The Art of Platforms

November 02, 2010

As a consequence of their ease of use, and as a result of their mass popularity, Internet platforms have become the preeminent domain of and locus for the development of collective authorship. Their speed, ease, and omnipresence make them extremely well suited as a place for quickly launching ideas, responding to others, or adapting existing work and reusing it. A new generation of artists use platforms like YouTube to simultaneously work with others and create new works on the spot. A single idea, concept, or video gets transformed in different variations through easy online sharing—the comment being the essential element for continuous development. The artworks that arise from these collective processes lie in a continuum with other works, references, and commentaries, often leading to different versions and forms of one work.

These networks of artists use YouTube and other platforms such as Delicious and Facebook in a natural and playful way, while experimenting and questioning the mechanisms and aesthetics of the platform itself. These artists are not necessarily concerned with underlying structures and coding, but use the superficial layers and characteristics of the platforms for their own benefit. Quality emerges from the network and it facilitates itself through the available channels. Content, concept, platform, and distribution are indistinguishable. This is platform art—a formal and conceptual art form. This is surf art—tweakings of images, animations, videos, texts, and other ready-made media that travel across the Internet’s surface. This is digital folklore—authentic forms of expression in digital media.

Examples of artists experimenting with Internet platforms include JODI, who transferred home videos of people imitating their favorite singer onto vinyl in their work The pair then placed the filmed result, the long-play disk that lets you hear the number, back on YouTube under the original video as a video comment. Constant Dullaart made the series YouTube as a subject in which he used the functional YouTube button as the subject of a quest for design and its use on the Internet. From it bouncing around like a ping-pong ball to being a blurred splodge, Dullaart elevates the play button to an icon. Dullaart put the short videos back on YouTube, which provoked a series of new video comments.

Networked art initiatives on the Web include “club sites,” for example NastyNets—one of the first “surfing clubs,” or a network of people constantly reacting to one another's postings by putting up new image and/or audio fragments. F.A.T.lab follows a similar approach where people from different backgrounds respond to each other’s work. And there are many more. Craig Saper, author of Networked Art, aptly refers to these networks as "intimate bureaucracies," in that they makes poetic use of the trappings of large bureaucratic systems and procedures (logos, stamps) to create intimate aesthetic situations, including the pleasures of sharing a special knowledge or a new language among a small network of participants.

Online work gets further recontextualised in galleries. In his now famous work Versions (2009), Oliver Laric questions the notion of authorship by using existing visual material and explicitly inviting others to supplement or alter his work. Laric, in this sense, speaks of the total denial of authorship, creating space for developing interesting things. At the same time artists are presenting their online series offline in galleries, such as Constant Dullaart’s group exhibition Contemporary Semantics Beta, a delicious day at Arti et Amicitiae, Amsterdam, or in Internet cafés like the Speed Show series, organized by Aram Bartoll in Berlin, Vienna, and Amsterdam. Museums are also showing an interest in such practices, one of the latest being the exhibition Free at the New Museum in New York. Stepping away from a single exhibition platform is a further examination of practices and platforms. With open and freely accessible platforms, the continuation of a multiplicity of ideas and possibilities will be ensured.

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