Valentina Tanni, an art historian and curator who has always been interested in the relationship between art and new technologies, paying particular attention to web culture, has put together a wacky and enlightening book on various web dynamics that, if on the one hand greatly expand the concept of “art”, on the other, demolish its foundations in the famous degree zero, often brushed against throughout the 20th century, sometimes reached in terms, today never so close.
In the back cover of this second edition of the book (which also adds a few more reflections compared to the first edition published in 2020) in the various comments that we usually find on Not’s books (Nero Edizioni), always between intellectual criticism and pop commentary, we find a certain “Cima” who comments on the Goodreads platform: “Best book for writing down things that you will never go back to”. Nothing could be more false, nothing more superficial. The dynamics that Tanni analyses have an enormous cultural scope, they show us and demonstrate how the diffusive power of art, always partial, experienced by so many artists, from the avant-garde to those who have dealt – and are dealing – with relational art and web art, has found its totality in the social dynamics of the web, with the disappearance of the figure of the artist as well as the sense of art as a high and intellectual practice.
Between the folds of an extremely pop and funny book, Tanni shows us how weird contemporary art can be, revealing aesthetics that are extremely consistent with the art history of trolls, youtubers and instagrammers who are almost never aware of their ‘artistic production’. This is the cause of the most important and courageous sense that the book acquires, for those who want to see it: the disappearance of the veil of Maya, the realisation of how the art system, like a frightened beast in a burning forest, tries with all its might to save itself from obsolescence, tries to hold on to a flimsy and displaced power by continuing to pontificate on what is or is not art, and in this enormous contemporary flow of artists practices and works, a handful are chosen, with nothing more and nothing less than so many others, choices for profit and for knowledge, strategies to perpetuate a shaky power, based on supposed qualities of the device that are sometimes exactly equivalent to those of a meme or a self-managed social practice. George Dickie’s institutional theory of art comes to mind, a depressing observation of how art is nothing more than what is presented to us as such.
But all this is not in the book. What is striking in it, instead, is a certain underlying optimism, an unexpected cheerfulness, the book ends by saying: ‘We cannot keep sailing on the surface and rejecting everything else, because the eternal September is our new reality’. Something tells me, however, that we will continue to regard NFTs as more ‘artistic’ than memes on social media (even when the NFTs in question are exactly memes), and when they want us to perceive these memes as artistic, it will often be precisely to reinforce and distance the weak real art from the disruptive fake art of our present.
Valentina Tanni, MemesteticA, Aksioma, 2021 (tit. orig. Memestetica. Il settembre eterno dell’arte, Akasioma, 2021