Emerging in 2005 as a response to the social bookmarking tool del.ic.ious, surf blogs were formed to facilitate communication between artists. But do artists look at the web differently when they seek material for a group blog? How do they find their content? Is it art? Ask net artists these questions and the answers frequently differ. However, the form itself — a small-to-midsized number of invited members scouring the web for ephemera to manipulate or re-post — remains a unifying factor.
Other constants in the fluid pratice of “surfing” are the common internet tools and applications employed. Marcin Ramocki of Spirit Surfers (spiritsurfers.net), for example, gave me a far less complicated answer as to how he found his images than I expected. “Usually Google,” he told me plainly. “Looking for a post is a different kind of gaze,” Ramocki explained. “It’s a certain mindset. You’re actually looking — it’s not like you’re reading CNN to learn about the news or find something. You have to open yourself to everything… to the interface.” By this he means looking at the browser window, ad placements and any other visual detritus that appear while surfing. Like the other surf club members I spoke to, though, he was quick to add, “Everyone’s [search methods are] different.”
Accordingly, surf blogs come in many flavors. Spirit Surfers, for instance, consider their entire blog a work of art, dividing each post into two sections: The Boon (the prized media file) and The Wake (a supporting file or text). By contrast, the blog Double Happiness (doublehappiness.ilikenicethings.com) embraces a low-brow approach, hosting porn, advertising and other found material. “I am someone who is around a lot of different places geographically,” Double Happiness member Jeff Sisson told me. “When I go to work, or get a coffee, I see a lot of advertisements and look them up later online… I’m interested in how the internet is a reflection of the real world.”
Perhaps this explains why the blog, as artist Tom Moody (tommoody.us) describes it, “is a scrollbar workout.” The real world rarely takes the form of a browser window, so Double Happiness regularly pushes oversized images and media files outside the columns of their blog. Occasionally doing the like, Nasty Nets (nastynets.com) — the first surf blog and the most loosely defined — finds their approach somewhere between the fine art concepts propelling Spirit Surfers and the grittiness of Double Happiness. “It’s comprised of people who surf the internet really well,” founding member John Michael Boling told me over the phone. At the same time he spoke those words, another of the blog’s four founders IM’ed me. “I always try to think of [searching] as a totally unskilled activity,” Guthrie Lonergan wrote. The contradictory comments resolved themselves as I read on. “I like to think of surfing as just being really critical of everything you see, going with the flow but only highlighting very little of it. It’s really time-consuming.” Offering perhaps the clearest wisdom of anyone I spoke with, he added, “It’s important to leave the finding of certain kinds of amazing crazy shit to sites like Boing Boing, 4chan, etc.” Indeed, the limited resources and necessarily smaller audiences of surf clubs are part of their unique and idiosyncratic sensibility.