This year's netart award was very difficult to close in on. The absolute volume and traffic of data on the network does not seem to be correlated to its ultimate creative vitality. Can it be that the net has reached the saturation point as a means to realize the creative potential of its creators: that the signal-to-noise ratio has reached an asymtotic limit? Or is it merely an approach to the saturation point of the haplessly consuming audience? Is the net only a flooded communications platform in service of global capitalism? There is perhaps no particular reason to be overly cynical, although for this tech-no-madic curator the life-changes that accompany each further implementation of technologically-mediated connection seem to lose their appeal more and more quickly. For a creative, though, the question remains -- how to be evolutionary when taking on the next tool presented by the Venture Techno-capitalists. Where to find something that avoids the clichés of, for example, the ubiquitously pop Web 2.0? There are the occasionally surprising implementations of the 2.0 paradigm, but they are often revealed as the tired exercises in the viral marketing of venture capital dreams. What inspiring sources are out there in the net? Are there any? Perhaps, but only if we leave the material behind to search of the ghost in the machine.
Where is the immaterial, the trace or evidence of the metaphysical, where is it hidden in the technological network of things? Is it actually hidden at all? Or is it simply not there? Has technology, in the form of global networks, banished those inexplicable essences from itself? Technology does have its obvious formative materialized essence, as it is another thing that presents itself to us in our limited sensibilities. But in the dislocated network, far from our touch, what is the apprehended essence, that attractor that keeps us intently focused on the screen. An attractor so compelling and full of gravitas that we chose to limit any change in our point-of-view and remain instead in a motionless screen-bent gaze, in a stationary orbit?
What draws us with this gravity, what draws us into its field of action? We are fascinated by the Light, sure, but our attention is bound by the gravity. The attractor of the machine lies within itself, not within us. We orbit the gravitational center of our own creation, the dense hubris of code. Without code there is only the material gap into which falls our embodied being, levity left to airs and vapors, (hydro)carbon (a)(e)ffluence andother oxidation-reduction reactions.
The grand prize goes to a work that is elegantly inexplicable. Topical and simple, in several ways it uses code to transforms time and space to simple visual essences. We may easily orbit the code while watching its realization. And time passes. Such is life.
The runners-up all seem to find simple interactions between code and presentation, leaving some viewers to perhaps simply shrug and move on. Somehow I like to think that these projects represent a search for the network coding of the koan -- the Buddhist meditative tool -- where the code is an essential step on the path to enLightenment.
Cloud of Clouds by Miguel Leal and Luís Sarmento keeps the sky open for interpretation as it should be, while Ethan Ham's work, Self Portrait, leaves the self open for interpretation. And, to disagree with the Internet, as does the Disagreeing Internet well, that leaves our orbit around the gravitas of code very much open for not only interpretation but for fundamental questioning and even outright rejection. No more passive agreement with those Venture Capitalists!
Perhaps, when the last flicker comes from the last flat screen, we will understand that code is a chant to exorcise the machine, leaving the ghost (and us!) free to move on to something else. We shall see.
John Hopkins, Prescott, Arizona, USA, 04.Nov.2008