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Art on the Internet and the Digital Public Sphere, 1994 - 2003

  • Author(s): Driscoll, Megan Philipa
  • Advisor(s): Kwon, Miwon
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation narrates the development of internet art, a diverse set of practices united by their interrogation of the technological, social, and/or political bases of computer networks. Covering the period from 1994, when internet art coalesced around the rise of the World Wide Web, to 2003, when both internet art and internet culture writ large began to respond to the rise of social media and web 2.0 technologies, the dissertation homes in on specific net art projects that variously engaged or challenged this period’s most persistent claim: that the internet is a new, digital public sphere. By studying how these artworks critiqued this claim, the dissertation uncovers three major models through which net art has asserted the publicness of computer networks—as an interpersonal network that connects or unites strangers into groups; as a virtual space akin to physical spaces of public gathering, discourse, and visibility; and as a unique platform for public speech, a new mass media potentially accessible to all.

Claims for the public status of computer networks rest on their ability to circulate information and facilitate discussion and debate. This definition of publicness is rooted in the concept of the classical public sphere as theorized by J�rgen Habermas. The dissertation thus reviews Habermas’s model of the classical public sphere, and its most significant critiques, in order to interrogate the terms of a digital public sphere. The dissertation also engages Michael Warner’s work on the formation of publics, counterpublics, and the mass-cultural public sphere; Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge’s analysis of shared experience as the foundation of the formation of public spheres and the role of mass media in this process; Henri Lefebvre’s articulation of the social production of space; and Gilles Deleuze and Alexander Galloway’s respective analyses of the role of network logics in systems of control.

As a whole, the dissertation provides an historical account and critical analysis of internet art that encompasses not only its technological evolution but also its confrontation with the claims of publicness upon which our understanding of computer networks, and the art made on and about them, are founded.

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