Welcome to Jon Ippolito's home page.
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One of the challenges of Maine’s first THATCamp (the 2013 Digital Humanities Week) was how to get 60 people to decide what they want to learn t...
Using a 3-D printer. Custom-styling a WordPress blog. Growing your own medicine. Conducting a social media campaign with YouTube and Twitter. Is the...
Graduate students in the University of Maine’s Digital Curation program do more than read archival theory and study metadata standards. As thei...
Sharpening your digital skills just got a lot more accessible, thanks to a huge discount in tuition pricing for the University of Maine’s Digit...
Starting in June 2013, the home of Still Water Co-Directors Jon Ippolito and Joline Blais becomes an experiment in sustainable living through digital ...
Scalar is an online platform built by the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture (ANVC) centered at USC that facilitates the creation of media-rich sc...
After only a year online, the University of Maine’s graduate certificate in Digital Curation is being called “a national standard for the...
Is DOOM doomed? Should we say our last words for Word? Will Mozilla be a dinosaur? These questions echoed through the Montpelier room of the Library ...
Maine Public Radio highlights the debate over open access to scholarly publications in conversation with Still Water’s Jon Ippolito and his fel...
Whether they manage bits for their local historical society or the Library of Congress, the digital era has placed added demands on today’s cur...
Jon Ippolito is a footsoldier in the battle between network and hierarchic cultures. You can find out more about his work via the links at left.
A synopsis of Jon's background follows. You can also find images and bios of different lengths at the Still Water press page.
Jon Ippolito is an artist, writer, and curator who has made a career of pursuing endeavors for which he is drastically underqualified. Trained as an astrophysicist, he later turned to art (via dance, Wing Chun, and a number of other irrelevant disciplines). He is a frequent co-conspirator with Joline Blais.
technology and culture
After applying to what he thought was a position as a museum guard, Jon was hired in the curatorial department of the Guggenheim, where in 1993 he curated Virtual Reality: An Emerging Medium and subsequent exhibitions that explore the intersection of contemporary art and new media. In 2002 Jon joined the faculty of the University of Maine's New Media Department, where he co-founded Still Water with Joline Blais. His writing on the cultural and aesthetic implications of new media has appeared in the Washington Post, Art Journal, and numerous sleazy art magazines, including in a regular "Cross Talk" column for ArtByte magazine. The gory details can be found in his cv.
"There is no collaboration without competition." That is the premise of adversarial collaborations, works that foreground the conflict inherent in the collaborative process. While most other collectives present their work as a "unified front," adversarial collaborators like Janet Cohen, Keith Frank, and Jon Ippolito have created installations, books, and Internet projects that emphasize physical, verbal, or mental struggles among the participants. An exhibition history and bibliography appears in Jon's curriculum vitae. You can also see the artists haggle, argue, and throw things at each other at their Web site three.org. Be forewarned, however, that many of the works there are on life support due to technological obsolescence; it's taking longer to rescue them than it took to make them in the first place.
conceptual and process art
Jon also has an abiding interest in the legacy for today's artists of the work of John Cage as well as conceptual practices of the 1960s and 1970s. His contributions to this subject include curating events for the New York presentation of Rolywholyover A Circus for museum by Cage. He is particularly interested in the parallel between digital art and Minimalist and Conceptual art, a parallel that led him to propose a new paradigm for preserving art called the Variable Media Network. See his cv for more on this topic.plastic arts
Jon has exhibited, lectured on, and written about painting and other plastic media. You can find out more in--you guessed it--his cv.
Click here to view what is doubtless an out-of-date version of Jon's CV.
The Still Water press page includes biographies and images that you can use without permission.
You can reach Jon at ude.eniam@otiloppij. Note that this address may not work for email lists; please don't add me to any newsletters or lists without my permission.
In recent years, Jon has been publishing his texts with ThoughtMesh, which makes them easier to navigate and cross-link. You can find all his meshed essays and presentations here.
Select a title at left to read additional publications.
This MIT book co-authored by Richard Rinehart and Jon Ippolito looks at the threats to social memory from technology, institutions, and the law, arguing that only a radical reinvention of the paradigm of preservation will save today's culture for the future.
This celebration of sixty innovators in art, design, fashion and other creative fields, published on the 60th anniversary of the publishing house Thames & Hudson, includes a section edited by Joline Blais and Jon Ippolito on new media creativity.
This book by Still Water co-founders Joline Blais and Jon Ippolito charts art's recent eruption in fields as diverse as artificial life, computer games, and community activism, revealing a seismic shift in the role it plays in society. No longer content to sit on a pedestal or auction block, these works infiltrate stock markets, sway court cases, and network bedrooms, reaching across the globe to expand the edge of art.
