Internet art, net art, and networked art in relation: Interview with Jon Ippolito

by Karen Verschooren

Conversations and interviews with curators, artists and directors in the context of thesis research during the academic year 2006-20071

October 26, 2006--Boston

Jon Ippolito is an artist, writer and curator, battling hierarchic culture in favor of the networks. As Associate Curator of Media Arts at the Guggenheim Museum, Ippolito curated amongst others Virtual Reality: An Emerging Medium and, with John G. Hanhardt, The Worlds of Nam June Paik. His artwork--in collaboration with Janet Cohen and Keith Frank--has been exhibited at the Walker Art Center, ZKM/Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe and WNET’s ReelNewYork Web site.

In 2002, Ippolito joined the faculty of the University of Maine's New Media Department, where he co-founded Still Water for network art and culture with Joline Blais. Projects emerging from the lab are amongst others the Variable Media Network, the Open Art Network and a book titled At the Edge of Art.

Karen: In your latest book publication At the Edge of Art2, you come up with six functions that can define art today. How would you define and situate Internet art amongst them?

Jon: Joline Blais and I argue that the Internet plays an important role in executing and recognizing most works now at the edge of art. That said, Internet art is the subset of this art which leverages the Internet to form new relationships among people or which exposes hidden aspects of the Internet itself.

Karen: Hidden aspects of the technology or its uses?

Jon: Technology is a word we typically use to mean diodes and transistors, but which really has a social function. When I say 'to expose something that has been hidden’ then whatever has been hidden has usually been hidden by the people who created it, not necessarily by the machine itself. For example, television has a manual saying not to put a large magnet against it, but if you bring a magnet near it you see all kind of cool patterns (laughs). So a machine shows you its secrets, but a manual tries to hide it from you.

Karen: Would it be correct to say you are also referring to protocols, be they technical, social, economic or cultural?

Jon: Yes, that’s a good way to think about it. You probably know Alex Galloway’s book3?

Karen: Yes.

Jon: In general, people default to defining the role of the Internet when answering the question of what is Internet art. They almost never attempt to define the art part. I think it is interesting to ask what the art part is, particularly because you can’t fall back on Duchampian definitions of art. At the Edge of Art tries to generate the alternative: a functional definition of art, that is not just about Internet art, but about art in the age of the Internet.


Karen: What would be the aesthetic of Internet art?

Jon: A really good concrete image and emblem for what that aesthetic is, is the Simple Net Art Diagram by MTAA.4 One can interpret the image in two ways. On the one hand, one can understand it referring to the wire, the copper, the plumbing, the TCP-IP protocols underlying the technology. On the other hand, one can think about the relationship between the two people connected via this network. I think it is a useful emblem for Internet art, because it suggests those two pieces: hacking the technology and exposing that, but also relating people in ways they haven’t been related before. So, the aesthetic becomes an aesthetic of relationship. What kind of relationship are you establishing? Whether it's as a lover, mentor, cybersex partner, or friend, Internet artists can create a architecture, a vessel, a meeting room in which a relationship can happen.

Karen: Could we also apply the art historical context of aesthetics to Internet art? The aesthetic criteria by which painting has traditionally been assessed are form, line, color, harmony, disharmony, etc. However, they all seem not to make sense for Internet art?

Jon: The problem I have with that definition of an aesthetic is that I don’t think that works for painting either. To take a number of paintings and then to apply some consistent set of criteria to decide their aesthetic value seems crazy to me. When we look at what we now call aesthetic value, we are using received values that someone has taught us, but were not necessarily part of the initial experience of the work or of the culture that gave rise to it. I worry that we are always in danger of applying an old lens to a new phenomenon. So for me, the aesthetic is about the relationship now, it is not about color, form and line.

Karen: How to achieve agreement on that though? How do you get a majority to decide what to include and what not, what to evaluate as successful and what not?

