JIP - JavaMuseum Interview Project

Interview: Robert Kendall

Agricola de Cologne (AdC) interviews Robert Kendall (RK)


Robert Kendall was born and raised in Canada. He earned an MA degree from New York University, sojourned in New Jersey for ten years, and currently lives in Menlo Park, California.
He is on the Literary Advisory Board of the Electronic Literature Organization, and he supervises the Organization’s Electronic Literature Directory. He is codeveloper of Connection Muse, an adaptive hypertext authoring system for Web poetry and fiction. He has been creating interactive multimedia poetry since 1990, making him one of the earliest practitioners of the form.

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10 questions—>

You belong to an art scene using new technologies, you are an active representative of a genre dealing with Internet based art, called “netart”.
When those artists started who are active since a longer time, the education in New Media was not yet such advanced like nowadays, often they came form different disciplines and had an interdisciplinary approach, those young artists who start now have partially this more advanced education, but rather not much experience in other disciplines.

Tell me something about your educational background and what is influencing your work?
My formal education is in classical music. I have a BA in Music and an MA in musicology. My informal education includes a little bit of everything. I try to bring as much into my work as I can, so it is influenced by poetry, fiction, philosophy, culture, visual art, theatre, music, and of course technology.

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 your work belongs to this specific genre,
do you think “netart” is art, at all, if yes, what are the criteria?
Are there any aesthetic criteria for an Internet based artwork?
I created many digital pieces before the Net was popular. These early works couldn’t properly be called “netart” because they were disseminated on disk or through gallery installations, rather than the Internet. A term such as “digital art” or “electronic art” or “new media art” would be necessary to encompass my entire digital output.

Since we’re calling it “netart” (or e-art) rather than “netpotatoes” or “netelephants,” that probably justifies us in presupposing that it’s art of some kind. Hmmm. I think I’ll call my next work “Netpotatoes.”

To some extent e-art lives or dies by the same criteria as any type of art. If it doesn’t reveal something interesting about the world or ourselves, nobody will care about it. I think a true digital artist, though, is someone who feels a certain obligation to make good use of digital resources and create something that couldn’t exist in any other medium. This obligation goes beyond the level of superficial gimmickry—beyond the desire to do something just to show off technology for its own sake and prove that something can be done technically, whether or not the technical element adds any real interest to the work. I think we see a lot of netart that never gets beyond the stage of concept demo to become something meaningful.

What kind of meaning have the new technologies and the Internet to you,
are they just tools for expressing your 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?
The new technologies are fabulous tools, but they’re much more than that. Using them as an artist is a statement of belief in the value of freedom and equality through universal access to knowledge and effective communication. These are the things the Internet provides us with, and netart is a celebration of them. Netart is also the most accurate and telling expression of our era, because it is the only art form that can truly capture the Information Age in all its glory and ugliness.

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, what are the subjects you are working on and what is your artistic message(s), if you have any, and what are your personal artistic visions for future artworking (if you have any).
At the moment I’m particularly interested in two seemingly contradictory aspects of language: its malleability and its durability. My current project (Logozoa.com) takes a collection of short texts and presents them in as many different formats and contexts as possible. It’s interesting to see how much you can change a text without actually changing its words. I’m very interested in putting these texts into social contexts by attaching them as (temporary) stickers to public fixtures—war memorials, monuments, signs, buses.

“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?
Usually the distinction between netart and digital art isn’t all that important. In theory, any Internet site that uses client-side technology can be downloaded (with or without the aid of some sort of SiteGrabber-like utility) and viewed from a hard disk. Or it can be installed on a computer in a gallery to be viewed offline. Usually this doesn’t change anything significant about the work, so in most cases the online/offline distinction is fairly meaningless. If a work depends heavily on server-side tech—live video feeds, databases, real-time input from other sites, or anything else that wouldn’t be available offline—then it is obviously “nettier” than work that doesn’t. Perhaps Server-sidism is the movement of the future.

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 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?
I’ve been presenting my digital work in gallery installations and public reading/demonstrations since 1990 and it went online as soon as the Internet became popular. Often the same piece will be published online, exhibited in a gallery, and presented to the public in an interactive live reading. All three means of dissemination are important to me, and I think each brings out different aspects of the work and reaches different audiences.

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?
Time will change the situation. We will just have to keep working and be patient. It took a couple of generations for film and then video to be taken seriously. Our time will come.

The Internet is called a kind of “democratic” environment, but 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?
I think artists are creating their own communities through the Net in ways that have never happened before. Curators and critics are certainly forfeiting some of their power to the link and the search engine. There will always be gatekeepers as long as there are artistic and social communities, but the communities will continue to become more numerous and varied and porous.

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?
Some basic technical knowledge is undoubtedly necessary in setting up an exhibition or Web site. A good understanding of what’s going on under the hood will of course give a curator more insight into the work he or she is dealing with. It’s possible, though, for someone to love and appreciate Net art without a full understanding of the technology behind it. Many people with a fine sense for experimental art and literature simply have no technical aptitude, and we don’t want to exclude them from helping our field.

It is planned, to re-launch
JavaMuseum – Forum for Internet Technology in Contemporary Art
www.javamuseum.org in 2007 in a new context, very likely even in physical space.
What would be your personal wishes and expectations connected to this re-launch ?
Just keep working with the same personal dedication you’ve always shown.

Thanks for taking your time