"A brilliantly designed, authoritative, and open-minded attempt to ground the slippery terrain of digital art"--ArtKrush.
Permanence Through Change: The Variable Media Approach (L'approche des médias variables: la permanence par le changement) is the first book to present a coherent strategy for tackling the thorny issues of accelerated technical obsolescence in the digital age. Co-published by the Langlois Foundation and the Guggenheim Museum and edited by Alain Depocas, Jon Ippolito, and Caitlin Jones, this bilingual resource guide presents viewpoints, methods and case studies concerning the preservation of art created with non-traditional materials, tools and technologies. It includes texts by such authors as Bruce Sterling, Steve Dietz, Jon Ippolito, John Handhardt, and Nancy Spector, as well as excerpts from the 2001 "Preserving the Immaterial" conference.
Download for free... or request a hard copy from me or from the Langlois Foundation.
On three separate battlegrounds, dinosaurs fattened on broadcast economies threaten to trample the newer species evolving in today's electronic networks. In some cases this attempt is deliberate: Microsoftus Rex and TimeWarnerSaurus have little interest in encouraging the unimpeded evolution of media. In other cases, as I hope to show, even new media advocates--including many of you in this room--unwittingly buy into hierarchic models of preservation, property, or professorship that endanger the unfettered evolution of digital art...
Art historian Clive Bell famously described the contrast between virtuosic and communal art production as "cold peaks" versus "snug foothills of warm humanity." High culture's anxiety about distributed culture has reached new levels thanks to the explosion of participatory media online. Drawing on themes from At the Edge of Art, Jon Ippolito asks what's lurking in those snug foothills that gets academics all hot and bothered?
The gravest threat to the cultural survival of new media art may very well be its wall label. Few manacles on creativity have been as ubiquitous. Employed by curators everywhere, the wall label, along with the catalogue caption, has been joined in the past few decades by a younger generation of digital descriptors, the collection management record and online citation. Together this typographical dynasty has conspired to reduce every artwork, from the street happening to the stick spiral, to a single artist, date, medium, dimension, and collection.
While the reductionism of the wall label enfeebles conceptual and single-performance art, it threatens to obliterate digital culture completely. For new media art can survive only by multiplying and mutating. From computer-based installations to video multicasts, digital collaborations are the rule rather than the exception, and a work often undergoes changes in personnel, equipment, and scale as it diffuses across new media festivals, exhibitions, and web sites. Like a shark, a new media artwork must keep moving to survive.
New-media artists who want their works to persevere have two diametrically opposed choices: to cast their work in traditional genres like ink or bronze, or to trust code to survive by means of its executability.
This talk examines an emerging field in which the contrast between these two alternatives is greatest: so-called artificial life, the creation with a computer of organisms that exhibit lifelike behavior and parallel experiments with animate 'wetware.'
Now, it's not at all obvious how to preserve art whose medium is self-replicating computer programs or E. coli. But these slippery media serve as a litmus test for two critical questions: whether static or dynamic forms of preservation are most likely to safeguard the future of art; and whether museums are up to the challenge.
"The Politics of Perspective"
Talk by Joline Blais and Jon Ippolito
cAT conference in Lisbon on July 6, 2000
Thanks for inviting us. Cornelia Solfrank spoke of her hope that online art would outgrow the myth of Net art as it existed in 1997. We are going to talk about some other myths that continue to plague online art, particularly in its narrative aspects. The myths we're thinking of reveal profound misunderstandings about what we might call the politics of perspective.
To choose a recent example: Mark Amerika, the dean of online hypertext, praised Shelley Jackson's _My Body: A Wunderkammer_ in the June-July 2000 issue of ArtByte magazine for "reconfiguring the reader of her patchwork narrative into an interactive participant whose own choices help construct the writer's story." What's wrong with this assertion?
Artbyte (New York) 3, no. 1 (May-June 2000), pp. 22-23
Whatever happened to the gift economy?
Last November, when the online retailer eToys.com sued the artist-run Web site etoy.com for trademark infringement, all I could think of was John's WordPerfect macros. Back in the days when I logged onto the Internet with my trusty 2400 bps modem, John's WordPerfect macros cropped up in all sorts of Web sites and Usenet groups, where they always came free of banner ads, usage fees, or any other quid-pro-quos. They were just there for the taking, and if "John" got anything back for distributing them so widely, it was something intangible like public prestige or personal satisfaction. In other words, John's WordPerfect macros were a gift.
Cross TalkArtbyte (New York) 2, no. 6 (March-April 2000), pp. 24-25.
Does the art world really "get" the Internet?