Jon: The traditional aesthetic is a very artificial one. There is so much it excludes, not because of lack of quality but because of the lens that obscures and blinds what is outside of its purview. For example: when I look at a play of Shakespeare, I can read the words, and I can ascribe an aesthetic quality to the prose, but if I never saw a performance, I am missing half of the equation. I can look at some website and think of it as very well designed, presenting beautiful colors and so forth, but if they are static, exclusive, and unconnected, then what role do they have in Internet art?

On the other hand though, I would like to add that the aesthetic of relationship and creating relationships isn’t appropriate for every Internet work. Young-Hae Chang's work for instance is a broadcast piece.5 You watch someone’s words and music telling a story in a linear order and that is it. And yet, would it mean the same thing if it was shown in a film festival? It has been shown in a gallery context, it has been shown on great big screens and on single-channel video, but it doesn’t mean that much to me there. I’m not saying it loses everything, but I think it gets part of its tension from the fact that it uses two percent of Flash and that it is delivered in an international context--the global network--so that someone from Korea is writing about Samsung in English from the opposite side of the globe. It’s a crazy story about a woman's orgasms thanks to this Korean corporation! You can’t imagine someone doing this on the streets of Korea, but you can imagine it getting out on the Internet. And there are these legendary stories of Chang never having been in an English-speaking country and creating this, anyway. That whole context I think is lost to some extent if you bring it into a gallery. So to some degree there is a play on the context, the network is its context.

Every Icon from John Simon6 isn’t about relationship either, but it is about the kind of frustrated promise of Internet technologies and the way he has ported it to different platforms, like the Palm Pilot and browser versions and color display versions, which also speaks to the variability of network media.

So they don’t all have to succeed by the same criteria. I just think that now, for a lot of work, the question of the relationship that is formed is really important.

Karen: I have the impression that in the beginning the aesthetic was very technologically oriented, later Flash made its way in there, and today there is much more a play with social protocols. A lot of Internet art deals with blogs, personal diaries, etc. An example would be the Dumpster.

Jon: I think that in some ways it is going in waves. Before the browser made its way into the web, it was much more about people and who you knew. You didn’t just go to or something, you had to know the address you were going to and you could only find out the address by asking people. Email was the killer application. Everyone posted to email lists, it was about social conversation. After that phase, there was a moment where the web seemed to create this big broadcast space. Now with the so-called Web 2.0. revolution, one can see a big re-introduction of community participation. Meanwhile many-to-many conversations have still been going on all around and outside of the web. Instant messaging and cell phones all point in the same direction and for the web, people eventually figured out socially and technically how to reintroduce it.


Karen: Going back to Internet art, do you feel you can speak about an Internet art canon?

Jon: Well, I think it would suck if we did. I have had plenty of arguments with people about this. At the CAA conference last year, for example, there were two media art panels devoted to defining the digital canon.7

Karen: Yes, I was there.

Jon: So you may understand why by the second panel, I got tired of the elitist tenor of the discussion and kind of gave them an earful. I said it really sounded to me as if all these hierarchs in their ivory towers just step outside one day, look around, get scared when they see ordinary humanity doing the kind of things normally reserved for "real" artists, and then go inside and lock themselves up again. One panelist, Damien Sutton, while talking about Flickr, kept mentioning scrolling down the page as a throwback to flicker films from the 1970s. But in Flickr you don’t scroll, you navigate by tags--so it was clear he was a little out of touch. When I suggested from the audience that the panelists might want to pay more attention to participatory culture, Sutton replied that he completely disagreed with a 100% of everything I said. He added that I was completely wrong and that this whole kind of trust in democracy was crazy. After that, they had time for one more question and someone asked about preservation. This same panelist spoke up again and started answering the question by referencing my name in a very positive light. I assume he didn’t realize I was Jon Ippolito. In any case, what was funny was this kind of privileging of the printed word. I make an argument orally and I am dismissed, but if I make an argument in writing, I must be important.

