Net art: art as a tool for socio-political change and its “hacktivism” and “artivism” sides



In 1995, Serbian artist Vuk Ćosić received an email that was indecipherable, probably due to software incompatibility issues. Among all the jumbled characters within it, one fragment seemed to pop out on the screen:

[…] J8~g#|\;Net. Art{-^s1 […]

Ćosić could barely contain his excitement. It felt as if the web itself had finally come up with a name for the activity that he had been engaged in for a few years’ time (an activity that, even back then, had more than one name). In any case, the name that appeared before his eyes was Over time, the “.” was dropped, or rather, “net art” came to be used, with or without the period.

The original net artists

The historical nucleus of net art was formed by a small group of programmers who were working together online: Ćosić of course, along with Alexei Shulgin, Olia Lialina, Jodi, and Heath Bunting. Almost all members of the group had a hacker ethos, a common outlook that clearly emerged in a good part of their projects at the time.

What is net art?

In essence, net art is a form of intangible art that is based on processes: the artist’s attention isn’t focused on the work itself, i.e., the final product, but rather on the procedure or ritual that’s behind it (in short, instead of finished, final pieces, net artists prefer the operations and processes that take place upstream). In net art, art is no longer understood as a representation, but rather as communication. The aim isn’t the creation of aesthetically-pleasing objects, but instead the activation of cultural operations.

The natural (and only) habitat of net art is of course the internet. The web, for net artists, isn’t just a medium, but also the place where artworks are distributed and enjoyed, and a relevant cradle of culture. Basically, it’s a full-panorama network though which artists can express themselves freely, sometimes even playfully.

The spirit of net art

The ironic, Dada-like spirit of net art (at least that which characterized it at the beginning), can be seen in the modus operandi of many of its exponents. Net artists love to play with parody, mistakes, and the deconstruction of web pages; they assert principles such as “total web anarchy” and they reject the very concept of copyrights. In other words, they love actions aimed at the often-ironic subversion and sabotage of an entire set of rules and social behaviors.

Hacktivism and artivism

Given the above, two tendencies at the heart of net art are emblematic: hacktivism and artivism. Hacktivism (a portmanteau of hacking + activism) is substantially a form of political and social activism practiced with the instruments and methods commonly seen in hacking. Artivism (art + activism), on the other hand, is also a tool for socio-political protest, but shifted more towards art and the aesthetics of communication. In reality, hacktivism and artivism are, at their core, two fluctuating categories that often overlap.

Home Digital art