Port Logo PORT: Navigating Digital Culture
Organized by a r t n e t w e b
MIT List Visual Arts Center
January 25 through March 29, 1997

ART BULLETIN: Journal of the Representative body for Professional Artists in Ireland
April/May 1997

Compiled and edited by Gary Crighton

PORT: Navigating Digital Culture

"The forum in which this new art operates is not the materially stable pictorial space of painting nor the Euclidean space of sculptural form; it is the electronic virtual space of telematics where signs are afloat, where interactivity destroys the contemplative notion of beholder or connoisseur to replace it by the experiential notion of user or participant. The aesthetics of telecommunications operates the necessary move from pictorial representation to communicational experience."

Eduardo Kac
"Aspects of the Aesthetics
of Telecommunications"

In the same way that it revolutionised vocal communication the telephone line is now set to change our viewing habits. As more and more artists begin to use multimedia and the internet in their work our understanding and approach to the traditional viewing space cannot but change: why go to a gallery when the gallery can come to you? As it stands museums and galleries have been present on the internet for some time; the problem is this -- the work contained therein is static and reflects none of the characteristics or potential of the medium displaying it. Like viewing a crude family snapshot on the cinema screen the result, although at first pregnant with novelty, soon wears thin. As new digital technologies and related artistic practices evolve it becomes increasingly important to be exposed to, explore and to question not only the dematerialised work of art but also the space in which it is seen.

PORT: Navigating Digital Culture is an exhibition of networked digital worlds on the Internet that seeks to address some of these questions by presenting the work of artists who use the internet as their medium. To begin with PORT was hosted by the List Visual Arts Centre (LVAC) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and organized by artnetweb, a New York-based collaborative. The conventional gallery venue at LVAC has now closed its doors but the exhibition, which set out to showcase the interactive and artistic potentiality of the internet, can still be experienced (in a limited capacity) on its special website.

Describing itself as "the first museum exhibition of collaborative, performative projects taking place over the internet," PORT demonstrated the possibilities of the internet as an artistic medium and social space and offers a telling glimpse as to how exhibitions may be held in the future. Consisting of numerous interactive real-time performances (scheduled in two hour time slots), the exhibition took place on four computer terminals at the LVAC Gallery and could be viewed by anybody with internet access regardless of their location. The gallery provided all the necessary technology for viewing the extensive list of international projects included in the show and assistants were on hand to help those physically visiting the gallery.

The main participants and projects included were Art Dirt (G.H. Hovagimyan and guests), Starboard (Adrianne Wortzel), Floating Point Unit (Jeff Gompertz, Bruno Ricard, Volcano), ParkBench (Emily Hartzell and Nina Sobell), and Myth Machine (Hal Eager, Marah Rosenberg). It is important to remember that the location of many of these projects was outside the US, they were not -- in any real sense -- physically present in the gallery space. The projects, along with a busy schedule of daily events (demonstrations, performances, talks, internet-chat, an electronic mailing list for discussion) and an extensive list of links to related art-projects on the internet made PORT a large scale event that will be hard to follow.

Sadly, because many of the projects involved required technology far beyond the means of most of us (virtual reality software for example) the remnants of the show may only be seen in a limited capacity. The organisers, anticipating this, have tried to help: much of the software that is required to view the projects is available on the website itself for remote users to transfer to their own machines (there is no charge for this). However, a great deal of computer memory is required for much of this software and if you are accessing the internet using somebody else's computer it's not wise to attempt this; at least not without getting permission first.

PORT is a place to visit for everybody interested in the future of new media and exhibiting. It serves as an example to all as to the possibilities of showcasing stimulating, interactive work on the internet. The website will run indefinitely.

The organisers, artnetweb, also showcase a number of other internet-based art projects on their website at http://artnetweb.com

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