Thesis Info

Thesis Title
Digital Debris of Internet Art: An Allegorical and Entropic Resistance to the Epistemology of Search
Nils Jean
2nd Author
3rd Author
Number of Pages
Royal College of Art
Thesis Supervisor
Nicky Hamlyn
Supervisor e-mail
nicky.hamlyn AT
Other Supervisor(s)
Al Rees
Language(s) of Thesis
Department / Discipline
Fine Art
Languages Familiar to Author
English, French
URL where full thesis can be found
New Media Art, speculative, debris, epistemology, Internet Art, media archaeology, media aesthetics,
Abstract: 200-500 words
This Ph.D., by thesis, proposes a speculative lens to read Internet Art via the concept of digital debris. In order to do so, the research explores the idea of digital debris in Internet Art from 1993 to 2011 in a series of nine case studies. Here, digital debris are understood as words typed in search engines and which then disappear; bits of obsolete codes which are lingering on the Internet, abandoned website, broken links or pieces of ephemeral information circulating on the Internet and which are used as a material by practitioners. In this context, the thesis asks what are digital debris? The thesis argues that the digital debris of Internet Art represent an allegorical and entropic resistance to the what Art Historian David Joselit calls the Epistemology of Search. The ambition of the research is to develop a language in-between the agency of the artist and the autonomy of the algorithm, as a way of introducing Internet Art to a pluridisciplinary audience, hence the presence of the comparative studies unfolding throughout the thesis, between Internet Art and pionners in the recycling of waste in art, the use of instructions as a medium and the programming of poetry. While many anthropological and ethnographical studies are concerned with the material object of the computer as debris once it becomes obsolete, very few studies have analysed waste as discarded data. The research shifts the focus from an industrial production of digital debris (such as pieces of hardware) to obsolete pieces of information in art practice. The research demonstrates that illustrations of such considerations can be found, for instance, in Cory Arcangel’s work Data Diaries (2001) where QuickTime files are stolen, disassembled, and then re-used in new displays. The thesis also looks at Jodi’s approach in (1993) and Asdfg (1998), where websites and hyperlinks are detourned, deconstructed, and presented in abstract collages that reveals the architecture of the Internet. The research starts in a typological manner and classifies the pieces of Internet Art according to the structure at play in the work. Indeed if some online works dealing with discarded documents offer a self-contained and closed system, others nurture the idea of openness and unpredictability. The thesis foregrounds the ideas generated through the artworks and interprets how those latter are visually constructed and displayed. Not only does the research questions the status of digital debris once they are incorporated into art practice but it also examine the method according to which they are retrieved, manipulated and displayed to submit that digital debris of Internet Art are the result of both semantic and automated processes, rendering them both an object of discourse and a technical reality. Finally, in order to frame the serendipity and process-based nature of the digital debris, the Ph.D. concludes that digital debris are entropic . In other words that they are items of language to-be, paradoxically locked in a constant state of realisation.