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My investigations into art historical networks have led me to consider their use within Post-Internet art, and how this can be considered a return to premodern prosumer culture. Some of these ideas are discussed in the book ‘You are here: Art after the Internet’ by Omar Kholeif, which is a collection of essays designed to question the effect of Web 2.0 on the production and dissemination of art practice. Rather than presenting a definitive description of the Post-Internet phenomenon, the aim of the book is to understand these ways of working, particularly in relation to questions around authorship, commodity, and authenticity.

In his introduction to the collection, Kholeif suggests that the internet allows an alternative space to the one that institutions currently provide, and therefore produces a different kind of artistic expression. He also proposes that this increasingly self-referential turn is the ideal platform for a genre that is defining itself even as it is being created. (Kholeif, 2014, pp. 12-13)

The New Aesthetic
As a term that is fast becoming a synonym for art ‘after’ the internet, ‘The New Aesthetic’ is also a discrete project in and of itself: “The New Aesthetic is a term coined by James Bridle, used to refer to the increasing appearance of the visual language of digital technology and the Internet in the physical world, and the blending of virtual and physical. The phenomenon has been around for a significant period of time and referred to in different forms, for example by the likes of cultural theorists such as Norman M. Klein.” (Omar Kholeif, 2014, p21)

As Bridle explains, the New Aesthetic utilises the vernacular of the network that it is investigating. Produced as blog posts, YouTube videos, and Tumblr reblogs, and incorporating all the social aspects of the medium such as likes and comments, “it is as much [a] work as criticism: it does not conform to the formal shapes – manifesto, essay, book – expected by critics and academics.” (Bridle, 2014, p22)

The impact of the network
Bridle’s academic background in Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence has influenced the ways in which he understands these image networks and the structures they are inevitably bound up in: “the processes of capture, storage and distribution; the actions of filters, codecs, algorithms, processes, databases, and transfer protocols; the weight of data centres, servers, satellites, cables, routers, switches, modems, infrastructures physical and virtual…” (Bridle, 2014, pp. 22-23)

For Bridle, a close reading of the Twitter avatar of Eric Schmidt, which features the Google executive chairman in a flak-jacket “is a spur to investigate the circumstances of the photograph and the self-preservation of the corporation. It was taken on a visit to Iraq in 2009, when Google promised to digitize what remains of the National Museum’s collection, raising further questions about the digitization and subsequent ownership of cultural patrimony, and of Google’s involvement in political activity and international diplomacy through its Google Ideas think tank, which actively supports a programme of regime change in certain parts of the world.”

Despite calls for a manifesto of the New Aesthetic, Bridle insists on the inherent qualities of the network to be retained by refusing to define it in those terms. As he states:  “the New Aesthetic may be considered a work, a conversation, a performance, an experiment…” (Bridle, 2014, p27)

Art after Social Media
Online image networks are of similar interest to contributor Brad Troemel, in his essay ‘Art After Social Media’. Here, he defines the artist’s use of social media as a paradoxical rejection and reflection of the market, where capital is defined by shares and likes which can potentially be traded for more conventional forms of market success. (Troemel, 2014, pp. 41-42) Troemel suggests that the internet poses three challenges to art historical narratives, specifically notions of authorship, ownership, and context. (Troemel, 2014, pp. 37-38)

As a natural successor to photographic mediation of the work of art, art after social media is both produced and defined by the network, thereby divorcing it from its context and author. The sharing of images and ideas online can allow contextual information to be stripped from artwork, producing so-called ‘orphan’ works. (Troemel, 2014, p39) However, this commons style dissemination also creates increased opportunities for artists who are “strategically [managing] perceptions of their work – transforming it from a series of isolated projects to a streaming feed that transforms the artist’s identity into a recognizable brand.” (Troemel, 2014, p40)

The term Post-Internet Art developed out of the rise of social media and online networks, as a way of distinguishing itself from Net Art and other art forms that were beholden to particular technological formats. However, although modern technologies have exponentially increased the possibilities for artists to produce and disseminate works to a much wider audience, Post-Internet Art as a mode of thinking and making (as opposed to a genre or medium) can be understood as the type of networked thinking employed by pre-Internet scholars such as Aby Warburg and Walter Benjamin. Furthermore, this method of relational production has more in common with methods employed in the pre-Enlightenment era, rendering the internet as a non-modern space.

Further reading:
Postmodern Currents: Art and Artists in the Age of Electronic Media (1989)
Hypertext 2.0: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology (1997)
Imagologies: Media Philosophy (1994)
Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality (2002)