Debugging the 21st Century

Scrolling Down the Digital Side of Contemporary Art

That was fast: just four years ago, “new media art” was an isolated field of its own, rarely overlapping with the mainstream art world; a situation described by Claire Bishop in 2012 as “Digital Divide.” Things have moved since. Digital natives in Western metropoles have been busy working alone or in various collectives with names often bearing capital letters: LuckyPDF, PCmusic, DISmagazine. Piece by piece, digitally informed art has entered the mainstream located between Venice Biennial pavilions and commercial galleries, thereby being labelled “post-internet art” by art critics and theorists. In their reflections, two aspects stand out.

Post-internet art is not about the internet. Instead it is reflecting today’s aesthetic of screens and/or social media channels thereby addressing “the user as an ocular subject” (Benjamin Bratton). As such, it does less focus on technology, but more on users being directly linked to our prevailing economic system. For this DISmagazine, about to curate the next Berlin Biennale, is a good example. Their “online-magazine” is a platform selling digital images that are conceptually suitable for high capitalism (realistically, they don’t sell much), with pictures similar to photography used in brand advertising. In times of high capitalism, the market is understood as the more contemporary audience, which artistically needs to be explored.

This brings one to the second aspect: the post-critical gesture of some post-internet art, which is often mirroring, sometimes even affirming existing capitalistic conditions. The performative effect of exhibiting those conditions has generally been acknowledged (for example by Hannah Magauer and Caroline Busta in Texte zur Kunst Nº 100). But the crux of the matter lies in the lack of distance. Is this noncritical or “being drastically real,” i.e. not clinging on to ideology critique in a time that does not obviously offer an alternative to capitalism?

From a mid-internet Marxist point of view, delving into economy is always interesting, especially because what comes to light here is rather complex. For one thing, the market explored in post-internet artworks is often one evolving around brands. Thus, it functions different than the art market, for which social media is not very important. The internet has wrongly been hailed as a technology that will allow artists a more direct distribution less controlled by the art market. Although the art market is using apps for selling art, having lots of social media followers does not mean for an artist to have entered the art world’s value chain of money and distinction. It does allow you to claim yourself in a vanguard role, though.

For another thing, the role of the market is not the same everywhere in the Western world, despite globalization. In the UK for example, culture is not simply the opposite of the market as it is the tendency in Germany. Instead, it has always been a sphere where working class productions excluded from the high-brow taste of posh people and their museums can be distributed. In the US, the dark magic of the American Dream has given the market its own cultural role to be explored. And as it is with explorations, they need to be bold, but not necessarily also successful.

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