Only when Neo (aka Thomas Anderson in the daytime when his persona is sober salaryman rather than hacker) decides to accompany the lovely (though short) Dujour into the Gotham nightlife because he has been advised to follow the white rabbit Alice-like and she happens to have one tattoed on her shoulder, do we realise that the overstressed Lewis Carrol references in The Matrix ("You have now tumbled down the rabbit-hole, Neo," "Pick one of those pills, Neo," "Why donít you take a peep behind the looking-glass, Neo?") are themselves white rabbits leading us through the infinite substance of a hyperfilm. The Matrix, an inverted Truman Show: the unreal is pleasant, the real is unpleasant and accessible to only a few, does not simply present us with the filmic representation of a dystopian hyperspace, it is itself more than an artefact and takes us through rabbit-hole after rabbit-hole of film and pop culture reference. Indeed, realising that Dujour is non other than Katarina from Hartley High, the not yet so lovely but already short hyperactive teenager fighting for political correctness and the right to make sartorial faux-pas in her Australian high school, we come to see the film as the smithsonian non-site of a global cinematic matrix. Wasnít Trinity/Carrie-Ann Moss both a model and her evil twin sister (Aaron Spelling then stole his own idea for Sunset Beachís superhunk Ben) in an obscure series starring Sue Ellen? Is the rabbit more Alice or more drug-induced Jefferson Airplane hallucination?
Can I ask you what youíre talking about? Are you just going to rave on about a Keanu Reeves teen-flick?
No, that wasnít exactly my point to start with.
So youíre deviating, youíve let your brain run on RAM, you reject of the MTV age.
No, wait, wait... I actually mean to get somewhere. Right, where was I? The structure of this Australian film about a virtual world mirrors its content. It presents a hyperillusion while making us aware of the reality of intertextuality in our world. What is the link with Internet art? Well, there is no link, but it does raise a question: what hypertextual originality does Internet art offer if our postmodern brains already function in a non-linear way and, as MacLuhan had prophesied, mimic the mosaic apprehension of our environment by the media?
Wasnít he the guy who played a cameo role in Woody Allenís Annie Hall and said something about the medium being a Californian massage?
"Message", massage came next. But yes, youíre getting the gist of it. The originality of hypertext is probably not in the way it hops from text to text but in the fact that by commenting on its new structure, it reverses the metaphorical movement by making the democratic idea of dissemination an image for this structure (very much an artistic method.) By pointing to its own construction, Internet art is thwarting simulation, working against Baudrillardís doomsday scenario of self-seduction and the hyperreal.
Where was he when our American boys bombed Saddam? Did he not claim that the Gulf War had never happened?
Exactly, but now youíre deviating.
Iím paying hommage to MacLuhan by breaking down the linearity of my thoughts.
Do let me finish, will you. So, if we take Mark Amerikaís work, we realize that his online projects are not merely extensions of his off-line publications, not simply electronic transcriptions of works which could exist on paper. They have come to replace them and have been transformed by the new medium. His status also has changed: he no longer is merely an author, he is now a net artist. Actually he is no longer an author at all.
Has he retired?
Right, this is getting ridiculous. Stop interrrupting, Iím trying to do some thinking here. Okay, no longer an author. In fact, he says so himself on Alt-X (or should I say it says so itself): "HTC [hypertextual consciousness] felt like an object in search of endless subjectivity." Computers become the star-treky holodecks on which authorial consciousness is disseminated (letís please do away with the empty notion of interactivity), which puts paid to its authority and wilfully enacts the murder of an author whose death Barthes had simply recorded. (What? No question about his footballer son?) Of course, Amerika remains very present on all his sites, his imprint has not yet disappeared, but perhaps he is trying to erase himself gradually.
I would probably do away with the glamorous B&W picture as a heading if I wanted to do that.
Oh, there you are. So, in order to disseminate consciousness, Amerika submits instructions on "How to Be an Internet Artist." The list reinforces the idea that by going online, Amerika is as much an artist as a writer. Indeed, the list of instructions is redolent both of conceptual art pieces and Kerouacís "Belief & Technique for Modern Prose, List of Essentials." Friedrich Kittler has commented upon the new status of digital material and on the fact that distinctions become blurred:
The general digitalization of channels and information erases the diffrences among individual media. Sound and image, voice and text are reduced to surface effects, known to consumers as interface. (...) Inside the computers themselves, everything becomes a number: quantity without image, sound, or voice. And once optical fibre networks turn formerly distinct data flows into a standardized series of digitalized numbers, any medium can be translated into any other. With numbers, everything goes. Modulation, transformation, synchronization; delay, storage, transposition; scrambling, scanning, mapping ó a total media link on a digital base will erase the very concept of medium. (1999: pp. 1-2).
