“Can digital art help in the understanding of how the Internet works?”

Written by Monserrat Palacios Hernández

Translated by María Ritter

Born in Mexico City (1999.) In 2017 she entered the career of Visual Arts at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). She is currently doing her social service at the Complexity Science Center (C3) with support to the curatorship and management of artistic projects.

Her production is mainly focused on painting and drawing. She also works in photography and graphics. She has participated in numerous group exhibitions in Mexico City, among other States, as well as abroad. She is currently a member of the Nawwa Gallery with pictorial work.

She has been a speaker in academic and governmental spaces with themes in African history and culture, Afro-descendant, and science fiction narratives. She has taken theoretical and practical workshops in art theory, writing, curatorship, bioethics, and sociology.

We are interested in delving into the mechanisms of operation of a (1) a system of organization, (2) a structure of connectivity, and (3) certain forms of communication and relationships that make up the Network and arise from it. Those ways in which the Internet impacts on the constitution of everything that produces, develops, and characterizes our lives, and that art can help to expose. And not as a tool or a merely technical mean of producing digital images. 

Today's Internet, and the practices it involves, are not distanced from the forms of economic production, subjectivities, affectivities, politics, and social experiences. Web 2.0, which was born with the 21st. century, is that second stage of the Internet that is characterized by a greater and more participatory connectivity among users, and it involves all the ways in which life is produced and reproduced. 

Economics, then, is not only a science nor a mere instrument of analysis. For Dussel (2017) it is no longer "as a 'system' like Habermas [...] but as the practical and constitutive relational moment of human life [...] The practical relation is that of 'person-person', and it is the 'economic' moment par excellence" (pp.218, 219)[1]. The economy that emerges within this new system offered by the Web, structures a type of production that dissolves the barriers in which the producer, the product and the consumer converge. This economic organization, in a nutshell, is called "affective capitalism"[2] or "cognitive capitalism". And this new form of capitalism is based mainly on immaterial labor. 

Immaterial labor, according to Negri (2001):

"[...]is at a crossroad (it is the interface) of this new production/consumption relationship. [...] It shapes and materializes the needs, the imaginary, and the tastes of the consumer. And these products must, in turn, be powerful producers of imaginary needs, of tastes." (p.20)[3]

To which he adds:

"Immaterial labor produces above all a social relation (a relation of innovation, of production, of consumption) [...] The process of social communication (and its main content: the production of subjectivity) here becomes directly productive because in a certain way it produces production" (p.21).[4]

Affective capitalism, then, is that which takes advantage of the relational needs of individuals. And it arises, necessarily, at the same time as the (new) communication networks (Internet, social networks, etc.), using them for the exploitation and creation of subjectivity. And in the context of Web 2.0, it should be made clear that the creation of subjectivity is necessarily a social and collective process, like the Net itself. 

If we think of an art that can generate and answer pertinent questionings of our time, with problematics such as those exposed above, Prada (2015) comments that: 

"The main capacity for critical action of these artistic manifestations will not be based on the investigation of the meanings projected by the network, but on the study of the conditions that allow its construction, so the best Internet art [understood as digital art] could be defined, precisely, as the poetic analysis of the very process of understanding those conditions." (p.70)[5]

That is to say "[...] the works that explore the world of personal relationships on the Internet today are, at bottom, approaches arising around the affective nature of the new biopolitical production that is proper to the network-system." (p.63)[6]

We then have that internet art is not necessarily a synonym of digital art. It is rather an art that explores (1) the new types of communication, exchange, transfer, and propagation of ways of making and understanding language (2) our belonging, participation, and agency in the unprecedented configurations of discourse creation that appeared with social networks and the general context of Web 2.0. That is to say, a digital art is net art when, using any medium inserted in the electronic landscapes, it exposes and proposes different ways of producing communication, understanding it as the raw material in the production of what’s real. 

Thus, works such as Excellences & perfections by Amalia Ullman[7], The distilled landscape by Corinne Vionnet[8] , the Wikipedia Art project by Wikipedia[9], the Add-Art software by the Kadist foundation[10], among many other examples, are models of digital art that start from the experimentation, index and presentation of the-Internet and not from-the-Internet, in other words, understanding it as matter and not as a tool; recent and enigmatic place, producer of forms of communication, of types of relationship, that configure our world of today? and that of "its art".