Artivation #1: Zen for Internet
Over the next four years, within the framework of the research project SNSF Activating Fluxus, you may expect to encounter “Artivations,” that is, artistic activations – adaptations, (re)enactments, (re)interpretations, and new productions. They will be done in the spirit of Fluxus, the avant-garde movement that changed, in the 1960s and 70s, how art is done and what it means to create an artwork. They will be initiated, curated, and, at times, created and executed by the Swiss art collective Com&Com, founded in 1997 by Marcus Gossolt and Johannes M. Hedinger.
In 2014, invited to contribute to an exhibition Revision: Zen for Film at Bard Graduate Center Gallery New York (September 18, 2015 – February 21, 2016), they created a work titled Zen for Internet.
Using the iconography of the internet and computer, the work features an endlessly rotating “loading wheel” on a white background. Typically, the “loading wheel” would be a temporary, in-between state before seeing the fully loaded image. Zen for Internet, however, indefinitely freezes the in-between-ness; the viewers never see the desired image.
The work refers directly to Nam June Paik’s iconic work Zen for Film (1962-64). Fifty years after Paik’s intervention, the Swiss artists decided to continue, in the digital world, the themes inherent to Paik’s work such as Zen, silence, nothingness, boredom, trace, chance and materiality.
The artists conceived of Zen for Internet existing in multiple iterations in a variety of media: as a website (www.zen-net.org), a thirty-minute video (accessible on YouTube and below), a painting, and as various types of merchandise including t-shirts, pillows and tote bags, as seen on the image down below. In addition to appropriating the themes of duration and nothingness from Paik’s Zen for Film, Zen for Internet speaks to the inherent mutability of a Fluxus work and to the changeability of its concept. Rather than existing in a single instantiation, Zen for Internet work can exist in a variety of formats, just as Zen for Film existed in an assortment of contexts, all of which were still “authentically” the work.
But in the context of the project, the relevant questions raised by this work are: What does it mean to activate a historical, canonical, and seemingly well-known work (on this topic, see Hölling, Revisions: Zen for Film, 2015) in the digital age and for the post-digital audience? How can a work be revived, or revitalized, in a world which is different from how it was back in the 1960s? Can intermediality be thought of on a larger timescale to involve intergenerational shifts, adaptations and borrowings? What can creativity, artistic interpretation, and appropriation bring into the picture of conservation? And, last but not least, how to preserve boredom without being bored, and boring?