Terranova’s discussion of the desire for labor (particularly the detailed, involved labor of programming) as being immanent in the late capitalist digital economy led me to think about one area of the digital world that seems strangely averse to any labor whatsoever. I’ve become frustrated with the works of the artist collective MTAA, and with the “Synthetic Performances” of Eva and Franco Mattes. The act of recreating seminal performance artworks in Second Life, or of turning On Kawara’s “day paintings” into a cheap news source, seems intended to cheekily comment on the curious ways in which digital media give us instant gratification and devalue physical and mental effort. But, at the same time, these works ignore the constructive desire for work that new media engender. Perhaps MTAA’s “One-Year Performance Video” could be seen as a step in that direction, but the fact that the user’s “work” of recreating the one-year performance could be safely minimized and ignored suggests otherwise. Because these recreations are not only plainly derivative, but appropriated in such a way that the involved labor that gave the original work meaning is totally circumvented, they seem little more than pranks. If we also take Manovich’s “Generation Flash” artworks (which are more “cute” than “cutting edge”) into account, there seems little to be hopeful about.
Yesterday, though, I stopped in to hear artist Joseph DeLappe speak to Mark Tribe’s Digital Art class and found an antidote to the depressing weightlessness (if I may) of other digital art I had seen. In what appears to be a direct answer to the Mattes duo, DeLappe, for his Salt Satyagraha Online, created a Gandhi avatar in Second Life and reenacted Gandhi’s historic 240-mile march to the sea. Over 26 days, using a customized treadmill, DeLappe directed the avatar across more of Second Life than any one person has probably ever seen, picking up friends along the way and building the march into a community. In order to do this, DeLappe actually walked those 240 miles himself. Unlike many other digital artworks, the Salt Satyagraha Online isn’t dead on arrival from too much theorizing. DeLappe said he discovered the project’s purpose by doing it, becoming strangely connected to his avatar and enjoying the delayed gratification of experiencing Second Life (in all its strangeness) without flying to get anywhere. He put the “work” back into “artwork” for the online space. He also lost 6 pounds.
I don’t mean to be a Manovich and suggest that this is where digital art is going and everyone must follow Joe DeLappe’s example. But who knows? Something might come of it.