Karen: I must admit that after reading all your work, I had imagined you a bit older as well, sort of an eminence grise. Maybe that’s where this man was mistaken as well.

Jon: Well, then maybe there is also a discounting of youth and a general misunderstanding that a scholar should be older. To get back to the canon question, there were a number of reactions in the crowd as well as on the panel on why we need a canon. Despite all the history of post-modern critique that canons are exclusive and racist and sexist, one of the arguments was the perceived need to teach something consistently so that everyone can learn the same thing. This is an argument I don’t buy at all. A second argument pointed to the need to inject digital art into the mainstream canon. It seemed as if the goal of Eddie Schanken--a very nice and interesting guy--was to get, say, four digital artists into Janson and that would be enough. To me though, it seems that the whole nature of networks, especially networked art, challenges the presumption of canons--and therefore art history texts with the usual history suspects--in the first place. If you look at the history of networked art, you see people producing artworks under five different names or five different people producing the work under the same name. That is completely antithetical to a notion of the pantheon of artistic geniuses.

Karen: Of course, but if you are trying to inform yourself about this practice and there is no guidance and nothing is included in the art history books, it becomes really difficult to understand. It is an avant-garde movement like the modern movements were avant-garde at a certain point.

Jon: Yes, but this always happens to avant-garde movements. It is always fluid and explosive and some people like Paik get canonized and other people like La Monte Young just drop out of the equation. And even with someone like Paik, his entire performative career, which was more important and more influential at the time than his sculptures filled with videos, has completely evaporated.

Karen: But we know of the existence of his other work, because at least some of his object work is canonized and preserved. I seems to be a trade-off.

Jon: Then I don’t think the trade-off is worth it. Let’s put it this way. When I look on the Internet now and see this cropping up of whatever you want to call it--participatory culture or remix culture--I see a vast audience for works of art that are outside of the purview of your gray-bearded art historians but are recognized by all these lay-people who are it or finding it on YouTube, the people who are discovering art outside of the walls of academia or museums. Isn’t that worth the fact that a couple of people with tweed-jackets have a little trouble finding it because it is not on their bookshelf?

Karen: How would you then communicate the treasures you find now on the Internet to future generations? I am aware of your preservation work with the Variable Media Network and to me it seems almost contradictory to be so opposed to art history creation and art canon creation and at the same time, work on preservation within the museum. Aren’t they linked?

Jon: They are and almost every time when you preserve works of new media, it takes a lot of money, it takes a lot of effort. You have to reinvent everything, maybe possibly write an emulator. But on the other hand, if you look at early games, they have been preserved not by museums, not by curators, not by conservators, but by game enthusiasts and no one gave them a huge grant. They are preserved because they have a fan base, and because some group of geeks mod together an emulator. We say we can’t do that for digital arts because we don’t have enough money. But isn’t it also because we don’t have a big enough fan base for works of the 1960s and 70s and 80s?

Karen: Do you need a fan base for art?

Jon: What I’m trying to say is that we are so nervous about democracy and about opening up the notion of a canon to multiple subcultures, each of which appreciates a different kind of work that could overlap, that we shoot ourselves in the foot. We then agree that only this handful of works deemed important enough to receive the 50,000 dollars to recreate them will survive. The world of gaming shows there is a very different model out there, a very thriving model.


Karen: Do you think that the functions currently performed by the museum--documentation, study, preservation--can be done outside of the institution?

