net.art is a group of artists who worked in internet art from 1994. The members are usually referenced as Vuk Ćosić, Jodi.org, Alexei Shulgin, Olia Lialina, Heath Bunting. This group was united as a parody of avantgarde movements by writers such as Tilman Baumgärtel, Josephine Bosma, Hans Dieter Huber and Pit Schultz but their individual works have little in common.
net.art is also used as a synonym for net art or internet art and covers a much wider range of artistic practices. In this wider definition, net.art means art that uses the internet as its medium and that cannot be experienced in any other way. Often net.art has the internet as (part of) its subject matter but this is certainly not required. See Net art.
In the development of Internet Art, defined by art projects which are "materializations of social networks about communication, about the Internet" (Lev Manovich, "Internet, modernisation and net.art" ), net.art (with a dot and a small 'n') is a particular moment. net.art is less a category than a movement, less a genre than a critical and political landmark in Internet Art history. Early precursors of the net.art movement include the international fluxus (Nam June Paik) and avant-pop (Mark Amerika) movements. The avant-pop movement was of particular importance as it became more widely recognized on the Internet starting in 1993 largely via the popular Alt-X site.
"net.art" is an expression that was coined by Pit Schultz sometime in 1995, but is generally attributed to Vuk Cosic through Alexei Shulgin. It was forged after coming across "conjoined phrases in an email bungled by a technical glitch (a morass of alphanumeric junk, its only legible term 'net.art')" (Rachel Greene, Internet Art, Thames & Hudson Ltd, London, 2004). It was first used on the occasion of the "net.art per se" series, a meeting of artists and theorists in Trieste, Italy in May 1996, to point to a group of people who worked closely in the first half of the 1990s (and into the 2000s) . These meetings gave birth to the online website net.art per se/CNN Interactive , which is a fake CNN website commemorating the event. Rachel Greene sums up the core ideas discussed at this meeting, ideas that were to become the basis for the works related to net.art: "a serious engagement with popular media, a belief in parody and appropriation, a skepticism towards commodified media information and a sense of the interplay of art and life."
net.artists have defined themselves through an international and network mode of communication, an interplay of exchanges, collaborative and cooperative work. They have a massive presence on several mailing lists such as Rhizome (www.rhizome.org), File festival Electronic Language International Festival, Nettime (see their archives with Olia Lialina and Alexei Shulgin) and Eyebeam (with Shulgin and Jodi). The identity of the net.artists is defined by both their digital works and their critical involvement in the digital art community, as the polemical discussion led by Olia Lialina that occurred on Nettime in early 2006 on the "New Media" Wikipedia entry shows (see the thread "A New Definition" on the Nettime Archive List )
net.artists like Jodi developed a particular form of e-mail art, or spam mail art, through text reprocessing and ASCII art interventions: a list of all their actions on the Eybeam mailing list for the year 1998 can be found here]. The term "spam art" was coined by Frederic Madre to describe all such forms of disruptive interventions in mailing-lists, where often texts were generated by simple scripts written in perl or php. A bridge can be made to the e-mail interventions of "Codeworks" artists such as Mez or mi ga or robots like Mailia which analyze emails coming to ones mailbox and simply reply to them. ("Codeworks" is a term coined by poietician Alan Sondheim to define the textual experiments of artists playing with faux-code and non-executable script or mark-up languages).
By questioning structures such as the navigation window (or dialog boxes) and challenging their functionality, net.artists have shown that what is considered to be natural by most Internet users is actually highly constructed, even controlled, by corporations. Company browsers like Netscape Navigator or Internet Explorer display user-friendly structures (the "navigation", the "exploration" are landmarks of our social practices) to provide the user with a familiar environment. Net.artists try to break this familiarity. An early experiment in that field is the "BlahBlah" search Olia Lialina, in My Boyfriend Came Back from the War (1996) or the duo Jodi, with their series of pop-up interventions and browser crashing applets, have engaged the materiality of navigation in their work. Their experiments have given birth to what could be called "browser art", which has been expanded by the British collective I/O/D's experimental navigator WebStalker , to choose one example among many.
Alexei Shulgin (Link X , 1996) and Heath Bunting (_readme or Own, Be Owned, or Remain Invisible , 1996) have played with the structure of advertisement portals by establishing lists of keywords unlikely to be searched for but nonetheless existing on the web as URLs or metadata components: they use this relational data to enmesh paths of navigation in order to create new readable texts. The user (and especially the art-interested user that is likely to be the first audience) is not exploring one art website that has its own meaning and aesthetic significance within itself, but rather they are opened up to the entire network as a collection of socio-economic forces and political stances that are not always visible.
