Tom Leeser

"The place where cultural experience is located is in the potential space between the individual and the environment (originally the object). The same can be said of playing. Cultural experience begins with creative living first manifested as play."
—DW Winnicott 1971

"I have always valued most highly art that rejects easy assimilation, one that chooses the path of difficulty over popularity. The refusal to flatter conventional taste, the desire to confound connoisseurship; these are the traits I admire."
—Thomas Lawson 2004

"I think that the dynamics, what made the '60s so exciting was that oppositional aspect. In the same way I would say that bohemia is an oppositional way of life, as compared to the rest of society. This duality is always needed, it produces a dynamic; energy is created. The independent, the avant-garde cinema is the opposition to Hollywood cinema. If you eliminate the oppositional cinema, the same as if you eliminate bohemia, cinema would become dead. A certain energy would go out."
—Jonas Mekas 2001

I started thinking about this project over a year ago at the same time asking myself why? (1) In the late nineties digital technology and the Internet were being heralded by futurists and the mass media as a panacea, an exaggerated means that would revolutionize our analog world. Every week we were hearing about the next killer app, the next big thing or waiting for yet another online startup’s IPO to hit the street.

However by the time we were making plans for Viralnet the bubble had already burst, the train had left the station. The timing of our project was a little bit late; the silicon rush had been eclipsed leaving us standing in the shadow of an unrealized utopia.

Making matters worse, over the summer of 2004 Karl Rove and his gang had trumped us again with our own clever postmodern methodologies and contemporary media strategies. It seemed obvious that the spotlight had moved off our cultural moment, even the New York Times jumped into the fray as the Grey Lady pronounced the death of Internet art. (2) Indeed, the weather was not promising to attempt such a post-digital undertaking as ours in the wake of such grim realities.

Paul Starr's talks about the history of media technologies and the social transformation they produced from the eighteenth to the twentieth century in his book "Creation of Media". Starr reflects upon the introduction of radio and it's shift from a novelty item originally designed for two-way communication to the familiar one-way broadcasting system we have today. (3) He states that in the nineteen-twenties radio was "evolving from equipment into furniture holding the attention not merely of male hobbyists but of entire families." As I write this introduction my fifteen-year old son is on his eMac laying down guitar and voice tracks using Apple's "Garage Band" software while arguing with his eleven-year old sister who wants to boot him off the computer so she can check her email. The computer and the Internet have finally begun to expand beyond the boundaries of an exclusive digital domain, allowing a transformation from novelty to the familiar. As with radio at the beginning of the twentieth century, digital technology has entered a state of flux from an object of privilege to a common and everyday ubiquitous appliance which will have social and political ramifications that we are only beginning to experience and understand. We see the impact of this transition in the art world as well. Paul Rinder, curator of the Whitney Museum's Bit Streams show states that "Increasingly, artists using both video and the Internet are blurring the boundaries of these media. Now you have artists including video and video-like effects in their installations and in their sculptures, and they're not necessarily identified as `video' artists anymore. Similarly, in some of the most compelling works, the Internet is simply one component of a larger, multimedia work." (4)

The answer to my earlier question of "Why Viralnet?" seems to abide in this state of flux and the collapse of the digital into the quotidian. It also resides in the essence of Jonas Mekas' quote about keeping an oppositional energy alive. In the age of Rove and Bush we will never have enough oppositional voices to the corporate media conglomerates that currently dominate the cultural and political discourse. A forum for difficult, unconventional and yes even unpopular art that my colleague Thomas Lawson promotes needs a platform especially in these reactionary times. A platform for critiquing and enabling new digital media has become even more relevant as it evolves and permeates the culture at large.

D.W. Winnicott states that cultural experience emerges from a "potential space." He goes on to say that this potential space is a shared space between the subject and the environment. Viralnet will be such a potential space where the boundaries between politics, art and technology bleed together. Tactical media practitioners, artists and writers will be able to challenge the assumptions of our current cultural practices while celebrating and affecting life in these tortured times. (5) The metaphor is not the rhizome it’s the virus.