[artinfo] Review of Josephine Bosma's Nettitudes: Let's Talk Net Art (2011)

Eric Kluitenberg epk at xs4all.nl
Sun Jan 29 18:53:11 CET 2012

Review of Josephine Bosma's, Nettitudes: Let's Talk Net Art (2011)

by Eric Kluitenberg

Nettitudes, the new book by Josephine Bosma, is 
an important contribution to the often confusing 
and unbalanced discussion about the Internet and 
contemporary art. This contribution becomes 
especially clear from what the book does not do. 
First of all, Bosma does not try to offer a 
historical overview of the phenomenon that she 
calls 'net art'. She also indicates clearly why 
it is difficult to mark out this area 
unequivocally, for there are widely differing 
views as to how the interaction between the 
Internet and contemporary art should be 
interpreted. Indeed, net art must in the first 
place be seen in a broader context than that of 
contemporary art, because the development of this 
'genre' cannot be seen separately from the 
various forms of network culture with which it 
sometimes partly converges or by which it is 

Moreover, Bosma does not wish to call net art a 
discipline or movement, as the entire terrain is 
too diverse and heterogeneous for that, and also 
has too much of a cross-disciplinary character. 
Nor is it a good idea to have net art purely 
coincide with the medium of the Internet, which 
itself can hardly be described. When the same 
problem is approached from an art theoretical 
point of view, limiting net art to a particular 
medium is also absolutely absurd. Bosma herself 
refers to Rosalind Krauss, the American art 
theorist, who in her famous essay 'Sculpture in 
the Expanded Field' argued that contemporary art 
has wrested itself from the yoke of the medium - 
it has entered an 'expanded field' in which every 
material or medium can be appropriated, but to 
which the 'work' can never be reduced.

That does not mean that the medium as a category 
can simply be shoved aside. This would lead to a 
simplistic dichotomy between conceptualism versus 
materialism - a false contradiction, according to 
Bosma, which would only work counter-productively 
in trying to better understand the phenomenon she 
investigates. What is of primary importance for 
most of the works that fall under the term 'net 
art' is a good understanding of the network 
culture from which they spring: the interactions 
that artists have online with one another and 
with the public. Bosma furthermore points out 
that net art does not only refer to art that 
takes place in one way or another on the Internet 
and on the screen. It can also concern work that 
is directly inspired by the new realities that 
the Internet and online cultures create, but 
whose manifestation takes place entirely 
off-line, separately from the Internet.

Therefore, the definition she uses to describe 
net art reads in its shortest form as: art that 
is rooted in or based on Internet cultures. This 
way, she prevents an arbitrary broadening of the 
concept, for only works which cannot be seen 
separately from the cultures that have developed 
around the Internet can legitimately be 
considered net art. With this definition, it is 
clear that the phenomenology, logic and structure 
of the Internet cannot be bypassed when coming up 
with an adequate description of net art. No more 
than can net art be reduced to a technological 

According to Bosma, it is hard to give a good 
description of this heterogeneous and 
cross-disciplinary field and introduce some 
structure into the discussion, but not 
impossible. In order to get a grasp of the 
material, she introduces five key concepts by 
which the vast majority of the works that she 
calls net art can be understood: Code / Flow / 
Screen / Matter / Context.

She uses 'Code' to look at work that primarily is 
aimed at the technical infrastructure and 
software that form the underpinnings of the 
Internet. This is the most abstract category, 
accounting for the fact that the Internet in fact 
rests upon a series of agreements set down in 
technical protocols. The fact that interesting 
artistic experiments are being carried out in 
precisely this inaccessible area indicates the 
depth of the artistic research behind those 
experiments. Bosma unlocks this hermetic area 
with a clear description of the classical project 
'Web Stalker' by the British artist collective 

'Flow' refers to the remote connections that are 
made through the Internet, with the emphasis on 
live performance and network installation art. 
While distance and spatial relations do not 
vanish in the digital network, the spatial logic 
and the forms of exchange (image, sound, 
information) that can take place in the new 
spatial configurations do change radically. These 
processes are manifested by the performative 
aspect, particularly live performance.

'Screen' refers to the complex (technological) 
processes behind the fragile visual form of net 
art works. In these works, the semblance of a 
stable image is often undermined by the 
underlying process. Interaction with this type of 
work makes the viewer aware of the capacity of 
endless transformation that characterizes the 
digital image.

'Matter' investigates the role that the hardware, 
the physical machinery behind the 'immaterial' 
network, plays in net art - sometimes by 
literally putting these machines on stage, 
sometimes also by presenting absurd or faulty 

Finally, 'Context' is about the social and 
political context in which a certain category of 
net art works chooses an articulated position. 
Particularly this category of works been given a 
lot of attention by critics over the course of 
the years, but according to Bosma it is by no 
means representative of the entire field of net 

Nettitudes is divided into two sections. The 
first section frameworks the discussion on net 
art, gives definitions and discusses the 
positions of other theorists and art critics, 
such as Tilman Baumgärtel, Julian Stallabras and 
Rachel Green. Here, Bosma also introduces the 
concepts mentioned above in order to provide some 
structure and orientation for the discussion on 
net art. In the second section, she examines the 
various positions taken by artists and movements 
in network culture over the years. Then she goes 
into the thorny debate on the conservation of net 
art works. The book closes with a chapter on 
Internet-related sound art, a form that adds an 
'intimate' dimension of its own to net art.

Nettitudes is a breath of fresh air. An important 
and underexposed artistic genre is finally 
getting the serious attention it deserves. 
Nettitudes also offers a useful analysis for the 
further development of a critical and sound 
substantive 'discourse' on the exchange between 
the Internet and the production and reception of 
contemporary art.


Originally written for: Open #22 - "Transparency. 
Publicity and Secrecy in the Age of WikiLeaks", 
Journal for Art and the Public Domain, Amsterdam, 

Josephine Bosma, Nettitudes: Let's Talk Net Art, 
Rotterdam, NAi Publishers, ISBN 
978-90-5662-800-0, 272 p., ¤ 23.50

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