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Beyond the Canvas: The New Net Age Palette

Aaron Betsky ( is establishing a permanent collection of art Websites at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where he is curator of architecture, design, and digital projects.

From the September 26, 2000 issue

By Aaron Betsky
Several years ago, Los Angeles—based artist and designer Rebeca Mendez traveled to the Netherlands for a conference, where the new-media star met editor and critic Adam Eeuwens. They fell in love, and for almost a year their relationship consisted of passionate emails and telephone calls. Then Adam received a strange attachment to one of Rebeca’s missives. He opened it up, and there on his Dutch computer saw Rebeca’s Los Angeles hands, caressing the screen of her scanner as she whispered "I love you, I love you" over and over. Adam did the only thing he could: He turned off his computer, packed his bags, and moved to Los Angeles. Rebeca and he soon married. Rebeca later converted the image into a limited-edition print that is now owned by several major museums. The ghost of the body transmitted over the Internet has found a body that is–because of the artist’s ability–valuable enough to be stored, conserved, and venerated.
Sex seems to be on the brains of many of the artists and designers who are using the Internet to create. When the duo Auriea Harvey and Michael Samyn, who collaborate in Belgium on the Website, won the SFMOMA Webby award as the most accomplished artists working on the Web (I was a juror for that program), they celebrated in front of an audience of 1,500 in a San Francisco theater (and countless others watching the simulcast in the privacy of their homes) with a three-minute French kiss.
Both Rebeca Mendez and Entropy8Zuper come back again and again to their own sensual presence even as they work in the most rarified of media. Maybe it’s just because porn seems to be the only killer app to emerge on the Web–at least on the B-to-C side of things–but bodies, naked or otherwise, keep cropping up. I would say that it’s actually part of a bigger picture. Whereas businesses want their sites to look as slick, clean, and, well, virtual as possible, artists want to mess things up. When they aren’t making you aware of their bodies, they are confronting you with the reality of the machine you’re using. The artists lurking behind sites such as and The Shredder delight in taking your desktop apart into a million bits while you watch. Yet others take you to a very particular place, using Webcams and remote controls to bind you to a site. Canadian artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, for instance, presented a work last year in which digital surfers for several weeks controlled a barrage of lasers stationed around Mexico City’s central square.



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