The Avant-Garde Never Gives Up

The avant-garde never gives up. And tactical media has produced (at least) three different theaters of operation to wage its struggle: media activism, pure tactical aesthetics, and net conceptualism. The first allows for "formal" tactics (materialist, structural), the latter two allow for "real" tactics (native presence, site-specificity).

1) "Media activism" is what N5M knows best. In the classic mode of leftist engagement it extends from access control issues like the "we want bandwidth" campaign to more blatantly confrontational projects like hacking in protest of Kevin Mitnick's imprisonment. Cyberfeminism, RTMARK, Mongrel's techno morphs, free servers like xs4all, and prosthetic networks like ZAMIR all fall under the rubric of media activism. In their very existence, the postmedia venues (nettime, RHIZOME, etc.) and other temporary autonomous communities belong here too (although sometimes these venues become more conceptual than activist).

2) "Pure tactical aesthetics" is the label we use for new media's art-for-art's-sake. It designates new media art that is truly (web)site-specific. Jodi invented it. 7-11 perfected it. And today, (and its residents) have evolved it to a higher form. Pure tactical aesthetics are most often seen in a raising of the bar--a shock of the shock--whose eventual goal is to define a new aesthetic totally native to computers. This art stretches outward, past one's normal creative purview to chart new cultural ground. It is a grenade in the brain of the establishment. It is unsellable, unexhibitable and uncritiquable.

3) "Net conceptualism" is web sculpture. It is the spacialization of the web, a way of thinking new thoughts. To find net conceptualism look for places where the art object has been dissolved into the network (or rather, into *relationality* as such). "Refresh" was an early form. More advanced conceptual projects include FloodNet and the Web Stalker. Heath Bunting's "_readme" is pure net conceptualism, though he might deny it. Electronic civil disobedience becomes conceptual when it sheds its offline pretense. Online media activism becomes conceptual when it discovers what is it when it cannot *be* anywhere else.

Intelligent systems (capitalism, Hollywood, language, internet) are amazingly powerful, yet always produce their own grave diggers. Alternate possibilities must necessarily emerge. For the internet our new virtues are interactivity, collaboration, artificial life--each with a correlative effect: anti-author, anti-hierarchy, and anti-fascism. Technology is inherently tactical. Material change is nothing without cultural innovation. You will fail who cannot do both. And finally we will realize that tactical is not just technology, it is a just technology.

March, 1999.