This means we, as "hactivist" net artists, must not only become energized cultural producers who create interventionist digital art, but that we must also use all of the lingo and jingo at our disposal to further attract attention (eyeballs) to our collaborative networked environments."

-- Mark Amerika

Lit [art] ure, con't

The Questions:

3. How much do you think any distinctions those of us in the field might identify impact on our audience? Who do you think is 'our' audience?

Glazier: The make-up of our audience depends on how the goals of New Media writing are defined. If the focus is what is most financially remunerative, then we are talking about a mass-market audience, an audience that doesn't necessarily want to think critically. Such writing will have to gear itself towards entertainment in order to succeed, much as westerns, romances, and mysteries functioned in the print world. This is not to say there wouldn't be a lot of work to do. A multi-media implementation of a mass-market product would demand plenty of skill. On the other hand, if such works were going to give a priority to the exploration and uncovering of new fields of New Media inquiry, new materialities, and new methods, then the audience will be restricted. It probably will also be limited, just as in the world of innovative poetry, basically to the practitioners themselves, interested readers in universities and schools, and to those few students who see the vision in it all. I do think the numbers will be larger, just as the volume of transactions at the Electronic Poetry Center is astonishing in comparison to the circulation of print poetry materials, so there is real hope for substantially increased circulation. But I feel that the number of people who want to think through reading will always be smaller than the number of people who want to sit in their Nike T-shirt and watch TV.

Malloy: In the rapidly changing Internet environment, which has evolved in the past decade from a small text-based experimental community to a commercially driven graphic interfaced media, writers of electronic literature adapt not only to the intertwined processes of writing and interface but also to radical changes in the audience and environment.

Written (usually) in seclusion, a print work is then published and distributed to readers whose contact with either the author or the author's process is traditionally minimal. In contrast, Internet- based electronic narrative is potentially a public literature which may integrally involve the reader/user/participant in its creation and use.

How the participant is involved, the extent of audience involvement in the process, varies. The writer may be using the Internet as a public storytelling forum; and/or the writer may be offering the reader a multiplicity of choices; and/or the writer may be offering the audience the opportunity to be co-creators of the work. Sometimes these strategies are intertwined.

Drucker: The question of audience aims at a morphing, moving target, the demographics of which are changing and are also unpredictable. One of my favorite tales is John Unsworth's account of a truck driver in a small, remote New Hampshire rural environment who responded to an article John had published in Post-Modern Culture. We don't know who's reading our work unless we hear from them, but the possibility of chance encounters, and of the availability to audience, is intensified in this context. I think that for esoteric work of the kind that, as both Judy and Loss rightly state, usually remains in the communities from which it springs, this is particularly positive. As Charles Bernstein is also, rightly, often pointing out, the so-called "difficult" work of poets is often much more accessible than not. It just needs to be encountered. I find the barriers to these kinds of encounters much higher in the anxiety-fraught and performance-focused zones of academe than among a broader public. I think one of the crucial issues in finding audience is to be sure your metadata contains some user-friendly keywords so that your work turns up in string searches.

Amerika: This brings me back to what we are doing with so-called E-Books. Instead of poo-pooing the terminology and being indifferent to how it and other terms are being manipulated so that the mainstream culture immediately forms a set of conventional expectations in the marketplace, we would rather absorb these terms, and the hype they generate, for own uses. This means we, as "hactivist" net artists, must not only become energized cultural producers who create interventionist digital art, but that we must also use all of the lingo and jingo at our disposal to further attract attention (eyeballs) to our collaborative networked environments. With this in mind, we are actively looking to defamiliarize the vaporware one would normally associate with many of these industry terms and pseudo-productions. This is where an expanded concept of writing can become formidable. Questions we ask while building audience share in the attention-economy, include: "What is literature's exit strategy?" and "What are the implications of creating/distributing copyleft art-writing projects that would prefer to work toward a dreamworld culture of utopian pla(y)giarism?" Many of the Net artists I know around the world are using their networking practice to challenge the agenda of the copyright maximalists whose vision of the net consists primarily of controlling intellectual property laws. It ends up that this is directly related to audience development -- because if you can control distributing and marketing, you can control the marketplace. And we all know how bad the corporate and institutional giants want, as our gatekeepers, to control the marketplace.

