Rising to popularity roughly around the mid-to-late 2000s and aided by developments in software and social media, Internet artist clubs (or surf clubs) acted as both think tanks and dig sites for artists interested in the culture and aesthetics of the Internet. They could also be seen as serving as an incubator for a serious amount of talent currently involved in the more traditional gallery system. Last week, Rhizome posted a comprehensive catalogue of these online clubs compiled by the artist and curator Paul Slocum.
“I figured that if I didn’t catalogue this information, it would eventually be lost as sites go offline and people forget the details,” Slocum told ARTnews over email. “I was partly thinking of it as the IMDB of surf clubs.” The fleeting nature of many of these clubs could be applied to many aspects of the Internet as a whole. Technology and culture change, and plug-ins become dated. It is tragic to think about the amount of crucial culture wiped out in the great post-Timberlake MySpace rebranding, for example.
The project—which was originally started as a way to contextualize Rhizome’s archive of the Nasty Nets surf club, of which Slocum was an original member—is broken into three sections: surf clubs, art clubs, and related sites. The surf club section refers to group artist blogs most concerned with the exploration of Internet ephemera. Art clubs, for this purpose, are more focused on digital illustration and collage as well as the merging of online and real-space works. The third section is a bit of a catchall: it includes 4chan and the seminal meme creator YTMND next to image-sharing websites like Are.na and dump.fm. The catalogue also includes a very thorough graphic timeline that could be used as a general overview of Internet art as a whole. It runs from 1995 to 2015 and is divided between clubs and the platforms that they utilized. It charts a history from dial-up to broadband, from Geocities to Instagram.
In addition to Nasty Nets, Slocum cofounded Spirit Surfers, an online artist club that he has been an active participant in for the past eight years. Slocum also ran the And/Or Gallery in Dallas and later Pasadena, California, which showed work from a variety of contemporaneous artists who were either directly involved in (Tom Moody, Guthrie Lonergan) or partly the inspiration for (Paper Rad, JODI) a lot of these online artist clubs. One impetus to work on the catalogue came out of Slocum’s heavy workload around that period. “Following and posting on a club takes a lot of mental energy for me, so I was familiar with a lot of the included sites, but I hadn’t followed them in detail,” he said. “That was part of my motivation for doing this project.”
Slocom’s catalogue contains a wide range of aesthetic and conceptual concerns. Within its contours, one could imperfectly track any number of progressions in styles that have developed through any number of Net-art micro-communities. One thing that has stayed consistent, however, is the sheer amount of talent that has flowed through these artist clubs. A quick scroll reveals a lot of names that should be familiar to anyone paying attention to contemporary art—there are too many to even start listing. “I think these online artist collectives are the beginning of something that will continue for a long time,” Slocum said.