The Thing

By Andreas Rüthi, 26 September 2008


A Sysop Describes his Art Bulletin Board and the Network it is Part of.


THE THING is an independent computer network, initiated in 1992 in New York by artists, art critics and curators. The following European cities are now connected: London (since 1994), Cologne, Berlin, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich, Vienna, Basel and Copenhagen. Future points of connection will be in Paris and Amsterdam.

Since the early nineties art discourse and the discussion of its social context have begun to have the equivalent standing to the actual realizations of art works. This can be seen in the plethora of workshops, lectures and discussion events that more often than not follow institutional and curatorial frameworks, but hardly ever actively reflect the form of the discourse itself. Rather than following the classical mode of disseminating information i.e. lecturer (the transmitter) and the audience (the receiver) THE THING was conceived as a tool for artists, art critics and curators to allow a multi-relationary communication and intervention and not as an end in itself. This choice of format is influenced by the dematerialization of art parameters starting in the sixties (Lucy Lippard: The Dematerialisation of Art). The distribution of information in the art context takes certain discreet forms (discreet knowledge = capital). The ability to be anonymous as a network user allows similar strategies. This fact makes one sceptical if in the end the hidden sub­text is more significant to the art discourse than the "open" discourse which is coded by other interests.

Up to now the public presentation of THE THING has been primarily indicated by the presence of a work-station in public galleries (Kunstverein Munich: Dagegen­Dabei; Kunstverein Hamburg: Interface). This signifies the activity but doesn't encourage audience participation. Therefore the importance is placed on the evidence that such an activity is currently taking place, rather than what is taking place. If you consider in the paradigms of the nineties that lots of artistic positions are contextual or also intervening, then as a result every form of cultural activism can use electronic communication as a vital tool. This would mean that THE THING functions at the line between real artistic presence (exhibitions, workshops, discussions) and the `invisible' forms of discourse, which have initiated the former or have been derived from them. This creates, owing to the regularity and speed of the contact, a social texture which printed media can not develop as fast. It is important to recognise that there can't be editorial control of THE THING. Passive use is discouraged, since each user is reader and also writer. The result could be seen as a secret agent network which represent! a small bit of the contemporary art scene The joining with the Internet in April 1995 is implicit in the structure and aims of THE THING. Assuming that we will see a further contextualisation of post conceptual art, then we need to ask ourselves if non-art areas will profit from the impulses from art or the other way round. In relation to THE THING this could mean that if we continue discussing art exclusively, the discussion could ultimately refer only to itself and go round and round in circles. The discourse between contextual art positions with positions of external disciplines such as Genetechnology, mediasciences, biology ecology etc. will create a perspective that is indispensable for the art of the nineties The merit of THE THING has been to locate technological communication possibilities within contemporary art. The border character of THE THING can provide the possibilities to create such a constructively mixed culture.

Andreas Rüdthi/Kate Davis.


Modem Only: THE THING LONDON 0181 292 7306


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