The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 29 Nov 2002 11:25:00 -0500
From: t.whid <>
Subject: RHIZOME_RAW: when Google has achieved the net art masterpiece,
     what are the artists to do?

preface: this little text started out very casually, then grew a bit
organically. i attempted to polish, but i'm not a great writer. it now
seems to be uncomfortably sitting somewhere btw tossed off email and a
serious attempt at commentary.

Subject: when Google has achieved the net art masterpiece, what are the
artists to do?

reading this story in the nytimes recently:

"Postcards From Planet Google"

from the article:
"AT Google's squat headquarters off Route 101, visitors sit in the
lobby, transfixed by the words scrolling by on the wall behind the
receptionist's desk: animaci�n japonese Harry Potter pens�es et po�mes
associa��o brasileira de normas t�cnicas.

The projected display, called Live Query, shows updated samples of what
people around the world are typing into Google's search engine. The
terms scroll by in English, Chinese, Spanish, Swedish, Japanese,
Korean, French, Dutch, Italian - any of the 86 languages that Google

Stare at Live Query long enough, and you feel that you are watching the
collective consciousness of the world stream by. "

this article, like many tech-related articles i read, got me thinking
about the two worlds in which many of us on this list exist: the worlds
of art and technology. how they're different. how they're the same. how
are their functions evolving?

in a world where a technology company can display 'the collective
consciousness of the world'(1) as a backdrop to their reception desk,
essentially a marketing ploy for their services; when they can collect
this data, sit on it and ruminate on how to 'monetize' it; when it
takes a fully capitalized, profit-driven corporation employing some of
the brightest engineers around to achieve such fascinating data then
what is left for the artist to do?

it used to be that it was the artist's job to capture the 'collective
consciousness' either through intuition, genius, or dumb-luck. the
artists were the ones who told humans what humans were thinking about,
obsessing over, loving, hating. we no longer need intuition, genius or
even dumb-luck. we've got hard data and more is coming in every

thinking about google's Live Query� (check out google's zeitgeist for a
taste: (2)) i start to
imagine what an artist might do with the information. especially if the
artist could get the info in a realtime stream. but, then, i think
about most of the data visualization projects i've seen (Carnivore
clients as an example) and they don't do all that much for me. they are
simply formal exercises which, though are interesting in their
random-seeming behavior, don't have a visual richness to command my awe
(a limitation of screens and projectors) and don't possess a depth
conceptually to make me go, 'aaahh'.

what could an artist add to the Google� Live Query�? How could one make
it any more sublime than it is? the artist could add nothing. when the
data-set ITSELF is so conceptually fascinating there is no more to do.
any sort of visualization would simply be distraction. simply KNOWING
that the data is flowing in and stored on some magnetic media somewhere
is enough for me. it's fun to see it stream-in i suppose, but the
knowledge of it's creation and archival is much more than fun; it's

Google has achieved the net art masterpiece. there has not been
anything created in net art that comes close to it and i don't foresee
anything coming from the arts that could rival it. the arts are
underfunded. the arts don't have access to the same resources. the
technologists will always win in this game of art and tech. i feel that
we've strayed to far into their world in some areas; we can't compete
when it comes to the 'awe' factor. sure, we can 'comment', 'criticize',
and 'tweak,' but it mostly comes out thin compared to our market
cousins: the Googles, the Ids, the Pixars, the Rockstar Games. we
simply don't have the tech that they play with and will always be
behind in that area; we can't compete FORMALLY with the commercial
side. though our projects my be much deeper conceptually, the form or
aesthetic allows people to step into the work, if it doesn't stack up
against the commercial counterpart, it's easy for the audience to
ignore it.

To be precise, there are a few areas where artists are going to be
hard-pressed to compete. Those areas are 3D gaming, 'virtual' worlds
and 3D animation; and realtime data visualization and manipulation.

The worlds created in the Sims, Grand Theft Auto, Toy Story, Quake and
etc are complex and exciting in ways which their artworld counterparts
can't match up. They are larger, easier to navigate, more exciting to
interact with, have more sophisticated visuals, are more entertaining,
and are surprising in their level of freedom to interact (the audience
has more options). And why shouldn't they be more interesting? They've
got large teams of developers working on them, they can test the
interaction in focus groups and have almost unlimited pools of capital
to draw from. What individual artist could compete with that?

in realtime data collection and manipulation, IMO, the strength of the
work comes from the intriguing data. the visual representations of this
data should help us comprehend interesting data. if the data isn't
interesting, neither is the piece no matter how interesting the visuals
may be. Research firms, search engines, polling companies create
interesting and therefor very valuable data to the market. There will
always be a technological advantage fueled by capital to the market
technologists as opposed to the artists. They have the capital to put
together interesting data in ways that artists can't compete with.

One area where the artists and the industry can compete head-to-head is
in *web art*(3), this is an area where artists are ahead of industry,
IMO. Web *presentation* technologies (CSS, XHTML, DHTML Flash,
Director, etc) are more readily available so this makes sense. It's an
area where artists are able to achieve technological parity. It's also
the area that is the most similar to traditional art practice; it lends
itself to the individual creator working with limited means.

So what should  be done? More funding for the arts is one answer.
Collectives of pooled technology and economic resources would be a
great way to go. Korean immigrants in NYC join credit clubs where
everyone pays into a central pool and they can then receive loans to
start businesses. This model could work for artists working in

it will be very hard to compete it some of these areas however. if
there is no pay-off in the end, capitalists won't put money behind
projects. public funding is almost non-existent, subject to it's own
opaque rules, and wouldn't be enough to achieve technological parity in
any case.

(1) i know, i know, it's not the entire world, but it seems to me that
the sample is large enough that searches wouldn't change much if you
added EVERYONE to the mix.

(2 ) Looking over the google zeitgeist makes one a bit sick by it's
heavy tilt toward USAian pop cultural obsessions. They may be filtering
the data for this page to suit western viewers. Or perhaps lots more
USAians use Google.

(3) I make this distinction btw net art and web art: net art needs to
use a network as an integral part of the medium. if one takes the
network out of the piece, the piece ceases to function either literally
or conceptually. web art simply uses the web for distribution (ie one
can run it without a network connection and it works fine), is
presented through a browser (most of the time), and/or uses web
technologies (HTML, Flash etc).

+ the internet is not your life.
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