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The Internet, a Tool for Art?



The Rhizome of Knowledge - the Hypertext


Another attribute of internet art, besides subversive efforts and process orientation, is non-linearity.
In "A Thousand Plateaus" Gilles Delleuze and Felix Guattari use the rhizome as a metaphor for a postmodern / poststructural model of organisation of knowledge - in opposition to the "tree of knowledge". While the system of a tree is based on a hierarchical, linear constitution, where you climb from branch to branch, from level to level, the rhizome is a network in which all is connected by crosslinks.


rhizome of grassplant(image from Wikipedia)


This biological metaphor describes the nature of Wikipedia or the internet itself. It is based on hyperlinks and tag clouds, the user "finds" (related) information in an assoziative, subjective way.
By use of Hypertext-strucures, also the reception of narration in artworks changes from linear to non-linear.

"Die Spezialistin für Neue Medien, Söke Dinkla, rekurriert in ihren Schilderungen zu narrativen Strategien im virtuellen Raum denn auch genau auf diese poststrukturalistisch geprägten Begrifflichkeiten und behauptet, dass erst 'der Wandel vom analogen zum digitalen Medium [...] den grundlegenden Zweifel, an dem, was wirklich ist, und die Suche nach veränderten Möglichkeiten der Repräsentation von Wirklichkeit verständlich' machen würden."

(engl. transl.: "In her depictions of narrative strategies in virtual space the specialist in new media, Söke Dinkla, refers back to these poststructurally shaped conceptions and claims that only after the shift from the analog to the digital medium [...] the fundamental doubt about what reality is and the search for modified possibilities to represent reality would be made comprehensible.")

(Söke Dinkla, quoted after Rachel Mader)


The term "Hypertext" was coined by the computer pioneer Ted Nelson in the 60s, when computer pioneers were trying to simplify user interfaces and references within electronic text. With the raising of the World Wide Web Hypertexts were accessible for everyone and soon became the standard design of electronic text.
An early example for artistic use of Hypertext is "The World's First Collaborative Sentence" by Douglas Davis. Since 1994 this sentence has been expanded by many users adding words to it. When it started, it had been a linear story, but it grew to something net-like, including pictures, sounds and links to other websites. In this way a collaboratively created, linear text evolved into a Hypertext and automatically became more and more non-linear.

Another example is the work "Imaginary Library" by the artist duo "Pool Processing" (Heiko Idensen and Matthias Krohn). The piece was shown as an installation at Ars Electronica in 1990, where two computerterminals had been placed in the middle of a circle of books.The books were examples, representing printed non-linear text: Other than usual books, which force reading in a specific order (from above to below, from the left to the right), the exhibited books contained visual poetry, novelistic dictionaries and other non-linear texts, allowing readers associative turns and combinations of fragments. Using the online version, published in 1994) the reader can navigate through a closed network of linked texts.

"Die Mythen der Textgesellschaft - geschlossener Text, Autorenschaft, Legitimation im Kontext der 'großen Erzählungen' (Ideologien) - zerfallen in den Interfaces der Informationsmedien, in der Zirkulation unendlich gegeneinander austauschbarer Infomationspartikel.
Die ästhetische und symbolische Herausforderungen der Informationsnetzwerke anzunehmen heißt, endlich mit der Linearisierung der Diskurse, Texte, Medienschaltungen aufzuhören, nicht-referentielles Denken zu produzieren:

(engl. transl.: "The myths of the text-based-society – unaccessible text, authorship, legitimation within the context of 'the big narrations' (ideologies) – decay within the interfaces of information media, within the circulation of information particles infinitely exchanging each other.
To adopt/accept the aesthetic and symbolic challenges of information networks denotes to finally stop linearising discourses, texts and media circuits and to produce non-referential thinking: the Hypertext.")

(Heiko Idensen, "Hypertext als Utopie")

The structure of the "Imaginary Library" is different from the above mentioned structure of a tree, because it is not based on the hierarchically arranged chapters of an index. By navigating through the text, the reader jumps back and forth between the sections, without recognizing it. In this way a Hypertext is created in a new form everytime it is read, depending on the users choices and priorities. Reading Hypertext is a kind of "democratic reading", the non-linear format only can exist on an interactive basis.
Like networks created by net artists can be seen as precursors for today's virtual communities, such early Hypertexts contained the idea of Wikipedia and other Wikis. The user, of course, is not only a reader, Wikipedia lives from the participation of many.

The French literary critic and philosopher Roland Barthes writes in his essay "Death of the Author" in 1968:

"We know that a text does not consist of a line of words, releasing a single "theological" meaning (the "message" of the Author-God), but is a space of many dimensions, in which are wedded and contested various kinds of writing, no one of which is original: the text is a tissue of citations, resulting from the thousand sources of culture."

Tied to the hierarchic structure of the tree of knowledge is the view on the content's authors - traditionally the value of information is depending on the status of the author. In Hypertext also the idea of authorship becomes obsolete. Since one thought obviously is connected to others and one person's statement is always based on their predecessor's, within rhizomatic organization of knowledge, the name behind the texts becomes more and more irrelevant and the focus remains on the content.



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