One Year In (a reflection on B@S publishing)

I have been creating content for the Bad at Sports blog for over a year now and I thought that taking an opportunity to take stock of this fact and reflect on the correspondences I’ve developed over that period of time. Because of the speed and immediacy that newer technologies force upon makers and thinkers, artists and art writers get few chances to be able to take in all of the threads and ideas that circulate in their work. Obviously making work – be it writing or visual production – has it’s own self-reflexiveness, and developing a healthy practice of finding what works and what doesn’t can satiate a desire for digestion and personal evaluation. But then again, I think exposing those methods – the ways in which one identifies with their work and their habits – can provide outlets and insights that the outwardly publication of work does not always permit.

Before even delving into particular moments that I want to reflect on, I want to take a moment to thank all of the people that have shared their work, practice, thoughts, and support for this column and my efforts. The interviews and conversations I’ve been conducting over this past year have given me an amazing amount of inspiration and I feel very lucky to be able to share these dialogs with others, as well as be able to represent a community that I share a deep affinity to. To put it more simply, this column has always had the intention of championing the work of others, and for this I am eternally grateful.

To that end, thinking about how I can better serve and represent those I want to reach is perhaps a good starting place, since I have had to recently rediscover what it is that I hope to accomplish in this publication series. At the heart of these posts is a desire to create a dialog between makers loosely working around the moniker of “new media art.” Because of the variable formats and disciplines that are nested inside that place-holder term, I thought being able to relate or tie practices underneath that umbrella might help my own understanding of this arena of creativity as well as share that exploration with a contemporary art audience.

As a result, I’ve found that talking with artists within their craft/medium is an apropos way to get an understanding of the formal elements of an artist’s practice, as well as gain access to the conceptual underpinning of why they have chosen the formats they have. This essential crux of my inquiry into what constitutes new media work, and how artists both identify and abstain from that labeling, is of particular interest to me since I have always wanted to maintain an expansive idea of what constitutes new media work (an undertaking that I explored early on in my “art writing” career). As the term “new media” goes more and more out of fashion (at least in regards to describing work made in + around the net), I’m again posed with a question of what it is that I hope to be accomplishing with my column as well as the question of what directions do I pursue as my work develops and responds to the shifting cultural attitudes of my colleagues and peers.

One major alteration in the vernacular of art made on and around the internet has been the emergence, and subsequent resistance, to the term netart. It’s rise in popularity has been an interesting and challenging dilemma for academics and artists alike in that the term privileges the net as the primary (i.e., best) interface for distribution of work as well as acknowledges how that interface of dissemination is an essential tool for critical exploration of self and society. The conundrum about this labeling is that the usual suspect associated with this type of work have increasingly moved further away from the infrastructure of digital-screen based technology and more into the space of the traditional gallery. The question of how to identify works influenced by the aesthetics and behaviors of network technology has been of increasing concern since the lines between digital and physical presentation of work have begun to fold into each other (or at least become more apparent). In other words, how can a maker’s practice be deemed netart if the work no longer is intended to exist and be distributed on the net?

This question has caused many to grasp at new terminologies to specify a practice developed utilizing the social networking capabilities of the net as a means of showing and sharing pieces that no longer rely on the materiality of the net. But these new labels – be it Post-Internet Art or Internet Aware Art – and the desire to classify and comprehend an emerging avant-garde of makers working within and through screen technology speaks to the fact that the term netart was never a very effective grouping for the work that I’ve been attempting to represent in the past year. To paraphrase and site Domenico Quaranta, a emerging sentiment amongst this community is that there is no longer a need for the “net” prefix when examining this art.

Through talking with others, I’ve been surprised to find that the net often times plays a very little visible role in the way that artists conceive of a work. Looking back on the conversations I’ve conducted, I realize that there are very few instances of talking specifically about how the net has inspired content as well as generated and avenue of showing/sharing work. Perhaps that unspoken understanding between myself and artists shows a missed opportunity to critically investigate the significance of the net as a site for exhibition and distribution. This is particularly interesting when I’ve gone to great lengths to try to faithfully represent a makers practice through their medium of production.

Perhaps my unintentional avoidance of talking about “why the net is important right now” is rooted in a concern that talking in this way could potentially cheapen the work that I want to highlight. If I were to focus on merely the technological aspects of a work than I would be taking time away from talking about the actual content of a given maker’s practice. I think that artists rarely get a chance to converse outside of their normal peer group about concerns within their field of research. In order to flesh out some of those reservations, I’ve wanted to provide younger/emerging makers a platform for shared skepticism and intrigue. Through discussion of content, intent, influences, and purpose a dialog about the shape of contemporary digital image-making becomes more lucid for myself and hopefully for my peers.

There have been particular moments where I felt that these conversation gained some traction against the slippery vernacular surrounding online social art practices. The conversation I’ve recently been occupied with revolves around what constitutes a community and how these groupings support and nurture each other. Looking back at a conversation I had with the Dump.fm crew, I can see a desire in my peers at wanting to spark conversation about the effectiveness of communities, and to challenge what it means to work within a constant collaborative recursive system. Interestingly enough, creating systems, networks, and locations for artists to rapidly turn over and surf through content has enabled the constant real-time conversation engine that Jon Rafman talks about in our conversation in Second Life. This development of platforms is also what motivates Jason Rohrer and Mez Breeze, who like Ryder Ripps and Scott Ostler authored environments for others to share, play, and experiment. That collective desire to effect, circumvent, and/or question traditional art context was also a driving force for the organizers of the Gli.tc/h conference held in Chicago last October.

These intersections of motivations to create works and communities is a quality that artists share online precisely as a result of being immersed in a network sensibility. I don’t believe that these similarities can solely be located to these artists “being good at the internet,” and instead think that other influences ought to be considered. More recently I’ve seen how these memes and emerging signifiers can be traced and examined through a lens of media history. Seeing how iterations of early network communities (like BBS’s and list-serv’s of the late 80s and early 90s) influence makers has been a way to highlight common interests and histories (although I think I need to do a better job of making that more clear). One of the benefits of that investigation is to create links between what otherwise would be perceived as very separate practices (like between Dump.FM and Mezangelle for example). The create bridges and segues, albeit through my own specific sense of media history and contemporary art, is based in an effort to accentuate how artists working in similar fields might never consider themselves in close proximity to one another, but in actuality have much in common.

In retrospect, I’m surprised by what now seems like obvious similarities and overlapping interests between the artists featured over the past year. Regardless whether artist are developing unique platforms for exchange or employing preexisting commercial crowd-based content databases both vectors of self-examination are providing critical outlets for an expanded perspective of contemporary digital image-making. To see how these threads naturally surface, reoccur, and go in and out of focus is for me one of the most powerful parts of these conversations.

By being able to reflect in this public way, I acknowledge I’m leaving myself susceptible to criticism for using Bad at Sports as a platform to file personal for semi-diaristic purposes. However, I want to instead highlight the amazing opportunity I have been given, and to emphasize the generosity that this blog has offered me both artistically and academically. I just hope I can faithfully uphold the ethic of sharing and discourse that my work stands for, and that others have graciously offered to me, into all future publications and endeavors.

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