Dot Art: e-flux and the Issue with Administrating the Internet
“Hi there, let’s not get too paranoid.” So stated art network e-flux in response to a growing outcry regarding its plans to administer the .art domain. In a bold initiative, e-flux has announced its bid for the .art domain through The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which reportedly cost $185,000 and promises to far exceed that if accepted. If successful, e-flux would administer the domain, selecting who is allowed to possess the domain extension and what it is used for in the future. In its announcement, the site hinted at a curatorial process of peer review to select who is allowed to use the .art name space and for what purposes. Its application is going against major corporate-backed interests and clear land-grabs, along with a few semi-legitimate claims (full list here). However, the question I’m interested in is not whether e-flux should be the entity to own the name, but should the internet really be curated?
e-flux’s Facebook announcement of its plans met immediate backlash from concerned artists seeing the move as inherently opposed to the openness of the online ecosystem. In a heated stream of comments on e-flux’s Facebook announcement, user Falke Ospina notes that “.art becomes a legitimation system. maybe with peer assessment, but that would basically consist of institutions or institutionalized approved by e-flux doing the assessing. why would you want to install such a monopoly position? whether or not this is controlled from within the field, if it is in the hands of one body, isn’t it still about power?” The site’s response that “we are not monopolists and do not intend to run this as a boutique” employs the circular logic consistent throughout its communication about the matter and is depressingly similar to the argument of any business/politician/institution under attack: we’re the good guys, you know us, you should be scared of the other ones looking to profit off of you, not us.
Yet, throughout its history, e-flux has always had a tendency to support the entrenched, established institution over emerging ideas in unexpected places. Its model is built on selectivity, exclusivity and expense that necessarily preserves the service only to those institutions selected and able to pay a premium to release an announcement to its extensive listserv. What does selectivity look like when you are not simply curating a listserv or publishing journal, but administering a top level domain that could affect millions of people? Or what do they mean when they state that they are “the only applicant from the art community” when, most notably, Deviant Art has also applied? I think it is clear that they mean they are the only applicant from their art community, which is also perhaps my art community, but is certainly not that of everyone who attempts to carve out some stake in the broader art community.
As problematic as e-flux’s application is, the reality is that this is a land grab and a guaranteed goldrush. We’re in a recurring frontier and someone wants to carve it up. The domain is scarce, the demand is high, and speculators are salivating like they are at auction for a Warhol. E-flux is genuinely likely to make the .art domain interesting, engaging and, yes, educational. It may prove, as e-flux founder Anton Vidokle told The Gallerist, to “make art on the internet really comprehensible.” Let’s hope that, should they be selected, they learn that power is precarious. Wars are fought over frontiers.
Image courtesy of e-flux’s Pawn Shop exhibition from 2007-8. Proceeds from the project went to benefit Doctors without Borders.