By Olivia Mitchell
It seems very appropriate to be writing a blog post about Identify Yourself, Krystal South’s research/essay/website/book about internet art. In fact, I don’t think I could properly respond in any other medium. Even so, writing this makes me keenly aware of my novice status. I am, like South, a child of the internet age, but I hesitate before I say gif because I’m not sure whether we’ve decided to pronounce it gif or jif. My Tumblr has fewer than 50 followers and is mostly pictures of cats and One Direction, and yet, even with my lack of internet finesse, I feel familiar with the language and attitude of Identify Yourself.
The website is part archive, part history, part personal essay, and part internet, all linked together by simultaneity and networks and questions (Where does that leave us? “Wtf is their deal?”). And what makes it recognizable to me is the way it illustrates the personal
In her personal essay, South asserts her position as an active participant in the processes by which the internet makes her who she is. “My co-evolution with this technology has instilled a fiercely personal identification with the concept and structure of computers and Internet-based systems within me. This position is not by accident, but choice.” Her life is intertwined with the internet, and that is something she comes to with intention. This then is at the center of her work (if anything on the internet can have a center): South believes in the interplay between agency and evolution in the internet and in her life.
I recently read a letter to the editor in The Oregonian about the failure of students in Portland to meet writing benchmarks on standardized tests. This letter writer believed that text messaging was (at least in part) to blame for this failure; the internal logic being that students spend too much time inhabiting technological spaces where non-literary communication is encouraged. I see this general message repeated a lot: New technologies are to blame for the degradation of intelligence and creativity. South’s personal narrative and research run directly counter to these tropes. In her work, I see histories of how new technologies and new ways of using technology are generative and productive. Internet art is not a lazy version of real, decorous creation, it is simply new.
The proliferation of internet art, post-internet art, and their concomitant communities demonstrate just how generative the internet can be. And Identify Yourself collects and expands these generations in a personal way.
I think there are still important questions to ask about agency and evolution when it comes to the internet. And these questions aren’t simply abstractions to ponder, but important issues that should be at the center of any discussion about the internet. Who has the power to congregate virtual communities? Who has the privilege of toying with open source code without being seen as a hooligan? Who gets to troll? Who gets censored? South speaks about her work with room for these questions, with allowances for infinite uncertainty.
When an audience member asked what would happen if internet art kept professionalizing, she was quick to say she that she isn’t psychic. She’s not trying to predict what will be trending next week, she’s reflecting on the life of the internet in her life, she’s creating and recreating their co-evolution.
Olivia Mitchell writes about art occasionally and lives in Vancouver, Washington.