Art or Action: Joy Garnett's Bomb Project
To say that Joy Garnett's Bomb Project is monumental would be an understatement. To say that it's a necessary  reminder of the power unleashed at the end of World War II, and of the  power the whole world cringed under during the Cold War--that would be more like it. And yet there's more going on here than activism (as if that weren't enough).

When I first encountered Garnett's work on this project, I was excited by the concept, yet had difficulties accepting it as a work of net art. For one thing, it's not...pretty. Having become accustomed to the technical pyrotechnics of so many other pieces, The Bomb Project seemed less like an art work and more like an information archive.

Which it is, really. This is an exhaustive "on-line artists' resource for nuclear documentation,"  as the proposal states. It's meant to be used, by artists (Garnett intends). In that, it's a generative work; this art object will give birth to other art objects (Garnett says the project will post periodic calls for work). This is one of the ways net art differs from more traditional, non-networked forms; it relies on the net itself to both distribute its presence and to create itself--i.e. collaborate with the user.

It's not clear at all whether Garnett considers The Bomb Project to be an artwork in itself. It's goal is, as the proposal iterates, to "gather... together links to nuclear image archives (still and moving), historical documents, current news, information (and disinformation). It makes accessible the declassified files and graphic documentation produced by the nuclear industry itself, providing a platform for comparative study, analysis and creativity." And yet, here's what the proposal has to say about this work's raison d'etre:  "The Bomb Project will help us assess our cultural attraction/repulsion vis-a-vis images of mass destruction and apocalypse." Which sounds like an aesthetic goal to me.

I would argue that The Bomb Project is a work of art. Of net art in particular. If one of net art's hallowed goals is to use the network to greater aesthetic advantage, I can think of no more spactacular way to do that than the method Joy Garnett has chosen here. Sure, it's not as frenetic as some works of net art are--it doesn't search the web and display pages according to some odd algorithm, the way browser art does, nor is it a Flash piece or Java Applet that breaches the boundary between computer game and literature. It functions more like software art, really, but without the generative code; it doesn't do anything, really. It leaves the work up to you.

Lewis LaCook

Published on: October 2nd, 2002
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Lewis LaCook is a resident critic reviewing Digital Art on