The main problem I have with the Post-Internet is the hype around it, and it made me think about the mechanism behind it, conformity, which functions like a double-edged sword. In Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” (1948), the worst form of conformity is illustrated when the ‘winner’ Tess Hutchinson is stoned to death by the town people upon choosing the paper with the black dot. On the other hand, conformity is so much about being human and ways to be part of a group.
Hype works in the realms of conformity. Arguably, nothing is as hyped-up now as the Post-Internet which can be seen in music world, as with hip-hop collectives ODD Future1 and Stockholm-based Sad Boys2 with rapper Yung Lean in the foreground—or with fashion brands like Spanish Shallowww and Australian House of Cards.3 Here we have examples of how Internet culture is picked up by conventional media and then becomes widely recognized. No one knows what “the next big thing” will be, but many people try—like a lottery or gamble, one attempts to determine which number / horse / car / team will be chosen next.
Within cultural spheres, no one wants to admit the arbitrariness of who / what makes the canon or who gets picked from the bunch; instead, one generally discusses hype. This phenomenon is connected to celebrity culture: what is seen / heard / bought is what is important, which is also seen in the type of brand-culture that is prominent in products based on the Internet. In Isabelle Graw’s High Price: Art Between the Market and Celebrity Culture (2009), she relates celebrity culture, in this case, in the art world with economic incentive.
The business of art is often labeled as arbitrary. Galleries, auction houses and collectors set prices on works which seem random. Yet, if the art world is volatile and fluid, almost arbitrary, it’s arguably “the hype” surrounding an artist or movement stirred by the artist in the eyes of the general public which matters. Perhaps, the economy of art / art business appears arbitrary (e.g., consider the pricing of clothes—do production costs alone regulate prices? Not quite), due to the level of hype surrounding an artist? Hype means money. Almost everyone with a smart phone, so to say, manages their life as a micro-business through social media. It can be argued that hype is the Internet global currency, measured by the amount of ‘likes’ generated by a post, which is equal to fame. Isabelle Graw remarks:
By means of social networks, self-management techniques and the biographical effort demanded by applications of Web 2.0, everyone becomes a mini celebrity in their own right. Conscious and purposeful concern for one’s self-esteem prompts us to pursue giving and taking as a game of sorts, in which we utilize our own attention in order to court the attention of others. It renders the exchange a sort of game involving supply and demand. This appraisal rests on assuming that the creation of self-esteem springs from two sources: from direct self-respect as well as through the feelings of self-esteem generated by external esteem.4
The border between being viewed as either a public or private figure has become blurred, and this is apparent in our everyday lives. We not only go around being “mini-celebrities,” but we manage our lives as if we are companies. Going from being a nobody to being a somebody is within close reach for everyone.
In the music industry, artists can secure record deals through an extensive social media word-of-mouth campaign. A recent example is the hip-hop collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (OFWGK†Δ,) who have since 2006 built an empire. Most of its members have record deals, media coverage, a following of fans all over the world, a clothing brand: the dream. Well, music is a bigger industry than art, but this is probably the first time ever that the general populace chooses which artists receive record deals—and not the other way around (where the industry chooses on our behalf). This method is imperfect, but it works in principal most of the time. But there are different ways of working the hype. Most artists who emerge from the depths of the Internet end up doing large-scale collaborations with mainstream artists: Tyler the Creator, a member of Odd Future together with Pharell Williams, for example. These kinds of collaborations become a way for the mainstream to be relevant and add hype value to what they are already doing. Yet, this phenomenon remains problematic (i.e., a double-edged sword) because, ultimately, hype dies with popularity.
To return to the art world and how Post-Internet came to be, let us go back in time. In 1996, artist Mark Tribe established Rhizome, an email list and affiliate in residence at the The New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York. It became a leading international organization to support art and technology. Since 1999, Rhizome has maintained an online art data base / archive of digital art called ArtBase that today contains over 2,500 artworks.5 The affiliation with The New Museum proved to be a fruitful connection. For the 2009 exhibition “The Generational Triennial: Younger Than Jesus,” it consisted of 50 artists from 25 countries and tried to capture the zeitgeist by showing artists born after 1976.6
In this show, regard the piece by artist duo AIDS-3D, consisting of art world sweethearts / heartthrobs Nik Kosmas and Daniel Keller. I have long been fascinated by this story; I remember back in 2009 that I was perplexed by it. Kosmas and Keller made a GIF called OMG Obelisk (2007),7 a moving image of a shrine with the words OMG (Oh My God), uploaded it to Rhizome—then someone at The New Museum came across it and wanted it to be in their show. But the problem was their artwork’s medium; it was a GIF and not an actual object, so AIDS-3D solved this issue by creating OMG Obelisk out of MDF, which The New Museum later bought. I didn’t have a problem with the success of that work, because in my opinion, that was AIDS-3D’s best work, but back in 2009, my problem was that I felt that Internet art should stay online and that it loses its essence when removed from that context. Little did I know that this occurrence would become the core of the Post-Internet: taking Internet-based aesthetics and turning them into physical objects for profit.
