Alexi Shulgin's Form Art, 1997

Alexi Shulgin’s Form Art, 1997

In the late nineties, the internet was still a kind of wild-west for nerds and young people who had grown up playing video games in the 1980‘s. The idea of what a website was or could be was still evolving. It is my belief that the full potential of the internet as a personal creative tool was never realized, or at least was never popularized or accepted. Could the internet have developed into primarily a tool of self-expression and art-making rather than a behemoth of competing corporate interests like Google and Facebook? Most content created for the internet today appears not on personal domains and home pages, but on existing dot-coms owned by social networking companies, replete with advertising and corporate labels.

The dot-com is the “white cube” of the internet, in the same way that the white cube of the physical art gallery represents the ideas of possibility, neutrality, and a clean slate.  Furthermore, the dot-com is one of few digital phenomena that cannot exist twice. While one could feasibly copy every bit of information on a particular website and host it somewhere else, the dot-com itself is a flag in the dirt. To put it most dramatically, there is only one joehedges.com.  But despite the inherent scarcity of the dot-com, unfortunately websites as works of art remain difficult to commodify. There is perhaps only one internet artist, Raphael Rosendaal, who has had great success commodifying and selling websites (http://www.artwebsitesalescontract.com). However, even Rosendaal also creates prints and other physical art objects that relate to his websites, perhaps to supplement his income and/or to allow his work to be traditionally curated.

Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans's Jodi.org

Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans’s Jodi.org

Ben Benjamin's superbad.com

Ben Benjamin’s superbad.com

Another major problem in creating internet works of art (and this is just scratching the surface) is the rapid rate at which online consumers are used to devouring information and clicking through images. The physical art gallery commands a kind of slow reflection which simply has no online equivalent. Thus, one of the most successful aspects of early internet art pieces like superbad.com and jodi.org is density. Rather than push against our tendencies, these sites remind us of our obsessive relationship to clicking and navigation online as they subvert the commonly accepted purpose of a website–to deliver understandable information.

Is “internet art” even possible or valid today?  It is perhaps ironic and ridiculous that I have chosen to use the internet to create art work inspired by one of our National Parks, sites which are well-known for their beautiful, meditative qualities.  While my latest project solgonda.com encourages rapid navigation at times and borrows heavily from the conceptual aims of early net artists, as much as possible I have included scenes that suggest a more contemplative approach from the viewer, using traditional formalist and narrative techniques such as lighting and music to encourage slowness.  Increased bandwidth means more contemporary possibilities.  Gone are the days of early internet works that presented a glitched, dark, confused view of cyberspace.  The internet is a comfortable, daily part of our existence now, an existence that is both glorious and mundane.  As such, for contemporary online art to connect with audiences it should reach beyond cold cyber-tropes and present a more human range of moods, experiences, and content.