ed. by Lauren Cornell and Ed Halter. (Critical anthologies in art and culture). New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York; MIT Press, November 2015. 528 p. ill. ISBN 9780262029261 (cl.), $44.95.
Reviewed March 2016
"Is art possible after Facebook?" posits critic John Kelsey in the essay "Next-Level Spleen," one of the many provocative questions raised in this collection of primary source writings that set out to define, chronicle, contextualize, and theorize Internet art and hyper-relational aesthetics. Mass Effect undertakes this challenge while its adolescent subject is scarcely twenty-five years old—quite a short period from which to articulate a historical art movement but a very long time in Internet years. The editors navigate this paradox by assembling documentation and criticism from artists, curators, and critics to create a historical foundation cementing Internet art as a legitimate and serious genre while highlighting how the white noise of digital connectivity profoundly yet often implicitly impacts our relationship to culture.
This is no small task considering the art in question ranges from GIFS, memes, and YouTube videos to surf club websites that re-distribute found images. However when the phrase "Internet art" is slightly tweaked to "art engaged with the Internet" the scope in question explodes to include practically all of contemporary art, underscoring the essentialness of this volume. Perhaps more than any other medium, Internet-related art—even seemingly trivial examples—raises increasingly complicated issues of authorship, production, distribution, intellectual property, commerce, and creativity.
Some forty chapters address these themes in a trajectory that begins with the concept of the user and charts early 1990s Internet art influences like Paper Rad and JODI before progressing chronologically to address a wider swath of visual digital culture and post-Internet art, a term referencing art made after the ubiquity of the net. Texts are carefully arranged to create a dialogue with one another but do not include introductions regarding their significance, just origination notes. Contributors include pioneer Internet artists such as Cory Archangel, Olia Lialina, and Seth Price as well as storied critics like David Joselit, Boris Groys, and Claire Bishop. Contributors often reference one another, participate in one another's projects, and publish each other's work, which simultaneously lends a sense of thoroughness to the book's scope and exclusivity.
Mass Effect is the first volume of the newly re-launched Critical Anthologies series by MIT Press and the New Museum. Perhaps the first primary document collection on Internet art, it is an essential purchase for schools with graduate and undergraduate programs in communications, media studies, and contemporary art and a recommended purchase for others.