takes a sort of random, Delphic quote from a Lonergan interview, mixes it with a Marisa Olson interview (quoting the same Lonergan phrase) and concocts a theory of Art that is Aware of the Internet, which Moss then conflates with the equally vague "post internet" concept. Unfortunately for her, as we'll see below, Lonergan later says he was talking about artists making work with an awareness that it would eventually be seen on the internet -- not the same thing at all! Here's the Moss excerpt (Mass Effect screenshot from Google Books):
Lonergan is sort of rambling here, imagining an art (it would seem to me) that is neither art in the gallery sense nor internet but some sort of personal practice that maybe, possibly relates to the Net (making lists and T-shirts). At the end he tosses in the phrase in question, with air quotes. Ceci Moss steps in and begins massaging this stream of consciousness into museum wall label-ese:
So there you have the institutional position, all somehow derived from Lonergan. Yet, saying that art shown in physical spaces is "aware" of the internet is, let's face it, obvious and not very exciting. One could say to the artists who "practice" this, sarcastically, "Wow, you've heard of the internet? Tell me about it, in the form of fine art. I had no idea this thing was out there, or, if I did, I'd love to have your 'artistic' take on it. Truly this is epic content of our time, and, if artists weren't commenting on it in galleries, it would be necessary for well-meaning editors to invent some who were!" After the question was raised about whether Lonergan was really the source of this "practice," Halter put the question to him:
That (rather significant) clarification can be found on page 183 of Mass Effect book. Ceci Moss's interpretation is on page 155. However, note that page 183 is not listed in the index under "internet aware art" (the Google Books screenshot is the same as the hardcover):
Ceci Moss's institutional take on "internet aware art" (subtly endorsed in Mass Effect) essentially defines an earnest, one-way attempt to translate "internet practice" into the realm of fine art. Which ultimately serves the conservative, or de-radicalizing process of taming internet japing and meme-juggling so that it can be collected by Hollywood producers. Whereas Lonergan is indicting physical art practice as kind of placeholder or stooge for work positioned for online consumption -- a much more biting and perceptive critique. Elsewhere in his reply to Halter, he talks about gallery shows that "look like an advertisement for [a] URL so that people will come to [a] website." At the very least "internet awareness" could be seen as a content-diminishing loop. Artists make art about the internet and place it in the gallery with an eye to how it will look... on the internet. The Rhizome editors unproblematized this idea for the general reader, and it continues as a barely-scrutinized assumption in the Mass Effect book.