PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 24.3 (2002) 74-81
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Fulfillment in the New Economy
Marni Kotak, Livesystems.net.
Marni Kotak's Livesystems.net makes Internet art relevant to everyone who is influ- enced by the Internet, that is, practically everyone. Her site is one individual's perspective on how the burgeoning influence of the Internet and new media affects mass culture and society. On the surface, the site is a tool for marketing Kotak's artwork. But it goes beyond selling her photographs; it inspires its viewers to consider the nature of community and the role of desire and fulfillment in a society driven by digital communications.
The experience of the Internet at present is centered on the website, a unitary virtual object that can be accessed independently from any part of the global network. The discrete website is now almost ubiquitous in business and popular culture; most businesses consider their websites as vital ancillaries to their existing operations. Many firms avoid conventional channels altogether and transact all of their business over the Internet. Internet-friendly institutions such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Walker Arts Center, and SFMOMA also see Internet art as focused on the website. These museums put links to artists' websites on the museums' own sites, pass out honors and prizes for websites, and acquire sites outright and install them on the museum's own computer network. A leading example of this is Razorfish Subnetwork (RSUB), developed by the Razorfish design firm. A 1998 version of RSUB was acquired by SFMOMA. 1
But a website is not always a fixed object like a television commercial that provides every viewer with the same experience. On some websites, it makes a difference who the viewer is. This variation could be manifested in a different welcome message or a different weather report. On these personalized websites, users provide information about themselves and receive news, data, or information relevant to them. Although a user in San Antonio and a user in Minneapolis may be accessing the same weather site simultaneously, they will experience it differently because the site displays only the weather forecast pertinent to each user. [End Page 74]
Kotak's work comments primarily on these latter kinds of websites. Her website is not a static installation of her art. It is rather a marketing platform for her own line of products, and it places them in a context that encourages viewers to respond actively to the site, even without the use of personalization. Marketing for Kotak is the most intriguing form of interactivity, because it deals with how businesses learn about individuals' basic desires. Marketing is driven by questions such as: What do people want? How can we give people what they want? These kinds of questions also fascinate artists; Kotak attempts to answer them as an artist would, but she poses as a marketer to ask them. She gives the impression that Livesystems.net is a real business that operates in a commercial context. Certainly, she is pleased to accept orders for her artwork placed through her website. Her "business plan," though, is not a document that includes statistics on market penetration or sales projections. Instead, she states simply that her product is information on how she achieves her desires. This information is also her artwork, both on the individual level, in that her works ("livesystems") are explanations of fulfillment, but also on the holistic level—the entire site is an example that Kotak can have what she wants. Her website is the paramount livesystem in her body of work, because it demonstrates that the artist can maintain her identity and create the work she is inspired to create in the contemporary mass-media-saturated world.
The Livesystems.net experience begins at its opening screen, which asks viewers to comply with a non-disclosure agreement. The NDA is a business artifact that is ordinarily used to control the dissemination of a business idea. Kotak's contract charges viewers with a number of legal obligations, the...