To thumb through the pages of this magazine, you'd think that the art world was especially hip to Internet culture. It's true that artists were among the first to colonize cyberspace; in 1995 8% of Web sites were produced by artists, and this growing cyber-avant-garde has remained at the leading edge ever since. Unfortunately, there's a big gap between Internet art afficionados and their offline brethren. Pick up the January 2000 issue of ArtNews and you'll find a 15-page cover article on art in cyberspace--without a single mention of art made for the Internet. For the typical artist, curator, or collector, "online art" means the scanned-in oil paintings hawked at NextMonet or Sothebys.com. I suppose that's no worse than the editors of Time magazine on the eve of the millennium choosing an online book retailer as Man of the Year--but then again that's like saluting Henry Ford because he found a more efficient way to deliver buggy whips...
It's tempting to blame this technological myopia on studio and art history degree programs for not including electronic media in their curricula. But a lot of artists using electronic media don't "get" the Internet either. Most of the video and computer-driven installations in museums these days employ expensive projectors and top-of-the-line computers to surround the viewer with sublime vistas or dazzling effects. Online artists, on the other hand, cannot possibly aspire to the sensory immersion of cinema or the processing power of Silicon Graphics, because their work has to squeeze through the 14.4 kbs modem of a dairy farmer sitting at his 386 in Iowa City. Sure, Bill Gates claims we'll all soon have wall-sized Internet projections and T1s in our living rooms--but until we do, the constraint on bandwidth can actually work to the advantage of Internet artists, encouraging them to strive for distributed content rather than linear narrative and for conceptual elegance rather than theatrical overkill. Making successful art for the Internet isn't just a matter of learning the right tools, but also of learning the right attitude...
Artbyte (New York) 2, no. 5 (January-February 2000), pp. 28-29
Should some code be censored?KNOWLEDGE SHOULD BE ADVANCED AT ALL COSTS
--Jenny Holzer, Truisms
Pressures to "clean up" the Internet have receded from the public eye lately, displaced by Bill Clinton's post-Littleton call for video game manufacturers to cut back on virtual decapitations and Rudolph Giuliani's jihad against risquÈ religious paintings at the Brooklyn Museum. There is even some evidence that the pendulum of public policy regarding the Internet may be swinging back in the direction of unfettered access, as suggested by the New York City school system's apologetic response to criticism that its family filter hindered student research. But if the clamor for overt, %de jure% Internet censorship is dying down, a tacit, %de facto% censorship seems to be quietly taking its place. Now that more and more of the Web is being shaped by a corporate bottom line instead of government-sponsored research, the academic model of freely exchanged information is giving way to a mercenary calculation of potential gains and losses. What if visitors follow one of your links to another site, are upset by what they find there, and sue you for directing them, intentionally or not, towards offensive or illegal material? If you're not getting paid to link to someone else's site, lawyers argue, why run the risk?
Artbyte (New York) 2, no. 3 (September-October 1999), pp. 28-29
Whatever happened to the scary cyborg?
Back in 1985, when James Cameron's original Terminator drove through police stations and shot up night clubs, Donna Haraway proclaimed that the figure of the cyborg would destabilize our stereotype-ridden culture. Now, Star Trek's Seven of Nine is taking dancing lessons and going on dates, yet new media theorists who still parrot Haraway's assertion seem not to have noticed how easily the cyborg has been co-opted by old media. Contemporary movies, TV, and comic books portray cyborgs as efficient, strong, reticent, good with firearms, and willing to risk their lives to get the job done. The human protagonists of these action and science-fiction genres, by contrast, are efficient, strong, reticent, good with firearms, and willing to risk their lives to get the job done. So much for subverting stereotypes.
Truth, however, can be stranger than fiction. In November of 1995, Leonard Adleman of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles published a paper in the journal Science that documented a truly disturbing hybrid of the organic and the artificial. Adleman's cyborg bore little resemblence to terminators or borgs: it had no arms, legs, head, skin, or personality, but neither did it have silicon chips or a metal endo- or exoskeleton. It didn't even have a solid form. Adleman's cyborg was simply a few drops of DNA in a test tube. But Adleman's DNA could compute.
Artbyte (New York) 2, no. 2 (Summer 1999), pp. 26-27
Do we want convergence?
Cable-modem pitchmen boast downloads ten or a hundred times faster than ordinary copper-wire modems. WebTV advocates talk of connecting billions of people who can't afford computers to the Internet via their televisions. Microsoft is pitching its scaled-down version of Windows, known as CE, as the operating system of choice for everything from palmtops to automobile navigation systems to toasters. Cisco Systems and other routers are at work on "Internet 2.0," a protocol whereby the same phone line would carry voice, fax, voicemail, and e-mail simultaneously.
