Blurring Practices: The Work of Art As Public Offering
As someone who is heavily invested in the Internet, I always check the "viability" of my day by turning on the computer and engaging it in interactive performance, economic exchange, emotional dialogue, individual search, whatever. How is it feeling today, I wonder, as I click on the word connect and see if the world (the market) is still alive with its own metafictional energy. If it is, if the Net is here for me, then I am here for it, and I can feel human again. It is a marriage of economic convenience. Til death do I part.
I love titling. Sometimes an art work has a title that makes it worth the high price someone is willing to pay for it. In fact, if a work of art, whether material or digital, has a bad title, then I am not interested in it. The tentative title to this cyborg performance, this theoretical proposition, this pyschoacoustical transmission (pretend you hear me talking), this hyperrhetorical sequence of gestures, is:
Blurring Practices: The Work of Art As Public Offering
Well, that's the default title. The title could also be:
The Primordial Affinity Between Words and Digital Objects: In Search of the Perfect Language
The War Against Time: Dying Bit by Bit in the New Media Ecology
or how about
The Reconfigured Author: Media Landscape With Brand-Name Identity
The list goes on. I just now realize that all of my language investigations, particularly as they pertain to the Net, are works of conceptual art (look at those beautiful titles in #3!). Joseph Kosuth, eat your heart out.
Actually, Joseph, you may have been 30 years too early and I am glad I didn't even know about so-called Conceptual Art until I met you last year when we both were invited to the Telstra Adelaide Arts Festival. Not that placing your dictionary definitions of a chair next to both a real chair and a photograph of a chair inside a gallery space was totally irrelevant. Of course not: we've got to think historical context, always. And Art (capital A) should definitely promote an anti-consumer thought process, one that thinks through issues of "representation" and what it means for artists to make art (little a). And, yes, I really dig those magazine and newspaper art-ads you and others like Dan Graham put out decades before the Internet had altered the global capital markets with such fierce force that even Soros-funded East Europeans could make an immediate impact on an otherwise dead art scene. Not to mention those overintellectualized billboard-texts that you put up in Europe all those years ago, before we even knew what a GUI was, or a web-browser. In fact, as the New York Times recently pointed out, whether we like it or not, pre-WWW Conceptual Art is having more influence on the art market than ever before.
But in the end, my friend, your purist brand of "art after philosophy and after" is too elitist for its own good. And this is the same trap I see so-called net or web artists falling into as well. It is already becoming too isolated from the real world, the real world that exists on the Net itself, the world of Amazon.com and E*TRADE, of eBay and YAHOO. Forget California ideology and/or nettime newspeak. Face it: the Next Five Minutes of Infowars and Revolution and Defamiliarization and Market Updates will be happening at cnn.com, and we know it. So let's tune in and find out what we're worth.
Streaming in cnn.com some weeks ago, we find that the Kosovo crisis has been moved to the #2 story, that it has been replaced at the top by the tragic loss of life in the Colorado high school shootings. The shootings took place 30 minutes away from where I live and now they are the headline news story both here in America and in all of our colonized media markets worldwide.
We have been temporarily distracted from the horrors of Yugoslavia because more kids were killed in the Colorado school than all of NATO's loses combined.
And now that I just got back from a gig in Australia and the jet-lag is almost behind me, I want to go back to sleep ("...inside, there was sleep, quick and dark, a numbing narcotic that began to take effect even before my soft cheeks kissed the warm buttocks of my fluffy pillow causing instantaneous dreaming of nothing but sleep itself..."). But one cannot use sleep as an escape mechanism. Not unless one intends on sleeping forever. No, one must deal with it all. Overproduced Infowars, Internet Online Trading, Albania, High School Massacres, Presidential Penises, Conceptual Art. It is ONE BIG BLUR.
This blurring is due, in part, to what Stan Davis and Christopher Meyer, in their BLUR book, call "the speed of change in the connected economy." Focused primarily on the vast disruptions taking place in global capitalism, they explain how three contemporary forces, Speed, Connectivity and Intangibles, are converging in ways that challenge us to reconfigure how we do business.
In their book, they see a melting of basic distinctions. Buyer/seller. Product/service. Employee/entrepreneur. It sounds like all of the hyperrhetoric focused on hypertextual narrative: you know what I'm talking about, that interface-space where the reader becomes a writer, or, if you will, a "wreader." An Interactive Participant. What Julio Cortazar, in his prototypical postmodern narrative published in 1963, a novel called Hopscotch, referred to as a "co-conspirator."
In fact, much of the hype around digital art and some of the more experimental postmodern metafiction of the post-War period, particularly the hype that proclaims hypertext narrative as "a revolutionary mode of publication" that changes readers into "wreaders," is consistent with much of the new age corpo-speak one reads in BLUR, except in BLUR we hear more about revolutionary business models, about offers, desires and financial webs. For example, take the following passage:
"The difference between buyers and sellers blurs to the point where both are in a web of economic, information and emotional exchange...the real news in the BLUR economy is that other things -- especially information and emotional engagement -- make up a growing proportion of the value being exchanged in both directions. We have reached a point in our story where the Intangibles get serious."
With this in mind, I would like to propose that net artists need to follow in the footsteps of their entrepreneurial alter-egos and start envisioning a parallel consulting practice that can be easily integrated into their ongoing networking practice. That is to say, it is time for net artists to enter the connected economy as strategic "co-conspirators." Forget the boring conference/festival scene that wants to exploit your name and market value for their own inane uses. They are, for the most part, a waste of time, mostly interested in justifying their administrative budgets. And besides, they are not BUYING.
Instead, go where your skills, talents and insights have more value as emerging artists than ever before: go to market.
