Since the mid-1990s, Matt Drudge’s frequently-controversial conservative news aggregator, the Drudge Report, has been an influential part of the online political ecosystem. The site regularly boasts more than 10 million readers each month, and it’s earned a reputation for shaping narratives within the right-wing media sphere. From a formal standpoint, though, what is most striking about the site is its design, or lack thereof. In an ever-fraying social media-driven world, it has held steadfast to the same basic, decidedly web 1.0 single-page layout for over two decades.
Its political views notwithstanding, the Berlin-based website New Models is something like a Drudge Report for the art, tech, and culture sector. “My politics are really in a liberal and left space, but I kept finding myself reading Drudge Report just to catch up on news,” the artist Lil Internet–also known as Julian Wadsworth–who co-founded the website along with writer Caroline Busta, told me recently over Skype, as a bit of a preamble to our interview. “It’s a horrible conservative site, but there’s just something about the web 1.0 [layout]—it’s like a map.” Using a template similar to Drudge’s, but perhaps aesthetically supercharged a bit, care of designers Eric Wrenn and John Lucas, New Models synthesizes a mix of news and criticism, balanced out with original material, including a podcast.
Busta, also on the Skype call, told me that the website in part grew out of a “feeling that trad media was losing ground as it was increasingly reliant on the big social media stacks in order to be seen, and what happens in that scenario is that it loses its cultural specificity.” Before New Models, Busta spent time on staff at Artforum and Text Zur Kunst, where she was editor-in-chief. She said that more traditional sources of art reporting and criticism are often “really tied to certain leftist discourses. And we know that last year the bottom totally fell out when it came to polarization, left/right critique.” New Models is an attempt to respond to such developments in political dialogue. “We need to un-silo these conversations,” Busta continued, “which social media seemed to be incentivizing in the wrong direction.”
New Models culls material from all sorts of sources: everything from mass media and message boards to academic journals and social media, regularly submitted by members of the larger Berlin community from which it germinated—a scene that has recently seen a heightened level of intermingling between art and technology cultures following the blossoming of blockchain and related technologies. Articles that have been featured on the website include a piece on the current toxic state of Twitter, an essay on “peak Burning Man,” and a New York Times op-ed on the very contemporary podcast-driven culture of men’s neo-wellness and personal optimization.
Busta spoke of the website’s combination of “moderators who are well-informed or experienced in certain discourses” with voices from their larger network of friends and collaborators. “With this really crappy signal-to-noise, you do need somebody who is creating a narrative,” she said, of navigating today’s online media landscape.
The website’s name is purposely vague. “Let’s just call it New Models, because it has this really bad SEO, and it can be applied to a lecture at the New School or it can be applied to a Russian body-trafficking site,” Busta said, explaining the thinking that went into their selection. Wadsworth added, “It kind of sounds like it would be a modeling agency or some cheesy fashion shit, which gives you great, fun opportunities with your branding.” Within the contemporary art world, this coming fall New Models will be taking part in both the 2018 Athens Biennial and a Simon Denny-curated exhibition, “Proof of Work,” at the Schinkel Pavilion in Berlin.
In an era so defined by gated media platforms with corrosive discourses, New Models exists as an alternate pathway. “Things are getting crazy polarized right now, there’s no solution in sight, there’s a chilling effect on language from everybody,” Wadsworth said. “What I’m really curious about exploring is literally new models, mapping things and modeling how society is working right now. Especially since it’s happening so fast, I think that getting a big, clear macro picture is actually really, really important.
“I feel like the social-media bubble is popping right now, and the statistics show that too,” he continued. “I think now it actually is an exciting new frontier of, OK, how are we going to build a web that actually does not literally suck people’s entire life into bullshit, and make it really as great and as exciting as it once was?”