The Net.Art Money-Go-Round

By Frederic Madre, 21 January 2004

Net art just wants to be free, or at least that's what we were led to believe. But recently the shine has been wearing off its image as the rebel art form which no 'dirty capitalist' would touch with a barge pole. Frederic Madre takes a look at net art in the post-edenic era.

net.artAsk an artist about money and you're likely to get a long face or some convoluted meta-cover ups of the well rehearsed sort. Email the same questions to net.artists like JODI and you will receive the object of desire delivered in your inbox: art for free. Every bit as effective as any of the aforementioned smokescreens, it is the best of both worlds. Immaterial, maybe, but still in my inbox. Outside my inbox there is now a price tag on Not that anyone's sure if it's really for sale, whether the just opened gallery is a clever fiction or - simply - a gallery.

That nothing it conveys can be taken at face value is a feature, not a bug, of the Internet medium. The misunderstandings, innuendos, accidental failures and premeditated blind alleys that constantly pepper the browsing experience are part of it all. Olia Lialina, the gallerist best known for her cool hyperfiction, digests all critics and embraces their diatribes on her site as so many adornments. To my remark that it does a disservice to sell it so cheap, at $2000 a pop for all to see and count, she rebuts: "again, can i use this note in the 'under construction' section? you are the only person (besides me) who thinks it's too low, others think it should cost the same as a videotape. next time it will be $20,000, and afterwards $200,000. if it is $20,000 now, it would look more like a joke". And yet, she is already bartering with big US institutions over figures which merely amount to a business class round-trip ticket to Europe, a trivial expense by their standards. The precedent is being set and prices fixed now will be difficult to dismiss later, too late to joke again. The asset of the gallery is to be found in the turmoil it creates through making the model work tentatively but not right away, twisting the knife in the gaping wound of's adversarial stance to the art market. And there's the merciless dedication of its mentor to both adore and upset any and all preconceptions, determined as she is to draw her own map with stolen pencils.

Have you got a model? Everybody in is looking for one, some attempting to build a new one from the remnants of the old world. A model is needed in order to justify the unjustifiable: making money; buying clothes and food; going to the movies; travelling around. Plain unjustifiable, sustaining your life. The video model has a few advocates, such as Vuk Cosic whose "classics of" book series seems to be a precursor of the gallery in its unlikely, and best left unrealised, potentiality. "ZKM is now seriously planning a series of acquisitions of, and the way they'll do that is to buy 'non-exclusive' rights as in video art," explains Cosic. "This means that they'll make their copies of our files, and send us some cash. Simple." Meanwhile while stocks last, use remains free to all and every piece on the gallery can be browsed and downloaded at will. Hip surfers and idle collectors alike passively absorb and copy the same art files in their cache folder, sometimes unknowingly, from where it can effortlessly be resurrected and made to walk the Net again. Simple. It's the "send us some cash" part that most just won't get. net.artAs any righteous sex browser can testify there is no point in joining a paying club when the same shady adulteration is waiting out there to be taken, used, crumpled and thrown away. The world is not in short supply of either art or cumshots. It would only make sense to pay to view if our best loved artist, whoever that is this week, suddenly decided to withdraw monk-style to a digital monastery. There our artist would admit visitors by appointment and at a fee, who would in turn gratefully kneel and kiss the holy green flashing ring of the artist. Too close for comfort to a conventional book club, the sex-site-convent model will probably remain untried until one can effectively distinguish white liquid soap spurts from the real thing.

For that, the flock needs a shepherd or a barking dog. Says Vuk, "The other question is the promotion and exposure that needs more than an art institution's back up. A net.artist will need a curatorial star if any career is desired." There is a model of the artist as top dog, pacing the lecture course as if it were Art Race 3000, dragging the mouse over his own oeuvre, the new breed of the net jet set. Dialectically opposed, but still on hyperbole to star-isation, =cw4t7abs claims to dispose of the body and become a machine speaking its own clickety language. Both self-proclaimed Saint Sebastian in the fight against net.fascism and "0 1 optional perzon", it can dismiss all these equivocations with a "m9ndfukc " and go on building self-mythology around expert audio software authoring and no holds barred spamming.

Without revealing their means of subsistence, JODI concur that "There are many genres of networks......... even in totally div backgrounds&div$moneys-=========================================a Moskow artist needs Money More> than a Berliner....

there is no one solution.............but Fine art is a global system.........with all div National.models;Artscouncils; Goethe institutes; Mondriaanstichting;Festivals; Prizes; Concours...etcetc"net.artAmongst others the museum model conveys clusters of cruelly unapproachable or terminally down computers, resting like old yellow jars of formaldehyde containing freaks of natural history. Two-headed goat with no hind legs, click me, bird remains from the intestine of a snake, download realaudio player. The preservation of the Internet and its artefactual art is simply not achievable because it would imply the preservation of the computer industry which itself is resolute in sabotaging its productions every day with a relentless expanse of profitably incompatible innovations.

If what we know is wrong than what would be right? I ask JODI. "%20Make the net an independabt medium; like uh.. 'cartoons or 'digital minimal opera' ;] .........%20Make%20Make%20Make%20Make%20Make%20Make%20Make%20Make%20Make%20M ake [‚Äö√†√´] also books, th qsdADSA 9‚Äö√Ñ√&AElig;- ‚Äö√Ñ√&AElig; ‚Äö√Ñ√&AElig; ‚Äö√Ñ√&AElig;- th qsdADSA 9‚Äö√Ñ√&AElig;- ‚Äö√Ñ√&AElig; ‚Äö√Ñ√&AElig; ‚Äö√Ñ√&AElig;- th qsdADSA 9‚Äö√Ñ√&AElig;- ‚Äö√Ñ√&AElig; ‚Äö√Ñ√&AElig; ‚Äö√Ñ√&AElig;- th qsdADSA 9‚Äö√Ñ√&AElig;- ‚Äö√Ñ√&AElig; ‚Äö√Ñ√&AElig; ‚Äö√Ñ√&AElig;- th qsdADSA [‚Äö√†√´] >>ps.videoart never had the medium- but it was a good #FFFFFFight//////"Maybe they are more into the fight than the prize? I ask. "<!-N J PAIK is DEAD-!>", they answer,"bellaBAU HOUSEVON NAUMAN</BR>"

Ropy bridges have been slung between the pathologically self-referential and incestuous network and the hard-working world. As we gush at length on the immateriality of it all, a German stone craftsman is ready to sandblast a .gif of any homepage onto solid tombstone marble. Commissioned by Berliners (blank jeron), the expert carvers have yet to deliver more than the prototype. There is still no taker, even for the mobile version that comes with a handy shopping cart (all for under $500, excluding p&p). Witnessing the pair show their finished product at the Neue Berliner Kunstverein, one could ponder the prospect of bringing the weighty self-referentiality back home.

Models galore! Submersion of thought! Smokescreen? As I'm typing this on a corporate laptop in a Club Lounge at Stockholm's airport, waiting for Air France pilots to end their strike and take us home, I think of this particular model, known as 'the day job', which does deliver but in very unglamorous ways. More than anything a model is needed to define room for compromise, to render tacitly acceptable what would, outside the system it arbitrarily delimits, be questioned or even objected to. Each builds his model according to the level of protection that he needs. The profusion of models is currently the overall protection that net art needs from the huffing and puffing of the big bad fine art wolf blowing its pestilent bucks. Already the roof is giving in. None of them appear to be strong enough on their own to provide brick-like homey comfort to those surviving artworkers on the Net.

Frederic Madre: Xfmadre AT wanadoo.frX[][][]