Appropriation Practice:
Digital Quotations — Art After The Artist

Appropriation in Creative Practice (2008), by Dipatx Art Collective

“Art is about the production of singularities” (1) and the Internet is a huge repository of artistic material: texts, sounds, and (moving) images. So what is more obvious than to use theses fundamentals to produce singularities again? The times when the artist was understood to be a “creator” and a “genius”, to be someone who produces something “new” and “original”, are over. Uncontrolled overproduction and differentiation between various modes of living are characteristic for our era. General strategies of living, learning and creating art and culture can be described with terms like remix, mashup, copy-paste, collage, montage, and quotations. Appropriation is one of the standards of artistic production nowadays:

“(…) appropriation and depletion of meaning, fragmentation and dialectical juxtaposition of fragments, and the systematic separation of signifier and signified. In the sense of Walter Benjamin’s definition of the allegorical, one could say that the allegorical mind arbitrarily selects from the vast and disordered material that a person’s knowledge has to offer. It tries to match one piece with another to figure out whether the pieces can be combined: This meaning with that image, or that image with this meaning. The result is never predictable since there is no organic mediation between the two.” (2)

The question in the present context is if, nowadays, exhibiting art and the work of the curator can be understood in a similar way to the production of art and the work of an artist. There is a huge amount of artworks on the Internet that can be found on different repositories and databases, that are announced on mailinglists and other tools of communication, that are exhibited and presented on various platforms and “rooms”. These art-spaces are often commercial infrastructures dedicated to social interaction between their users like, for example, blogs, wikis, file sharing platforms or virtual reality environments. The project TAGallery by CONT3XT.NET is based on the platform and is focused on the method of tagging, a (social) technology which enables the user to assign different links to one or more thematic positions (artworks) and to visualise those link-collections on different levels. Keywords, put together in clusters to form keyword groups, heighten the readability and possibilities for interpreting the artwork and the entire exhibition space.

Nevertheless, the newness about TAGallery is not so much the focus on the collection and ranking of links to artworks and their given interrelated structure which results from the system of interlinking itself. The innovative and crucial point is the appropriative use of “something”, a system, that isn’t designed for curating per se: is nothing more than a social tagging platform, a simple Web 2.0 tool with limited functions for administrating Internet sites using links. The link collections, their thematically ordered bundles accompanied by contextual material and the publicity work done around it, is part of the traditional work of an institutional curator and therefore the platform TAGallery is simply transferring the imagery and working methods of non-commercial exhibition spaces into a discursive electronic data space. This has been done by many other existing resources for New Media and Internet-based Art for over a decade on various levels and in different settings: Rhizome’s ArtBase, the commissions of Turbulence, the networked project and Software Art repository of or the The low-fi Net Art Locator as well as on a more institutionalised level Whitney’s Artport, the e-space by SFMOMA or the Gallery 9 by the Walker Art Center Minneapolis, just to name a few examples.

In the case of TAGallery these personal yet often publicly accessible link lists are interlinked among a network of users, who provide keywords and short summaries for the links, providing a more or less flat hierarchy of information. Generally, blogs, wikis and what is called Web 2.0 nowadays is maybe the result of a networking crowd of artists starting to work with the online medium and shaping it according to their own needs. Eva Grubinge, for exemple, concerned herself between 1993 and 1995 with questions of exhibition structures by creating her Web project C@C – Computer-Aided-Curating, a computer application which allowed the user to create, view, discuss, and purchase Contemporary Art:

“The curator, seminal figure and powerful authority in the art market of the 80s, serves as a binding link in the discussion on artistic production and quality for the last time. The curator’s authority lies in the power of selection and presentation, which are linked not least to the significance of the institutional location. By whom one is selected for what, to be seen for how long where and by whom, become hallmarks of significance that is itself taken seriously only as the occasion for speculation in artistic practice. Questions about the connections among reasons for being selected or not being selected open up a framework in which expertise, metaphysics and subject shake hands in easy succession.” (3)

In the mid 1990ies art created on and for the Interent was much about the prediction of an utopia: it often dealt with the final democratisation of the artfield as already thought about in the early 20th century by Dadaists and reinforced in the 1960ies with ideas brought up by Conceptual Art. Even if these ideas went in a similar direction in regard of exhibiting art, especially in virtual environments, curating — per se — still seems to be a non-democratic activity. The role of the curator is not exclusively bound to institutions such as museums or galleries. As the term “curating” designates an activity more than a profession, nowadays, everyone can be a curator, taking advantage of naked Web 2.0 infrastructures or even inventing and building her own exhibtion spaces. But still, the nucleus in curating is based on filtering mechanisms which work

“invisibly at the backend but always present. Filtering is a key to success: it can make the resource desirable to be a part of, and therefore accepted by the users. Filtering is carried out in a strict manner by a few people with consistent judgment of taste and decisions. The way filtering is organised decides the destiny of the project: filtering is usually absolutist to keep up the quality of the resource, and also democratic to allow for a variety of works and approaches.” (4)

Altered conditions for art production and reception on the Internet have not only changed the art itself but also the practice of curating and subsequently the tasks of the curator that now also calls for process-oriented forms of representation. In contrast to traditional gallery spaces, the TAGallery not only offers chronological showrooms, semantically thick exhibition titles and various approaches to contextualising the artwork, but also makes the act of selecting and compiling the artwork public. The ongoing curatorial process is accessible via newsfeed, which designates a separate space in which to reflect these processes. In general, the TAGallery understands itself, and the possibilities it offers, as a laboratory and workshop for visualising artistic processes — initiated by the curator — that take place in the form of interactions between the work and the viewer. Therefore, the online gallery simultaneously alludes to the altered conditions for art production and reception and to the role of the art institution within this process.

The most basic method of generating a freely accessible, modular network of personal associations on the World Wide Web is to create a link and thereby forge a relationship between two or more contents. In the meantime, producing new fields of context through reciprocal referencing via links to homepages, blogs, databases and artworks has grown to become one of the most common artistic practices on the Internet. Yet, a link is not only an element that provides a structure for the hypertextuality on the Internet and thus simultaneously serves as a multidimensional system of reference. A link also works as tool for remixing existing content and ideas, as a simplified way of copying and pasting and — particularly in the context of New Media and Information-based Art — as a meaning-generating entity. The work of the curator on the Internet is based on the link as its main reference point to artworks, theories and contexts and plays a crucial role in understanding cultural work on the Internet by digitally quoting the artist, or as mentioned in the title of this present text, by producing art after the artist.

(1) cf. Bourriaud, Nicolas. Postproduction. New York: Lukas & Sternberg 2002.
(2) Buchloh, Benjamin H.D. Allegorical Procedures: Appropriation and Montage in Contemporary Art. in: Alberro, Alexander and Buchmann, Sabeth (eds.). Art After Conceptual Art. Massachusetts: The MIT Press [Breitwieser, Sabine (ed.) Generali Foundation Collection Series] 2006, p. 27-53.
(3) Andreas Spiegel. Immateriality Stripped Bare or: Linguistic Criticism in the ‘Netbikini’. Catalogue ‘Nitsch – Kowanz – Grubinger. Three Generations of Austrian Artists’, Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, Berlin, 1995
(4) Goriunova, Olga and Shulgin, Alexei. From Art on Networks to Art on Platforms. in: Krysa, Joasia (ed.). Curating Immateriality: The work of the Curator in the Age of Network Systems. 2006, p. 255