Jon: Well, I think they are different communities. I think that museums do have a role, but I think museums and art historians are digging in their heals in sticking to an expert approach and refusing a popular approach. Where I think there is myopia in this situation is the presumption that you chose between the one or the other. For example, one of the reasons for a digital canon that wasn’t as stupid as some of the other reasons (the "we need a canon to resist against" reason drives me crazy) was the idea that if the masses get to decide, it just becomes a popularity contest. All we’ll end up with in the end, preserved for future culture, is The Legend of Zelda and Paris Hilton videos. Yet I would say that even that concern is misguided, because the alternative to experts and exclusion in canons isn’t this mass culture with a herd instinct, where Time Warner and Disney can manipulate the herd, but it is multiple networks. Networks don’t operate by vote. It is not tyranny of the majority. Networks operate by sub-clustering and the sub-clusters can overlap, but each one obeys its own drummer if you will. The example of came up in one of Beth [Coleman]’s classes. It’s a peer-recommendation system for music. I can be listening to a radio through another person’s play-list and I can be discovering music because that person likes it and maybe I’ll like the next artist in his play-list as well. It is a person-to-person collection.

Karen: I understand, but this assumes an active participation on the side of every individual user. The broader public might just want to have selections made for them, they might appreciate guidance. I agree with you that it is not a question of choosing between the elitist approach or the popular one, but it might as well be that to get to a greater audience or to allow for a greater audience to enjoy internet art, it might be interesting to get the art form out of its isolation in that setting and into something that is much more familiar to them.

Jon: Why is it more familiar to go to a museum and see what the experts have deemed to be the great art of all time than it is to tune into a radio station and do a search and listen to that radio? The difference is that that's radio doesn’t come from a transmitter--it is not NBC or CBS--but from another individual. There is hardly any work done on either side. It’s trivial and it scales with the number of users. It is purely a recommendation system without pretending to be anything else, an authority.

Karen: Might it not be that the narrowing effect can be attractive in a world where we are constantly confronted with this sort of tyranny of choice. I would also think that it is still very much deemed appropriate to go into a museum as a tourist, there is a tradition underlying this. I don’t think you can disregard an institution that has been there for so many years.

Jon: I think there is a role for museums but I think they are on the road to irrelevance, because if their goal is to capture what is most interesting or relevant or prevalent in culture right now on the aesthetic edge then they are failing big time. Matthew Barney, Bill Viola, and so on are not the edge of culture, you know, and people think of them as media artists. The question then is: “how can they adapt and how can they do their job?” I believe they can only do their job by adapting to this new landscape and this will require change, revolution, getting rid of some old viewpoints and timeworn assumptions.

Let’s get back to this question of the role that a museum plays. I have an essay called "Death by Wall Label" coming out in an anthology by Christiane Paul on curating new media. Wall labels in the past have always presented the reader with the name of a single artist, a single title, a single date and a single medium.

From my work with the Variable Media Network it must be clear that I believe that none of these criteria on labels should stay the same. Almost every new media work I have known goes through different iterations over time. For example, in the appendix of this essay, I look at Apartment8, a work by Marek Walczak and Martin Wattenberg with Jonathan Feinberg, which has had two dozen variations in an 18-month period. It is very artificial to put one date on it. In addition, it has other people collaborating on it, so it is also artificial to put one or only a couple of names. We also have to re-examine the notion of an individual collection. I do believe there is a value in having museums collect things, because it gives someone responsibility for it. But on the other hand, I don’t think it makes sense to have an artwork incorporated into only one collection. I changed my mind on this based on a comment Rick Reinhart made in the Preserving the Immaterial symposium9. He said: “wouldn’t it make more sense to do what we do in data-storage, which is have redundant collection?” That makes absolute sense to me, but it fights the whole paradigm of the experts: 'People come to the Guggenheim, because we have Composition no. 1: Lozenge with Four Lines by Mondrian and it is the only place you can see that.’

Karen: I like the idea of redundancy, but then you have a problem with storage or you would need to have them circulate all the time.

