Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

From Aesthetics to Liminality: The Web Art of Fred Forest

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

From Aesthetics to Liminality: The Web Art of Fred Forest

Article excerpt

This essay examines the career of French media art pioneer Fred Forest. It argues that Forest has staked out an original position in the field of web art by virtue of a number of online rituals that problematize the threshold, or limen, between the "real world" and cyberspace.

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Much has happened in the nearly forty years since Walter Benjamin first published his famous essay known in English as "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," in which he argued that techniques of mass production and the new media of photography and the cinema had destroyed the "sacred aura" formerly associated with unique, hand-crafted masterpieces of art. While subsequent developments such as the proliferation of consumerism and the invention of television have mostly confirmed Benjamin's thesis, the "digital revolution" in information and telecommunications technology, which has reached spectacular (in the Debordian sense) new heights with the popularization of the Internet and the opening up of a "new frontier" in cyberspace, has created a whole new set of challenges for art and literature that go beyond anything Benjamin ever anticipated. In the wake of this revolution, the boundaries between different media and disciplines have disintegrated; the usual distinctions that are made between the role of the author and that of the spectator/reader no longer apply in the case of mutating works that are electronically "co-produced" (Pierre Moeglin) by a legion of "spectactors" (Rejean Dumouchel); and the basic unit of art, the work/text, has been stretched so thin that it virtually vanishes--or vanishes into virtuality. Indeed, one could well assert that it is now the work of art's aura of reality that is being destroyed (see Poissant).

Since going online, artists have tended to respond to the Internet in three different ways. The most common response has been to exploit the interactive potential and democratic ethos of what is chiefly seen as a new public forum for art. Major examples of this tendency include Douglas Davis's "The World's First Collaborative Sentence" (1994) and "Metabody: The World's First Collaborative Visions of Beauty" (1997)() and the creation of online art collectives such as the now-defunct ada'web (). The second response has been to exploit the technical parameters of the Internet itself for the purpose of creating a new self-referential, web-specific genre of art. This is the orientation of the growing number of artist-designed Web browsers, which may have practical applications or purely aesthetic ones like Mark Napier's collage producing Website "Shredder" (1998)() or Entropy8Zuper's URL-driven "Eden Garden" (2001)(). For a smaller number of artists with a long-standing interest in telecommunications, electronic media, and cybernetics, a third response has been to treat the Internet as a new experimental tool at the juncture of art and science, to be used to gauge the effects that such technologies have on the way human beings live and think. Noteworthy examples of this tendency include Roy Ascott, one of the earliest proponents of telematic art; Eduardo Kac (), whose protean career has touched upon themes ranging from teleporting to biotelematics; and Stelarc (), whose provocative meditations on the relationship between the body and technology have included works such as "ParaSite" (1997, a "cyborged" body "invaded" by information from the Internet) and "Evolving URL Body" (1996, a virtual being that changes as a function of the specific pages accessed by each visitor to the artist's Website).

Another artist who deserves to be counted among the major figures of this third tendency is the French media and communication art pioneer Fred Forest, a chronology of whose career follows:

    1933 Fred Forest is born in Algeria. … 
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