Digital Art Glossary

In the Digital America course, we’ve encountered a wide variety of interesting texts, reading the entirety of “Mass Effect,” an anthology on digital art, edited by Lauren Cornell and Ed Halter, as well as selected works from the New Media Reader anthology series and Rhizome’s net.art anthology. In encountering these texts, we compiled a cheat sheet, to better understand the terms and the artists we studied. We decided that we would publish this cheat sheet so that it can be yours as well. We’ll keep working on it as we build on our knowledge and read new texts, and you can chime in anytime by emailing us at info@digitalamerica.org.

Terms:

Appropriation Art →  Appropriation artists copy images to take possession of them in their art. They do so wanting the viewer to recognize the images they copy, hoping that the viewer will transfer associations with the original image to the artist’s recontextualized appropriation of this image. Appropriation artists in the 1980s “seized imagery from art history … with a view to questioning authorship and originality while drawing attention, yet again, to the plight of the image in the age of mechanical reproduction” (342).

“As-if” approach → Dubbed by Martha Rosler, it describes the Conceptual work as cloaking itself in other disciplines (philosophy being the notorious example), provoking an oscillation between skilled and deskilled, authority and pretense, style and strategy, art and non-art. – Seth Price/Martha Rosler

Codework → A term that encompasses a wide variety of practices and approaches to creating a text or visual event that emphasize the relationship between programming language and human speech and writing. Most codework makes visible the underlying functions of code while drawing special attention to its materiality. – net.art anthology

Cybernetics → Cybernetics is a systems-oriented school of thought. In other words, it seeks to look at everything as a system. Typically, we think of economic systems, of biological systems. But cybernetics argues that you can go even further, that all aspects of life, no matter how complex, have certain patterns that can be discerned, and that there is (or can be) a system for everything. This was a system of thought introduced by scholars like Norbert Wiener (Who is an interesting guy… You should look him up) and it appealed very strongly to members of the counterculture movement, who found the potential for “transcendence” in new technologies and were attracted to the notion that human interactions could parallel the workings of new computer systems, for example. For further elaboration, see “Whole Earth Catalog.”

Digital Folklore → A term that encompasses the customs, traditions, and elements of visual, textual, and audio culture that emerged from users’ engagement with personal computer applications during the last decade of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first century. It describes a distinct user culture developed inside user-oriented applications and services despite their low social status and technical limitations, when their cumulative output began to dominate that of hack culture. -Lialina and Espenschied

Gesamtkunstwerk → A German term that can be translated to “ideal work of art,” “total work of art,” or “universal artwork.” It refers to art that uses — or attempts to use — all art forms. Ryan Trecartin’s work is cited in “Made of the Same Stuff” as nearly being an example of Gesamtkunstwerk.

Home Computer Culture → Not to be confused with digital folklore, it is the period of time where home computers nurtured a community of expert tinkers. This mostly died off by the 1990s. – Lialina and Espenschied

International Art English → This is a sort of language used within the art community — in press releases, in text panels, in artists’ statements — that is intended to distance itself from the English language and the exclusionary nature thereof. But as several writers posit, IAE excludes in its own way and perhaps often serves to reinforce certain power structures and hierarchies within the art community. It often turns normative adjectives into nouns (like “global” into “globality” and “visual” into “visuality”), and it consists heavily of “double adverbial terms, dependent clauses, adjectival verb forms, and past and present participles” (319).

Internet aware art → A term attributed to Guthrie Lonergan, refers to art that depends on the internet for its execution and self-reflects on that dependence

Internet Folk Art → Things that people are doing on the internet and maybe not necessarily identifying as art, but that are popular visual practices. -Michael Bell-Smith

Invisible User → Also known as the “third user” is described as a user without a name, role, or any interest, who is assumed to always have something better to do, and is not considered the center of digital cultures/he is not even considered part of it. -Lialina and Espenschied

Machinima → Filmmaking in a virtual environment using interactive three-dimensional video game engines to render computer-generated imagery (CGI) in real time. -Alice Ming Wai Jim

Naive Users → Those who simply don’t understand systems. [the term “user”, generally speaking, is considered derogatory by the early 90s.] – Lialina and Espenschied

Net.art → (demise) Originally conceived as an alternative social field where art and everyday life merged, net.art may now seem threatened by its own success–that is, likely to cede a degree of its freewheeling, anti-establishment spirit as it is further brought into the institutional fold.” Rachel Greene, 2000.