Jon: Yes, have them circulate. We could even make it simpler. Let’s talk about Internet art. For Mark Tribe’s net.flag10 for instance, we worked with him [Mark Napier] on an acquisition contract--that is a critical piece of the Variable Media Network--including an endowment for future iterations. The Guggenheim has the obligation to keep this work on line, it’s not a painting that you can take up or put down, it’s a public piece. I showed it today in class and it still has a new flag every 15 seconds. The piece is about 6 years old! But one of the things Mark proposed that we pushed through is that if the Guggenheim for financial or technical reasons can’t fulfill its legal obligation to keep net.flag going--let’s say they run out of money or a virus takes down all the servers--then Mark has the authorization to run it off of his server. It was commissioned and acquired by the Guggenheim, he doesn’t own a version of it, but because it is a public work, that’s the fall-back. And that is so contrary to the way museums think. So redundancy is necessary, but it is not the canon, it is not the one-stop-shopping / everything-in-one-place model, it is the overlapping subcultures model.

There are other models for expertise, in a network not everyone is equal, some people are more connected than others. You may go to some of these router people to get some advice. Sure, you can go to the radio and listen to what NBC thinks is best music, but you can also go to an MP3 blog where people who have no status, except for what the network has given them, have written about music. (There are, by the way, very embarrassing stories about record labels vainly trying to get a piece of that buzz.) So, you don’t have to go out and do all the work yourself, you simply have to know someone who knows someone who then connects you to all of these things. It is a person-to-person connection. That’s how everything in the world works. Curators don’t just get a message of God to decide which one of the hundred artists they visited they are going to bring to the top, they rely on word of mouth. Open networks just make this process more transparent.

Karen: Can you assess more concretely the way in which museums on the North American continent have looked at Internet art in the past decade?

Jon: Each one has done something different. The Walker took the earliest lead in promoting Internet art through their commissions. I received a commission from them. It was $1500 commission, split by three people, but I was really thrilled. In their wisdom, the Walker decided to terminate their Digital Arts Studies Program just as they were launching a new museum of the 21st century, which makes no sense to me.

Karen: That was when Steve Dietz was dismissed?

Jon: Yes, and at least one other person was fired as well. In the meantime DIA became best known for getting established people into web-based art. But all these things were really under the radar you know, these people working on the web commissions were often hired to do entirely different things. The person in DIA who started this, Sara Tucker, was hired to be their network administrator. Steve Dietz was hired to make a database and I applied to the Guggenheim to be a guard. These were all "under the radar" positions.

All of these museums have stuttered in their commitment to Internet art. The only person who is left standing is Christiane Paul at the Whitney and she has an adjunct position, she doesn’t even have a desk. She has enormous respect outside of the museum. But all of us have very little respect inside. MOMA established the media department for the first time last month: “oh, media, wow”.

Karen: Well, they have their connection to PS 1, which--according to critics--has allowed them to focus even more on their modern art collection, while PS 1 would cover the contemporary parts.

Jon: Well, Klaus Biesenbach is the new head of the department right? It is definitely a troubled relationship. But I still think the museum is an important place to work in and from. Because networks and museums are like cats and dogs, they appear different, but really underneath they are the same. The difference is that the Internet is an open network and museums are a closed network. The question thus is:, how do we leverage the fact that museums have certain expertise in networks and in interpretation and so forth and jettison some of the things that they were very proud of before, but have lost their relevance?

Karen: Such as?

Jon: Such as being exclusive containers for culture, being experts in storage, climate control, guards, vaults… that’s not relevant for a digital network world. However, the ability to create a network of interpreters is actually a valuable skill. All these people, registrars and curators, all have art history degrees, all have written papers interpreting paintings, etc. To be able to network them all together so that they can interpret how to recreate something after the artist is deceased is really important. So I think there is a role for them, I just don’t believe that this means a kind of monoculture, where some experts rule the roost. We have too many other examples from the world of participatory culture today that suggest another approach is possible.

Karen: Do you believe it is a generational thing? Do you think that once people from the network generation get into the board of trustees everything will change?

