PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 25.1 (2003) 119-124
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Internet Inter Alia
Interaction: Artistic Practice in the Network, ed. Amy Scholder with Jordan Crandall, New York: Eyebeam Atelier/Distributed Art Publishers, 2001.
In his introduction to Interaction: Artistic Practice in the Network, Brian Holmes suggests that the "threaded conversations of <eyebeam> seem theoretically astute, experimentally vital, and yet politically somewhat naïve . . . because such slight attention was paid to the 'artistic practice in the network' in which we were actually engaged: the constitution of an experimental social formation on a global scale, with specific characteristics and possibilities." The title of the book notwithstanding, Interaction is not really about artistic practice at all. Rather, it is a well-edited compilation of writings on the manner in which the Internet has transformed our notions of the body and its embodiment, global and local politics and notions of identity, language, and, in the shortest chapter, art. Interaction began as an online forum, an annual virtual event in which an international group of twenty-two scholars, critics, and artists were asked to contribute their thoughts on "the changing modes of perception, representation, and identification as a result of the Internet and new technologies."
In addition, nine artists contributed net-based projects inspired by the List Serve discussion on <eyebeam><blast>. This discussion, the "first" of the annual discussions sponsored by Eyebeam Atelier and Blast/The X-Art Foundation, took place over the space of three months in 1998. Then, Internet literacy was not yet obligatory for everyone (at least everyone in first and second world countries), although the landscape/Netscape was rapidly changing. As suggested by the above quotation, Holmes, in writing his introduction some years later, was aware of the fact that much of what was said had become somewhat anachronistic. Indeed, having read this book in 2002, I cannot help but feel as though I missed the party. Not having had the opportunity to participate in the initial online discussion, I can only content myself with the (edited) leftovers. The excitement felt by many of the scholars who were participating in the discussion is still present, but only as the ghost-like presence of an e-mail that has long since been deleted. [End Page 119]
That said, Interaction, by virtue of its format of short responses, contains a discussion that is at times fascinating, intriguing, irritating, bombastic, humble, but never boring. The responses are grouped under seven categories: embodiment, networks, identity, institutions, language, disappearance (subtitled "art on life support"), and politics. These sections of text are interspersed with artists' projects made especially for the book—contributing artists include Ken Goldberg, Ursula Biemann, Ricardo Basbaum, Jodi.org, Bracha Lichtenberg-Ettinger, Critical Art Ensemble, Knowbotic Research, Keller Easterling, and Eve Andrée Laramée. Margaret Morse and Carlos Basualdo contributed two more essays on the "poetics" of a Listserve conversation and the margins of globalization. By far the most interesting chapters were those that dealt with issues still very much relevant (if not more so) to Internet users today—issues such as embodiment and identity. What happens to the body when technology becomes an extension of that body? Is the technology represented by the computer and the Internet a force of evil that undermines the pre-given real of the body, or are there different ways to regard the meaning of that technology? Particularly interesting in this context is the response of Katherine Hayles. The "posthuman is best understood. . . not as an antihuman annihilation of human life as we know it, but rather as the newest phase of a process that has been ongoing for thousands of years of cognitively enriched environments. . . . Seen in this way, the posthuman offers us a way to think about human machines that are life-enhancing rather than threatening." Or, as Martin Jay put it several responses later, does not the fact that he wears contacts make him posthuman? From the thoughtful responses contained in this section, one can begin to see the ways in which Donna Harraway's cyborg—a utopian dream in the...