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Notes on Net Art and a Return to Ghost City
Artist Project
by Jody Zellen

Jody Zellen, image from "Ghost City," net art project


Before COVID-19, on Saturdays Brian Moss and I would chart a path from the west to the east side of Los Angeles to look at art, seeing anywhere between 5 and 30 exhibitions each day. These journeys were research for writing reviews and for updating our weekly listing of local art exhibitions, openings and closings, and selected special events, What's On Los Angeles". But really, I love to look at art, visit galleries and museums and see who is making what. Sadly, we're not able to visit galleries and museums these days.


What is the alternative? Due to the public directive to close during the run of the virus, many galleries and museums quickly resorted to posting exhibitions and viewing rooms online that can be seen from a computer. Given that this is just the immediate response to such a sudden and radical event, so it would therefore not be fair to judge harshly, it is a poor substitute for the real thing.


Which brings me back to Net Art, which dates from the early days of the World Wide Web in the mid-1990s. Many artists, myself included, began to explore the space of the web as a platform for interactive artworks, not online portfolios or exhibitions. In the 2000s, I selected a monthly Net Art project to feature on the website of Fringe Exhibitions, a new media gallery in Chinatown from 2006-2008. 


Here are a few of the best online archives for Net Art:

The Whitney Museum's ArtPort 

Ada Web 



Compare these to Net Art being produced in 2020 is a subject that I will return to in another article. For now, a sampling. These two sites feature newly commissioned Net Art projects:




One of the best in our moment of sheltering-in-place is Raphael Bastibe's "Daily artworks in quarantine times." It's presented, like a diary, as a series of daily projects: evasive.tech


Some artists are creating interesting and unique works that depend on the internet but which are not really Net Art. Gretchen Andrew calls herself a Search Engine Artist and Internet Imperialist who programs her vision boards to manipulate search engines. gretchenandrew.com 


For my part, I have revisited a project I began in 1998, "Ghost City" and from it have created "Avenue S." Click on the "S" in the homepage grid and you will be able to view this new path through of the city. I am adding a bit every few days. As obtuse navigation strategies frustrated many early Net Art viewers, I am making the links clear — Clicking the RED squares at the bottom of the pages is how to move through the piece. Please, have at it


As we stay at home or walk in isolation, I am offering an alternative, if analogous experience. This is the right time for a return to the pleasure of net art: the free exploration of image-text relationships, unstructured narrative, rollovers, gifs and pop up windows. This is not documentation or random JPEGs but an interactive experience akin to exploring unknown parts of your hometown at a time of finding new ways to discover where we live.

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