But it is not simply that the Internet presents literary and artistic works in the same way, but that both, probably because we are at the outset of a practice, witnessing a first generation of practitioners, comment upon their own new common structure. The idea of a set form distinction is abolished and creation is liberated from genre as a category to embrace genre as a mode of functioning: pastoralism is at the core of Amerikaís Internet art because the hierarchy of content has been done away with and even the commonplace and trivial (pop culture) is incorporated into the exalted expression of disseminated subjectivity. Thomas Crow defined this pseudo-persistence of genre in Modern Art in the Common Culture:
Pastoral forms of irony within advanced art function as correctives to the congealing of professional codes of competence, to facility that too easily makes formula look like invention, to the constraints imposed by relentless high-mindedness on the breadth of human sympathy. They transform the limitations imposed by hierarchy and artificial division, the costs of exclusivity and specialized protocols, into matter for art (1996, p. 211).
"Avant-pop" is therefore a universal un-category in which pop forms are transgressed, whether as far as their gender, medium or style are concerned. Whatís more, time and closure are no longer relevant; all is part of a flux. The Internet allows for process and result to be collapsed into one entity. As Benjamin Weil, SFMOMA curator of media arts, observes (interesting how we use the present for what appears on the net) in his online review of the museumís digital art show (010101.SFMOMA.org):
Indeed, what happens online is rather unique, as it is probably the first time when the means to produce an artwork and the way it is to be distributed and experienced have come to be the same: the medium and the locus have become one.
Maybe one day weíll crack the sorcerer-code to all of written language at which point weíll have truly moved beyond the linguistic meta-trix of Virtual Reality and entered a world that embraces the Unknown.
By wanting to become a writing machine, Amerika collapses content and structure in a mannerist way, but also in a metaphorical way. On Alt-X, the dependency on frames and clicks clearly points to metaphors for our own functioning: references are to memory or ID which can be megabits and logins, or what constitutes our beings. Errors are therefore doubly fatal since they not simply entail cyber-rage but also threaten our mental integrity. When at one point the URL address could not be found, did I actually get lost or was it part of the set-up for Grammatron?
Is it therefore paradoxical that Amerika should be striving against physicality, yet pointing to the material condition of his new medium? Not really, since what it boils down to is again an analogy, or rather that the Internet allows us to do away with the analogical and completes the realization of the possibility of world extensions to our brains.
Should we forsake our bodies then and feel like a dejected Dr Xavier envying his supernatural X-Men?
(I knew I never should have started out with The Matrix.) On the contrary, hypertext was designed to express more accurately our physical relationship to the world. Hypertext pioneer Ted Nelson, who coined the word in 1965, mythologises the invention of extratext and himself when he says that he was five when he first realized how complex the world was and that, drifting on a boat with his hand in the water, he could not find only one way to describe this sensation.
Five years old, right?
I donít know, he might have met Timothy Leary at some point later on in his life and have lost all sense of time. Although that might have helped since there is no conclusion to a hypertext. A hypertext is never over, never read in its entirety; it never forces only one reading upon you and is essentially liberal. No wonder its early proponents were active in counterculture movements of the sixties. The development indeed feels like the last bastion of real democracy against the growing commercialisation of the Internet. Written texts are linear sequences which give only one interpretation of the world. The hypertext is anti-hierarchy, it is a sort of anamorphosis, allowing different simultaneous visions and viewpoints, just like in Hans Holbeinís Ambassadors.
The painting of the two fat smug guys with a blob at their feet.
Actually itís a skull, itís supposed to remind you of death.
I see it as a mustard blob, itís supposed to remind you not to eat while youíre painting your chef-díúuvre.
See it as you wish. Anyway, this anamorphic status encourages the democratic immateriality of Internet art and thus also freedom of interpretation. But then, if mediation is erased, Internet art might seem to tend towards total immediacy. What we can wonder is whether immediacy is constitutive of the practice, or if we are now dealing with a first generation of practitioners making a necessary first step before mannerist commentary is left behind and distance reappears. Rosalind Krauss might help us here: she stresses the recursive structure of works engaging with the post-modern medium which is heterogeneous and consisting of stratas of conventions. Since art is always caught in a web of art, the system of pure mediation implodes; all the more so since we are dealing with something which is both artistic medium and mass medium.
Am I the first of several new subjectivities emerging with the new medium?
No youíre not, youíre just a nuisance.
Crow, Thomas. Modern Art in the Common Culture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996.
Kittler, Friedrich. Gramophone, Film, Typewriter.Stanford: University Press, 1999.
Krauss, Rosalind. A Voyage on the North Sea:" Art in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition. London: Thames and Hudson, 1999.