On Web Art

I have always been fascinated by the ghost in the machine.

When Internet first arrived, it was hailed to be as revolutionary as the invention of the printing press. The freedom of the internet is precarious at best, illusory at worst, and it is threatened by vested interests, totalitarian regimes, corporations, patent and copyright holders.

The internet became my main income for twenty years, but the most profound realisation which I understood when I first plugged in my modem was that that like minded people could now find one another, and this is what I still prize the most about being connected. It gives me an intimate, direct connection to friends, associates, strangers with whom I share common experience.

Entire networks of people on the internet have shown that they are capable of inspiring and organising social and political revolutions, but the internet is also responsible for distracted, addictive behaviour, and it can just as easily be the vehicle for fraud, crime, violence. Even among the well-meaning, activism is replaced by slacktivism. We ought not to imagine that sharing content is solving our pressing and immediate problems. Liking “Tibetan Freedom” on Facebook is not going to change Chinese policy.

We can only guess the impact of this global network. The world wide web has created the first simultaneously world wide society, and we continue to re-create this every day as we participate. It is a multi-location, multi-culture, multi-layered society. It contains multiple and widely varying constituencies; the Facebook nation is not the Twitter nation. And so on.

The internet has completely revolutionised my life and altered my behaviour. When it arrived, my career in art and music had already connected me to a large, vibrant, creative social network, but with internet, my social reach and work opportunities expanded beyond all previous physical and financial boundaries. Do you remember the cost of making international phone calls? Of sending objects in the post? These were real world limitations, which simply disappeared. We now think nothing of multi-person live chat with filesharing to enable collective cultural enterprise, of streaming across broadband connections, and browsing web on a mobile device. We purchase, we order; we take search for granted.

As long as Tim Berners-Lee’s vision of an equal internet is maintained and onerous regulations are not imposed, then there is every chance that in future artists will continue to use the internet to create, as they will any other available medium. But far more importantly, the internet will be crucial for survival.

The internet has had a profound impact upon creativity, but not necessarily a positive one. The internet in its entirety, the fact of its ubiquity is the most incredible change. But, the astonishing continual growing presence of communication and knowledge bewilders and confuses.

On the one hand, people are creating more than ever. On the other, there is a huge amount of culture now of all kinds available to us at the touch of a screen within seconds, but in all the arts, much of it is highly derivative, even plagiarised, and little of it says anything original, profound, or useful. It is now impossible to confront a blank page, a raw canvas or any other inspirational starting point from a truly unique position because information is everywhere, and broadly homogenising art education has never been more accessible. The fact that this super-saturation of the recorded image devalues art is largely unacknowledged.

We might ask ourselves, in this world of short-termism and disposable content, is what we create actually worth creating, other than in the very short term? As artists, it might make us feel good to add our voices, make our statements and express ourselves, but, as people of conscience, perhaps we should not be contributing to this megaglut of the superficial, whatever values it purports to contain or transmit. Our collective obsession with technology in the service of culture is just another way of creating hi-tech landfill at the expense of a healthy planet.

As for the effect on internet on our human experience and existence, I don’t make a distinction between inner and outer worlds. Hearing music or watching visuals produces measurable physical responses no matter the source. Thoughts are real; vibrations of light and sound make us shiver and sweat. Adrenalin comes from likes and tweets; sex comes from internet dating. Games are played on and offline.

We are the product, until we log out.

Published in WJ-Spots 2 – Artists Take Over The Network

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