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MTAA-RR » news » twhid » google netartmasterpiece:

Mar 08, 2003

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

posted at 23:17 GMT by T.Whid in /news/twhid

[orginally posted to the rhizome raw list on 11.29.2002]

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. 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: animación japonese Harry Potter pensées et poèmes associação brasileira de normas técnicas.

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 tracks.

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 millisecond.

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 sublime.

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 technology.

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). permanent link to this post

MTAA-RR » news » twhid » google netartmasterpiece

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