Friday, 30 July 2010

Surf Camp: An Amateur-ish Essay on the Sub-Amateur


There's been a bit of discussion taking place recently about the two camps of net art, where the "insider" and "outsider" sit within these camps, and how chill time plays a role within this construct.

Duncan Alexander's categories are (briefly):
Camp 1 which is more caught up in the art historical context. "The net is their vehicle for dissemination, and they stand out from the online flow. Rarely do these works link outside of themselves; if hypertext is involved, it is internal to the site."

Camp 2 which bases itself more within the "net historical" context. "What matters in camp two's work - or what is emphasized by the artists - is not so much the individual artwork as the artist's oeuvre and net presence."
So camp 1's work tends to be a bit tighter, and can stand on its own as art when presented "outside" of the net. Whereas camp 2's work thrives in the net context, and often loses meaning or relevance once removed from it's place of inception, which tends to usually be the surf club, tumblr or (that's not to say these works won't be presented outside of their natural environment, though they'll usually be accompanied by a link back to let you "in" on the joke).

In the comments, Tom Moody likens Alexander's camp 2 to what others have termed as the "amateur and sub-amateur". The amateur is self taught, they create for the love of the craft or art and, motivated by this love, will develop their skills and technical know-how to better express their vision. The sub-amateur is also self taught, but to a point. They are more interested in the subject matter and therefore will often resort to (if not seek out)"defaults", or pre-determined settings found in the instrument or programme of choice.

Here is Gutherie Lonergan's handy table differentiating between the "Hacker" and "Default" approaches to net art to break up the text.

This all seems to suggest that the current string of net art all falls under the "amateur" tag, which I think is only because the "pro" group is still being groomed, if they aren't already emerging from the art school new media and computer art BFAs and MFAs that have been popping up over the last 5 or more years (my alma mater started a computer art course in 2006/7, before I even had a clue). In either case, we still have amateurs that are well entrenched in the art world, with many art school trained artists repeatedly popping up in gallery based animated gif exhibitions throughout the world. So, moving back to the beginning, the amateur is in no way the outsider when it comes to the artworld.

But what about the sub-amateur's relationship to the established artworld? What about those surfing dudes and dudettes that make shitty (not meant as a derogatory term) gifs and take part in the online chatter but don't exhibit, or plan to exhibit, beyond their own tumblr blogs? The actual "slackers of the art world"?

The jstchillin manifesto, to me, seems to imply the leisure aspect of net art. Both the amateur and sub-amateur take "chill time", but where one will draw from their chill time to produce work, the other chills for the sake of chilling. You could even go as far as saying that the sub-amateur are the ultimate decadents, consuming copious amounts of digital tat without giving any "thing" back beyond online in-jokes that are usually ugly and hard to look at; they are the virtual leisure class (this such a generalization and total contradiction, but I'm saying it anyway because it's dramatic and sounds cool).

The sub-amateur could be seen as the outsider for remaining outside of the gallery and focusing not on the product but on the act of chilling itself, and perhaps they are. As Moody put it:
[...] the term outsider sounds cruel and judgmental and snobby but all it means is "one who makes art heedless of a context larger than one's own computer (or studio, or computer/studio)."
But the sub-amateur is too self aware - of their activity as an aesthetic act and of their position in the history of (net) art - to be the outsider. In fact, the tendency to function as a collective also places them deep within an inside that is constructed by themselves: you had to have been there to understand why I put this seemingly random face on this other seemingly random body and captioned it with this bit of nonsensical text, but trust me it's terribly clever and funny as fuck.

The unique thing about chill time, though, is that, unlike most other leisure activities (I'm going to ignore the possible can of worms that is craft), there are plenty of byproducts and documentation that come out of it, which are the blog posts, collections, mash-ups, and even archived discussion. Even if the product isn't the point, it will still spread around the internet as people try to latch on to it by reblogging or further deconstructing the information to make something new. Authorship can definitely become an issue, and if you're that interested in the credit you can rest assured that infamy and an audience can still follow. Alternatively, you can also just sit back, chill and revel in the satisfaction of seeing something you didn't put that much effort into make the rounds across the net or, better yet, go viral.


tom moody said...

slightly on topic, this is from noisia (you had already logged off)

tom moody said...

melipone's version:

tom moody said...

Sorry these URLs look like spam posts!

Adrienne said...

Thanks for the heads up, they're so good! Dump is too fast for me sometimes, always miss the good shit.