Fortunately for us, the net model is still out of control. Witness recent phenomena like the peer-to-peer networking model of a site like Napster. At Alt-X, we have been dealing with these issues for over seven years now, and our audience share continues to grow, although we are not interested in the number of hits we get. Not at all. What's most important to us is the influential network of people and projects that contribute to the site as well as the social fabric of the community. Again, it's "our" version of peer-to-peer networking, and it just so happens that this network is substantial and, consequently, composes "our audience."

4. What would you say are some of the historic precedents for new media work?

Glazier: Historical precedents might be hard to define since we've been conditioned to see them in a programmed way. That is, the same sources have so often been repeated: Gibson, "Tron", "The Matrix", Burroughs, etc. These may be valid but what about precedents that might open up other ways of seeing? For example, what about the Persian miniatures I mentioned earlier? Or what about visual experiments with the text through the last century, procedures and processes as writing, the hole in Pollack's paint can, Picasso's demoiselles, Blake's fireballs of text? I think we need to dig deep and look in atypical places to find those rays of light that illuminate our present practice.

Malloy: Approaching the question in artist/audience terms and more specifically in public literature terms, I think of the community-centered Homeric epic with its combination of flexibility and fixed formulaic devices; Elizabethan Theater; Victorian serials; 70's-80's Performances which integrated art and life (Bonnie Sherk's work, Tom Marioni's THE ACT OF DRINKING BEER WITH FRIENDS IS THE HIGHEST FORM OF ART, Paul Cotton's work, Lynn Hershman's ROBERTA BREITMORE and my own strreet preformance work such as OK GENETIC ENGINEERING)

Approaching the question in terms of what Jessica Prinz called the "eruption of language in the field of visual arts", John Baldassari, Lew Thomas, Alexis Smith, Ed Rusha, Ben Vautier, John Cage, Alison Knowles, Arakawa, Joseph Beuys, Hans Haacke, Joseph Kosuth come to mind.

I also want to call attention to those who shaped the platform, in particular to Tim Berners-Lee. "Inventing the world Wide Web involved my growing realization that there was a power in arranging ideas in an unconstrained, weblike way," he explains. "And that awareness came to me through precisely that kind of process. The Web arose as the answer to an open challenge, through the swirling together of influences, ideas, and realizations from many sides, until, by the wondrous offices of the human mind, a new concept jelled. It was a process of accretion, not the linear solving of one well-defined problem after another."

There are many other answers to this question.

Drucker: There are many precedents for hyperlinked forms, as I noted above. And the analogies are just, if sometimes stretched, between print formats and their multiplicity of readings and those in hypertext. This is particularly the case with newspapers, journals, and other print forms in which the page is subdivided and stories/texts/graphics interweave. The temporal/spatial simultaneous unfoldings I mentioned above, don't have quite the same precedents, even if one could argue that many simultaneous narratives occur in stained glass windows, in movie posters with their vignetted forms, and so on. The advent calendar, with its flaps and windows, provides another physical instance of precedent. But for the most part, in spite of the number of multiple narratives, tree structures, or other branched and multi-path structured documents, the crucial problems of navigation and orientation do not have clear precedents. This explains the general confusion about how standards or conventions should arise at this level.

I'm happy this is the case, and encouraged our library to collect as many CD-ROMS of the 1990s as possible because the interfaces are so emphatically NOT standardized, and this will be very useful later when conventions take over. A great deal of creativity has been invested in these works because there were no simple guidelines. I should mention that one of my favorite early articles in this field is the not-so-well-known "Generative Aesthetics" of Max Bense. Highly recommended.

