Art Platforms and Cultural Production on the Internet, Olga Goriunova, Routledge, 2012
Departing from an organizational phenomenon, namely online ‘art platforms,’ Olga Goriunova – with the help of a variety of contemporary thinkers – reflects about a number of exemplary projects. In my understanding, her main objective is to discuss the selected projects in the framework of aesthetics (mainly), while, at the same time, trying not to narrow them down to conventional paradigms in order to keep their “aesthetic complexity” alive. Within this endeavour, it is of particular relevance that the platforms themselves as well as the production they are focussing on, are intrinsically related to both the materiality as well the ecology of networked media technology. Both the organizational structure and the techno-cultural objects it brings together would not exist without such technology. Furthermore, the platform and the type of practice that is being organized through it, mutually depend on each other. In this sense, an art platform does not just organize an existing field, but plays an important role in the emergence of the respective practice while remaining itself variable. The concept Goriunova is suggesting for her investigation, she calls “organizational aesthetics.”
An online art platform could be described as a form of organization for which an online component, such as a website, database or content management system is central; this core element – which needs to be complemented by various other forces – has been created and is maintained, sometimes by an individual, but very often also by a group of people who collaborate with their users/participants in manifold ways. It is dedicated to a specific, usually emerging field of practice, and thus not only organizes and distributes content, but, at the same time, gives rise to such novel production. Born out of pure enthusiasm, the economic situation of such platforms usually is precarious – despite their cultural relevance, which may be one reason for their temporary nature. Another certainly is the timeliness of the phenomena they are operating with. Goriunova’s own descriptions of an art platform include e.g. that art platforms “appear as experiments in the aesthetics of organization,” that art platforms bring together “human-technical creativity, repetition, aesthetic ampliﬁcation, folklore, and humour to generate a cultural organizational mechanism…;“ or, art platforms are “self-unfolding mechanisms through which cultural life may advance to produce fascinating aesthetic objects and processes; they occupy a special place within ‘organizational aesthetics’ on the Internet.”
The examples she is discussing in the book are udaff.com, a Russian platform for experimental literature, Gazira Babeli, a Second Life artificial character; being an artist herself, she acts out and experiments with the combination of art historical references and the specifics of digital media and has been created by an anonymous group of users; other examples are micromusic.net, a platform for 8-bit music, and Dorkbot, a network of “people doing strange things with electricity,” an open format of combined online and offline events for knowledge exchange, internationally networked but with local branches. Central to the book and close to the author’s heart is the repository for software art, Runme.org, in the creation of which she has actively been involved. There is a good case to believe that the experiences Goriunova has made in the course of such active involvement have instigated the present investigation and inspired her thinking about the projects’ aesthetic relevance. Depending on the specific genre the platforms organize – be it music, literature or software – the discussion includes a trajectory of the particular field while, at the same time, pointing out the novel and yet undefined character of the emerging techno-cultural objects. All the projects introduced in the book stem from around the year 2000 and were mainly active for about a decade. Although most of the projects are no longer active, and at best exist as online archives, the related theory of ‘organizational aesthetics’ developed by Goriunova provides an important inspiration for the discussion of the ‘aesthetics of the commons.’
In Goriunova’s critical analysis of online art platforms two questions seem to be central: what is the mode of operation of the art platform?, and what is the larger context in which the platforms themselves are operating? That these two questions are intrinsically related becomes already clear with the discussion of the first conceptual figure introduced: the ‘network.’ Combining various approaches from actor-network theory to Deleuzian philosophy, Goriunova introduces the network as a useful figure of thought with regards to organizational aesthetics: while alluding to a certain (topological) coherence, it simultaneously includes dynamic properties such as heterogeneity, elusiveness and emergence. Conceptualizing the art platform just as network, however, does not do justice to the complexity of the phenomenon. A more sweeping inspiration comes from Deleuze/Guattari’s notion of the machine: “The diagrammatic or abstract machine does not function to represent, even something real, but rather constructs a real that is yet to come, a new type of reality” (Deleuze/Guattari). Although it has no form, no being itself, it is the immanent condition of the new; its being is becoming. This quality of becoming and enabling allows to get closer to the phenomenon of art platforms without falling into essentialist ascriptions. Other important concepts for the discussion of art platforms are self-organization and creativity, folklore production and free participation, but eventually, it is up to the reader to pull together the different strands and create their own interpretation of what organizational aesthetics might be, or rather be used for.
One of the core challenges of the book is expressed in the following sentence: “The processes by which something becomes art, … inevitably connect to the question of organization in one manner or another.” How both art and organization are linked, is the question discussed by Goriunova, by putting an emphasis on the digital networked condition. That there is no definite answer, there cannot be one, is due to the fact that art only exists when both – and thus their relationship – undergo a constant renewal. Organizational aesthetics aim at drawing attention to such entanglement – something that already enjoyed great popularity at the beginning of the 20th century and now can gain new relevance due to changing media conditions.