Jon: No, I would like to believe that, but institutions bend people. In my students, for example, I see the propensity and the habit of extremely open network behavior and yet at the same time I also see the ambition to make their way up some corporate hierarchy. So even though they have skills and talents they don’t realize are so valuable, still they want to get a job in a company, earning a reasonable living, the very conventional stuff. It seems like all these supermen with their superpowers just want to be an average Joe. That would be ok were it not that we need those network powers to solve our world’s problems. Hierarchies like corporations and universities are not going to solve the large problems of our world. I don’t believe it. I think we need alternative structures.


Karen: Shall we focus a bit on Guggenheim’s engagement with Internet art. If I am not mistaken the BRANDON commission (1998) has been called the first commission by a museum? It this so?

Jon: Not to my knowledge, but I was not the person who commissioned that work. John Hanhardt and Matthew Drutt commissioned that piece. I was already at the Guggenheim, but I was not the one who decided that.

Karen: What about the Most Wanted Paintings (1995) and Fantastic Prayers (1995) commissions from Dia?

Jon: Yes, I think these were earlier, as were numerous online artworks Steve Dietz commissioned for the Walker. Most Wanted Paintings existed previously as an installation, before it was a networked work. In any case, the fact is that a lot of museums became interested in Internet art at that time.

Karen: I have experienced problems accessing the work via the Guggenheim website. Yet, a random Internet search leads you to it in a couple of seconds. Is there an explanation for this?

Jon: BRANDON was conceived as a year-long involvement in installments. It had contributions by lots of different people. Those contributions didn’t age well; some pieces were fine, others disappeared or 404'd. Again, this wasn’t my project, but I think that there was no policy or initiative in place to acquire the work. They just wanted to commission it, and there has only been an after-the-fact attempt to--what we now loosely call--archive it. To me there is a big difference between archiving and collecting. Archiving is simply saving bits and pieces with no presumption that you will ever re-experience it. Collecting, on the other hand, is a commitment to reinterpreting it, emulating it, migrating it, to do whatever needs to happen to recreate that experience down the road. There wasn’t that commitment for BRANDON for various reasons, but not the least of which was the fact that the Variable Media Network paradigm wasn’t in place by then in the form it needed to be in to operate as a concrete policy.

Karen: Over the years, Guggenheim only engaged in some five pieces. Can you talk a bit about the dynamic behind the scenes? Why only five? Why did it stop?

Jon: It was a time when museum resources were diverted to other things and my focus went elsewhere. The Guggenheim has now retrenched a lot of its interest in new media and John Hanhardt, who was the head of the Film and Media Arts department, has left. He is at the Smithsonian now. This doesn’t mean there are no good people left at the Guggenheim. They have a fabulous collection, great resources, and a wonderful building, but their focus has shifted.

Karen: To?

Jon: That is kind of hard to say because I’m not there anymore.

Karen: Did their focus shift within the Film and Media Arts department?

Jon: No no, within the entire museum.

Karen: So the department doesn’t get the resources it once received?

Jon: Yes, exactly. So they still do some interesting shows, but that position as a leader in media art in the 1990s and beginning of 2000 certainly dropped out.

Karen: With the dot-com crash?

Jon: Yes, pretty much. My feeling about the dot-com crash is that it could have really been exploited by the museums. It was exploited by artists, because the dot-com’s loss was a dot-org’s gain. But it wasn’t exploited that way by museums. So was an enormous venture, a very interesting one. I am not a dot-commer, but this was a pretty interesting model. Yet, instead of reaping, salvaging all the wonderful tools that were made, it was just abandoned. People were very busy and had their priorities, but it didn’t have that much effect on me, because everything I did there, I did pretty much myself anyway.

I applied to be a guard, then it turned out I was mistaken about the position and I was applying for a curatorial assistant position. They had this idea to hire guards with a background in art history. I thought it was a really good idea but it didn’t work out though. In any case, when I was there, no one really paid attention to my work. There were supportive people, but the bottom line is that, I wrote my text, edited it, made the images, uploaded the web pages, and that was that. What difference did it make when I left the museum, I just didn’t have the museum associated with my name anymore?

