3 March 1998
äda'webPosted on nettime in response to Benjamin Weil's response to Paul Garrin:At 12:45 PM -0400 3/4/98, Benjamin Weil wrote:
>i would find it more constructive and interesting to take this as a
> departure point to discuss the nature of the relationship between art and
> its potential sponsors
[...]At first I was suspicious of äda'web because they were so slick -- the Jenny Holzer piece was a little too perfect for me -- and I thought it was another of the well-funded and trendy art marketing schemes designed to impress the art buying public and institutions with brand-name artists and cool graphics. Like many other artists we were sick of that and saw the net as an opportunity to create a more artist-centered art world.
Well, that *is* true to a certain extent about äda'web -- they put an enormous amount of importance on their presentation -- but there is also substantial and important content on the site as well as inventive uses of a technology we are all just starting to comprehend. I eventually realized it was probably a good thing for them to try to be a viable art business online that traditional galleries and institutions would recognize and trust. They helped create an economy for all of us to operate. As long as we were on friendly terms with them we would also benefit from their success in many ways while at the same time going in our own direction. It didn't make much sense to compete for a piece of a pie we had to bake ourselves in the first place. We just made our own pies.
Without äda'web there is one less group of people dedicated to finding creative uses of the network and that's a shame. But, then again, after five years it may be time to move on from original concepts and explore other ways of working. While it seemed like a good idea at the time it's questionable whether an art Web site is the best focus now. It's the passion to make something happen that's important and passion is best when it's distributed.
In the long run I don't know if äda'web would have found a place within Digital City because it would have taken time to figure out how to do it with concessions made on both sides. Meaning and value in art accrue over time and I think the kind of continuity required for art can benefit a business that is constantly responding to the market flux. It takes insightful leadership to understand and implement this effectively, something AOL doesn't seem to have much of, or need to be successful. They don't need questioning artists, they want solutions.
Since we started in 1993 as a BBS, ARTNETWEB has evolved into a network of people, projects and things without anything resembling a business plan and it would be rediculous for us to think we would fit into a corporate structure without a corporate sensibility. Our network exists as it is used and when the network stops being used it will no longer exist. But for now it's still robust.
As an organization we receive no grants or other institutional support. We keep ourselves alive by teaching classes in FrontPage, HTML, VRML and other skills to artists and corporate clients both online and in our Soho storefront, by doing freelance Web design and upkeep plus whatever else comes along with a paycheck. We are also working on VRML projects for places like the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the annual Convergence Festival in Providence, R.I. as well as exhibitions like last year's PORT at the MIT List Visual Arts Center.
This situation isn't what we planned in the beginning because we had no idea what the future would be and it certainly isn't perfect. We've changed and adapted and, hopefully, done some good work along the way. Obviously no great patron is waiting to take us under their protective wing yet we have discovered some possibilities for working with corporations and others that may prove beneficial for everyone involved. Sounds a lot like real life.
Robbin Murphy is an artist and co-founder of artnetweb. He also writes regularly for Intelligent Agent Magazine.