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Copyright

Title: net_condition
Editors: Peter Weibel and Timothy Druckrey
Publisher: MIT Press
Copyright: 2002
ISBN: 0-262-73138-X
Pages: 450
Price: $39.95
Rating: 37%

Pop quiz time!  How do you react to lengthy diatribes like this excerpt from net_condition

Rather than the 'rubrics' (tropes is more like it) of 'opticality,' 'purism,' etc., modernism was invested in centrality, the centrality of vision, the centrality of the body, the intellect, the institution, subject, authority, curatorship and the museum.  Sustained in ideologies of focused distribution or dispersal, centralization maintained its power enveloped by the technologies of representation linking it with broadcast media.

If you dislike dense, scholarly interpretations of what art is about, then this book is probably a fairly easy pass for you.  If you like these in-depth critiques and explanations, well.... Then you may have other concerns with this book.

First of all, let's explain what net_condition is about: it's a large, coffee table book that attempts to explain the whys, the wherefores, and the actual exhibits of net_condition, one of the seminal works of internet art.  "Internet art," or net.art, is a loosely-defined style of art that mostly involves using computers and the internet to make some sort of statement about the media.  The actual art can range from fascinating projects like 1995's ARSDOOM, which used the then-current DOOM engine to have four users running amuck in a virtual art gallery where the artists would defend their artworks, to the current netomat.com, which attempts to link art and commerce by creating interactive email campaigns for movies and art shows. 

net_condition was a seminal show held at various places in Europe between 1998 and 2000, where many net.artists got together to create what they foresaw as the future of art. net_condition the book is a collection of essays about what the art was, what the net.artists were trying to say, and how it all joins up with the global, social, and socioeconomic space that they're trying to create.

The first problem should be self-evident to anyone who even thinks up the idea; when you're dealing with a form of artwork that thrives on interactivity, how do you confine it to the rather dull and flat pages of a book?  When you have pieces that rely on user interactivity - like Blank and Karl-Heinz Jeron's "Re-Mail," which allows you to forward unwanted email to an address where it will be answered, anonymously, by others - how can you possibly try to explain it and its effects in a the old-guard media of simple paper?  Net.art is a vibrant new form of media, but it needs to be experienced, not read about.

As such, all that's left are rather turgid essays on what the art is supposed to be about.  That in itself might be an interesting adjunct to a rather critical juncture in a new form of art, leaving you with a book that's only interesting if you've seen the exhibits first-hand - but still giving you behind-the-scenes insights, like the director's commentary on a DVD...

But alas, the new wave of typesetting kayoes that idea as well, taking the optical gymnastics of WIRED magazine and bringing it to its near-illegible culmination.  It's as if the publishers realized that the essays were sort of dull and decided to mask them in a chaoscura of colors.  Hey, are you looking for dull blue words on a black background, with relevant sections highlighted in firetruck red?  You got it.  Three different fonts on a single page?  Right there.  Blood-red sans serif fonts against a mottled gray-and-black picture background?  All there for you, and completely unreadable.

The pictures are kind of pretty, if it helps any.

When you add it all up, you're left with over fifty essays on varying topics on the history of net.art, most of which are in a dense style that seems to be speaking to English Ph.Ds.  The rest outline some intriguing forms that art may take in the future, many of which are genuinely fascinating ideas, but you'd still need to experience them directly to truly experience them - and even to get to those nuggets, you'll need to hack your way through the typesetting.  In the end, net_condition is an interesting failure; you're not quite sure how they could have made it worthwhile, but you know that something should have been done.

William Steinmetz, MCSE and A+-certified, worked as a chainwide buyer for Waldenbooks for five years, picking out only the best computer books to send into malls across America.  He currently works as a freelance writer, doing reviews for Amazon.com and editing various websites.  He likes Magic: the Gathering, roleplaying, and other ridiculously geeky activities.