I don't know about you, but this kind of talk scares the hell out of me. It's not that I have a particular affection for glacial downloads or dumb appliances; it's just that the "advantages" offered by these particular models of convergence are asymmetric. Cable download speeds *are* blistering; cable upload speeds are not. Bringing the Web to TV *would* encourage more poor people to surf the Internet, but in migrating from desk to den the cyberspace portal would move from a place reserved for work to a place reserved for passive consumption. Having my toaster hooked up to the Internet would tell me nothing about GE--but it could tell them quite a bit about me. And unlike the old, democratic IP switches, which couldn't distinguish between an AT&T commercial and e-mail from your brother-in-law, the current designs for Internet 2.0 routers would prioritize some traffic over others, so that companies can bill them separately at different rates. All of this means a lower percentage of netizens making Web pages and sending e-mail, and a higher percentage channel-surfing a push-driven Internet on the same box as NBC and CNN. Let's face it: the average couch potato, if left on the couch, will choose a TV dinner over a keyboard any day.
Artbyte (New York) 2, no. 1 (April-May 1999), pp. 22-23
Deconstruction or Distraction?
Cascading sheets of green ASCII text over a black screen, flashing 404 error messages, proliferating form buttons and text boxes--this is what awaits the unsuspecting first-time visitor to jodi.org, perhaps the single best-known artist Web site today. The brainchild of "net.art" charter members Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans, jodi strip away the reassuring navigation bars and identifiable pictograms of the everyday Web site to let loose the HTML behind the facade. Feel free to click on what looks like a help button, but don't be surprised if your browser *shows* you the code for that button instead of executing it. Feel free to vent your frustration in a text box on the site, but don't be surprised if jodi's code pounces on your sentence, eats the vowels, and spits a skeleton of consonants back in your face. With its indeciferable interface, unpredictable sequences of links, and simulated error messages, jodi.org is a theme park of computer misbehavior. "Deconstruction or distraction?" is actually the second question viewers are likely to ask themselves once they visit jodi.org. The first is, "Has my computer just crashed?"But the question of meaning lingers. Is there anything to be learned from these HTML hijinks? What does jodi's blinking HTML mean that the same code working behind the scenes on another Web site doesn't? For now let's leave aside the question of whether the programming itself is an art form, and concentrate instead on jodi's peculiar habit of unleashing that programming from its typical function. In the extreme form, this can mean merely quoting the raw code itself. In such cases it's important to remember that a viewer is most likely to find out about jodi.org not at a site designed to teach HTML, but at such online art resources like Rhizome or Nettime. By exposing naked <HEADER> and <BOLD> tags in an art arena, jodi appear to be displaying the electronic equivalents of Duchamp's bicycle wheel and urinal: readymade mechanisms transformed into art by context.
Artbyte (New York) 1, no. 6 (February-March 1999), pp. 16-17
Should you feel guilty turning off the computer?
I recently dreamt I was on the subway. When my train stopped at Bergen Street, a toddler who had been in my car wandered out the door alone. I ran to the door and called out, "Does anyone know this boy's mother?" I really wanted to get home, but I felt obligated to go after him. Somehow in my semi-waking state I realized I was in a dream--and as the train door began to close, I wondered whether I still had a responsibility to step off and find the boy, given that it was only a dream.
I imagine that Tom Ray asks himself a similar question whenever he turns off his computer. A zoologist at the University of Oklahoma, Ray is best known as the creator of the Tierra project. Tierra is an experiment in artificial life that has been described as a wildlife sanctuary for computer viruses. To create this digital habitat, Ray wrote snippets of program code designed to copy themselves and then left them on his hard drive to reproduce. He also configured his operating system so that it would introduce occasional random mutations in the computer code of these algorithms. Thanks to this magic combination of self-replication, competition for disk space, and mutation, Ray's little viruses evolved into new "species" he never could have predicted. Their patterns of evolution--hosts giving rise to parasites, which in turn spur the evolution of immune hosts, for example--are strikingly similar to those of biological organisms, despite the fact that they are just ones and zeros on a hard disk. Ray himself claims that his creatures are alive--in a way that even artificial intelligence programs are not--by the very fact that they reproduce and evolve...
Artbyte (New York) 1, no. 5 (December 1998-January 1999), pp. 16-17
Is cyberspace really a space?
"Case had the strange impression of being in the pilot's seat in a small plane....Headlong motion through walls of emerald green, milky jade, the sensation of speed beyond anything he'd known before in cyberspace....The Tessier-Ashpool ice shattered, peeling away from the Chinese program's thrust....
"'Christ,' Case said, awestruck, as Kuang twisted and banked above the horizonless fields of the Tessier-Ashpool cores, an endless neon cityscape...."
