Window to the Past: Searching for contemporary Czech Internet art in 2012
EXPERIMENTAL FILM – NETART – Window to the Past: Searching for contemporary Czech Internet art: 11th PAF invitation (6.–9. 12. 2012) – MARIE MEIXNEROVÁ – translated by JIŘÍ SLAVÍK –
This essay was written at the turn of the year 2012, when the 11th PAF – Festival of Film Animation and Contemporary art in Olomouc had been being prepared. One of the curated festival section aimed at introducing the currently active Czech artists that used as their relating point, the medium and the tool of expression the Internet, therefore creating works that might be “labeled” as Internet art or were at least net art related.
The section arose from sort of naïve feeling and enthusiastic verve of its curator (and author of the essay), back then still in her student years, who wished to see the work of individual artists, including herself, in the wider local context. To discover, grab and touch the contemporary Czech Internet art “scene”, and to bring more attention of the specialized as well as wider public to it, bringing together at least some of the artists to the Festival as the ideal meeting point, possibly opening new connections.
Since 2012, the situation has evolved. Through years, there was the growing attention towards the net and especially towards the post Internet and Internet related art in the Czech Republic, with more literature, several public discussions, articles and even specialized issues of art and cultural magazines on the topic (A2, Labirint Revue, Sešit pro umění a příbuzné zóny, Flash Art Czech and Slovak Edition to name a few), with more exhibitions and artists more freely using the term. Galleries specialized at (post) Internet art emerged, shined and declined. 1
The way of things (partially) might be, but probably is not, caused by the 2012 Festival gathering. Let’s believe that it was already in the air of the post Internet age, into which the Czech country later on finally entered.
The reason for the translation and reprint of our 2012 article is twofold: first, in context of other essays, literature reviews and Czech translation of foreign articles dealing with net art and post Internet era that appear in the Experimental Film section of our magazine, it is, from the distance of more than six years, definitely interesting to observe the that day enthusiasm, and to confront it with the later comforting development. Second, the PAF Festival together with LINK Editions just released the English edition of the first Czech concise anthology on Internet art, #mm Net Art—Internet Art in the Virtual and Physical Space of Its Presentation, with Ms Meixnerová being its editor and contributing author. The publication is available as print on demand (in colour or black and white) or as free pdf.
note of the editor, July 2019
A note on contemporary Czech netart: Maybe there is dark but I can’t see it
It has not been said much about net art in the Czech republic – definitely not from the perspective of film studies or art history. Of course, we2 have encountered the Internet a little bit later, wise heads might understandingly note, as if this progressive (??!) art form was still wating for the “ripe time” when its acknowledgement shall finally come. Challenging, concerning that we already have the apocalyptic year of 2012, and those that could be called Internet artists were already active before the masses found their ways to Internet with the rise of World Wide Web in the mid-90s.
What’s more, lot of people see the origins of net art even earlier, in the 1960’s in the work of Nam June Paik, John Cage, in ‘60s videoart, conceptual art and even in the land and environmental art. There exist plenty of texts on the web approaching this issue, for example German new media project Medien Kunst Netz (www.medienkunstnetz.de), that is available also in English, or the texts coming from research activitiy netpioneers 1.03, gathered in the printed anthology netpioneers 1.0 – contextualizing early net-based art. Everybody knows the post-modernist phrase that “everything is connected with everything” but in confrontation with trends appearing on the global net art scene today, probably nobody would put the relevance to environmental art into question (for example Watching Martin Kohout 4 by Czech artist Martin Kohout being a par excellence example of this issue), and some of the works would be probably rather than net art labeled as conceptual.
In this text however, we don’t aim to write about some specifics of contemporary net art nor to find its roots; instead we want to rise a very simple question if there is at this moment any net art in the Czech Republic.
The question is not even a new one. Here and there, it is being expressed in specific groups of interest, and keeps appearing like a returning dark demon in bachelor thesis, whose authors are trying to handle the phenomenon of net art. In them, the question feels more like a duty than a real topic of interest, and the answers to it could be summarized by paraphrase of spread saying from one popular Czech tale: Maybe it’s dark but I can’t see it. A phenomenon, really.
Although in recent years, there is a quite cheerful amount of thesis on net art, and a lot of them discuss the Czech net art works by „older generation“ of net artists in very praiseful way, contemporary Czech net art remains hidden in the dark: There appears nothing to say about Czech net art… I couldn’t find any active Internet artists… even after contacting Ms Baňková I was not able to find any other artist… etc. I quote from memory. (Proud statement about the breaking of one’s shyness and contacting The Ms Baňková made my eyes weep – that’s some real research verve. Consider the paradox of Baňková being nowadays interested mostly in literature, and naturally becoming generationally quite distant from young netartists, as also her means of expression looks like a prehistoric visit due to high-speed evolution of technologies, and her works has became just a great illustrations of net art history. Even if she was still active in net art, we cannot expect from her to be still fully aware of the works by other artists.)
