Curatorial Statement

« We laugh at what we do not believe »,
Victor Ruskin,
Semantic Mecanisms of humor, p.2

The Net art Gotcha!

By Paule Mackrous

Hoaxes, incongruities, identity fictions, unexpected experiences : all of these makes you feel as if someone behind the screen was saying “Gotcha!” As Net art infiltrates the Web, borrowing websites appearances and functionalities, one can experience it by a curious coincidence. Hazard is usually the contextual framework in which we experience the “gotcha effect”. The Net artworks discussed in this online exhibition show the diversity of strategies that an artist can use to create this effect. It also demonstrates the different aims and/or “actual” consequences of the virtual gotcha. In a way or another, the gotcha is always more then a frivolous gag. It brings with it an ideology of subversion and can create a great deal of critical reflections on the media in which it takes place.

Generally, the hypermedia artwork is experienced through our personal computer and, often, in the intimacy of our home. Anybody with a computer and an Internet connection can make this fortuitous encounter with Net artworks. It’s true though, that since the last decade, many net artists have found creative ways to exhibit their artworks. We find them in museums, festivals, galleries, public space, just to name a few. But if we assume that the gotcha effect, carried by some net artworks, can only be experienced by coincidence and in specific milieus through the personal computer, it raises interesting questions for a curator aiming to underline this phenomenon.  As I write about the Net art’s gotcha effect, am I not “decontextualizing” the artworks, demystifying their authors and, therefore, totally suppressing the experience of the gotcha itself? Is there any ways to talk about it without totally suppressing it?

Possible experiences as fictional narratives

Following these reflections on the phenomenological experience of the artwork, I decided to write different fictional narratives in which I embody a plausible character. My challenge here, as a curator, is to use these expansions of myself to create a possible situation, out of the many virtual situations, in which someone can fortuitously experience a specific artwork and the humorous gotcha effect that I want to underline. The narratives find their roots in a personal experience and at some point, they become totally imaginary. You can try to figure out when the shift happens, but the truth as much as what is “real” is not really relevant here.

This “fictional” curatorial methodology allows me to create an accurate space-time based situation and furthermore, to make intelligible the subtle elements integrated in the artwork that fool our expectations. I had to identify the “cues” (Nancy K. Baym) by which one specific character would recognize the gotcha in a Net artwork : finding what “transgresses normalcy in the context” (Baym ; 1995, Palmer ; 1994). As Chiaro puts it, "the concept of what people find funny appears to be surrounded by linguistic, geographical, diachronic, sociocultural and personal boundaries" (1992 : p. 5). Therefore the gotcha is a performance in which the spectator is totally implicated : a spectator with a specific horizon of expectations. The question that I first asked myself before creating each narrative and character is : What would be a perfect context and the most susceptible “part of myself” to be trapped by this artwork?

This online exhibition is also an attempt to reflect the humorous state of mind experienced in the artworks. This playful way to describe the experience of the artworks shouldn’t be seen as a frivolous game, neither should the gotcha be understood as such. If so, we are missing the rich undercurrents of meanings in it. Kant thought that in humorous situation, an expectation is transformed into nothing, Schopenhauer rather agues, after Kant, that we actually get something that we were not expecting (Ruskin ; 1985 : p.5). Following Schopenhauer’s idea, one should keep in mind that often  “ […] humour is used as a weapon of resistance and as a means of expressing cynicism, alienation and disenchantment” (Collison ; 2002). In these narratives, I tried to identify this resistance and its “tangible” impact as it sometimes become perversive.

One should also see this curatorial as a resistance to the pretended rational description of any experience. The artworks discussed here, just as much as this curatorial, voluntary blur the lines, if there ever were some, between the fiction and the reality, the subjectivity and the objectivity and, furthermore, shows the irrelevancy of these categories. It doesn’t matter how much it’s real, fictional or virtual, the question is : is it actual? If yes, how? And to respond to that, my theoretical posture here is to create an experience that actualizes a possibility, rather than attempting to describe an experience of the “reality”  through a pretended objectivity.

Net art has to get you : otherwise, you're never gonna get it!


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