Chapter 1:
Internet Art
Chapter 2:
Chapter 3:
Digital Weakness
Table of Figures
James Hayes' art website

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The main impact that the Internet can be said to have had on the artistic community to date is one of globalisation. There is nothing quite like the experience of "connecting" with a person via the Internet when, because of geographic and other barriers, it would have been impossible or at least highly unlikely that such a connection would normally have occurred. Now there is made available to artists the world over a common meeting ground called the Internet. Within its confines artists define themselves as they would like to be seen and found, thus resulting in the ability to search for people using specific parameters such as "artists". By joining online communities and discussion boards, artists are not only discovering new people and information, they are also making themselves available for discovery in turn. The fact that Internet access is by local dial-up or equivalent connection also circumvents the often very high expenses involved in traditional international communication.

Another impact of the Internet is that it has provided a global marketplace that previously did not exist in any comparable form. Any independent artist can now promote themselves and their work, to a level of professionalism completely of their own choosing (i.e., they can control the website design) to an audience that goes beyond the wildest dreams of pre-1980s publishers. The only comparable medium with similar reach would be satellite television, and the costs to advertise on TV go well beyond the financial means of most individuals.

The Internet has provided artists and arts administrators with access to international resources, opportunities and information. Due to the successful push by advertising companies there has been a global acceptance of the need for every institution and company to have an Internet presence. It can be shown that any gallery or museum that comes to mind more than likely now provides information, however minimal or extravagant, on the Internet. Many artists' typical questions are often addressed on institutional websites, thus speeding up the information gathering and exchange process. This is a library like no other combining access to information with access to communication. If an institution has a website, more often than not it is a simple procedure to communicate with the staff of said institution via e-mail or online response forms. For artists, especially those who are isolated or disabled, this is of immense benefit, and for shy artists this provides an anonymous and fairly painless avenue for approaching galleries or museums without the nerves inducing experience of having to actually "talk" to someone.

Given the global reality of the Internet, the range of opportunities found on the Internet is phenomenal, going beyond any printed publication's ability to advertise opportunities, which would usually be confined to either local or only high profile international events. The Internet not only opens up the vast range of these opportunities to artists, it also provides a vast population of artists for those opportunities. Galleries and museums can now equally expect to receive proposals from local and foreign artists, expanding their ability to present quality challenging material to their local community.

The creative medium of the Internet has opened up new opportunities for interactive and temporary art forms. Visual artists have utilised the "point and click" browser interface to their own advantage, pushing the information exchange boundaries for which the Internet was originally designed. Although restricted to the two-dimensional screen, artists have utilised text, visuals, sound and motion to create spaces that can be entered and explored. It cannot be stressed enough that this new found interactive medium does not exist in isolation, it is part of the globalisation experience. These new spaces that artists are creating are accessible to a global audience allowing for undreamed of communication between artist and audience.

The hypertext format has been experimented with by writers to give the viewer the sensation of experiencing asides and visual cues in an order determined by the path taken, the experience changing dependent upon the viewer's choices. This "multiple endings" experience can be stretched further due to the ability to update material continuously, thus encouraging the viewer to return again and again for new experiences. The browser software's ability to present multiple pages of information in different frames, all viewable at once (as in Steinke's blindspot63) allows for further reinterpretations of material as interesting juxtapositions are created by the viewer's decisions.

As outlined in Chapter 3 - Digital Weakness the pitfalls of this new technology run much deeper than just the odd "unfortunate" system crash or virus infection. Those troubles can be avoided with anti-virus software, due vigilance with e-mail correspondence and technical hardware and software support. What cannot be avoided however is the impermanence inherent in the medium of digital technology. The IT industry has made the promise of perfect and eternal information storage and retrieval, similar to the promises made by the music industry at the introduction of the CD recording format. It has become apparent however, that the digital information is only as stable as the storage medium it resides on. In the case of music CDs, those printed with cheaper plastics may begin to degrade after only 5 years, leading many music aficionados to pull out their old vinyl LPs. The dangers of digital information storage problems are more critical because the information stored may be unique as opposed to mass produced, leading to a need for constant and costly archiving.

The truth is that digital information is in no way permanent at this time. Digital signals for the most part are currently stored as either magnetic signals or optical (laser) signals, both being relatively new technologies for which no truly permanent medium has been invented. The only solution devised has been regular back-ups to new storage materials, thus ensuring that when the original storage medium does degrade beyond the point of recovery, all the information will be safely located on a brand new (and beginning to degrade) storage unit. This back-up system is labour intensive, it is not automated but rather is totally dependent upon human intervention. The result is that digital information creates more "support work" the more it is used. It is true that traditional artists also have storage or permanence issues with the media they use, but at least these issues are based on hundreds if not thousands of years of human experience and knowledge. Most traditional media do not require archival intervention after only 5 years, and every 5 years after that! It would be hoped that eventually an archival storage solution will be invented to match the archival qualities of traditional information media such as paper.

We exist in a "brave new world" very different from that envisioned by Aldous Huxley64 in his 1932 novel, which has been described by some as a satirical warning against scientific utopianism, but we are fast attaining the levels of technology he foresaw.65 The Internet is a space, a community, a publishing medium, a communication tool, and a potential minefield to be approached with a combination of gleeful abandon and cautious trepidation. The Internet has in a short space of time had a broad impact on the artistic community, and will continue to do so for some considerable time - unless there is a dramatic change in current technological development. The Internet has wormed its way into Western society's everyday lives, much the way radio and television did in the 20th Century, and has made itself indispensable to a large portion of society. The impact of the global communications experience created by the Internet has expanded forever the boundaries and expectations of the artistic community. Even so, this technology is in its infancy compared to many established technologies. A sudden switching of popularity to a hypothetical emerging and more glamorous or practical application could change everything. Artists working in this medium should be fully aware that they risk creating work that will be truly ephemeral, because electronic or magnetic signals can be lost as easily as pulling out a plug or dropping a disk. Artists working successfully in this new medium have already taken it beyond the imagination of its inventors, as artists have always done with new technologies, and only time will tell if the Internet and Internet artworks will last forever or five years.

by James Hayes
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