MF There is something interesting about the distributed form. I was thinking of H.P. Lovecraft—there’s a sense that his work is not about any one of the stories, but rather about the set of the stories taken together, which composes a world that other writers can then join. The degraded version of that kind of collective fiction is Tolkien. This is now a widespread tendency in film, to be at the center of a whole matrix of commodities, rather than existing on its own. Film is an interesting model of collaborative art: it opens up the possibility of a post-cinematic, collectively constituted, genuine, distributed art that has actual content. That’s the difference. A lot of this stuff that you’re talking about is distributed form, but the network delivers no content of its own. What if you could deliver things in this distributed way, and they actually had content?
ML Well, that’s the problem: content is elsewhere. The difficulty in making work now is that there’s this model of how a distributed kind of collective work could be made (i.e., through the Internet), but it can’t be made in a gallery. The nature, or structure, of the gallery doesn’t allow for that; it needs certain kinds of forms, certain objects.
There’s this term I like, “stigmergy”: an ant goes out, lays a path of pheromones; the other ants follow that path, and then that path gets built up until it becomes a pathway. They use this term in open source to describe a programming language that has being continually added to and amended so that the original code has been lost or forgotten, but you’re left with a structure that everyone can use.
As an idea of making art, that seems really interesting—something made with the benefits of technology. At the same time, that idea is a long way from the art being made now, and a long way from Benjamin’s idea of art’s aura. The aura is still there; it still surrounds artworks, massively. The trouble is that more you start to distribute art or disperse it, the more mutable art becomes, until finally, it dissipates into just “LOLCats” or something.
MF We’ve seen a lot of this rhetoric around student protests. A lot of the discourse surrounding those protests is naïve regurgitation of ‘90s cyber-rhetoric: concentration is bad, distribution is good. I think we’re beyond a stage where that works anymore. It’s quite clear that distribution is our condition. It’s neither good nor bad—it’s just how things are. Actually, I’ll go future than that: you can have things that are top-down and distributive.
ML I see a lot of the stuff on the Internet as a realization of ideas from ’80s rave culture.
MF In the sense of…?
ML In the sense that the Internet allows concentrations of things to manifest, to self-generate or come together into some kind of body.
MF I get it, but I think concentration has gone against the dominant tendencies of the Internet.
ML No, I don’t think it has. We’re so immersed in these new networks; we’re so dispersed, and we haven’t figured out a way to concentrate. That’s the point of this argument: you have to consciously make a body out of these things. There has to be a program in art-making and in politics, and we have to gather these things together. I still think that the Internet’s technological possibilities allow for that, more so than ever.
MF I think that’s the crucial distinction that you’ve made, between the idea that the Internet by itself will deliver this and the idea that you need not a critical relation to it so much as a practical orientation.
ML Or historical.