Omar Kholeif, author of the impending "You Are Here: Art After The Internet," spoke to The Creators Project about his new, sui generis text
This April, you can tear apart the net (at least critically) with new book, You Are Here: Art After the Internet.
Instead of taking the same-old ‘Print is dead’ stance, London-based curator and writer Omar Kholeif edits a book which features a definite selection of 22 ‘native’ internet artists who reflect and respond on art after the internet through essays, criticism, and images.
The contributors include Constant Dullaart (who loves the internet), Brad Troemel (from the Jogging collective) and slapstick video queen, Jennifer Chan. The book aims to offer some perspective on how the internet has influenced contemporary art, also tackling the tangled art term ‘post-internet,' a topic that has interested a variety of publications and scholars in the last decade, including Frieze Magazine and parts of Simon Reynolds' music text, Retromania (chapter 12, in specific, focuses on this art theory concept).
While writing about what is "post-internet," many academics often focus on the hypothetical equation: post-modern art x the Internet = ? ... Some scholars have also called this term "digimodernism" or "super-hybridity," but "post-internet" seems to have stuck best.
The project began as part of a yearlong residency at London’s latest art and technology hub, The White Building, which was directed by Kholeif. Since the artists were asked ‘How has technology changed how art is made?,’ the gargantuan conversation led to a book. Instead of digging back into history, the book, which is published by Cornerhouse Books, focuses on art onward from 2000.
Kholeif, who currently holds curatorial posts at the Whitechapel Gallery and the Cornerhouse, sees this all as more of a curatorial project. He talked to The Creators Project about what "internet aware art" means, and why there will undoubtedly be a dozen (print) books on this topic within the next few years.
The Creators Project: How were these contributors chosen? Was it an open call or carefully hand-selected?
Omar Kholeif: I started by discussing the project with the artists in the residency program at The White Building. I asked them all to respond to five key questions:
How do we talk about the relationship between art and the internet from the perspective of a generation that has dubbed itself post-internet?
How do we negotiate authorship online?
How have the formal aspects of how we appreciate art changed?
How has narrative evolved since the internet?
And finally how has ‘mobile’ culture altered our relationships to one another?
Most of the artists responded with provocations, which opened up a whole new raft of questions for me. These questions formed the cornerstone of my thinking. I used this as a springboard to invite artists, writers, and thinkers who were either experts on the topic, or whose unique positions on art and the internet had rarely been heard before. Ultimately, the book grew to become something much more than I originally thought it would be. It turned out to be a responsive treatise on the way we make art today and begs questions about the future of how we make, engage, and distribute these practices in the age of the internet.
Why do you think there haven’t been any books about this just yet?
I see a number of reasons for this seeming dearth in the canon of books about art and the internet. First of all, all revolutionary forms require time and perspective before they become the subject of canonisation, but perhaps in the case of art and the internet there is a deeper problem.
This, I believe, has to do with the initial scepticism and resistance from many practitioners and theorists that art existed in a capsule that was somehow worthier than the mass/lo-brow machinations of the internet. This has changed incredibly over the last five years, although there are still huge questions to be discussed about the extent and influence that the internet has had on different generations of artists.
Another reason for this lack, which is key to emphasise, is the fact that the internet itself has often been the site of much of this critical discussion. This material is often free and instantaneously available, so why publish books? Books are expensive and harder to distribute and require financial resources and manpower. Having said that, I think we are experiencing a tidal wave of change. I imagine there will be a dozen books about this subject in the next five years.
Image by Zach Blas
How does one define post-internet art? Was this a challenge?
To be perfectly honest this was not my main concern. I was much more interested in mapping out a trajectory to help us think about the way we ‘experience’ art formally in the age of the internet–mapping out some before and after propositions and provocations.
As to post-internet, there are various definitions for post-internet, but no single commonly agreed one. I personally see it as a framework to consider art that has been heavily affected by the internet, that is, consciously aware of the politics and machinery of the internet itself, i.e. art that engages with the full spectrum of possibilities of the internet. I do not suggest that the internet is anarchic, which is what some readings of the term post-internet have suggested.
Can one safely say when post-internet art began?
I’d rather use what Guthrie Lonergan once called ‘internet aware art,’ as opposed to post-internet art. If we are to consider then: when did internet aware art start, well, there are meaningful early examples from the 90s from the likes of Mark Amerika’s hypertext novels such as Grammatron (1997) and the work of Jodi.org. However, I don’t think it became an art world phenomenon until the half way through the first decade of the new millennium. The book’s focus is from the year 2000 to the present day.
What are some of the essays are about?
The book is divided into three different sections. A third of the book is essays, which focus on a variety of contextual subject matters such as histories of art and the internet, the question of how we define art after the internet, as well as broader questions about how the internet is changing the way societies are structured, touching on issues from political and social movements, to consumer-brand affiliation. Another third of the book is what I have dubbed ‘provocations.’ These texts are more critical and indeed polemical. These express frustrations with the status quo that the internet can often be seen to reinforce, and develop alternative propositions for how we might instrumentalise the internet. Finally, there are a series of artist projects which are image-based responses to the themes of the book.
How did the idea of this book come about? Which yearlong residency was it? Was it a curatorial or writer's residency?
The book was developed while I was directing the inaugural programme for The While Building, London’s new centre for art and technology, run by SPACE. The centre was conceived as a lab for artists to experiment with discursive ideas and we achieved this through a residency programme. I curated the programme with a group of selected advisors from an open call. During this time, I was privileged to work with some inspiring residents from James Bridle and Constant Dullaart as well as Jamie Shovlin, Jesse Darling, Jon Rafman, Zach Blas (of Queer Technologies), Sam Ashby (of Little Joe Magazine), as well as numerous guests who contributed to the public programme such as philosopher Nina Power, technology experts Ben Hammersley and Aleks Krotoski, design historian Alice Rawsthorn, the duo behind GLTI.CH Karaoke (Kyoung Kim and Daniel Rourke), musician and artist Alex McLean of SLUB and many more. I conceived the space as a yearlong art and technology residency that explored the question: how is technology changing the way we make art today? As I was engaging with this process of enquiry the question of how to document this process lingered constantly in my mind. It seemed to make logical sense that a book would be the most ideal way to do this. I am grateful to Sarah Perks, Artistic Director at Cornerhouse who had the vision to co-commission the book and who encouraged me to see it through.
What was the biggest challenge of editing this book?
I see the book as a personal curatorial project. I have developed it so that there are a series of overlapping voices–some which talk to each other, and others, which contradict and complicate existing beliefs or attitudes about art and its agency after the rise of the web. To be honest, the biggest challenge of trying to achieve this has been to know when to stop. The internet is an endless stream–a sea of so much material that it is hard to know when to stop ‘updating’ and loading your thesis with more content and references. Ultimately, I had to find a balance that would make this book valuable for years to come.
Are the essays theoretical? Why or why not?
As the book was developed through the practical hands-on process of making, debating, and critiquing the nature of art and its relationship to technology, I wanted to make sure that it was accessible. There are a couple of texts that can be deemed somewhat theoretical but generally speaking, I see the book as being one that is accessible to anyone with an interest in art, the internet, and or their broader intersections with technology, politics, and civil society.
More than anything else, what do you hope this book will teach people?
I hope that the book encourages a more nuanced conversation about the relationship of the internet to art and that it will inspire readers to ask their own pointed and provocative questions.