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When faced with a totally new situation, we tend always to attach ourselves to the objects, to the flavour of the most recent past. We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future…
Marshall MacLuhan – (The Medium is the Massage)

During a symposium entitled the “Internetional”[1] initiated by Showroom Mama in Rotterdam, a panel was hosted to discuss Net Art and materiality. One common trait that the guest artists seemed to share was a convergence towards painting as a point of reference when it came to make their work recognisable as Art. Rafael Rozendaal for instance, stated that he is an Artist who “uses the Internet as his canvas”. Joel Holmberg declared that he liked his websites so much that he started painting them. For Jonas Lund, paintings became a tool to infiltrate and reveal the fluctuations of the Art market. It seemed to appear that, even for artists working with computer Networks, paintings maintain an overruling authority when it comes to recognition of Art as such. It could explain why their respective practices has been accepted within the Art world economy (galleries and institutions). This also makes me wonder if there could be a bias in intuitive considerations, such as considering a piece of Net Art as a definitive product that one could buy and own.

When it comes to to acquisition of Art pieces, we speculate over scarcity rather than artistic intension. Hence the fascination over the amounts of money spent for the acquisition of some paintings during auctions. It generates a value that can be transferred in the amount of labour one average human has to produce in their lives to equal this value. This value increases respectively with the historical value that attributes “grandeur” to the physical proof constituted by the artwork, which comes with its material properties. Those material properties traditionally could subsist longer for longer than a human can exist.

The difficulty is that ownership, objecthood and materiality are challenged by practices relying on Digital Ecologies. Although we may perceive aspects of digital materiality, where we stand we are physically excluded from the site where the action happens. That is one of the main aspects of delegation. As a consequence, we may regard it with preconceptions on the basis of our past experience, on Art in this very case. It is highly possible that, to solve the problem of its recognition as Art, Born-Digital Art needs to be emancipated from a set of misconceptions, heritated from older Art forms. This takes us back to the very old problem of the comparison of the Arts. Before being elevated as the Art object by excellence, painting also suffered from a lack of recognition as Art that could stand as an equal to poetry. Those were the times of the Ut Pictura Poesis (a reinterpretation of Horace's De Arte Poetica). After the Italian Renaissance, painting was always the poor sister of poetry. “Poema pictura loquens, pictura poema silent”. While poetry was a picture gifted with speech, painting was an impaired, silent poem. This dogma was eventually violently criticised at the end of the XVIIIth century by Lessing in the Laocoon (The limits of Poetry and Painting). Lessing objected that The Ut Pictura Poesis was prescriptive for literature but not for painting. He recognised that poetry and painting had different characteristics (one being extended in time and the other in space). Therefore, trying to write poetry using painting as a device was just not relevant. The balance was eventually rectified by the fusion of the Art established under Romanticism. This example can make us consider that when a new practice emerges, rather than judging it through the model of what we had, we perhaps need to reconsider the whole domain of activity in which it sits, and that this may take some time.

Emulation, migration and static preservation may be reconsidered through methods applied to painting. Firstly, the re application of some layer of paint on the vanishing tints could be regarded as updating. This interference with the evolution of the document through time is a fight against the obsolescence of the material components. So far this method has always been satisfying enough as the updated paintings were not conceived for a material interaction with the environment they sit in. Also, the storing of painting in certain conditions, avoiding humidity can be regarding as an emulation approach: creating a friendly environment to fight the material decay of the work. One last example, which would resemble static preservation, is the recent decision made by the Vatican to put a limit cap over the amount of visitors allowed within the Sistine Chapel. To protect Michelangelo's frescoes from degradation[2]), the building around the works has to remain intact.