Post-internet

I have given up on reading Gene McHugh’s “Post Internet: Notes on the Internet and Art”.

This book was once a blog. This blog was once at http://www.122909a.com. I don’t suggest you follow that link. It is a dizzying array of advertising and copyright infringement. It’s probably not safe for work or your computer.

The book is the blog, collected and published. I love this idea. Write small short essays on a theme, publish for free as a blog, sell as a book later once there is established demand. Creative. Smart.

“Post Internet” is McHugh’s term for our period in history after the internet has become mainstream. He writes:

“On some general level, the shift of the Internet to a mainstream world in which A LOT of people read the newspaper, play games, meet sexual partners, go to the bathroom, etc. necessitated a shift in what we mean when we say “art on the Internet” from a specialized world for nerds and the technologically-minded, to a mainstream world for nerds, the technologically-minded and painters and sculptors and conceptual artists and agitprop artists and everyone else. No matter what your deal was/is as an artist, you had/have to deal with the Internet – not necessarily as a medium in the sense of formal aesthetics (glitch art, .gifs, etc), but as a distribution platform, a machine for altering and re-channeling work. What Seth Price called “Dispersion.” What Oliver Laric called “Versions.”

Summary: The internet is a thing now and you can’t avoid it. Embrace it or deny it, you are reacting to it and informed by it.

Since I’ve made a living making things on the internet, this is an obvious statement. But everything is new for someone, and it’s an idea worth exploring. McHugh is an art critic and is therefore talking mainly about art, but this idea is true of everything from newspapers to banks.

After establishing this premise the author spends several chapter-posts talking about works of art from internet aware or engaged artists. He shares bits of interviews with others. He writes about works of internet art with genuine love and interest. He is not disaffected or ironic. He really likes this stuff. This is why I stuck with the book-blog as long as I did.

Performance

Bewersdorf is an important post Internet artist because he realized very clearly that the quality of art on the Internet is not measured in individual posts but in the artist's performance through time, through their brand management. On Facebook, a user is judged, not by one status update, but rather by their style and pace of updating. The same is true for post Internet artists

This is the other big idea in Post Internet. (There may be more, I’ll never finish it.) Artists use the internet to share their work as it is made, shown, evolves. They share their inspirations and their failures. This amounts to an ongoing performance, as in Performance Art.

This is an interesting idea - and I think it’s an accurate idea as well. But similarly - this is also true of all bloggers, Instagram stars, weird Twitter accounts, and everyone who lies about how much they love their life on Facebook.

And so?

With these two points made - the rest of the book-blog just rolls around these ideas and discusses other works of art and artists. None of these works can be seen because the author includes no links. Attempting to find them or even the artists other works is useless, as all of this work has been expunged from the internet.

“Cortright makes work that is often indistinguishable from vernacular forms of culture. There are lots of videos of young people using a default effect and then acting silly. She does it with a style, humor, and somehow very human sincerity that makes each of her works a very good example of whatever cultural form she is working in. This piece is a good example. For someone who doesn’t look at it as art, it would be a pretty good example of an amateur video. By putting it in the context of art and the context of her larger body of work, though, the video takes on a different meaning. It works as a readymade almost, demonstrating for the viewer part of the visual language of the moment so that the viewer can see it. What is more powerful, though, is that it doesn’t do it in an academic way. While being a work of art, it is also a work that is not “of art.”

Here, McHugh, is describing a bit of video art that is indistinguishable from any amateur video on the internet. Here is the important bit again:

For someone who doesn’t look at it as art, it would be a pretty good example of an amateur video. By putting it in the context of art and the context of her larger body of work, though, the video takes on a different meaning.

Why must I put it “in the context of art” in order to derive a “different” meaning? Why can’t I put any old weird Tumblr in the context of art and derive a different meaning? Why is this video special and worthy of the context of art? He doesn’t say.

This is where I am let down. “Post Internet” is not a celebration of the weird, wonderful, awful, and strange creative stuff that happens all day, everyday on the internet - but just more cultural gate-keeping of via the “context of art”.

Michael Barrett

Tacoma, WA 98402