DIGITAL LOCAL: The Post Internet Artists
Posted by <Abbey Pusz> on 2022-10-15
Editors note: This year I had the opportunity to present a talk at Unsound Festival in Poland. I have chosen a short selection to publish for this round of DNR. The talk in its entirety is included in the Youtube recording.
ARTIST AS PRODUCING WORK FOR GALLERIES
ARTIST AS CULTURAL PRODUCER
For the artist-as-cultural-producer, the call to action in content-creator-media appears to be interchangeable with that of an artwork. Your audience is much bigger, and hell, it seems like all people ever wanted was to hear you speak and charm them over the dinner table anyway. You’re making art, but where the hell does it even go? The art world was stupid dumb stupid stupid stupid.
As was said before, the design of the platforms locks people into certain takes, which in the long run either becomes boomered out or forces the influencer to up the anti and become a cartoonish version of themselves. Fidelity to the brand is a speed limit to creativity and intuition. Most importantly, however, is that from this point of view, the only site of departure, of progress, appears to be directing and changing culture from within the market.
As artists-producing-work-for-galleries, their on-target imitation of the market and premonition of neoliberal antics was shockingly expressive. Now, dependent on the platforms, that skill was freighted with the responsibility to leverage and position themselves and their ideas. Such was the loss of a critical ambivalence.
Faced with the inviability of the art market and in their position against institutional insularity, in which they observed the neoliberal rot and slow fossil-like inability to speak to the change in culture brought on by the Internet, they had one thing to fall back on: the promise of individuals to freely self-organize on the web. Concurrent with this movement would be the explosion of politicized online communities in Gamergate, and later, the alt-right. Crucially, an arm of the Post Internet Artists would advance from a trim critique of consumer culture into an observation of political fragmentation, dutifully assigned as their domain.
All the while, the ghost of the millennial left’s experiment in building alternative political solidarity online hung over everyone’s heads. Its pretty crazy to think that Occupy Wall Street, in 2011, was proposed as a hashtag by the culture-jamming magazine Adbusters.
It was the accelerationist theorists, who all the Post Internet Artists were really into, that would articulate this cycle of hope and burn out, escalation and deflation produced by the “pragmatic left.” They were looking for an alternative to the social-democratic politics that seemed to fall on its face every time. Mark Fisher, in his text Capitalist Realism, reminds us that the way in which this disappointment becomes memory-holed is in fact an “adaptive strategy” for those in power. Remember, a huge part of the Post Internet humor from the get go would be poking fun at this sort of liberal fatigue. And what Mark Fisher was advocating for, again, is a critical detachment. It was in doing this that other futures became possible.
That said, the other accelerationist writers such as Nick Srnicek and Helen Hester, would pen their own hopes for policy, with the theoretical twist that what was needed to reopen our depressed collective imagination was the introduction of a radical positive project for the left to rally behind. This problem owed itself first to a left that had fallen on its back foot, resorting only to negative solidarity. A reinvigorated confidence in technology would form the centerpiece of this movement, backed by a passionate rediscovery of Marx as "pro-tech."
The accelerationist, in their attempt to find an alternative to democratic socialism, had found a bridge between their understanding of present day obstacles to the left and a systems-thinking approach. This appealed to the artist, who took as their center to be the concept's distribution, over its discrete art production. While this would prove an expressive gesture in art and consistent with the widely adopted vision of cybernetics launched with computer technology, it would come to undermine the critical detachment of the artists themselves.
While extensively critical of this, including the California Ideology, the long arc of platforms to capture and turn inward, and the failed attempts at building a counter-hegemony online during Occupy Wall Street, there was still something of the cybernetic vision that held optimism.
Cybernetics would fruitfully decenter the discrete individual through its study of circular causality: feedback mechanisms within biological and social systems. Underscoring this belief was the concept that the self-regulating system would always bring itself to balance, or homeostasis. And, in its recent “apolitical” mystic turn, God was in there. This would be known as the trend of Network Spirituality, and though this would be a vision of eternal kinship and collectivity, it was to the exclusion of the actions of an individual. You get God, but you lose the individual’s agency toward their own self-transformation. That’s shit, because there is no point of departure for individual freedom because there was never any story of one to begin with.
So I am trying to connect that problem back to the historic avant-garde. We need to understand what makes this contemporary moment different, because on its face both movements are casting away the systems of patronage. In today’s moment, though, they were abandoned by patronage, and that has been masked over by a big middle finger to the old way of doing things that appears consistent with the historic avant-garde. Still, the soft spot they had to land on was that they still believed, in some way, in the promise of the Internet as a democratic forum. Beit for validating the art of the time, or for building political solidarity, it was still an open question.
Again, the cybernetic vision decentered the individual to the exclusion of the story of individual freedom, and things were worse off than where they started. While the historic avant-garde begins with the story of the bourgeois revolution, their rebellion was superficial and they remained attached by “the umbilical cord of gold.” This is something a little different, something that can't quite see itself in the mirror. The bourgeois revolution was that which aimed to destroy the feudal system and establish the rights of the individual. The language with which we speak of our own self-transformation and emancipation and rights we owe to them. I think that the story of the Post Internet Artists reveals the state of social disintegration shared by us all. And looking just within the scope of the New Left project, counterculture suffers without political possibility. I think that the Post Internet Artists are the avant-garde, and I think they are undermining themselves, and I want that to stop.