Rachel Greene has associated net.art with Tactical media as a form of Detournement. She writes: "The subversion of corporate websites shares a blurry border with hacking and agitprop practices that would become an important field of net art, often referred to as 'tactical media'." (in "Internet Art", Thames & Hudson, 2004)
In this perspective, the duo 0100101110101101.org , Christophe Bruno (The Google Ad Word Happening ) and jimpunk have emerged among others as a new generation of Internet artists with goals closely connected to those of the early net.artists.
"We can point to a superficial difference between most net.art and hacking: hackers have an obsession with getting inside other computer systems and having an agency there, whereas the 404 errors in the JTDDS (for example) only engage other systems in an intentionally wrong manner in order to store a 'secret' message in their error logs. It's nice to think of artists as hackers who endeavour to get inside cultural systems and make them do things they were never intended to do: artists as culture hackers." (Brett Stalbaum, http://www.thing.net/eyebeam/msg00527.html)
During the heyday of net.art developments, particularly its relationship to the rise of dot.com capitalism in the global economy, the first series of critical columns started appearing in both German and English in the online publication Telepolis Edited by writer and artist Armin Medosch, the work published at Telepolis featured Mark Amerika's "Amerika Online" columns These columns from the well-known American artist and net theorist often satirized the way self-effacing net.artists (himself included) took themselves too serious. This led to cross-Atlantic bickering with some of the European net.artists eventually going as far as impersonating Amerika in faux emails in order to further deconstruct Amerika's savage demystification of the marketing schemes most net.artists were employing as a way to achieve art world legitimacy. Matt Mirapaul's New York Times article on the subject, "War of the Words: Ersatz E-Mail Tilts at Art.," simply stated: "This is not Amerika" and suggested "the duplicitous dispatches were meant to raise U.S. awareness of electronic artists in Europe, and may even contain an element of jealousy."
But these net.art interventions and transcontinental PR campaigns were always more than simple guerrilla marketing tactics. Many of the actual works also tackled the issue of art business and investigated mainstream culture institutions such as the Tate Modern Harwood's work "Uncomfortable Proximity" is the title of the first-ever on-line project commissioned by the Tate. Harwood, a member of the Mongrel collective, creates a net.art intervention that mirrors the Tate's own web-site, but offers new images and ideas, collaged from his own experiences, his readings of Tate works, and publicity materials that inform his interest in the Tate Britain site.
net.artists have actively participated in the debate over the definition of net.art within the context of the art market. net.art promoted the modernist idea of the work of art as a process, as opposed to a conception of art as object making. But the question of how this process should be presented and accessible within the art world, either sold in the art market, or shown in the institutional art environment, is problematic for digital works made for the web. The web, as marketable as it is, cannot be restricted to the ideological dimensions of the legitimate field of art, the institution of legitimation for art value, that is both ideological and economical. All for Sale by Aliona is an early net.art experiment addressing such issues. The WWWArt Award competition initiated by Alexei Shulgin in 1995 suggests to reward found Internet works with an "art feeling".
Some projects, such as Joachim Schmid's Archiv , Hybrids or Copies by 0100101110101101.org are examples of how to store art-related or documentary data on a website. Cloning, plagiarizing, and collective creation are provided as alternative answers - for instance the Refresh Project on 1997.
Olia Lialina has confronted the issue of digital curating. In 1998 she set up the web platform Teleportacia.org , an online gallery of promotion and selling of net.art works. Each piece of net.art has its originality protected by a guarantee constituted by the web address of its location (the URL), presented as a barrier against reproducibility and/or forgery. Lialina claimed that this allowed the buyer of the piece to own it as they wished: controlling the location address as a means of controlling access to the piece. This attempt at giving net.art an economic identity and a legitimation within the art world was critically questioned, even within the net.art sphere, though the project was often understood as a satire (see "Net Art Market: What Happens Next?" ). Teleportacia.org became an ambiguous experiment on the notion of originality in the age of extreme digital reproduction and remix culture. The guarantee of originality protected by the URL address was quickly challenged by the 0100101110101101.org collective, who, under the pseudonym of "Luther Bissett", cloned the content of Teleportacia.org in 1999 and came up with an unauthorized mirror-site, showing the net.art works in the same context (the clone of Teleportacia.org) and the same quality as the original. The Last Real Net Art Museum is another example of Olia Lialina's attempt to deal with the issue.
"There is no Genius isolated from the world and inspired by the Muse – culture is made by people exchanging information and re-working on what has been already done in the past, it has always been like that." (‘Luther Blissett’, 0100101110101101.org : art.hacktivism, quoted in Nathan Castle, "Internet Art and Radicalism in the New Digital Economy", http://www.internettrash.com/users/silus/essaytotal.htm)