Net.language → The language of computers and the internet that is used strictly online, as defined by early net artist Olia Lialina and others in the Moscow-based Cine Fantom experimental film club, taking inspiration from the earlier definition of net.art.

New Aesthetic/post-internet art → Seen as slightly misleading terms, but broadly describe the subsequent generation of net.art that were the first to respond to the internet not as a new medium, but rather at true mass medium, with a deeper and wider cultural reach, greater opportunities for distribution and collaboration, and advanced corporate and political complexities. -Lauren Cornell and Ed Halter

New New Human Beings → Generation of artists, Cao Fei as an example, that takes role-playing, urban youth culture, and dreamscapes as subjects. – Alice Ming Wai Jim

Persona Empires → A theory of Kevin Bewersdorf, says that art is no longer based on art objects or individual projects, but on a brand that artists develop over time (aka their “persona empire”) (187)

  • “And just being aware that even if you’re not making internet art, your art is probably going on the internet. And somehow any attempt to be aware of that will change your work, thinking about that internet context” (183) -Guthrie Lonergan

Pre-internet Art → Suggested label to categorize all art before the internet, rather than employ “post-internet” art. -Cornell and Halter

Prosumer → One who enacts an equally participatory role in both his her own consumption and commodification as a consumer. Arcangel consistently plays with the current tendency to adopt prosumer models for engagement. -Tina Kukielski

Real Users → Those to pay to use a computer but are not interested in learning about it.

Sprites → Building blocks of early video games. – Michael Bell-Smith

Surf Club → Core platform for internet art and collaboration between 2006 and 2008, artists collectively shared and commented on digital folk art–strange gifs, previous eras’ web graphics, advertising or branding fails, intriguing textures or chat poetics. The practice of surfing was a way to process and synthesize the emergent mass culture of the web. -Lauren Cornell and Ed Halter

The Long Tail

  • Refers to the lengthy line of niche markets that trails behind, but now exceeds, the old “head” of blockbuster hits that used to make the market run; it has been made possible by the world of dematerialized products and infinite shelf space that the internet makes available. (217) – Alex Kitnick
  • “In this sense, the Tail is autistic. It has this amazing systemizing ability but it struggles with a theory-of-mind. It can’t put itself in your shoes. It’s in our world but very much in its own little world. It doesn’t really get this larger ecology of mind” (209) – Mark Leckey
  • “The Tail is an anagram engine–like a mantra, creating transformation through repetition, the anagram engine of the Tail ceaselessly processing every possible permutation of the same sentence. And every random combination that it comes up with–whatever orientation it results in–finds itself a niche, a niche that then gets nested and embedded in the Tail out here in the exotic East, where it becomes a new type, a new category, a new type of category that creates its own social network, it’s own community” (208) – Mark Leckey

Videotex → A pre-internet telecommunications network in Brazil that was implemented in 1982, offering public information and a user-to-user messaging system via special terminals.- net.art anthology

Virtopia → Virtual utopia

Whole Earth Catalog → The Whole Earth Catalog was a counterculture publication published several times a year between 1968 and 1972 by Stewart Brand, a well-known countercultural figure and writer (and “Merry Prankster” … Look them up, too!). The Catalog was written with New Communalists in mind — members of the “back-to-the-land” movement — and was very literally a catalog of products that presumably appealed to New Communalists, like L.L. Bean clothing, seeds, and technology that helped people become self-sufficient, which was a major component of the New Communalist movement. The Catalog also included essays from Brand and others about certain topics like self-sufficiency, DIY, and the supposedly liberating potential of new technologies. Interestingly, as I argue in my DigA feature on this topic, these previously left-leaning counterculturalists would become so enamored with technology and its democratizing power (thanks largely to the Catalog and Brand) that they would, in the ‘80s, rally around Reagan and other Republicans who appealed to similar notions of self-sufficiency and the power of the Internet to make society freer.

 

Artists and Artworks:

Alexi Shulgin → A Moscow-based artist, musician, and curator who has worked in net art and net performance since the early 1990s, alongside collaborators including Olia Lialina and others in the Cine Fantom collective.

Form Art (1997) — A net.art work using HTML buttons and boxes as the raw material for monochromatic compositions. It was at first glance a purely formal study of certain aspects of HTML, but it was also absurd: Form Art transformed the most bureaucratic, functional, and unloved aspects of the web into aesthetic, ludic elements. – net.art anthology

Cao Fei → A Chinese artist that works with digital media, performance, and video

RMB City (2008-11) — the online fantasy world created in Second Life, an online art community, platform, and concept piece designed as “an experiment exploring the creative relationship between real and virtual space, and is a reflection of China’s urban and cultural explosion” (90)

Cory Arcangel → Brooklyn-based fine artist who makes work in a wide range of mediums, including composition, video, modified video games, performance, and the internet.