This account of crashing a code-breaking black capsule through an icy firewall to enter a virtual landscape, which we owe to William Gibson's 1984 novel Neuromancer, became the definitive evocation of cyberspace for a generation of virtual reality enthusiasts. Yet Gibson's description of cyberspace sounds more like the Batplane crashing into Mr. Freeze's headquarters than a nerd hacking into a computer network. Why did Gibson dramatize hacking in such blatantly spatial terms, and why has his spatial metaphor been so influential to the engineers and artists who are actually building cyberspace?
Artbyte (New York) 1, no. 4 (October-November 1998), pp. 16-17
What does cyberspace look like?
Anyone who's been to a Web page knows what the Internet looks like from the point of view of an individual browser. Having given up waiting for the vertiginous three-dimensional datascapes imagined by William Gibson and promised by vrml, most surfers have resigned themselves, at least in the short term, to the beveled toolbars and scrolling pages of Netscape and Explorer. Here, though, I want to ask not what we now see as end users when we peer into our monitors, laptops, and cell phones, but what we would see if we tried to visualize the space between these peripherals. How would we draw a map of cyberspace?
The question is not just an exercise in visualization. Despite its etymological origin--the Greek word %kyberos%, meaning "helmsman"--cyberspace still leaves many visitors feeling adrift without landmarks to steer by. Orienting ourselves to an increasingly virtual world may be the first step in determining whether technology is empowering or manipulating us. As early as 1984, the neo-Marxist critic Fredric Jameson called for "cognitive maps" to remedy the disorienting effects of a global communications network controlled by multinational corporations.
Artbyte (New York) 1, no. 3 (August-September 1998), pp. 19-21
Intellectual Property or Intellectual Paucity?
Last June the Getty Conservation Institute invited me to speak at one of those UNESCO conferences with incredibly ponderous titles, in this case the "World Conference on the Implementation of the Recommendation Concerning the Status of the Artist." Included in my conference packet was a document recommending a system that would guarantee artists "exclusive rights" to ensure that they "maintain control" of their work. As the bureaucrats who drafted this document admit, guaranteeing these rights won't be easy in the digital age. Fretting about "any distortion, mutilation, or other modification" of an artist's work that might be "prejudicial to his honour or reputation," they ask
How should the author's paternity right (the right to authorship, the right to the name) be safeguarded in a digital environment when his works may be subjected to substantial transformation or manipulation of their contents? [Emphasis in original]The bureaucrats are right to fret. To insist on this patriarchal model of authorship based on cultural paternity is not only to perpetuate an outmoded economy in the digital realm. It is also to guarantee that digital art will never amount to more than a pale reflection of painting and sculpture. The author's rights that protect blocks of marble and oil-smeared canvases will prove impossible to enforce for all but the most conservative forms of digital art--bitmapped collages, scanned-in paintings, and the like--and even for those conservative forms it is only established artists and middlemen who will profit...
Artbyte (New York) 1, no. 2 (June-July 1998), pp. 18-19
"The Museum of the Future: A Contradiction in Terms?"
"The Museum Is History" may sound like a harmless statement of fact to connoisseurs of bronzes and bibelots, but to connoisseurs of bits it's starting to sound like a rallying cry. In a world where 21st-century economies of reproduction and distribution are displacing 19th-century economics of acquisition and collection, storing one-of-a-kind treasures in a secure, climate-controlled vault would seem to serve little purpose for digital artists and curators. Why rely on a museum to confer respectability when you can earn it yourself on the World Wide Web? To this way of thinking, "The Museum of the Future" is little more than a contradiction in terms.
Like so many of digital art's seemingly radical aspects, its disdain for the museum is less an unprecedented innovation than an inherited trait. The genetic debt in this case is less to those siblings that usually get pride of place in digital art's family tree--namely avant-garde film, video installation, and kinetic sculpture--but rather with its more distant cousins from the 1960s and 1970s--Conceptual, Process, and Performance Art. Working with the Guggenheim Museum's Panza collection of work from that period, I've come to understand why certain strategies for "dematerializing" the art object failed--and how digital artists working three decades later can learn vital lessons from these mistakes. Most importantly, my research has led me to the ironic conclusion that the most extreme departures from the material object, digital or otherwise, are ultimately the ones whose future depends on the very institution they were designed to render obsolete...
Given: The Universe. Shown: Every Artwork.
Essay for Deep Storage, Haus der Kunst, Munich, Ingrid Schaffner and Matthias Winzen, curators, 1997.
