Digital is better

I still remember very well the title of the first album by the German indie rock group Tocotronic. It was released in 1995. 1995! A year after the internet was born and we were still busy using the fax machine.

At the time, we had no idea that we would soon be writing emails instead of letters, that we would be navigating the streets with geolocation systems or meeting our friends on the computer, that our entire daily lives would shift into the virtual realm.

Is digital better...?
Whether music, fashion, literature or the visual arts: milestones are always shaped by artists in response to their times.

© Aram Bartholl, „Dead Drops“, 2010 Filesharing-Network in public space

Aram Bartholl (*1972), for example, is a conceptual and media artist living in Berlin who always keeps his finger on the pulse of his time with a versatile spectrum of works. This is shaped by the digital revolution, and so it happens that Aram Bartholl's works document in a historically relevant way what will already seem obsolete tomorrow. The critical examination of these digital worlds and their effects on everyday human life are at the centre of Aram Bartholl's work. The name of his website says it all:

"Dead Drops", on the other hand, is an offline-based global peer-to-file sharing network in public space that the artist first realised in New York in 2010. The idea is simple and ingenious at the same time. Using putty, USB drives are mortared into walls or curbs and made usable for the general public, so that anyone passing by with a notebook can pull or leave digital data from the "dead drops". Internet access is neither necessary nor desirable for sharing this data. On the contrary, they circumvent the globally criticised online surveillance of NASA and the British Secret Service and enable the undisturbed transfer of data. 

The influence of online data in offline space is the artist's central theme and extends to the complete abdication of the internet. Works such as "Dropping the Internet" (2014) function as the artist's personal commentary on the current status of the internet, which not so long ago was still celebrated as an instrument of freedom, progress and education, but which today - in the artist's perception - has completely lost its innocence through massive encroachments on people's personal rights.

"I live all over the world and that is possible because the internet is my stage," says Rafaël Rozendaal (*1980), another artist in the sign of his times. His work consists of a huge amount of domain names. Each website is a single work of art and at the same time the title of the work. Each work shows a condensed version of a virtual idea. The themes range from lava-spouting volcanoes, sounding planets, kisses, money, blood and popcorn to virtual time travel. He calls himself a "URL fetishist". The word "Internet" is tattooed on his lips.

The internet - the screen of the 21st century? Rafaël Rozendaal has recognised this correctly: "People spend a lot of money on houses with a good view, but they spend more time looking at the screen," Rozendaal notes, creating one work after another. His websites now attract over 40 million visitors a year. They show that even with minimal programming skills, world-renowned can be created. 

More than that: because for many, the internet is THE window to the world - a democratic platform that everyone can use individually.

He counters the hype about his art with the modest argument that he does nothing different from artists who created pictures with colours and shapes before him. The difference is that he works with the new technologies available to him.  And he is convinced of these: "I believe that if Leonardo da Vinci had known that there would be a magic box that could talk to you, that this box could be manipulated with colour, sound and movement, and that anyone could look at pictures in it interactively at any time and free of charge, he would have been thrilled.

Two artists as different as they can be!
There are no limits to the extent of digital art or texts. But a rethink is needed in education.