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Net Commissions 2000
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Robert Atkins

Erin Blackwell

> Glen Helfand

Cyber stretch

Digital, on-line, wired technologies give us more virtual opportunities, factoids and visual stimulation than we know what to do with. The web offers us a place to play with identity, to procure sex, shop, glean information and to create. All these actions are funneled through one blueberry iMac or some other less flashily designed piece of plugged-in personal equipment. It's one single bit of hardware, an essential appliance that contains the digital record of our desires, purchases and e-mail interactions with family and friends. It has such a compact, stable presence that it doesn't seem like we're adding such a volume of possibilities to our lives. At least not physically. But on a conceptual level we can add a staggering amount to our minds through simple web surfing sessions or tweak our imaginations while noodling in Photoshop.

Whether we're taking full advantage of the possibilities is another matter, but our personal memory banks must be unlocking some previously unused organic data storage spaces. A certain flexibility is required to fit it all in. The young have a suppler relationship to the advances in technology-- the marvels brought to us by busy engineers and programmers simply exist and the enormity of their culture-shifting power seems perfectly acceptable, and even embraced. Older generations, however, must engage in more active forms of mind expansion to truly comprehend and experience the opportunities that this fast moving technological moment affords. There can even be something fulfilling about seeing real cultural shifts and witnessing, sometimes mourning, how parts of our lives have evolved in mundane and surprising ways. (When was the last time you actually transacted with a live bank teller or wrote a letter long hand?) The thrill of change, however, can easily turn to fear, if you let it. The best defense in a world filtered through our computers is the ability to stretch your mind.

When that happens, all sorts of new e-options begin to present themselves. Too often, however, the entrepreneurial angles overshadow the arena. While it may already read as a clichˇ, we are indeed in the midst of a Gold Rush-type frontier of digital possibilities. There's that beckoning lure of instant wealth via aligning yourself with a hot pre-IPO company (the odds have been a lot better than hitting a mother lode back in the old days), but the artistic prospects are equally exciting. In e-business and e-art, the rules have yet to be laid down, loopholes are plentiful, and virgin territory abounds. Things move more quickly right now, a situation that pushes us to take more calculated risks. If you don't pounce on that idea, make an online bid on that vintage erotica or e-trade some hot new stock, someone else will. You might be sorry. This is not to endorse uncritical techno boosterism, healthy cynicism is required in this realm without physical foundations. The point is, if you don't stretch into cyberspace, you'll miss something you'll wish you hadn't.

For working artists, this scenario is perhaps the most exciting. There are whole new spaces in which to play, untested tools to create with (or turn into a lucrative day job), and more exhibition space than anyone could possibly imagine. The web is ultimately the world's largest, most public art gallery, and one that's more thoroughly integrated into the culture at large than any actual museum or gallery. And there are no snooty attendants to make you feel unwelcome. The internet is also a place where artists can experiment more freely. If necessary, an artist can use a pseudonymous veil of anonymity or an obscure URL to test aesthetic waters without fear of critical reprisal or poor sales. Around here, most everything is free for the viewing, even the museums. They too must bend a little to invite everyone in.

The four artists in these commissioned siteworks are caught mid-stretch, in the midst of experimentation. Each of them has distinguished themselves in other media, and here, for the first time, expand into the www with new works. In the process, they've had to address issues particular to the form: interactivity, sound, movement, fractured narratives, meaningful ways of imparting useful information, and technical finesse. Their solutions are as notable as being developments in a new, evolving form as they are for advancing each artist's specific vision. Here we can witness history in the making. By the time art historians of the future deliver analytical e-documents on the significance of a certain artist's web projects, we'll be acutely aware that the creative minds that still matter are those that understand the importance of engaging in just this kind of expansion project.

--Glen Helfand