On 5 October 2007 the artist Kristin Lucas legally changed her name from Kristin Sue Lucas to Kristin Sue Lucas in a Superior Court of California courtroom. On the name change petition she described the reason for the change with a single word: 'refresh'. The presiding judge - the Honorable Frank Roesch - was, perhaps understandably, a little baffled by this change that wasn't a change. A philosophical back and forth ensued in which the artist explained:
“I am hear for a refresh.
A renewal of self.
I consider this act to be a poetic gesture and a birthday gift.
I am ready for an update.
An intervention into my life.
I am here to be born again as myself, or at the very least, the
most current version of myself.
I am prepared to let go.
To empty my cache.
To refill the screen with the same information.
Kristin Lucas is ready for change.
And Kristin Lucas awaits her replacement.”
After a two week break to consider his position and the position of the court the judge came back with his answer. “I think it's a nutty idea... but I'm going to do it. So you have changed your name to exactly what it was before in the spirit of refreshing yourself as though you were a web page. Stay here and we'll have some paper work for you.”
At 7.30pm on Tuesday 12 June 2012 the transcript of that case was 'performed' via Skype. The person playing the part of the Honorable Frank Roesch was in California, whilst the person playing Kristen stood before a large screen and a small audience in an internet cafe in Waterloo.
This is net art. Or, more accurately, this is multi-disciplinary art featuring interactive web projects and live performance. It's nutty, but it's also kind of wonderful.
Upstairs was the hardcore net art. A bank of computers in the round with a handful of people standing about chatting and drinking beer. It was a scene both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. One or two of the computers were in use. The rest sat dormant, screen black.
The curators of Public Access – four MA students from the Curating Contemporary Art programme at the Royal College of Art – are billing this as the first ever 'Speed Show' in London. 'Speed Show' was conceived by Aram Bartholl in the US in 2010 and involves a gallery style 'private view' relocated to a public cyber cafe. The speed part is that the show is only open for one evening.
Upstairs I encountered Ms Lucas again, this time in the form of a work from 2011 engagingly entitled Everyone Loves My Cocoa Krispies. To begin with I spent five minutes watching Bobby Pickett singing Monster Mash on YouTube before finally realising that this had nothing whatsoever to do with Everyone Loves My Cocoa Krispies and was, in fact, an unrelated window opened by a previous user of the machine. Just because the computer was an art work for the evening didn't stop it also being a computer. You could look up whatever you wanted on it. Each computer's browser was set to default to a particular work of art when re-opened and by that means each computer was it's own work of art between the hours of 4.30 to 9.00pm.
I clicked away from Bobby Pickett to arrive at a vimeo page. This showed a film of a rotating cube containing the double heads of Kristin Lucas and Kristin Lucas, revolving to a sound track of generic beats overlaid with Kristin's own voice delivering near monotone phrases in duplicate that turned out to be marketing slogans culled from the web. “You're going to like us, You're going to like us. I never knew you had dandruff. I never knew you had dandruff. We wear short shorts, We wear short shorts.” It's hypnotic. Funny and ludicrous.
The powerful thing about net art is that it is just that. It's available publicly on the internet. What I saw 'live' at the Speed Show I can also watch in my own home. What I'm seeing in my home isn't a reproduction of an original. Nothing is lost. If you want to watch Everybody Loves My Cocoa Krispies you can, here: http://vimeo.com/33129267. It'll be like you never missed a thing.
Following on from Duchamp's seismic Bottle Rack (1914) and the feminist artists of the 1960s employing their own bodies as the media, net art moves further and further away from art as object. Here there isn't even documentation, and yet the work is available, free of charge, to anyone at any time. Net art is the ultimate democratisation of the art work, the ultimate conflation of art and life.
Which point is eloquently made by Caleb Larsen's A Tool to Deceive and Slaughter that takes the form of a physical sculpture, a box, that continually attempts to auction itself. Every ten minutes the box pings a server on the internet via the ethernet to see how it's eBay sale is progressing. If its auction has ended or it has sold, it automatically creates a new auction for itself. When somebody buys it, the current owner sends the box to the new owner. The new owner then plugs it into the ethernet for the cycle to repeat itself. The art work exists in multiple locations simultaneously, the wired up box itself and the interactive Web2.0 page. It presents an object, but that object eludes ownership. The work exists both within and without the market. In both cyber and meatspace.
Interestingly for an art form that is arguably more public than any that has proceeded it, net art emphasises the very private nature of experience. Most net art is experienced by an individual at a computer. Even the communality of the internet cafe is staring into its own grave in an age of mass wi-fi availability. The appreciation of net art is not a collective experience in any sense, but rather highlights the profoundly isolating nature of ideas.
Written for This is Tomorrow