Joy Garnett, Vertigo, 2010, oil on canvas, 48" x 60"
By Joy Garnett
In the 25th Anniversary Issue of M/E/A/N/I/N/G, edited by Mira Schor and Susan Bee.
Analogue Natives are those who were born before the digital age. While many in this large but gradually dwindling group have embraced aspects of digital culture, we have remained attached to older technologies, many of which have already disappeared or are now at risk of vanishing. We worry about the future of the book, for instance, and we suffer the slow death of Ektachrome, even as we voraciously download e-books to our Kindles and upload jpegs to our flickr sets. This conflictedness is a boon, leading the way to unique insights into what is being lost and gained.
For many artists and creative people, the early efflorescence of online culture was not so much troubling as it was inspiring. A decade before the existence of blogging, before the ubiquitous smart phone with its myriad apps and the appearance of online social/sharing interfaces, there existed smaller, lively social networks that operated through a panoply of virtual spaces such as mailing lists and bulletin boards (bbs). They thrived ostensibly outside of, and in spite of the growing field of budding, commercially driven start-up enterprises. Early 1990s net culture, with its ethical and intellectual connection to the hacking community, tactical media, and the ideal of an information commons, was more than a conduit for sharing personal anecdotes or sparring over esoteric theories; artists and geeks alike had embraced the Web as a de facto medium, a publicly accessible, uncarved block of creative potential that begged for tinkering, its form and scope as yet undetermined, and unpoliced. Artists began producing what they called “new media art,” much of which was to be experienced online in a way that was at once solitary and shared. This work was difficult to categorize, and it resisted commodification. Its practitioners were all Analogue Natives, and they reveled in this condition.
The reach and novelty of early net culture allowed people to transcend traditional barriers of class, culture and even language in an unprecedented way. By stepping away from the old hierarchies and norms of communication, net culture leveled the field, if only for a moment. For many Analogue Natives, this leveling was part of their motivation to engage the new. Those who were socially curious and sufficiently adept with computers, found themselves embroiled in conversations with strangers across the globe and from opposite ends of the academic and art world spectrum. Virtual meeting grounds such as nettime, Rhizome, and The Thing, provided decentralized spaces where a variety of creative communities could overlap. These included intellectuals and academics, hacktivists, programmers, curators, and artists. The relative ubiquity of communication technologies and personal computers allowed this to happen, and yet, due to varying time zones and the different ways in which people came to use the tools at hand to converse online, long gaps and pauses remained integral to the process. This new-found speed contained a built-in slowness.
Despite my own personal and intellectual investment in digital culture, I continue to be a painter primarily. I deal in forms and surfaces, and I produce commodifiable objects that occupy space in the physical world. In the studio I toil with unwieldy, oily substances, as I strategize and daydream into existence the ways in which this matiére might connect us to meanings that lie elsewhere.
In a sense, the conceptual dimension to painting might be seen as one of the precursors to envisioning virtual spaces, and to new media art. But the environment for gazing and absorbing information, and for engaging works of art, has changed radically in the last two decades. What happens to one-on-one contemplation in the age of non-stop, up-to-the-minute connectivity? Is there room for slow seduction, the luxury of an extended encounter? Have we become slaves to realtime at the expense of the real? Analogue Natives bear the brunt of this dilemma; we are conscious of it as such, and the burden is ours to communicate. If anything, we stand enriched by the dissonance generated by analogue and digital memories, habits, and experiences.
I still hanker after that moment of promise expressed by early net culture. At times I feel resigned, more skeptical of digital culture than thankful. Like everyone else, I wax resentful with each obligatory, ill-timed upgrade, but I accept it and adjust, as I would rather do so than live without, say, twitter. As an Analogue Native, I know that it too will change and perhaps even disappear, a soon-to-be obsolete medium fallen between the cracks opened up by the next innovation.
Joy Garnett is an artist in Brooklyn, NY. Her paintings, based on the source images that she gathers from the Internet, examine the apocalyptic sublime at the intersections of media, politics, and culture. She is Arts Editor for Cultural Politics.