JIP - JavaMuseum Interview Project

Interview: Russet Lederman

Russet Lederman
US artist



Interview: 10 questions

1. 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 howthey changed the perception of art?

For me, working digitally is just a means of accessing another tool. I am more interested in the content of an artwork over its technical virtuosity. Yes, digital media has changed the way I work and the range of my audience, but in the end I am still and will continue to be focused on content.

2. 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?

I feel new tools and means of working evolve and create a fertile ground for artists to experiment. Ultimately, these tools become commonplace and are used by the mainstream. Social networking is a good example of this process now. Many artists are developing applications for facebook and other social networks at the same time that those who don’t call themselves artists are doing the same. I hesitate to make a distinction
between artist/not-artist. Both are contributing in very profound ways.

3. 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?

I don’t agree with the above comment. There were many artists working with scientists and in digital arts programs with access to networked environments prior to the mainstreaming of the Internet. They had access through programs at MIT and Bell Labs in the US. To isolate digital art and not see it as part of a larger fine art community is limiting. I attended the MFA program in Computer Art at the School of Visual Arts during the mid 1990s. I now teach in the same program. I feel it is very important for
young artists to not just see Internet art as something “other” and isolated from the large artistic community. It all overlaps – labeling it and isolating it makes it about technique and not content.

4. 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?

For me, the personal is truly political. I have always been fascinated by the power of ordinary events and everyday dialogue, which may ultimately turn out to be monumental within the schema of an individual’s life. I am a digital artist, educator and curator, and define my role as a fine art documentarian who collects through readings and interviews
the multiple voices of my world-at-large. My goal is to highlight the pluralistic nature of diverse perspectives and push the viewer to consider an open-ended, non-hierarchical, humanistic paradigm. Inherent in all my creative and academic pursuits is a preference to create work that allows the viewer to come to his or her own conclusions. My process
involves a synthesis of these pluralistic voices, which manifests itself in a digital format.

5. 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?

I hate labeling and creating narrow definitions. I think netart is evolving. If I define it then my definition will be obsolete as I finish typing it.

6. “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?

It depends on the project.

7. 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?

This is a very interesting question and one I have been thinking about a lot. I feel Internet art in galleries and museums can often be problematic. At present, the best venue for viewing Internet art is usually at your home or office in front of your personal computer.
Netart in galleries and museums is often delegated to a far off corner with equipment that doesn’t function. When it does function, the audience has usually figured out a way to check their email and leave the designated netart site. I curate the thesis show of MFA Computer Art work each year the Visual Arts Gallery in Chelsea. In the past I have not organized a special event where artists can demonstrate their work, but am now
considering this sort of presentation. Netart and interactive installations are not successful in passive viewing environments, which is the norm for painting, sculpture and photography. Rather netart and interactive work function more like performance art.
They are better served as an event or public demonstration. I think this sort of presentation is an important step in engaging an audience and starting a dialogue.

8. 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?

I do not see a change occurring quickly. Just like performance, it will take a long time to be accepted. The first step is not to talk about it as an isolated and segregated art practice.

9. 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?

The wonderful thing about Internet based art is that it is outside the usual art filters and gatekeepers. It is able to reach those that do not usually go to galleries. It also mixes popular and fine art approaches. Again, labeling it and defining it is often problematic. It is more important to just accept the mix of high and low. I often find very interesting “art” on non-art sites.

10. 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?

Yes, I think curators should have both a technical and historical knowledge of the media they work with – just like with any art.