What a happy and difficult investigation this has been. In olden times the artist was taught to never reveal influences and, even more, to never to be respectful to fellow artists. I wanted to see how this can be different. In the end, this little introspection has become a story of a romantic affair with my seasoned social graph.
Eco System Art
In times of social media it is much easier to talk about net.art’s contribution to the history of art. Although some of our nineties stuff was not aimed at eternal and universal truths, it is the underlying principle that counts. What I am talking about here are the so-called informal liaisons that existed between protagonists.
Unlike the Monmartre or Soho eras, we had our concentration of artistic zeal defined only by time and not by space. In addition to that, the way we met was the topic. And the way we used to work constituted dominantly of the most direct exchange between protagonists ( what I call art for artists). We found a way to work without mediation, partly because we disliked it and partly because of freedoms it brought.
Today we are increasingly describing the world through the metaphor of an ecosystem and I dare claim that net.art was a serious pioneering investigation of this direction.
If I am insisting on the structure and function of early net.art ecosystem, then I should first tell a word or two about how Duchamp came into my life. Undoubtedly to the current generation of artists this should sound like a very very weird story from the paleolithic.
First off, at home growing up there was a grand green history of contemporary art by Argan and then there was a show of Boite en Valise in the Contemporary Arts Museum in Belgrade. Mum could have had some other books, the museum could have shown other stuff,Utter randomness disconnected entirely from my possible interests or even from curricula of my then schools. Chance. But it was this way, these threads in my early life.
It is practically unimaginable today that there was such a distance then between my possible interests and what could allow their fulfillment. It was a strange world we lived in.
Encyclopedic academia Duchampiana (the vast number of works and their ownership) is preventing me from being seriously synthetic about this dead French man. Instead, I will try to sum up his influence on my work by a single piece that has haunted me ever since I saw it in a Grassi show.
“LHOOQ Rasée” is a straightforward reproduction of Mona Lisa without a mustache that Duchamp signed and gave to Aragon in 1930. The conceptual u-turn (or a double o-turn, an 8-turn really) that I perceived in it when viewing it completely shook me where it should.
It is for me the one most important piece of good art of the past century and the person with the wit and reflex to produce it is Mt. Rushmore to me. It gives me tremendous pleasure to reproduce that work here, in the form of my very own reproduction of Mona Lisa, thus avoiding the intellectual property laws. It actually pisses me off that I have to do that because someone is literally pulling the giant from under my feet.
Ever since the early struggles with Duchamp, I was hitting the constraints of literature not just as creative challenge but also as irrelevant. As a big OuLiPo fan I was busy looking at better constraints slowly slipping into somewhat conventional postmodern art of text. Luckily, the anxiety was frustrating enough to drive me look for a new fix.
And then my dear friend Slaven showed me Martek. This guy is a Croatian conceptual artist from the eighties whose artistic choices helped me decide that I make sense. Just like Duchamp abandoned painting (and Broodthaers poetry) so did Martek leave his literary channel and exchanged it for a much broader thing described as Expanded Media.
Bingo For Me
What followed is again a mysteriously slow and work intensive process typical of pre-internet times. First I saw few collages in Slaven’s place in Dubrovnik. Then there was a small catalog with maybe a few more b/w pictures and a dumb intro text. It took extra patience to dig out more flyers and after a month maybe see something like a dozen of pieces. Crazy.
My luck was that unlike Duchamp, Martek was smart enough to be alive when I needed him so I managed to travel to Zagreb to meet him and talk about all these things of art. The most influential single piece of Martek in my life was not a visual work, but a sentence he wrote at the beginning of an essay from 1987: “An artist should eat meat so he can hate the state better”. Touché.
For the sake of this intro and exhibit I actually repeated the trip to Zagreb (this time from the direction of Ljubljana and not Belgrade ) and even arranged for my then girlfriend Ana come over and make a set of paparazzi style pictures including the hotel valet coming to tell me we are being photographed.
Now, this is dangerous. It was one thing to carefully reveal influences over me and totally another to claim I’ve influenced someone. Luckily it becomes a bit easier when I try to describe this through the logics of the medium. One feature of this electrifying mass creation and collaboration from the period of early net.art was that ideas truly freely began floating via direct e-mail, mailing lists and quickly curated link exhibitions at various European festivals. It was in this climate that my intervention with Documenta X gathered very very rapid response by the whole eco system, Rtmark included.
I find the guts to talk of influence only in the sense that the amazing stuff they did later included the copying of entire web sites of institutions. While I was very symbolic and minimalist, their work went the extra mile and then many more. Where I was a salon kind of soft arty prankster, these crazy Americans bulldozed the entire field and so amazingly changed the game for very many younger artists.
Above all it is important that juices are still flowing – we’ve stayed at each other’s places in EU and US, been to dozens of festivals and shows together.
Just like with Rtmark I am now talking of a new media group of people with fake names so even if someone should come out and call me a liar I can always claim I influenced the other, original members of the group that they never even met. These Italians are even worse – before seriously jumping into net.art they belonged to the Luther Blisset Project. Since they were the armed wing, looking at new media, the logical thing for them was to investigate net.art, and since I was practically their neighbor (Slovenia and Italy are next to each other) they simply came over. They did the Martek on me.
Again, like with Rtmark, if at all I can talk of influence it was in copying of entire sites and then building their very own discourse. Just like the Luther Blisset Project did in Italy at the time (for instance with the fake Hakim Bey translation) the object of attack of 0100101110101101.org was not only the System as such but more specifically the “comformism in counterculture”. By pissing off people in their own sphere these smart Italians managed to gather momentum and are still most successful, massively influencing people everywhere they go.
The finite number of influences that I have had the space and time to describe has left an enormous number of people out of this little essay. Not only is this politically incorrect (yuck), but it is creating a very distorted picture. If I want to remain honest I should now start digging real deep and listing alphabetically all the people – artistic and not – who’s attitudes and work have formed my net.art work.