Karen: Their loss was larger, as they didn’t create the infrastructure to support your work. When you left, all was gone. It is now rather ironic to read the press release of the Internet art commissions: “The Guggenheim is bringing a particularly long-term vision to collecting online art by acquiring Internet art commissions directly into its permanent collection”11 and to see only two pieces in the collection.

Jon: However minor it might seem now, at the time, this moment of internal organization that led to that statement was very important. Maria Pallante was the intellectual property lawyer and she was very open to thinking about these new ways of collecting. We established an endowment that would supposedly skim a certain amount of money off of the commission that would go into an endowment for reprogramming, migration and so forth in the future. I can’t say whether the Guggenheim still honors that, but all these kinds of mechanisms were put in place. And that was very important to me. It would be nice if other people picked them up.

Karen: When did you leave the Guggenheim?

Jon: I left in 2002, but I continued to work for them for a couple more years and finally stopped last spring.

Karen: Do you think we can talk about a resurgence of museum’s involvement in Internet art and networked art?

Jon: Yeah, I think with the activities of the Tate and Whitney, and with even MOMA coming on board a little bit, we could speak about a resurgence. As far as the Guggenheim goes, I think what they are doing--and there is a logic to this--is looking at other parts of their collection that need to be preserved in the same way that media arts would be preserved, with the same kind of mindsets and openness and adaptability of variable media. They are doing a big project with conceptual and environmental art now. Nancy Spector, who is now the chief curator, is doing the next American pavilion at the Venice Biennale, recreating a work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres that was never realized at all. It’s a piece of his and he died quite a few years ago and she is recreating it. The turn of these mechanisms away from media and towards installations and these other forms of conceptual and environmental art is fine, it needs to happen and I’m happy that these instruments can be applied to that.


Karen: You’ve mentioned the Variable Media Network a couple of times in the previous answers. Can you talk a bit about its current situation? Is it the default that is used now in the Guggenheim? And how pervasive has it been within museums?

Jon: I think there is a lot more talk about it than action. In part that is also my fault because I haven’t really had the time to create a universally accessible questionnaire and that is really the key thing. I have written some -grants and gathered some collaborators, so I am hoping to create a web service version of it this coming year. For the first prototypes only the concept was accessible online, everything else happened in Filemaker. Although there were a lot of museums that use Filemaker, it still is an application that is proprietary: you have to own it, you have to download it and install it, it’s kind of complicated. Having it all on the website would mean that you know where it is, everyone can see it, talk about it, and use it. So my goal is to create this persistent web service that has the data for you and that you can access.

Karen: The ultimate consulting web site on how to preserve variable media artworks?

Jon: Yes and the other thing it will hopefully do is to allow comparisons between what has been done in the past to a case one is working on at that moment. I should add that part of the reason for putting it on the web is getting the tool’s development and promotion out of the hands of institutions. Now, to be fair the institutions that are involved are doing a fabulous job. Alain Depocas for example is a saint; he modifies it, tweaks, it, shares it, etc.

Karen: There are people working on it right now?

Jon: Yes, but I guess it is fair to say that it has kind of plateaued and it needs to go to the next step. We already designed the next version in terms of screenshots and organization, but I just have to build it, and I just need time to do that. Another advantage of having it online is that artists--who are not associated with any institution--can also fill it out. Another question is how we expand the Network so that it is not just a canon of five works per year that is preserved? How do we enable as many people as possible to create the instruments for their work to survive?

Karen: Won’t you bump into the need of quality control when artists start filling out forms themselves?

Jon: That is a problem and we found that in the case studies, it is not so much the artist filling the form out, but the curator or conservator sitting down and talking to the artist, filling in their answers. On the other hand, those artists who really care will go ahead and fill it out, whether museums are interested or not, and that speaks to that opening up of the canon.

