CS: It has less to do with the information itself and much more to do with just how open systems are. The information itself is constantly changing. There's always new information. Much more important are the hierarchies of systems, what's accessible to whom. Hierarchies are established with passwords and codes and so on. These have to be broken by hackers again and again. Because of this, hierarchies have to be restructured over and over, and vertically structured systems are rebuilt horizontally. This is also the decisive difference between the distribution of art and Net art. Art distribution is a hierarchical system, so it's vertically structured. I can't just hang my art work in a museum. But I can go to the Net and "hang up" my Web site, for example.
TB: Of course, that's precisely what so many artists found so interesting about the Internet in the beginning. But in the meantime, it's even the people who deal with it professionally can't keep an overview of everything that's going on in the field of Net art because there's so much of it. A paradoxical situation has developed: Precisely because "everyone is an artist" on the Internet, it's especially important that Net artists establish some sort of relationship with art institutions in order to gather some sort of recognition...
CS: The only function of an art museum I can accept on the Net is that of establishing a context. Which means that I don't just put my Web site out there where no one can find it, but rather, I place it within a certain context, for example, an art server. Presuming that it's a Web site at all, because besides the World Wide Web, there are many other services and levels on the Net where art can take place. But the art server shouldn't be an art institution with a curator.
TB: In a way, an art server is the Internet's equivalent for producer's gallery. That is, there are artists who run a server themselves and fill it up with their own ouvre. This is fine for the artist, but it may well not be of any general interest to anyone else. And that's what curators are for: To be a "gatekeeper" that only allows Net art through which will have a certain value for the general public and not just for the artist who made it. In my opinion, this filter function is extremely important for the art public...
CS: Of course there are people who need this filter function because they don't have the time or the desire to look around for themselves. But with regard to "Extension," for example, there was nothing there that interested me. One should always be aware of just how elitist and questionable the choices made by a museum actually are.
TB: There is the historical example of video, where the processes of canonization and the induction into museums took place, processes which are probably on the verge of occurring with Net art. What's actually so bad about the fact that museums are dealing with Net art and trying to evaluate the various works? After all, that's the job of an art museum, to contribute toward the creation of context and the formulation of a canon.
CS: The moTBo for the museum is: Collect, protect, research. A museum that seeks to deal seriously with Net art would have to collect Net art and seriously consider all the consequences of just how this art form is to be preserved and researched.
TB: Aren't you contradicting yourself? On the one hand, you're saying that Net art only takes place on the Net and that's where it should stay and the museums should leave it well enough alone, and yet, on the other hand, you're saying that museums should be collecting Net art...
CS: If a museum were to seriously take on the challenge of collecting Net art, I could accept that. But I doubt that that's what they actually have in mind. And what happened at the Galerie der Gegenwart is a prime example. They simply wanted to quickly swim alongside the net.art hype, to sample a bit of the cream topping on all things cyber and Net. But they've shown that they had absolutely no idea what that would actually mean in that ever since the competition, there have been no more efforts in this direction whatsoever. Since the awards ceremony in September 1997, the Web site hasn't been updated.
But if competent people were to work with a significant museum on the idea of seriously collecting Net art, I'd approve. It'd be an incredible challenge, because not only would the collection of works and the formulation of theory be involved, but also a tremendous amount of hardware and software would be necessary in order to be able to read the data according to technical standards which go out of date within the shortest periods of time. So technical specialists who could handle the inevitable repairs and maintenance would also be necessary. But the museums are hesitant when faced with such a huge task. Such a collection would have to have a very broad range and gather as much material as possible, which would also necessarily mean that a certain evaluation and hierarchy of the individual tasks would have to be created.
TB: What you accomplished with your action is that the Galerie der Gegenwart won't be dealing with Net art at all anymore. Would you consider this a success?
CS: The idea of starting a collection of Net art with "Extension" was put into cold storage, in a way. Now they've offered Stelarc a residency. This compromise, that is, working with a single artist whose work is quickly comprehensible, is much more consistent, I think. With Stelarc, in terms of content, they are venturing out onto a new terrain, but it's still nevertheless compatible with a museum.
TB: Your "Female Extension" reminds me of the contextual art or the institutional critique of the early nineties. In the art world at the time, there was also this idea of focusing on and calling into question the conventions, the mechanisms of the creation of norms and canons. These were questions which only interested those who had anything to do with art. Could it be said that your work was essentially aimed strictly at the jury?
CS: The jury was, of course, most immediately effected, although the members didn't realize at all that "Female Extension" had anything to do with art - all the beTBer. As for how much other people, for example, the artists participating in "Extension," were effected by my action, I don't know. But I got a lot of feedback from people who weren't directly involved and for whom I drew aTBention to an important problem, namely, the aTBempt to make Net art museum-ready. Many Net artists don't know themselves just how they should react to this and careen back and forth between the underground and the professional world. I don't have this problem because my work was the aTBack on the structure of the museum itself.
Published on nettime-list, 1998
Hacktivism, Network Art Activism, by Electronic Disturbance Theatre, publ. Autonomedia, New York, 2001