In fact, net artists, particularly those in Europe who are desperately trying to get the art world focused on the possibility of purchasing web-specific art for competitive prices, would be well-advised to read BLUR and other ancillary texts about "the connected economy." The Internet, as an economic web of activity, is having its all-consuming effect on the way the financial markets exchange their security and commodity holdings, and soon this will include their art holdings as well, their net-based art holdings.
But web artists who are seriously considering offering their work to the public so as to ignite a speculative market in net-based art, should first acquaint themselves with the Internet economy they hope will support them. If they are serious about opening up a new kind of speculative art market for their online work (and they are all-too-serious, this much is obvious), they must focus their attention on how the Internet economy acts like a chaotic, yet self-correcting, financial market.
With the stock market itself becoming absolutely decentralized, moving away from the trading floor to the online door, now might be a good time to investigate how the net-art economy is also on the verge of behaving with the speed and fluidity of a financial market, just like the old-fashioned marketplace for goods and services are also having to adapt to The New Conditions. Internet art is part of the futures market, and "vaporware capitalists" investing in the futures market are already seeking out the next area of speculative growth, ready to immerse themselves in a continuous exchange of product knowledge or, what I like to call, seductive knowledge. With this in mind, net-artists must be poised, ready to participate in the high art of seduction.
In order for seductive knowledge about your work to have its desired effect in the Internet economy (to generate investment and create wealth), you must first understand the business of offering yourself to clients, collectors, suitors, and johns (assuming you consider this need to sell your work a blatant form of prostitution).
For those web-based artists who are having difficulty figuring out why their online work is producing an income, here's something to consider:
The reason why nobody is buying your net.art is because in networked economies the savvy investor either already has enough knowledge to know that your work is not worth investing in or, worse yet, you as a network artist have yet to use the skills and tools you have at your disposal to offer enough seductive knowledge of your own to convince the buyer that your work is worth investing in.
Seductive knowledge, whether it originates in the film houses of Moscow or the hiking trails of Colorado, is what drives the new media art economy just as it does all other sectors of the Net economy, an economy that is always ready to take into account the Intangibles that go with being human. These Intangibles, often disguised as information transmited via emotional exchanges with active agents speeding through the connected economy, can be viewed as digicash paracurrencies that defy conventional dollar values and, instead, bring to market all kinds of speculative value with investment-potential. In this regard, it might be a wise strategy for practicing Internet artists to take their work to the Street, to embrace the growing knowledge-networks that make being an online artist not just a job, but a cooperative (ad)venture.
It's time to strut your stuff.
For artists hoping to increase the value of their online work, they too, like budding entrepreneurs caught in the heat of IPO fever, must focus more of their practice on the value-added Intangibles that will increase their visibility in the network-economy and, as such, enable them to build brand-name identities that will foster their own economic growth. Again, the best way to do this is to bring your work to the Street, to make offers of seductive knowledge that will interest investors in bringing speculative value to your ongoing enterprise, one that must, out of necessity, have as an exit strategy, a plan to go public, to take your outmoded artist's soul to market, so that you may enrich your life with the promise of a comfortable future.
An IPO or, Initial Public Offering, is usually used to describe the process involved when a business entity goes public, issuing x amount of stock in their company as both a buying opportunity for investors and as a way for the issuing-entity to raise capital so that the company can grow. That's pretty straightforward. But what about web artists? Have they ever considered making public offerings themselves so that they too can put their careers on a track aimed at maximum, yet manageable, growth? IPO is just a new phrase that artists can translate into "going public" with their own work, like what we used to call an "artist's show" or a "publication."
The difference now is that we no longer have to rely on the whims of institutional bureaucrats who, as intermediaries, always have their own economic agendas at heart. Rather, you can do what Wolfgang Staehle has recently done with his breakthrough web project, The Thing, that is, you can hold an online auction at eBay. Fuck Sotheby's or Christies. They don't get it. But eBay does. For less than five dollars you can put your net art work on the market, in bold type, and see what its current value is (if you want to set a limit on the lowest acceptable bid, you can do that too).
Why not? Are you afraid it won't sell for enough money? Well, then that says a lot about why nobody's paying for your work. The market doesn't lie about these things. It speculates. It sees your value for what it is (or has the potential to be). If the value of your net-poem is $10 and someone on eBay is willing to pay for it, then sell one per day and buy some fresh pasta with your net earnings. Cook the pasta for you and your lover and then write a net-poem for your lover too, for free.
My friend, a former Conceptual Artist turned New Media Entrepreneur who just sold his company for over 20 million dollars, told me in a recent email that "only by turning the speculative knowledge market into a fictional enterprise can we even begin to process the series of public offerings we've recently witnessed, from the YAHOO fiction to the AMAZON fiction to the BROADCAST.COM fiction. Anyone who is not clued in to how this market is being narrativized is out of touch with the world that is now taking shape in cyberspace. As a well known online artist, your going public with your work, making the right offers, creating the right emotional environments for all kinds of cross-cultural exchange, is part of your economic imperative. You owe this to yourself as both a person and a commodity."
This got me thinking that I, not only as a web artist but as a print and online publisher, need to reevaluate what it means to "go public" -- how the IPO craze associated with Internet stocks is driving the new media economy and, with it, the new media arts. Once your stock rises, you, as both a person and a commodity, need to outperform the rest of the pack so that your future earnings guarantee continued investment in who you are and what your work is becoming. In fact, my own life-practice is totally blurring with endless offers, and managing them all requires continuous administrative work so that I no longer know where the businessman ends and the artist begins. Welcome to the Big Time, Mr. Net Art.
In a way, this column is also part of an offer. It is an emotional investment that I am making with my readers, some of whom may one day see not just the economic value of my cultural service, but the emotional value as well and, as a consequence, invest part of themselves in my network life-practice.
But that is not why I write these columns. I write these columns to write out my BLUR.