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The Internet, a Tool for Art?



Art in a Personal Public Space

"The society that reshapes its entire surroundings has evolved its own special technique for molding its own territory, which constitutes the material underpinning for all the facets of this project. Urbanism  — 'city planning' — is capitalism's method for taking over the natural and human environment. Following its logical development toward total domination, capitalism now can and must refashion the totality of space into its own particular decor."

(Guy Debord, "The Society of the Spectacle", 1967)


To criticize this spatial appropriation, a trend of "art in public space" arose, driven by artists, but also (financially) supported by municipality, to control the artistic efforts. Independent of the art market and therefor of legal permissions are Graffiti or Street Art activists, using subversive strategies to reclaim the streets.


dystopian second life

(screenshot of the first place listed, typing "urban" into Second Life's search engine)


In "The Society of the Spectacle" the French artist and philosopher Guy Debord states, that real life is being replaced by imaginations of life and situations, created by fiction and massmedia:

"When the real world is transformed into mere images, mere images become real beings — dynamic figments that provide the direct motivations for a hypnotic behavior."

In this way also real issues appear as phantoms and are "consumed" in a passive way. The human, trying to fit in categories, feels alienated from a real situation that is unassigned to the imaginary concept. Debord called this the "Spectacle", which reproduces a stereotype construct of reality and keeps people in an unthinking state of mind.
Therefore the "Situationist International" postulated constructing real situations to break through the estrangement and enable a critical view on society. The group developed studies and artistic practices related to public space, such as "unitary urbanism", "psychogeography" or "dérive", in order to evoke a new awareness of the urban landscape. "Détournement" is another technique first used by the SI which

"consists in 'turning expressions of the capitalist system against itself.' Détournement was prominently used to set up subversive political pranks, an influential tactic called situationist prank that was reprised by the punk movement in the late 1970s and inspired the culture jamming movement in the late 1980s."

(compare Wikipedia)



(Jean Baudrillard, lecture on Image and Representation, 2004, youtube)


With growing popularity of the internet during the 1990s, urban public space was expanded into virtual space: a real space, constructed of images, providing even more dull entertainment and flickering shopping malls - and a huge territory for artists to occupy.

A significant feature of the new mass medium is the simultaneous experience of public space and privacy. When browsing the internet, a user is connected to the whole world and, at the same time, all alone, in an intimate environment of a computer screen and buttons to control. In this public space we feel more safe than in the streets, where a car could hit us or some guy could steal our purse. Just like a movie, virtual reality seems to be something we can switch off. Because of this illusion of control and anonymity we are more relaxed and open than in "real" urban surroundings. We are looking for amusement and distraction and our minds are easily accessed. But it still is a real public space, even if it looks like a TV screen, the people in the chat rooms are not actors playing according to a script. Our behaviour leads to direct consequences, and the screen functions like a mirror. In this way, we find ourselves within a medium and a real situation at the same time. The webcam is reflecting us while we stare and it is our decision to just consume, participate, or even say "no". And saying "no" is easier in a public space where nobody knows who you are.

The internet turns out to be a fertile ground of subversive art and protest strategies, because it provides the shelter of anonymity and a network structure, based on another logic than the constitution of a city: While neighbourhood of urban districts depends on financial and societal status, relations in the "Global Village" are created by content. Because of search engines generating recommendations based on tags it is possible for protest websites to be ranked directly in between the websites of big companies. In this way critical messages can be placed - and noticed - right within the (ideological) context of the "enemy" and anti-power benefits from the popularity of the powerful. Furthermore mediaguerilla activities are documented and discussed on internet archives, blogs, online communities and everything is linked on a global and interdisciplinary level, allowing a quick, dynamic development and wide range of creative ideas.


sunflower guerilla

(image from Facebook, Sunflower Guerilla)

Artistic actions started within virtual networks, which are entirely enmeshed in people's daily routine, become manifest in the physical world - for example in case of the "Sunflower Guerilla Days" on Facebook a virtual movement reclaims and re-designs urban public space: The in spring virally spread call for people to plant sunflower seeds in bleak looking corners around their neighbourhoods caused me finding sunflowers in July - in most unexpected places.


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