Text: Internet Art(s)

*image Jodi: “404.jodi.org” (1998)

Internet Art(s)

A brief introduction to the art practices that developed over the first decade of the Internet.

The main medium is the computer

Computer and communication technologies are themes that have been explored since the sixties by artists, such as Joseph Beuys, John Cage, E.A.T., Nam June Paik among many others. However, in the nineties, the dissemination of the Internet brought about a new and different approach to art. In 1994 Antoni Muntadas created “The File Room”, which was a participatory, temporary computer installation coupled with a permanent virtual database with user-generated material on the subject of censorship on the web.

The then new medium brought with it significant changes in art practice and almost seemed utopian; as a new public sphere it was able to bridge the gap between time and space and create new communication networks and artistic collaborations beyond borders. This new technology that allowed the distribution and exchange of material and information enabled artists to build online art communities, such as Nettime, Rhizome, The Thing, Syndicate as well as to create art for the net and for the new emerging cultural forms.

Net.art, net art, web art

In the mid-nineties, the Internet started to be widely used through the World Wide Web (1993) and until now the most popular human-computer interface. It was by accident that the term net.art came into being in 1995 when the artist Vuk Cosic received an email in which the only words he could make sense of were net.art. Since then, this term has been used interchangeably with the terms net art or web art [i.e. for art works taking place on the World Wide Web] in order to contextualise art practices on the Internet. Inke Arns wrote in 2001 that “Net.art not only uses the Internet as a medium, but especially as a location and as material.”

Artists started to experiment with the new language of the web including HTML protocols, browsers, websites, hypertext, emails and other tools, as well as with themes and practices, such as appropriation, deconstruction, networks, information and performance in the aftermath of previous art movements like the Dadaism, the Fluxus and Conceptual Art. The artistic activity on the web is often characterized by an interventionist and critical attitude towards the medium itself focusing more on the process of art rather than the object of art. Moreover, the viewer is not often just an observer. On the contrary, most of the times he/she is invited to participate either by interacting with the artwork or contributing to its production and development. Art practices on the web are often developed through collaborations between artists or artists and audience demystifying the idea of authorship.

Browsing through deconstruction, intervention and narrative

In the mid nineties, Jodi created a series of web art projects such as “http://wwwwww.jodi.org/“, “404” and “OSS” bringing the source code [the code used to tell the browser how to present a website] to the fore and sometimes presenting abstract forms or creating a sense of error to the viewers/users. In 1998, the group I/O/D presented a different browser, namely “Web Stalker”, which imitated the structure of the web by converting websites into code and hyperlinks into graphics thus allowing the user to see the “internal” structure of the network. In the same year, the American artist Mark Napier created “Shredder 1.0”, a different browser that was able to deconstruct and “cut up” websites.

Olia Lialina, with her interactive work «My boyfriend came back from the war» (1996), created a non-linear narrative with references to the cinematic technique of montage where the user/viewer is allowed to change the structure of the narrative by clicking on screen texts and images. Later in 2000 in her work “The Last Real Net Art Museum», the viewer could see and experiment with different remixes of the same work created by other artists using different media. Vuk Cosic appropriated and copied the website of Documenta X (1997), which was the first Documenta to include net.art. His website took the name “Documenta Done” questioning the concepts of authorship and reproduction in art.

At the time when the Internet was commercialised through the diffusion of “domain names” [e.g. name.com] in the market, the British artist Heath Bunting created the website “readme.html or (Own, be Owned or Remain Invisible)” 1998, where every word of an article written about him corresponded to a “.com” website. Using the strategy of hypertext, Bunting created a hyperlink environment highlighting issues such as the privatisation of language and the Internet by corporations. A little later, the manifesto “Introduction to net.art (1994-1999)” was published by the artists Alexei Shulgin and Natalie Bookchin proclaiming net.art’s autonomy from museums and institutions as well as the ability of net artists to produce, distribute, show their work and interact autonomously with their audience on the Internet. In 2001, the duo collective of 0100101110101101.org [Eva and Franco Mattes] spread a virus to all the computers connected to the network of the 49th Venice Biennale. Later, the artists invited online users to “download” the code of the virus proclaiming on their website that it was not just a virus; it was also a work of art.

The transition: from Web to Web 2.0 – On and off the net

In the mid 2000’s, the Web changed and its design was enhanced by services focusing on the networking of content added by the users [e.g. images, videos, personal profiles, etc]. At that time, we encountered new platforms of information and content exchange such as blogs, social networking sites such as Facebook and YouTube. From then on, the Web has often been called Web 2.0 and digital communication networks have gradually diffused in everyday activities. In 2006, Golan Levin, Kamal Nigam and Jonathan Feinberg created “The Dumpster”, an online “bin” on the theme of teenage break-ups. The artists created an interactive artwork which extracted and visualized data that was shared on blogs by couples who had broken up. The user was invited to navigate through “dumped” data that mirrored a kind of romantic pain.

“A net art work can exist completely outside of the Net…The “net” in net art is both a social and a technological reference (the network).” (Bosma 2011) The culture that develops on and off the net is a subject investigated by many of the above-mentioned artists, while the focus is increasingly moving towards the study of digital networks and information itself, an art practice that we now might frame under the term networked art.


Antonio Muntadas – The File Room
Vuk Cosic
Heath Bunting _readme
Olia Lialina – My boyfriend came back from the war
Last real net art museum
Eva and Franco Mattes
Alexei Shulgin & Natalie Bookchin – Introduction to net.art
Golan Levin – The Dumpster
The Thing
Josephine Bosma, Nettitudes: Let’s Talk Net Art, NAi Publishers, Rotterdam and the Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam, 2011.

The article was commissioned by Goethe-Institut Athen for the ArtUP! platform. The article can be found in 5 languages on the project’s website: http://www.goethe.de/ins/tr/lp/prj/art/med/str/en9830749.htm