Amerika: Well! This could take 30 dissertations to even begin outlining. Instead of meticulously composing an exhaustive list of people from all fields of art, I'll improvise a few literary names that come to mind: for interventionist writing practice as "hactivist" cultural production: Swift's "Gullivers Travel" ("My reconcilement to the Yahoo-kind in general might not be so difficult, if they would be content with those vices and follies only which nature hath entitled them to."). For surf-sample-manipulate utopian pla(y)giarism: Lautremont, Cubism, Duchamp, etc. For designwriting: Mallarme, Zdanevich, Marinetti, Apollinaire, Lissitzky, etc. For metamediumistic narrative environments: Sterne, Stein, Federman, Acker. This could take awhile...

5. How is web distribution of new media work affecting traditional repositories for art and writing: museums and libraries? What role do you think museums like the Walker, galleries, publishers and libraries can play in the future?

Glazier: It would be inaccurate to consider such institutions as always having the greatest foresight possible. What institutions normally collect is material that seems new *as defined by the standards of the past*. For example, though libraries, in quite limited numbers, acquiesced to collecting CD-ROM publications (material that resembled the object status of the book), initiatives to collect Internet-based texts were much less enthusiastic. This is because Internet texts are non-objects that do not necessarily have the apparatus the library needs to define a literary work: a title page, a discrete number of pages, an edition statement, invariable content. Indeed, some of the world's greatest collections, such as the poetry collection at SUNY Buffalo, were originally the private collections of visionaries later donated to an institution for custodianship. What's even worse is that institutions sometimes don't have a clue and yet act as if they do. There have been recent cases in museum exhibitions of New Media work where the curators had no idea what should be included and yet, what did end up being included gains status in the field. This can create strange and false ideas of the field of New Media.

Malloy: On the Internet individual artists or collected artists have the potential to attract as large an audience as an institution.

Perhaps in part in reaction to this, some institutions have attempted to reshape the medium -- by bringing in artists who have made a reputation in other media to work on the Internet, by deliberately ignoring seminal work in the field, by listening only to techies, by "slating", (promoting across the country a few artists which the institutions themselves have incubated.)

A positive aspect to this is that it can somewhat expand the way both artists and audience look at the medium.

Furthermore, the Internet audience is fairly sophisticated -- is capable of following individual paths, is not easily seduced by hollow work.

Unlike art exhibition systems of the past or traditional publishing environments where work not exhibited or published was simply lost, in the Internet environment an individual artist or writer's work can exist side by side with work promoted by big institutions. Additionally, on the web, artist-centered portals, such as NYFA/Arts Wire can and do attract larger audiences than large institutions.

Drucker: Institutional sites will serve to vet artists' work in the web environment in the way they do in traditional environments and the same issues will arise on postive and negative sides of this discussion. Personally, I am glad to be able to access work electronicallly that I wouldn't be able to see in person, but the sense of what one is seeing is constrained. That's inevitable. The work is mediated by the environment of the encounter. But the proliferation of artists' sites does make work available, in surrogate, even as web-based or orginally-digital work continues to evolve. The display of static work in a dynamic environment is the least compelling, unless there is a dynamic quality to the interface (as in the case of much of the work produced at the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, for instance).

Amerika: Institutional practices will absolutely have to change to accommodate the new media environments that artists now have easy access to. And they are already beginning to change. We see it first in museums. They are already showcasing net art and the support structures continue to evolve. What's interesting to new media writers nowadays is that there may be more support in the so-called 'art world" than what we think of as the "literary world." As I recently wrote in the introduction to the new issue of the American Book Review which I guest-edited, four of the nine works of net art chosen for the Whitney Biennial this year, have well-published literary writers as the principal artists responsible for creating the sites. This sort of phenomenon in the art world then effects change across the spectrum: experimental writers willing to expand the concept of writing beyond the book, are beginning to build audiences on their own and, as Judy suggests, are now in a position to leverage their "network-value" within an institutional context. For example, you can see it beginning to effect the hiring of new media writers into non-Creative Writing or non-English faculty positions too.

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[the work] [diner] [dialogue] [theory & practice] [opportunities] [archives] Volume Two, # Two 1999 - 2000