The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite, perhaps an infinite, number of hexagonal galleries, with enormous ventilation shafts in the middle, encircled by low railings. From any hexagon the upper or lower stories are visible, interminably. The distribution of the galleries is invariable. Twenty shelves--five long shelves per side--cover all sides except two. One of the free sides gives upon a narrow entranceway, which leads to another gallery, identical to the first and to all the others.1 ...[I]ts shelves contain all the possible combinations of the twenty-odd orthographic symbols (whose number, though vast, is not infinite); that is, everything which can be expressed, in all languages. Everything is there: the minute history of the future, the autobiographies of the archangels, the faithful catalogue of the Library, thousands and thousands of false catalogues, a demonstration of the fallacy of these catalogues, a demonstration of the fallacy of the true catalogue, the Gnostic gospel of Basilides, the commentary on this gospel, the commentary on the commentary of this gospel, the veridical account of your death, a version of each book in all languages, the interpolations of every book in all books.2
--Jorge Luis Borges, "The Library of Babel," 1941.
If Borge's mythical library contains every possible book, the World Wide Web often seems to contain every possible page. 3 While the Web does not literally encompass every possible combination of words and images, it has grown to such unmanageable proportions that it often feels that way. To make matters worse, there is no Editor-in-Chief of the Web, no silver-throated museum director's accoustiguide to steer the uninitiated toward the Rembrandts and Flauberts and away from the scanned-in dog photos and uploaded jello recipes. Not surprisingly, the incoherent and bad artworks encountered in most Web surfs far outnumber the good ones: instead of an embarrassment of riches, you are left with simply an embarrassment. Without an editor or curator as intermediary, how do you cull the good stuff from the bad? What are the selection criteria?
Looking for art in all the wrong places, co-written with Joline Blais, was published for Ars Electronica 2001, TAKEOVER: Who's doing the art of tomorrow?
The Art of Misuse, in Telematic Connections: The Virtual Embrace, CD-ROM and Web site co-published by Independent Curators International and the Walker Art Center. Exhibition traveled to San Francisco Art Institute, February 7-March 24, 2001; Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery, Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, May 13-July 1; Austin Museum of Art, July 20-September 18; and other venues through 2002.
An Open Letter on Dot-Museum (with introduction by Robert Atkins), in Mediachannel.
Whose Opera Is It, Anyway? review of Tod Machover's Brain Opera in Postmodern Culture 7, no. 1 (September 1996).
Why art should be free
(Appeared in Rhizome.org in April 2002.)
"Where there is no gift there is no art." -Lewis Hyde
Artists have been both instigators and beneficiaries of the digital revolution. But the delicate ecology that sustains that revolution is at risk of being overwhelmed by the business of art. In the war brewing over creativity in the digital age, artists are going to have to choose a side-and a lot rides on their decision.
The entrepreneurs have been waiting at the gate for some time now, perhaps fueled by journalists' obsession with how much a Web site should cost.1 Until recently, the brick-and-mortar art world had little economic incentive to take its online counterpart seriously. But now that a critical mass of museums has taken the plunge and commissioned artists' Web projects, the more adventurous dealers are testing the waters, wondering whether they should cast in a hook to see if any forward-thinking collectors would take the bait. Some artists- especially those who already have a beachhead in the art market-are delighted at this prospect. But exchange economies tend to steamroll gift economies; if the art market does take root in cyberspace, we have to make absolutely sure that it doesn't overrun the precarious ecosystem that gave rise to the rich global community we call digital art. For property, intellectual or personal, is the enemy of art.
This essay offers neither a Marxist attack on personal property nor a rosy vision of George Bush writing artists a fat check every year. It is simply an acknowledgment of the fact that a gift culture dies if people stop giving. Making art into property helps plenty of folks-even a few artists. The problem is, it cripples artists more than it helps them, by covertly impeding their power to create, to get paid, even to give...
In the 1960s artists and technologists independently laid the groundwork for two parallel forms of democratic expression: the "open artwork" characterized by viewer participation, and a global Internet where ideas and images could be freely circulated. Four decades later, the expansion of copyright has raised questions of public use, interactivity has become a marketing buzzword, and national security and freedom of expression appear unreconcilable.
"Who Controls New Media" examines the historical roots of this shift, from Bertold Brecht's emancipatory theory of radio in the 1920s to Nam June Paik's Participation TV in the 1960s to the rise of Internet art in the 1990s. Following this analysis the participants present a number of contemporary attempts to reassert open protocols in what many artists see as an increasingly closed society. The discussion is punctuated by audiovisual documentation of artwork from such historical figures as John Cage as well as cutting-edge artworks from today's Internet.
Click here to view the Webcast archived on the Web site for the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.
An update of the generic "Error 404" message to reflect the legal, technological, and economic reasons why you may not be able to see Internet artworks in the future.