The ‘movement’ (and by now, it has developed into just that) is sometimes called the New Aesthetic8—a term coined by artist James Bridle to capture how the visual language of the Internet and digital technology has become intertwined with the physical world.9 Post-Internet is naturally connected to Internet art, but as these names entail, there is a divide between the digital and natural world. So, what happens when the digital comes (back) IRL or AFK? This is a rhetorical question—because I have no idea.
Another pivotal player in the hype around Post-Internet (or New Aesthetic) and the birth of it is DIS Magazine.10 They have become so sought after in the art world that they are now official curators of the 2016 Berlin Biennale. This is an example of hype helping the mainstream by adding relevance and newness to it. Artnet.com writes:
Given their internet-centric aesthetic, one would expect the biennial to take a strong tack towards post-internet art. That’s an exciting prospect for a biennial that hasn’t had a widely-celebrated edition since Documenta 14 curator Adam Szymczyk and Elena Filipovic’s outing in 2008.11
The Berlin Biennale, as an institution, gives legitimacy and cogency to DIS Magazine and leads them into the mainstream.
But what is actually produced when transforming Internet non-objects into physical artworks? With the rise of Post-Internet, a new wave of abstract art emerged. In the Vulture article by Jerry Saltz “Zombies on the Walls: Why Does So Much New Abstraction Look the Same?” he expresses a deep concern about new abstract painting. Saltz starts by summarizing a lesson in art history:
For the past 150 years, pretty consistently, art movements moved in thrilling but unmysterious ways. They’d build on the inventions of several extraordinary artists or constellations of artists, gain followings, become what we call a movement or a school, influence everything around them, and then become diluted as they were taken up by more and more derivative talents. Soon younger artists would rebel against them, and the movement would fade out. This happened with Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and Fauvism, and again with Abstract Expressionism after the 1950’s. In every case, always, the most original work led the way.12
In the last sentence, Saltz argues that “the most original work led the way,” but this is too romantic for my taste. It would be like saying that only white middle class men from a Western country can make original work, and it was their work (and not their background) which led the way. But Saltz goes on to make a striking analysis of the current situation of art and, more specifically, the relationship between art and the art market. He notes:
A large swath of the art being made today is being driven by the market, and specifically by not very sophisticated speculator-collectors who prey on their wealthy friends and their friends’ wealthy friends, getting them to buy the same look-alike art.13
Saltz explains how the market is driven by a speculation of what art will rise in price on auction (a process that has sped up in the last couple of years where we see the work of more contemporary and younger artists being sold at auctions). Saltz goes on to coin the term ‘crapstraction,’ which is the main example of “look-alike art”: contemporary abstract art. This movement is connected to the Post-Internet; both are contemporary and include artists from the same generation, and when digital and Internet art moved into the realm of reality, they often took on the form of abstraction. One explanation for this is that the generation’s artists attempt to capture a life constantly bombarded with images, both online and IRL, and the best way to capture this existential quality is through abstraction. The phenomenon of “digital paintings” (where artists draw / sketch on a computer / tablet then the print of the image is mounted into a painting) makes the process and essence, going from digital into real-life, of Post-Internet, but also often dull abstract painting (crapstraction). So, here we can discuss problems of a market-driven art world: digital art online = no money, real-life object in the shape of a painting = ka-ching (hopefully). Saltz also captures another important aspect of this, and that is the main problem with hype: conformity. Everything is connected in a circular kind of way: money, market, new art, established art and so on. When the new and established are intertwined like this, where they thrive off of each other without any form of criticism, it begins to resemble a cultural monopoly where we are fed the same art (music, clothes, etc.) over and over again. The new ceases to exist and becomes the established—faster than ever. But what is good enough to survive?
I have difficulty deciding where I want this text to go. This indecisiveness stems from a few recurring thoughts:
- Post-Internet, whether it is in art, music or fashion, being an example of the zeitgeist—and I being child of that.
- Fearing the future of art (and culture) being governed by market, money, popularity, fame and the Internet.
- The lottery of hype and fame, which arguably leads to loss of power, due to market, money, etc. of what is produced and essentially remembered.
- The feeling that art is losing its soul.
My generation’s contribution to the future of art history won’t be objects. The Internet is, in its best form, a benevolent tool of democracy: connecting people, spreading information, building opinions and interest. Yet, in its worst form, it is a dangerous tool which promotes conformity, one which goes beyond art and affects all media present in our lives. The feeling (associated with being part of a game) prevails—similar to Jackson’s “The Lottery” where conformity has its price. This game of conformity (between what is new and what is established) fails to answer or demonstrate if works produced now are interesting, thorough or even good. The physical objects are not significant in this inquiry, but rather: the social mechanisms and philosophies behind them.
*This text was originally written in 2015.
- Isabelle Graw, High Price: Art Between the Market and Celebrity Culture (Berlin, DE: Sternberg Press, 2009), 178.