We can’t say there is no netart tradition or writings about net art in Czech Republic. On the contrary. There is a strong awareness of an existence of old net art from the 1990s and beginning of 2000s, and some readers hae probably heard of Markéta Baňková or other names of the older generation like Michael Bielický, Petr Svárovský (Silver), Gívan Belá (this Belgian was active in the Czech Republic for many years) and maybe few others. Their works had often the character of academic projects, as you can also discover from dissertations and thesis (to which I keep coming back since they are the most fresh written source on the theme of Czech net art, if we ignore the closely-focused internet forums). Those authors [of the “older generation] are now in their fourties, fifties. They do already live abroad and/or engage in diferent (non-net art) activities.
So what happened with the Czech net art after Baňková and Bielický? Has the art community lose their interest, if they ever had any? Or the public?
Meanwhile in other countries, they have experimented with different exhibition strategies of Internet art, and they concentrate their efforts on the archivation, documentation and restoration of older works, that would hopelessly dissapear in the history if there is no good man to save them. Artists are selling their net art works and meeting each other at remote islands to confirm their brotherhood. In Czech country, it seems that the Internet artists either don’t exist at all (because a need for Internet art probably hasn’t emerge in Czech hearts God only knows why), or don’t create (maybe they are too ashamed or scared of denial that their art can’t be on a world level), or they’re hiding (in this case why to produce net art „under the bed“ if it dates so quickly?).
In the time when basically everywhere outside the country people are thinking about the ways how to archive or preserve for future generation their valuable works, we are not even sure if there’s any net art. We ask in a whisper so that nobody could actually hear us or laugh at us because we’re not that agile in this progressive world of pixels (PPPP) – Does the contemporary Czech net art exist? And if it does, where is it? This question will be answered partially at the 11th PAF – Festival of Film Animation and contemporary art in Olomouc, Czech Republic on December 6th to 9th. When PAF adressed me to prepare one of the sections – very well, it was the section about net art – I started by asking these two questions.
But more troubling question for me was What would that mean if no contemporary Czech net art will come up? which I denied to admit whereas this fact would be particularly elusive and alarming. There’s a strong generation born around 1985 active in the world scene. How is it with this generation in the Czech Republic? These people grew up with Internet which they met within obligatory tutorials at basic and secondary schools, and they are accustomed to its daily use. That’s quite a strong premise that the generation should produce more than one artist (I have Martin Kohout on my mind who became the most known contemporary/young Czech Internet artist even for the grandmothers in their living rooms, after his participation in YouTube Play Biennial and presentation of his internet video Moonwalk (2008) in Guggenheim Museum New York. (Although Kohout lives and works in Germany for many years now, he will be present at the festival, obviously.))
That’s why I started to thinking about making a sort of “report” about the state of contemporary Czech net art besides the presentation of global net art in wider context and introduction of foreign stars. I was also afraid how to answer the question What happenes if it comes up? What if a flower hidden in a glasshouse will be shown in the light and then meets an acid rain and don’t find a breeding ground? Is the searching worth it, then? No one knows how to perceive this art, how to exhibit it, how to sell it anyway. So why enter such an unexplored territory? That’s what would have the net art ignorants and conservatives said. And á propos – it is exactly this joyless approach that leads to a conclusion that Czech net art scene is already dead. But to start a computer is quite easy, isn’t it?
PAF has gradually became a great opportunity to find that current Czech net art. Thanks to a huge enthusiasm of many willing people, I have quickly found out that the contemporary Czech net art really does exist. The main problem was in the large segmentation of the scene. Particular artists don’t know each other and are not organized (in touch) at all. Or their net art work has a character of only a solitary project. Their artistic efforts often become misunderstood and this complicates the continuity of their work. Some of the authors are, in front of their surrounding, even little bit of ashamed of their web projects.
It seems quite absurd that the Czech net art scene is put back and hidden just because of its segmentation.
The PAF – Festival of Film Animation might help to raise the awareness of net art in Czech Republic, as well as of the existence of artists working with means of expression common for Internet art. Besides prestigious foreign guests and introduction of net art in broader contexts, PAF will focus mainly on contemporary Czech net art – regarding the open call that was proclaimed on that occasion. A many could learn that net art does not mean just a bunch of insane hackers but that it is much more colourful and its scale of expression is ranging from frisky GIFs to Internet novels, from conceptual opuses to very specific physical works. That net art can be noble, poetic, witty, but also erudite, naive, dangerous, sarcastic, pleasant or cruel. And that net art has its own instruments and logic, just like any other kind of art.
So now it’s time to take a deep breath, leave your prejudice behind and prepare for the proper net art inhallation.
Written as invitation for the 11th PAF – Festival of Film Animation and contemporary art in Olomouc, Czech Republic, one of whose programme sections was devoted to Internet art. First released in Czech as Zpráva o stavu současného českého netartu: Možná je tma, ale já ji nevidím in November 2012. Translated into English by Jiří Slavík.
The thumbnail image: Richard Loskot: Feathers
- e.g. Kurzor, Prague and PLEVEL, Prague; video and net-art oriented on-line based ScreenSaverGallery prevailed and still thrive, but there are more traditional art galleries who are in their dramaturgy more interested in net/post Internet art nowadays. [↩]
- as post-communist country [↩]
- The website www.netpioneers.info however, is no longer publicly accessible in 2016; note by Marie Meixnerová [↩]
- Watching Martin Kohout, YouTube video channel, Martin Kohout, 2010–2011 [↩]