In the digital art world over the last 10 to 15 years, a trend called post-internet art has gained traction. It consists, if you will, of a sort of modern-day “return to order” (at least with respect to certain types of commercial art) of a large group of artists, many of whom are changing course after focusing on net art and digital art.
The origin of the term “post-internet”
The term post-internet was coined by German artist and curator Marisa Olson, who used it for the first time in an interview in 2008 to describe the creative practices of “Pro Surfers” (Olson was one of the founders of the Nasty Nets, a “surfing club” made up of an online community of artist-bloggers, founded in 2006 on the Rhizome platform). At its core, post-Internet art isn’t meant to imply a time “after” the internet, which admittedly makes it a bit ambiguous. Instead, it’s a reflection about the internet itself. Due to this semantic fuzziness, it easily leads to misunderstandings, and post-internet is a term that is being used less and less.
Artist in search of a home!
In the first decade of the 21st century, many digital artists began to feel that the space defined by their computer monitors was too restrictive of a home for their online projects. By then, computer technology and the use of the web were widespread on a massive scale, and online art was so taken for granted that some of these artists even began to say: “Yes, we’re digital. But it doesn’t matter, because everyone’s digital now.” Or: “Everything is technology and everyone uses technology to do everything.” As a result, those same artists sought to carve out a second home, one that wasn’t on the web, a home with pristine white walls and devoid of furniture and all other clutter, giving rise to post-internet art.
But just what is post-internet art?
In the words of German art critic and curator Stefan Heidenreich, post-internet art is the production of “conventional material artworks, that nevertheless could not exist or would not make sense without some web-related activity.” In other words, post-internet art is an art form that reflects the web and the impact the internet has on society through the production of conventional artworks such as paintings, sculpture, videos, photographs and installations, but with hi-tech character. Indeed, the web is considered an essential part of contemporary society and the job of post-internet artists is to critically investigate and describe this reality with any means at their disposal, be it traditional or on the forefront of technology.
Differences between net art and post-internet art
The main difference between the path taken by net artists and that identified by post-internet artists is that the former use the web as the means and the end of their work (immaterial and easy-to-reproduce pieces), while the later construct relatively complex narratives about our internet-based society through real objects such as paintings, videos, sculptures and various types of installations. The “evolution” of net art into post-internet art has gone forward in lockstep with another evolution: that of the internet itself. In fact, the web has gone from something that was open, shared and in some ways utopian, to a system controlled by hyper-productive and ultra-performing algorithms unleashed by the web’s mega-corporations (Google, Amazon, Meta, Alibaba, etc.).