Super Mario Clouds (2002) — a hacked Super Mario Bros cartridge to display only a constant scroll of pixelated white clouds through a blue field

Data Diaries (2003) — “By tricking the program QuickTime into reading one day’s worth of random-access memory data as a video file, Arcangel transformed the forgotten trail of activity on his personal computer into beautiful colors and bouncing pixels across thirty-one separate videos, one for every day of the month of January 2003” (42)

Electronic Disturbance Theatre → A collective of digital activists who organize and program computer software to engage in nonviolent protest across digital and non-digital spaces.

→ FloodNet (1998) — A system designed by EDT allowing internet users all around the world to stage digital sit-ins of web pages, in an effort to create civil disobedience and nonviolent protest in the digital world.

Guthrie Lonergan → Artist whose interests lie in “surf clubs” and the mainstream DIY culture of the Internet (and “defaults” — by which he means to refer to a “semi-naive” group of Internet users who see the Internet as just a part of normal, everyday life, as opposed to hackers, who see it in a larger context and attempt to subvert digital power structures)

Artist Looking at Camera (2006) — Video consisting of stock image footage generated by a search for “artist looking at camera;” “To me this is the DIY-against-mainstream thing again, popping up in corporate media as a marketable fantasy, the artist fantasy” (180).

Joel Holmberg → Internet artist who “does a lot of absurd human interventions into technology. He loves the glory and dumbness of information” (177). He often explores the origin of images with his work.

Getty Images Hollywood (2007) — This is a fake stock image that Holmberg created by placing the Getty Images watermark over an image of the Hollywood sign. “It’s interesting that he’s making a forgery of an unlicensed stock photo because, instead of stealing the photograph, he’s just stealing the watermark and putting it on top of a found photo” (179).

Lotte Rose Kjær Skau → Danish sound artist and musician whose work incorporates hip-hop, cybernetics, and cultural tradition. Skau’s work also explores both the public and private spheres and is focused heavily on an exploration of the self.

United We/I Stand Etc. (2014) — An “investigation of self-actualization and existence in the modern information age through the aggregation of gazes collected in a camera’s lens” (421). The work refers heavily to “camgirls” to explore both socialism and egoism and to consider conceptions of femininity and the female body in a digital space.

Martine Neddam An Amsterdam-based visual artist who has been working with internet virtual characters who lead an autonomous artistic existence in which the real author remains invisible. – net.art anthology

Mouchette (1996-Present) — A fictional adolescent girl, fascinated by suicide and strangers created by digital artist Martine Neddam. Mouchette’s labyrinthine, ever-growing site makes use of expressive HTML elements to involve the viewer in the turbulent emotional world of an adolescent girl. – net.art anthology

Olia Lialina → An early net artist who produced seminal HTML artworks and pioneered a storytelling fluid art form within the ‘net.language’ of HTML and web page hypertext.

→ My Boyfriend Came Back From War (1996) — An HTML-based cinematic narrative telling the story of a young woman reuniting with her sweetheart after his return from a faraway conflict. With its use of browser frames, hypertext, and images (both animated and still), My Boyfriend Came Back from the War highlights the parallels and divergences between cinema and the web as artistic and mass mediums, and explores the then-emerging language of the net. – net.art anthology

Trevor Paglen → Artist whose work explores military surveillance. Much of his work intentionally blurs the subject, so as to avoid merely being about exposure. He plays with Western landscape photography, Abstract Expressionism, and Minimalism (257). He also, importantly, shows the physicality of the digital realm.

The Other Night Sky (2007-Present) — Images of satellites: “counter-spying on the intelligence complex” (254)

Untitled Drones (2010) — “Abstract color fields that mingle awe-inspiring views of the sky with anxieties and fears around surveillance” (255). Again, the lack of clarity is a means of avoiding being too clear-cut and too narrowly focused on merely exposing. It avoids the stigma of activist art.

Autonomy Cube (2014) — “Minimalist sculptures that provide Wi-Fi, which is then routed throughout the Tor autonomy infrastructure,” to make for a “freer,” more autonomous browsing experience… The fact that the computer is encased in transparent glass is a means of showing the physicality of the digital. It also symbolizes a more “self-controlled network” and critiques institutions of power, perhaps making the digital more democratic (264).