If treating art as research has thrown our panelists into terrain unfamiliar to most artists, it has also led them to some exciting places in that terra incognita. But as inspiring as these paths have been, young artist-researchers beware! The road to research for the artist is boobytrapped...
Click a link at left to learn more about Jon's projects and collaborations.
Artists who abandon brush and chisel for mouse and keyboard often at the same time abandon the romantic notion of the solitary genius toiling awayin a studio. Such artists turn to collaborators for help, partly because digital media automatically lend themselves to group communication, but also because the technical skills necessary to master them aren't taughti n art schools. Given that all online artworks are linked, however circuitously, to each other, the Web is in a sense one big collaborative effort. Unfortunately, most artistic collaborations, online or off, result in exploitation or mush. Many combined efforts go unacknowledged; designers and programmers make a lot of the decisions, but "content providers" get all the credit. Other collaborations, especially those based on the "multimedia" model, crowd artists, musicians, writers, and programmers behind a single domain name in the hopes that grooving to a group mindset will produce an artistic result beyond the sum of its parts. Perhaps not surprisingly, the result of combining a mediocre, vaguely related parts is usually a mediocre, vaguely incoherent whole. What, then, are the collaborative alternatives to exploitation and mush?
The adversarial collaborations of Janet Cohen, Keith Frank, and Jon Ippolito provide one answer. This site is devoted to foregrounding, rather than concealing, the conflicts between different points of view. In some projects, the conflict in question is directly among the three artists. _Agree To Disagree Online_ (http://www.three.org/agree/atd-f.html), for example, is an interactive map of an argument among the three artists that begins when one of them makes thestatement, "In the future, books will be replaced by maps." As each of the participants replies in turn, their statements are plotted according to how much agreement they garner from the other two: inflammatory statements remain on the periphery, while the center represents consensus. Visitors to the project can control the pace and level of detail of the argument as well as choose to follow digressions made to different topics.
More recent adversarial collaborators have included writer Joline Blais and net artist Alex Galloway. You can find some of their past work at three.org, but much of the site is under renovation in an attempt to rescue these artworks from technological obsolescence.
Still Water, a New Media lab at the University of Maine at Orono, was founded in 2002 by Joline Blais and Jon Ippolito to promote network art and culture. Although the program's title derives from the name of a river that flows alongside the physical facility, "still water" also connotes the values electronic and cultural networks need to thrive.
These include transparency, open access to ideas and code; variability, the capacity to morph into new configurations as the need arises; and stillness, a rare quality in today's frenetic culture but one demanded by any creative endeavor. Still Water is not a center--for a successful network has none--but a medium primed for the transmission of multiple waves of culture.
The Variable Media Network pairs artists with museum and media consultants to provoke comparison of artworks created in ephemeral mediums. The initiative aims to define each of these case studies in terms of medium-independent behaviors and to identify artist-approved strategies for preserving artwork with the help of an interactive questionnaire.
The Network has organized many research projects on ephemeral culture, including the landmark exhibition Seeing Double: Emulation As a Preservation Strategy.
Interarchive aims to change the paradigm of online scholarship by distributing the way research is published and cited across the entire Web. Although its initial focus is the media arts, Interarchive proposes an emergent approach to acquiring and recognizing influence that might be applied to any networked environment, whether the instruments of influence are academic papers or digital art.
Interarchive currently consists of two working groups:
- Interarchive general
- This group focuses on a model for distributed publication, including the XML structure required for this paradigm.
- Recognition Metrics
- This group focuses on devising innovative methods to visualize and assess the search returns resulting from the distributed publication paradigm.
Interarchive is also at work on three related projects:
- New Criteria for New Media
- A collaborative proposal for new standards of recognition to reflect the way new media have changed exhibition and scholarship.
- An innovative approach to aggregating and evaluating the legacy of new media artist Nam June Paik based on John Bell's Reposte software.
- A collaborative system of distributed scholarly connections co-developed with Craig Dietrich of the USC/Annenberg Center's Vectors Program.
The goal of the New Media Community Portal, custom-built with John Bell at the University of Maine, was to create a site for both departmental information and community news and discussion, held together by a design that is fresh, customizable, low-maintenance, and atomistic. New Media Majors and other community members can contribute stories or comments, as well as set preferences for the types of news they wish to view.
The MARCEL project, formed by a group of international experts from art, science and industry under the general direction of Don Foresta (Fine Arts School of Wimbledon (UK), Fine Arts School of Cergy (FR)), provides a portal site for art, science, and industry. Recognizing the need for collaboration between artists, artistic establishments and the public and private sectors in building a permanent high band-width network for artistic experimentation, MARCEL has involved ASAP to help build a portal site for organizing and coordinating a permanent art and cultural network. To further high-bandwidth experiments, the Still Water lab has purchased and installed additional equipment for Internet 2, with proposed persistent connection to the Collaborative Media Lab.