Karen: Can you talk a bit about your project CyberAtlas?

Jon: It was a project I started in 1995-1996.

Karen: Yes, and than maps were added over time, right? Did Guggenheim commission this work?

Jon: No, I just did it. It actually started as a magazine. Anthony Calnek, at that time the publication director, and I had a map of galleries in Soho. And we came up with the idea of having a map of galleries online, so that was that first one. What I like about this first map ["Electric Sky"] is that you can see the collaborations, because no one had his or her own domain. Universities got servers first and so all the web-links would refer to servers from universities. The slashes were the liaisons of these networks between people [as in ""].

Karen: Today, the project is incorporated in the Guggenheim’s digital art site.

Jon: Whatever, I don’t care, to me it was an experiment in curating. There was no official link accessible from the Guggenheim's home page for most of the project's history. Again, I did most of the work myself. One piece was created by the äda'web folks, I had very little to do with that map, but again it was very much an under-the-radar project that just lived on. No one knew about it.

Karen: Maybe with the crash, they never wanted to emphasize their earlier engagement with it?

Jon: Well, I must say, I think that if the dot-com era had succeeded, it wouldn’t have been kind to Internet art. All these artists with business plans, it would have been a real move away from open formats to closed formats. was a great dot-com project, but it was about to funnel money into MTV style videos and well-known popstars and it wouldn’t have had any relationship to what we now think of as classical net artists. So I don’t think it would have been any good for net art if the dot-com boom had succeeded widely. Yes, we would have had more infrastructures, the websites would be better and more polished, but it wouldn’t have had that edgy outsider network quality that I think is so exciting.

Karen: When comparing museum’s approaches to Internet art on the North American continent to museums on the West-European continent, many critics have concluded that America jumped on the bandwagon, while Europe was just thinking about it.

Jon: The thing about new media is that it is hard to approach them in a slow way. You have to take the plunge. And that's what you see all along the way. You see Steve Dietz deciding to archive ada'web. I was once at a Guggenheim board meeting with the goal to convince people to acquire Internet art. At one point, one guy in the board said, well, I’m going to wing it and say we should acquire this and it swayed the rest of the room. It takes just one person to do that. Unfortunately the steady, slow, sensible, reasonable approach--while being a nice countermeasure to the frenetic always changing "oh my god, got to download the latest version" syndrome--isn’t going to capture the stuff. We need to have some kind of middle ground.


Karen: Do you think Internet art can have economic value?

Jon: It depends on how you interpret economic value. Let’s say you have a cat and you spend $2,000 on vet bills. What is the value of that cat to you? The $5 you spent to buy it, or the $2,000 you spent to keep it alive? Let’s look at the value of Internet art in the same way. Its value is not made up of what it costs to commission something--you can get a good Internet artwork for $15,000--but includes how much you are willing to spend over time. That is a different measure of economic value. It’s not an exchange value. It’s not because you’re investing in the cat, that you are going to sell it later. It’s not going to increase your balance sheet or your annual report. That's not the kind of economy Internet art is working in. That said, there is a possibility of assigning a figure to it.

But, museums are staffed with people who made their money in capital, so it is hard for them to think outside of the exchange economy. Yet, I think art shouldn’t operate via an exchange economy and as much as there are people out there who wish it did and are trying out new models, I don’t think it is for the good.

Karen: Thanks so much for this conversation.

1 The complete records of this investigation titled “.art. Situating Internet Art in the Traditional Institution for Contemporary Art” can be found at

2 Blais, J. & Ippolito, J. (2006). At the Edge of Art. London: Thames & Hudson.

3 Galloway, A.R. (2004). Protocol. How control exists after decentralization. Cambridge: MIT Press.

4 The Simple Net Art Diagram can be found at:

5 All Young-Hae Chang’s projects can be found at

6 For example: