JIP - JavaMuseum Interview Project

Survey: Panos Kouros

10 question on Internet based art
Panos Kouros
is an artist, theorist, educator, living and working in Athens, Greece.

  • artist biography
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    Interview: 10 questions

    Since a reasonable time, digital media entered the field of art and extended the traditional definition of art through some new , but very essential components.
    Do you think it is like that and if yes, tell me more about these components and how they changed the perception of art?

    The emphasis on communication and distribution is what distinguished netart from other forms of digital art. Production and exhibition space that could destabilize the hierarchies of high art; establishing virtual communities for discussion and criticism; experimenting in the aesthetic of interaction, participation, collaboration; moving away from the art object and representation space towards communication and exchange space: During the 90s net art created a “culture of resistance” within the art system, in an expanded field of works, criticism, and in this sense we can speak of new uses, that produced, exhibited, and discussed art outside the art spaces. This was not only a result of development of media tools, but, decisively, a channelling of a certain radical sensibility that had roots in the neo-avantgarde of conceptualism, in-situ interventions and performance, institutional critique, etc. A certain genealogy of critical art practices is to be written. On the other hand, many works use the net as exhibition canvas for representations, following a conventional art paradigm, with emphasis on visuality and formal investigation, within a discourse of aesthetic autonomy. The agony to defend a delimited “new” region of artistic activity, vis-a-vis established high art institutions, brought the discussion backwards to the idea of medium-specificity, preventing hybrid discourses, that might expand the traditional boundaries of art. Netart is now colonized by the net.departments of art institutions, framed by a stable frames. Homes are becoming thus museums extensions for individual viewing. At the same time, public space is becoming privatized: an extension of homes: in your locative media device you work as privately as in your home screen.

    As media technology is integrated into daily life, art practices in a post-romantic era seem to be absorbed within larger scale operations and interventions within culture. In such operations, distinctions of art and “new media” art, high and local art, do not make sense. I view the internet not as autonomous public space, but in its multiple connections to real everyday environments. In that sense, art practices can continue to transcend individual expression and further elaborate on issues of sharing, participation, construction of identity and community in non-essentialist ways.

    A relevant section of digital art represents Internet based art. The Internet was hardly existing, but artists conquered already this new field for their artistic activities.
    Can the work of these early artists be compared with those who work with advanced technologies nowadays? What changed until these days ? What might be the perspectives for future developments?

    As new technological tools were becoming available everyday (photography, video, digital tools, etc.), unexpected uses and meanings were assigned to them by artists, within the frame of modernity. It is true that early netartists practiced fluxus like “light” gestures, transparent uses of mediums and tools. This is the opposite from over-determined techno-logical art discourses, where the materiality of the medium is always evident. Today we can certainly see more “heavy” professional uses, too technological, too rigid, too within expectations from institutions. Such conflicts were continuously present in the history of art-and-technology, from lumino-kinetic works to Sky-Art and from video to telecommunication events. But, tools are not just “ready for use” tools: it is somehow more evident now, that the totality of social, cultural, political context of tools, including “use” itself, should be questioned.

    Many things changed: netart is a historical genre, absorbed by institutions at a large extent. Certain spectacular works are promoted, just as it happens in high art. High art itself is moving towards communication, with a plethora of relational projects, exhibitions, criticism; some of them have the sharp freshness of early netart. I do not like to make predictions; for me the most promising aspects, coming out of netart are a spirit of negation and sabotaging of local art scenes, hierarchies and boundaries, a detournement of the techno-logic, confusing categorization, and significant work on subjectivity and community formation. Internet mailing lists, and on-line communities were important projects of early netart, as they provided new context and content for art practice. More than individual works, they are still paradigmatic for the deconstruction of notions of presence, originality, and the ethos of individual artist.

    Other significant changes have to do with a sense of urgency, towards the effects of rapid transnational flows in the urban, social and cultural spheres. There is an increasing awareness that the internet is structured as a public space, and that we live privatization and control of both real and digital public space. A dynamic role for networking art practices would come with the integration of those practices with everyday environments and local urban contexts. Projects that include many actors from art and non-art environments, can investigate and experiment on urban life, forms of co-habitation and construction of memory.

    The education in the field of New Media art, including Internet based art, started late compared with the general speed of technological development and acceptance.
    So, generations of artists who used the Internet as their artistic working field were not educated in this new discipline(s) and technologies, but had rather an interdisciplinary approach.
    What Do you think, would be the best way to teach young people how to deal with the Internet as an environment of art?

    New media art education should also be part of art and architecture education. In art and design departments, new media are often introduced as mere tools, learning of technical skills and software. This happens as a result of a powerful, within traditional art schools, system of craft education, based on separate artistic disciplines, or as a market-oriented vision of education, evident in the recent attempts for a technical and corporate restructuring of European higher education, close to the US model. The resulting crisis in the art and humanities departments affects the formation of new media art education programs and needs to be counter-balanced by insisting on teaching cultural, symbolic, anthropological, art-historical formation of technological tools, and interdisciplinary practices. But most important, I think, is to teach new forms of collective work and deconstruct individual art practice, the local structure of the studio, and the one to one relation of tutor and student. Within the art program, in the Department of Architecture, I teach networking and new media practices in courses that focus to specific city contexts, with the aim of establishing multiple links between students, residents, refugees, between different places and different traditions. Informal education, in the form of local and international workshops, networking events, small scale actions, is very important, since it can create necessary space, and conditions for media art education.

    What kind of meaning have the new technologies and the Internet to you in concern of art, are they just tools for expressing artistic intentions, or have they rather an ideological character, as it can be found with many “netartists”, or what else do they mean to you?
    Many “Internet based artists” work on “engaged” themes and subjects, for instance, in social, political, cultural etc concern.
    Which contents are you particularly interested in, personally and from an artcritical point of view.

    The internet, print media, travelling are not receiving surfaces but fields for interaction during production and distribution of content. I see the internet as social site to question human relations, to set up various platforms for local or translocal interventions, research projects, dialogical events, rapid response to urgent situations, etc. Construction of community in collaborations and public interventions is a central issue. Artistic and curatorial approaches of community within recent institution art practice are deeply problematic, as they reproduce naive or hegemonic discourses. “Apothecae” and “Bus” projects are about the investigation of space situations for the possible formation of a plural person, as she identifies with a non-consciously structured ghost community. Among my other concerns are: the possibilities of activation of memory/no-memory in the new ethnoscapes of cities and the use of devices such as mnemotechniques and ruins; aesthetics of collaborative schemes for urban interventions; introducing of educational structures within art practice.

    The term “netart” is widely used for anything posted on the net, there are dozens of definitions which mostly are even contradictory.
    How do you define “netart” or if you like the description “Internet based art” better?
    Do you think “netart” is art, at all, if yes, what are the criteria?
    Are there any aesthetic criteria for an Internet based artwork?

    It is difficult to insist on netart, internet-based art, etc. as medium-specific categories of art in an era characterized by the fusion of the cultural and the technological. Netart is a continuation of art-and-technology historical movements, an obsolete term now. Network practices is a term that implies an infusion with non-art and non-virtual environments. In times of extreme aesthetization of existence and the everyday, it is a rather nostalgic act to rely on aesthetic criteria for any artwork.

    Question“Art on the net” has the advantage and the disadvantage to be located on the virtual space in Internet which defines also its right to exist.
    Do you think, that “art based on the Internet”, can be called still like that, even if it is just used offline?

    We can certainly conceive net practices in complex and hybrid relations to the outside world. Our everyday movements and our physical interactions in advanced capitalist societies are so much affected by networks and virtual spaces, that we can easily conceive of an entirely “offline netart”, in the sense of intervention to the changing attitudes and behaviours. Moreover, there are many historical examples of off-line netart.

    Dealing with this new, and interactive type of art demands an active viewer or user, and needs the audience much more and in different ways than any other art discipline before. How do you think would be good ways to stimulate the user to dive into this new world of art?
    What do you think represents an appropriate environment to present net based art to an audience, is it the context of the lonesome user sitting in front of his personal computer, is it any public context, or is it rather the context of art in general or media art in particular, or anything else.?
    If you would be in the position to create an environment for presenting this type of art in physical space, how would you do it?

    We know that “interaction” and “participation” are common mechanisms that media spectacle is using to construct identity and mass-consuming of images. Strategies of constructing the audience, of constructing different ways of participation may vary considerably: such strategies are the main objective of artistic activity. Experimentation in modes of interaction/ participation/ cooperation, in internet works, public art, community-based art – even “failing” cases where participation is denied – produces alternatives to the objectified worldview of the media industry.

    There is no one appropriate environment to produce types of engagement and participation (or even distracted viewing of the work), but it depends on the conceptual framework of each project: what aspect of the work is revealed and how, in what place, and to what audience. In an increasing “urbanization” of experience of art, all artworks are context-dependent; even works of “pure information” depend on their channel of distribution, etc.

    An interesting problem arises when a complex performative networked project needs to be documented, archived or exhibited in new art contexts. In the project “Diatopia”, conceived with Dimos Dimitriou, presentation of the project in different art spaces (e.g. a Gallery, or a bar) meant a reconfiguration of the means of the project, in order to re-address the new space (e.g. using photocopies, or transforming the exhibition space to a new production space). So in a way, the work is not presented in space, but space is re-presented within the work, and along with space the context of the exhibition is brought into question. If I had to deal with a chain of different projects and how to juxtapose them into new exhibition/or production environments, I would organize a collaborative structure, to consider a dispersed network of physical places to be investigated by authors, with conceptual links to existing networked projects.

    As Internet based art, as well as other art forms using new technologies are (globally seen) still not widely accepted, yet, as serious art forms, what do you think could be an appropriate solution to change this situation?

    ….well, I propose to all local netartists to do a sit-in protest inside galleries, with their net-projects in their hands.

    The Internet is sometimes called a kind of “democratic” environment,
    The conventional art practice is anything else than that, but selective by using filters of different kind.
    The audience is mostly only able to make up its mind on second hand. Art on the net might potentially be different. Do you think the current practice of dealing with Internet based art is such different or rather the described conventional way through (also curatorial) filtering?
    Do you think, that speaking in the terms of Joseph Beuys, anybody who publishes anything on the net would be also an artist?

    Beuys knew too well how to aesthetisize politics. On the contrary, the net is a potential space for constructing individual and collective political subject, and deconstructing aestheticism. Content may be already filtered by various net-institutions, but still, the internet is an open theatre for many non-elite actors to build networks and to act. This is a powerful alternative for developing zones of resistance to high filtered local art scenes, such as the Greek art scene, for example.

    Do you think, the curators dealing with net based art should have any technological knowledge in order to understand such an art work from its roots? And what about the users of Internet based art?

    Today, along with the roles of the artist and the audience, the role of curator changes dramatically to encompass more open, flexible and non-centralized modes of action. Curators need to have a very broad humanistic education to address net projects and interventions in an expanded cultural field. I would not insist too much on technical expertise; they should definitely have a non-technical, cultural and anthropological understanding of technology.