Net Works

By D'Amato, Brian | Artforum International, November 1995 | Go to article overview

Net Works


D'Amato, Brian, Artforum International


ALTHOUGH THE NET'S BEEN around since the '70s, it's still in an embryonic stage as a space for serious art. Adaweb, a new World Wide Web site geographically based in New York, represents an attempt to address the art world's byte deficit by commissioning virtual, site-specific, interactive "installations" from a number of artists (including Julia Scher, Charles Long, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, and Renee Green) who would seem to have some relationship to the digiscene. When you call up adaweb, you get a welcome screen with five kidney shapes labeled "project," "influx," "context," "archive," and "extension." Clicking "project" brings up the menu of the site's inaugural piece, Jenny Holzer's please change beliefs, 1995. Activating one directory within this work brings up short black and white Quicktime movies of some of Holzer's texts, which with a little tinkering could be captured and used as stylish screen-savers. Other subdirectories consist of columns of greatest hits from Holzer's "Truisms," 1977-87, "Inflammatory Essays," 1979-82, and other series, presented in even plainer typography than in her early street-level posters. One list invites users to vote whether a Holzerism is in fact true or false; another encourages callers to "improve" selected one-liners or flip through "edits" others have entered, such as A LOT OF PROFESSIONALS SMOKE CRACKPOTS," "ABUSE OF POWER CHORDS COMES AS NO SURPRISE," or "A LITTLE HOLZER CENSORS THIS LIST" (loosely based on her original A LITTLE KNOWLEDGE CAN GO A LONG WAY"), as well as outright originals, Wellerisms, and other genres of flame.

Holzer's piece demonstrates the current drawbacks of electronic distribution art as well as its possibilities. For one thing, it,s no wonder most of the interesting things in this space happen at the level of basic, untypographically distinctive text; unless you have a T1 line, getting anything pictorial through a telephone line is still like sucking Jell-O through a straw. More deeply, though, the king-size disparity between Holzer as the only nonanonymous contributor and her faceless "assistants" affects the tone of the project. Although Holzer's bons mots lend themselves to parody because they were designed to be mock-banal in the first place, her originals tend to become "Bartlettized" (I don't mean Jennifer Bartlett) in the process - further enshrined and seemingly even more famous than they are. Finally, there's the preaching-to-the-converted problem. While the worldwide accessibility of the Web enables it to reach people who don't usually make it to art galleries (or many other places, for that matter), one suspects that, if you don't already appreciate a Holzerian level of irony, you won't be hanging out on the board.

If the problems with please change beliefs are specific to Holzer,s project, those endemic to the ada site in general have more to do with the medium itself. …

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