Still Water and ASAP have collaborated on numerous international MARCEL events, helping to connect artists and scientists from Montreal to Prague.
Still Water is collaborating with legal experts from a number of Maine programs to launch an ambitious program for overhauling the way universities handle intellectual property, from returning the default copyright for university work back to students and faculty, to the development of open access guidelines for tenure.
The Maine Intellectual Commons Web site includes up-to-date information on the progress toward these initiatives as well as archives from the University of Maine's 2004 Conference on the Intellectual Commons, featuring MIT's Hal Abelson, Creative Commons' Neeru Paharia, and SPARC's Peter Suber.
The goal of this broad-reaching initiative is to establish standards for creative and scholarly research that contribute to a culture of sharing rather than hoarding. More...
Founded in 2003, the Open Art Network is the first project to originate at Still Water itself. The Open Art Network aims to empower artists working in digital formats by devising and promoting standards that encourage an open architecture for the Internet and digital media.
Funded by a generous grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Open Art Network already includes projects by a half-dozen artists, including jodi, Mark Napier, and Mark Daggett, with more projects in the pipeline.
The Pool is a collaborative online environment for creating art, code, and texts. In place of the single-artist, single-artwork paradigm favored by the overwhelming majority of documentation systems, The Pool stimulates collaboration in a variety of forms, including multi-author, asynchronous, and cross-medium projects.
Founded on the presumption that democratic principles are served by democratic ends, the collaborative Web site U-Me Vote originally created for the 2004 American election enabled potential voters to inform themselves and to inform others about trenchant issues affecting the University of Maine community and its neighbors. The 2006 version has been updated to include new Wiki features and up-to-date issues and candidates.
Mind Sets, an exhibition proposal for the Guggenheim museum, attempts to create a miniature Internet--a glimpse behind the computer screen at the vertiginous matrix of information that holds our society together. The exhibition design, by the New York-based architecture firm LOT/EK, fills Frank Lloyd Wright's rotunda with a metal lattice, allowing visitors for the first time in the building's history to walk out into the cavernous interior.
The selection and placement of the projects on view would be determined by visitors' choices rather than by a predetermined curatorial agenda.
ThoughtMesh is an unusual model for publishing and discovering scholarly papers online. Created by Jon Ippolito and Craig Dietrich, it gives readers a tag-based navigation system that uses keywords to connect excerpts of essays published on different Web sites.
Add your essay to the mesh, and ThoughtMesh gives you a traditional navigation menu plus a tag cloud that enables nonlinear access to text excerpts. You can navigate across excerpts both within the original essay and from related essays distributed across the mesh.
So let's say you are reading an essay on Modern art. You can pick a single word out of that essay's tag cloud--say Picasso--and view a list of all the sections from that essay that relate to Picasso. Or you can view a list of sections of other articles tagged with Picasso, and jump right to one of those sections. You can also combine tags to narrow your search, such as Picasso + Cubism + 1900.
As an author, you can choose to post your essay in a central repository hosted by the Vectors program at USC, the sponsor of this project. Or you can self-archive your essay on your own Web site. (That's the "distributed publication" part.)
Choose a link at left to read interviews of Jon or see news and videos of his presentations.
Interview by Karen Verschooren, "Internet art, net art, and networked art in relation," MIT (Cambridge) (October 2006).
"Artificial Life and Natural Death," discussion with Stewart Brand and Kevin Kelly, New Media and Social Memory, University of California, Berkeley, January 18, 2007. View Webcast.
Interview by Dominico Quaranta, "Leaping into the abyss and resurfacing with a pearl," Noema (Ravenna, Italy) (November 2005). Mirrored on nettime.
"How to Hack Copyright for Fun and Profit," Open Source Culture Lecture Series, Columbia University, New York, December 2, 2004. View Webcast.
"Creators and the Commons: Why and How To Share" at Conference on the Intellectual Commons, University of Maine, November 20, 2004. View Webcast
Interview by Liisa Ogburn, "What's Your Story: Jon Ippolito," Eatthesewords.com, October 2, 2001. View archived pdf.
You can find a list of upcoming presentations related to At the Edge of Art by Joline Blais and Jon Ippolito here.
Online link aggregators offer the most up-to-date way to keep up with an individual's research. Choose a link at left to learn more about Jon's work via one of these resources.
You can find Jon's syllabi and other educational resources here.
Here are the themes of Web pages that have caught Jon's eye recently, aggregated via his :
Here's Jon's recent Pool activity. LINK TO COME.
Here's Jon's recent activity on the U-Me New Media site. LINK TO COME.